These being the Trials and Tribulations of Johan Sebastian Dietz
Hail and well met… friend?
That is, as I most dearly hope, that you are indeed a friend and not one of the many agents and spies that have plagued my life for what seems to be an eternity.
If you are a friend, then you are most welcome here in this hidden place. Please, I beg of you, make yourself comfortable, Sit back and relax, for I have an epic tale to tell… and you might be here for some time.
If you are my enemy, the zealot’s of the Inquisition, a Witch-finder or worse, then my words on these pages are wasted and no one will ever know the truth. My memories will forever be assigned to oblivion and these pages erased, deemed Vexillum Lectio.
I can only assume that if you are of the Ordo Hereticus, and you have made it here, then all of those that have helped me, have been eliminated or imprisoned and awaiting a fate worse than death?
It also means that I have failed to spread my words to the people, and the truth will never be known.
I am happy that my journey finally came to an end, and in the manner that I desired; at peace, and surrounded by the one‘s that I loved.
I am dead now and my life at this moment of time is over… if death really is the end.
No one can hunt me any more, I am free.
To the Ordo I say this, “Ego Contemno vos, Vomica vos... your ways are wrong“. The more you try to control things by tightening your grip, the more things slip through your long and immoveable fingers. Your great Crusades have tried to crush our beliefs, they have tried to make us trust in YOUR ways and your ways alone.
But know this; as you read these words, I sit with great honour and reverence in the Halls of my Ancestors, and I am in mighty fine company indeed. Despite your refusal to accept it, I can assure that there is life beyond the physical world, and spirit’s and ghosts DO exist. There are worlds and dimensions beyond the Imperium of Mankind and you will never control them all.
My heart, which has so often been broken, is renewed again, and I am happy once more. I am now in a place of light, of joy, spirit and love, and a far cry from my grey, often perilous life in the world that you exist in.
Friend, or enemy, it was not my choice to live the life I lived, sentient’s before me made that decision, and long before I was born.
If I could chose to change the past and rewrite my history and walk a different path, lead a different life; would I do it? Would I make things different or easier for me? Would I have erased those things that turned me from a small boy into a mortal enemy of Mankind?
No I would not!
This then, is my story, and it is the truth for I never lie...
I have skipped over my early years, which were a period of loneliness and uncertainty, though some small parts do crop up now and again, pleasant memories that I cherish. I swiftly turn to the beginning of my transition from a youth into a man, and it begins with my arrival on a tiny planet in a far away star system. A planet that is imploding, turning in on itself, on the brink of extinction.
There was a rebellion, and a minor one at that; a small episode that would not warrant a single line in the Annuals of Mankind’s history. But the rebellion is on a planet that belongs to the Imperium of Man… and as he exists only to wage war, there can be only one outcome, retribution… swift and absolute.
The planet was called Handshaar, a small desert world flanked by twin suns. A trading world, owned and run by great commerce guilds, who dealt in precious stones and rare metals. It was also a place of religious significance, and was the burial place of a Holy Martyr.
No one understood why the citizens of this world rose up against its masters, it just happened.
They, that is, the mighty Imperium, blamed the planetary leaders, who were a strict quasi-religious hierarchy and rich beyond belief. They said that these elders had become drunk with power and their own self-importance. Their gluttonous greed started the rebellion, and their greed would destroy them.
But many others, out of earshot of the ever-present Inquisition, blamed hidden forces, forces that had yet to reveal themselves.…
When I arrived, I came with the Imperial Guard. I was one insignificant soldier in an Army of two hundred thousand men whose sole purpose was to crush this tiny rebellious insurrection and bring the planet and its people, back into the Imperial fold. I marched alongside my own people, the feared Jirmanic’s from the Ultimata Segmentum, and we were joined by regiments of warriors who were all skilled in the art of war. Hardened fighters from feral worlds stood side by side with base brutes from gothic hives, and we brought death and destruction with us.
We were utterly ruthless because we were utterly loyal to our God, the Emperor of Mankind… and we came in droves to punish these rebels who dared to turn their backs on the Imperium.
We would send a message out to the far corners of space… Live in harmony, Live in peace. Love your Divine Emperor, because the Imperium will not tolerate dissent.
“Thanks be to the Emperor”
When I think how young and naïve I was back then… ha! Happily marching along in perfect cadence with four thousand men of my regiment at my side, our heads rigidly over to the right, our weapons of war stuck to our shoulders like extension of our bodies, arms swinging in flawless unison. I remember the dust that was churned up by our shining boots, forming a perfect grey haze around us. The hypnotic crunch of our steel-shod boots, even at the end of my life, still sent tingles down my spine and a smile to my face. I remember shouting the raucous marching songs until I could shout no more, and I grinned at the joyous crowds who cheered their warriors onto war.
What an adventure it would be.
Like billions of others before me, I was off to fight the Emperor’s enemies. I was part of a well-oiled machine whose sole purpose was death and destruction. I was made of Iridium Diamond, and immortal, and all would fall before me.
I am sorry, but I was but a boy after all and I was full of wild dreams and caprice!
Within a few short weeks, I would be forced to kill my first enemy. It was not to be a green-skinned Ork, a Tyranid warrior, an Eldar or a Chaos beast…
It was to be another man..
Adrian, I sort of see what you mean? What I am trying to get over to the reader is that this story, in whatever form, has just been found. Whether this story is a book, dataslate, video/holo, it has remained hidden (somewhere) and finally been discovered. I have a vision of a very old man, hurridly taking down his memoirs before he dies, desperate to finish before he draws his last breath,and hidden away in some secret place.
Dietz does not know if the finder is a friend or foe. Does that make sense? He just wants to tell everyone (anyone) about his life.
I value your input, so feel free to comment!:)
Now that you explane it I do see the story in a new light. I am smiling as the puzzle opens its secrets to me.
Is you boy going top get more of his story on?
When you’re wounded out on Handshaar’s plains
And the Beddo’s come out to cut up what remains
Then just roll to your Lasgun and blow out your brains
And die like a good Little Guardsman
Attributed to an unknown soldier during the Handshaar Rebellion
THE HANDSHAAR REBELLION
Outskirts of Nabulûs City
Imperial Time: 0200hrs
TODAY I THINK I BECAME A WARRIOR.
Please persevere; it will all become very clear.
This was an important time for me. I say ‘I think’, which implies that I am not quite sure if I actually did become a warrior, which probably confuses the hell out of you!. It was all to do with that damn planet and its never-ending days, and brief periods of night. If I went by Imperial time, I was a failure, if it was Handshaar time, then I became a warrior. So, technically I suppose I was a failure, but I failed because I was very young and killing is not easy you know.
I must point out, that even the mightiest Space Marines, the feared Astartes, had to make their first kill once, so I was one amongst Legions of failures.
It all sounds pretty morbid I know; talking about killing like this, but it was important then, to me. I actually took no pleasure in it, unlike many of my compatriots; and if I could get away with taking the life of another, I would have. Unfortunately, I had to make a point, and I had to kill someone or some thing with my bare hands, or I could never walk alongside my comrades, and look them in the eye…. It was a Jirmanic thing.
I remember taking a deep breathe and holding it as I slowly unsheathed the knife from my combat boot. It slid out easily, almost falling into the palm of my hand, as if it anticipated the act that was soon to come. I held it in my gloved hand and looked at it for what seemed like an eternity.
Then, as blood pounded in my temples and stars flittered before my eyes, I quietly exhaled. The enemy soldier was closing, and was probably no more than ten metres to my front. It would be all over in the next few seconds.
I had temporarily lost sight of him among the thick undergrowth, but I could hear his laboured breathing and sense his soft footfalls on the gravely ground beneath us. I could also perceive faint metallic taps from a badly secured mess tin, and the scrape, scrape, scrape of an entrenching tool.
Then he suddenly appeared, crouching low and moving purposely towards my position.
At that point, in space and time, everything seemed to stop. I was able to study my enemy and take in every facet of his face and body.
He was concentrating hard and his dark face was twisted and cruel. Small beads of sweat lined his creased brow, and his lips were greasy and almost opaque. He was studying the ground before him, looking for a sign, a mark on the ground that would lead him to his prey, lead him to me. He appeared to be blissfully unaware of the mortal danger that he faced.
My enemy was a scout, a native of the deep deserts called a Beddo. His black skin identified him as one of the fierce nomadic tribesmen, the vicious mercenaries who were used as soldiers by the Handshaar elite. He was tall and slim and moved cautiously, the way their hunters moved when tracking an elusive quarry.
The Beddo had a reputation for savagery and barbaric cruelty, and were said to be the masters of ambush and lightning raids. They killed out of hand and cared little for life, which to them was an endless game of survival on the hot, scorched plains.
They had certainly been giving our patrols and convoys, a rough time over the last few weeks, striking silently and quickly at will, and killing everyone, they could find, before fading away into the harsh desert.
Once, this man might even have been an Imperial Guardsman, the Handshaari‘s, as the population were known, preferred to use these natural fighters rather than their own.
His uniform was certainly the standard-issue desert garb issued to Imperial Guard units operating in such climates; and to all intents and purposes, he appeared to be one of us. Perhaps if we had met on better terms, we might have shared a bottle of Pilsner* or dabbled in a game of cards. We might even have been brothers-in-arms.
But not today, not here…. When this dark warrior and thousands like him followed the path of his opulent leaders, and rose up against the one true Emperor, he, and the rest of the Beddo’s lost the right to fellowship, to my comradeship or my respect… for now he was a rebel and a traitor.
And here, in the early hours of the morning, on this hellhole of a planet with its heat, driving winds and clinging dust… he was about to die.
We, that is, the reconnaissance platoon, had been tracking this scout for the best part of an hour, following him slowly through the long shadows and tall grass of the valley floor. He appeared to be young and inexperienced, and did not exhibit the sighs of a true Beddo warrior, he was making too many mistakes. His lack of basic skills would cost him his life today.
We had come across him, as he watched a track further down the basin. He was observing our traffic moving along a raised highway in the hazy distance. We watched him scribble notes onto a data-slate, and watched him raise his Magnocular’s and count off the number of vehicles in a convoy and smile smugly. We even watched him smoke and take a pee.
At first we were going to leave him be and give him a wide birth, but when he suddenly broke cover and began to make his way back to his own lines, we had no other choice but to take him out.
He had made a deadly mistake, and today he would join his ancestors.
I flexed the muscles in my right arm, and re-adjusted my centre of balance with a slight shift of my right boot. The burning cramp in my calves slowly began to dissipate. Now came the prickly sensation one feels when blood begins to flow back into the veins. My feet were numb and cold, but they would still function when the time came to strike. I also had a dull throbbing pain in my lower back, which had been with me since the day we arrived on this planet. The medic told me that it was probably due to my first taste of warp travel or change in the gravitational spectrum. It would go he assured me, eventually, when I got used to it. I hadn’t the heart to tell him about a rather rickety camp bed, or a slip I had in the shower block. He meant well…
I was ready, well, as ready as I could be. My mind was on autopilot and hopefully all those months of training would see me through the next few seconds.
It was like a narcotic, a mind-altering narcotic. Pure, unadulterated adrenaline pumping through my veins like a warm stream of silver. My senses were super-sensitive, heightened; I had never felt this aware before, never felt so alive. I began to sense the little things that were taken for granted, like my heart pounding against the ceramic plate inside my flak jacket, and the sound of rushing blood being pumped around my body. A pulse throbbed in my right temple, so hard that it almost hurt. My heart was beating so fast and powerfully, that I was convinced that the noise I imagined it was making, would give my position away.
Sight, smell, hearing were at optimum. I was a powerful animal, ready for the kill.
There was little time left, a second maybe two, no more than that, but the strange sensation that time appeared to have slowed down was still with me.
I gripped the handle of my combat knife a little tighter, and, as if standing apart as an observer, I found myself studying the deadly blade. I found myself marvelling at the knife’s sleek and efficient design, its perfect balance, and its deadly cutting edge. I could even make out the shapes of small gothic letters that had been etched along one side of the blade.
Ruder Metal Works, Jirmania Prime Jmbh.
Jirmania, my home, my beloved Jirmania Prime. What would I give to be there right now, lying on soft grass in the cool shade of a Schwartzvillow*, watching forest swifts dancing in the canopy high above? What would I give for a glass of cool wheat ale?
The tip of the blade appeared to wobble in the hot, dry desert air. I tensed up, and tried to concentrate on keeping it steady. Despite all my efforts, it continued to make small concentric circles.
Beneath my gloves, my palms were flushed with oily sweat, which felt quite uncomfortable. I felt heaviness in the pit of my stomach like the empty sensation you get when you are hungry. Acid burnt the back of my throat.
It suddenly dawned on me, that the only thing that I had ever killed with my knife was a small, hairy forest mammal, a grass hog I think, and maybe a black-skinned fur rat. The hog was killed for food during basic survival training and the rat… well, it was just a rat!
Today this blade, issued to me at my passing out parade back on Jirmania Prime, was about to be used for the first time to kill a human being.
I suddenly began to doubt myself; I began to question what I had been told to do. I began to feel dread and anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Part of my mind was telling me to let the Beddo go by, but another part of me said that I had no choice. I had to carry out my orders. I had to do it now; to cold-bloodily, and without pity, kill this lone scout.
The instructors said it would be easy. The Jirmanic‘s were bred to kill, it was in our blood. All I had to do was get in close behind him, pull him in against my chest. My left hand would clamp around his face, taking care to pull the nose into the left shoulder. Watch out for the mouth, and the teeth, because he will try to bite you. Just below the right ear, there is a small soft spot. Plunge the blade in there. A quick strike, straight into the brain. Instant death and no noise. Do it quickly and do it hard!
Instant death, it sounded so simple.
Perhaps I should attack him from the front, face-to-face and personal. A rabbit punch to his throat should do it. A quick blow to his trachea. As he reels back choking, stab the blade hard into the centre of the chest, puncturing his heart. Remember to cover the mouth as he goes down and do not forget to catch him before he hits the deck. Always remember to retrieve the knife from his still-warm body.
So quick, so easy, so simple.
But what if my enemy is wearing one of the ornate necklaces that the nomadic tribes tended to wear? What if he was wearing body armour under his jacket? Both of which would turn my blade, and then what?
I felt around to my rear and found the wooden handle of my entrenching tool attached to my utility belt. I considered unhitching it and using that instead of the knife. Some of the veterans had told me that the blade on the shovel made an excellent close-quarter weapon and some of the experts could even cleave a man in two with one of them.
But it was too late for that now; it would take too much time and effort to remove it from its cover. The scout was an arms length away.
I cursed the position I had been put in, and cursed my platoon commander who put me forward for this. I cursed the Non-com who put me up front, at the head of the company, but most of all, I cursed my youth and my total lack of experience as a soldier. This was a job for a seasoned Guardsman, not a fresh recruit straight out of the factory*.I tried to clam myself down by controlling my breathing and focussing my mind.
I tried to kid myself that I could do it. I had after all, I had been through similar scenarios a dozen times during combat simulations back in training, and this should be no different. I had breezed it back then and got top marks for the scouting phase.
But that was training, and all the exercises had been against my fellow recruits, my barrack buddies, and no one ever got intentionally killed on the training fields. It had all been treated as a bit of a laugh, and a game…
But now, here, on a remote outpost of the Imperium, a young Guardsman, a Trooper of the Imperial Guard, was about to put some of that knowledge he had learnt, to good use. This was reality and not a carefully monitored combat simulation. The raw recruit was going head-to-head with another human being. This would be a trail of bravery, guile and skill. My breath against warm human skin, my trembling boot knife against his soft rebel flesh.
I summoned up every ounce of the courage I had within me and prayed to my ancestors to guide me here today.
* * *
*Pilsner... Famous Jirmanic beer
*Schwartzvillow... gigantic oak-like trees, native to Jirmania Prime
*The factory... recruit training
SO, WHO AM I exactly?
Dear readers forgive me for my lack of forethought and my discourtesy. Before we continue my tale, I must tell you who I started out as, and describe myself to you exactly how I was, several life times ago…
My name is Johan Sebastian Dietz.
When my tale began, I was a fresh-faced, snot-nosed, eighteen year old and greener than the greenest rock moss.
I was tall and slight of build, though muscular and agile, and by a design of genetics, I was blessed with dark hair which marked me out from the rest of my compatriots, who were all invariably fair.
A good diet, “.. and plenty of fresh air“, as my Grandpa Willi oft said, made me into a gifted athlete with the ability to run forever!
I believed that it was my frugal life style that made me the way I was, but then I was only starting out in life, the truth would come later.
The Jirmanic’s, my people, are a fair-haired and light-skinned race and are either very tall and slim or squat and stocky. I was atypical because I had coal-black hair, which to a Jirmanic, is very rare.
My other unusual features are my eyes, which were deep and almost a luminous green in colour. Some would say they were almost feline. Was it genetics, a throw back, who knows? But I know that some people were un-nerved by them, and avoided my stare. The superstitious types believed that I could look into a mans soul, and they avoided me whenever they could. But the girls…
The girls, the beautiful, slender Jirmanic girls… well they loved my eyes and I loved them back… ohh the joys of adolescence!
I had spent my short life, living and working with my grandfather in a small wood mill in the Brücker Forest District, on the banks of the Odoor River.
It was a modest existence, but it paid the bills. I knew that I was only biding my time, waiting for the call to come, as millions of my compatriots had done before, waiting for the call to march off to war.
Jirmania Prime, my beloved homeworld, a green globe in a dark sky.
Ours was a Mu Class world, in a system of thirteen planets that abutted the outer rim of unexplored space. We were the last outpost to the void beyond.
When our ancestors arrived, they were a highly cultured and technically advanced race, a race of machine builders and scientists.
When the Great Heresy came, everything would change forever. The endless wars and natural catastrophes annihilated our population and destroyed our beautiful cities and towns until we were forced back into the great forests to survive. Extinction stared us in the face. But, the eye’s of our Ancestors were upon us and when, at the very end when all seemed lost, we turned on our enemies and smote them down and against all the odds we survived.
Never again would we possess the skills of our fathers, our past lives were lost to us and we reverted back to a pre-history civilisation and started out all over again.
When the Imperium came and the darkness was peeled away, we happily sided with the magnificent armour-clad warriors from the heavens, and readily accepted the Emperor as our one true leader. We lived, as we had always lived, amongst our tribes and families with our chieftains looking over us, and we were content.
The Administratum, that vast army of bureaucracy, was happy to oblige and left us alone, by design or not, to live our warrior existence.
Most of the able-bodied men on Jirmania were of the warrior-caste or linked directly to it. The weak and the feeble, the cowards and the shirkers, served the soldiers as best they could, and they in turn, were under our protection. That was the way it was, and always had been, would always be…
As a warrior you were free to do what you did best; to train and hone your skills so that one day, you would be ready to fight the God-Emperor’s enemies and join his Angels in the sky.
Jirmania Prime and the rest of what was our Jirmanic Empire, provided a rich harvest of tough fighting men bred for war, and the Administratum was pleased.
I was from a long line of warriors, that stretched back over the Millennia, back, so it was said, to the original tribes. My future was already laid out before me.
When I came of age, I would enlist in the Imperial Guard or the Planetary Defence Forces and I would earn my right to live in the Imperium of Man.
My best friend, Emperor protect him, Adolphus Kretchmeyer, had left three years earlier and had joined a prestigious armoured unit… the fighting third I think? He was off battling someone or something, on a far-away front with a name I could not understand, and he was earning his passage to enlightenment.
I envied him so much and longed to join him.
He sent word now-and-again, telling me epic tales of gargantuan battles against a vicious foe. He spoke of wondrous sights and riches to behold, and he told me what a great warrior he had become.
But after a while, the letters became less and less frequent, and when they did come, they had turned dull and melancholy, and seemed to be almost scripted and without his customary heart or passion. Soon, too soon, the letters stopped coming and I lost contact with my childhood friend. It left me sad and empty with a longing to leave the thick forests where I was brought up, and to travel in his footsteps. One day I would find him and we would be united once more.
“Don’t take it to heart my lad’, said Grandpa Willi ‘War gets to you like that. After a while, you forget about your past and the luxuries of home and it all pales into insignificance. The Guard, your regiment, your Kompanie* or your Züg* becomes your family and after that, nothing else seems to matter”.
Grandpa Willi, the old campaigner, the unassuming warrior and my beloved mentor.
On cold nights when the Waldwolves* were circling our house, we would sit and gaze into the open fire and put the Universe to rights. Sometimes, he would sit back and put his feet up and then fade away into a trance to recall his own experiences in the Imperial Guard. He would puff manically on an incredibly old pipe that was intricately carved with strange words and pictures, and then grin.
I would try to quiz him about his military service, but he never gave much away and was always obscure and awkward, as if the memories were too hard for him to recall.
Perhaps it was better left unsaid.
“Glory or death’, the old man would mutter sometimes ‘Glory to the God Emperor”, and his eyes would cloud over and his face would turn ashen. He would puff vigorously on his pipe and then turn to me his face lined and wan.
“You’ll find out soon enough young man’, he would say in his serious voice, and then his face would break into a smile and we would both laugh about nothing in particular.
Grandpa Willi, the tattooed warrior with a hundred warrior rings plaited into his ragged grey beard. The hoary veteran with his long white scars. He had served in the Imperial Guard for forty five years, nearly half a century of war, death and destruction and somehow he had survived. What glories had he seen?
And then I would think about my father and that was where the mystery began.
I never knew him, he disappeared when I was just a babe, but I had an overwhelming urge to find out more about him.
I had a vague picture of him in my mind, a blurry vision of a tall man with a beard the colour of fresh straw and a broad smile, white-toothed smile.
But that was all I could remember, the smile and a glint in a pair of deep blue eyes. There were no pictures, no records or anything of his around the house to help me remember, to help me put together the pieces. It was as if he had never existed.
“Your father was a very brave warrior Johan’, said Grandpa Willi, ‘the bravest of the brave, and loyal until the end’, and his voice would trail off into a whisper. The old man would lean forward and lower his voice. ‘But your father fell’ he hesitated ‘and has not been heard of since”
Missing in Action - Presumed Dead
Honour Your Emperor
That is what the official report said. Missing in Action. No date, no place or circumstances, nothing.
Missing presumed dead.
It left me with a lot of un-answered questions and an aching feeling in my heart that got worse as I grew older. It felt like a far away voice was crying out to me… crying out to me for the truth.
I had determined then that when the time was right, I would find out what had really happened to my father, and if I had the means at my disposal, and if he was still alive, I would bring him home.
“You will find your answers’ said Grandpa Willi ‘I am sure of it. But it is not up to this decrepit warrior to tell you what you must find out for yourself”.
Riddles and clues.
What are they hiding?
“Always riddles Grandpa” and then I would add… ‘And what of my mother. Please tell me about her again?”
The old man would smile and sit back in his chair, clasping his hands in his lap, “Ahhh, your mother’ he would sigh ‘she was so beautiful, so fragile. She loved you dearly Johan”.
“But what became of her Grandpa?”
The old man would wince and shake his head. I remember seeing tears well up in the old warriors eyes, and he would shake his head time and time again. The pain he was hiding was clear to see.
“I only need to say one word lad, Orks, the filthy green skins got her, when your father was far, far away’, he looked about him again. ‘When he… Your father found out, his anger showed no bounds’, and Grandpa Willi shook his head again and held up a hand ‘and that’s all I will say about it. All you need to know is that your mother and father loved you with all their hearts and that’s all that matters. And you, you little bundle of bones; you were given to me, to be held under my protection”.
“Protection? Protection from what, from whom?”
“From those who would seek to hurt you or take you away”
Riddles and clues.
“You are very cagey Grandpa”
The old man smiled “And you are very inquisitive, just like your mother. Now come lad, let’s go kill us something for dinner. A spot of hunting methinks. Are you up for it?”
I would wring my hands and shake my head with frustration. So many unanswered questions, so many riddles.
“Yes alright Grandpa I know your tricks. Let’s go out and hunt and then when we get back we will eat and drink and drink some more and perhaps, when you have drunk too much, I can quiz you about the Eldar and the Tau, and all the other things I want to know about, and you can change the subject again like you always do!”
“Of course’, the old warrior would chuckle ‘you would not have it any other way”
****Kompanie.. about a hundred and twenty men (a Company)
*Züg.. a section (8-10 men)
*Waldwolves.. literally, forest wolves
WE WOULD PICK up our weapons and trek up into the upper forest and hunt down the animals that dwelt there in abundance. Since childhood, I had been tracking and hunting with Grandpa Willi, and I had become a backwoodsman or a Waldjäger in our tongue. I became a first-rate shot and could hit a thumb-sized rodent at a hundred metres. I used my favourite hunting rifle, an antique weapon with a large optical sight and a battered, scratched butt. Grandpa Willi had given it to me on my sixteenth birthday. He had brought it back as a souvenir from some distant battlefield, a long time ago.
“It belonged to a sniper from a rebel tribe called the Grad’, started the old man. ‘They were experts, I mean, first-rate shots. Imagine it, an entire race of snipers”.
“Were they Imperial Guard?”
“No, unfortunately not. They were misguided rebels that turned their backs on the Emperor. They were human of course, and thankfully not tainted, but they wanted to go it alone, and, as you know, once you are in the club’ he coughed ‘the Imperium that is, you are in for good.
This particular sniper singled my unit out and hunted us day and night
Hunted. We were his prey you see. We may just as well been deer or grox, that is how the Grad saw us’, Grandpa would then curse and spit, ‘This bastard used to leave the enlisted men and kill only our officers. He became a real problem to us, a real thorn in our side”.
I remembered that I stared at the battered weapon and wondered about its violent history.
“So how did you come by this weapon, Grandpa?”
The old man grinned and wagged a bony finger.
“I was much better than him in the end. I went out one day, tracked him down and then laid a trap for him. I gave him a nice juicy target that he would not be able to resist”.
“Yes, I gave him a lovely Oberst* to shoot at”
I had frowned at this, “I’m not with you. You gave him an officer to shoot. A traitor Oberst?”
“No, a serving Imperial Guard Oberst. A real hard bastard, who was as tough as old boots’, Grandpa Willi chuckled to himself ‘A tough bastard like me!”
Grandpa Willi stood up and pulled open his over garment to reveal a red welt across one shoulder.
“Me, lad. The rebel shot me, and gave away his position and that was when I finished him off’, he paused and shook his head. ‘You are particularly slow today young Johan. I was the officer and I drew him out. It was me who killed that damned sniper”.
* * *
WHEN I CAME of age, I took the path of the warrior and immediately signed up for service in the Imperial Guard.
“You are from a long line of warriors’, Grandpa Willi would often say ’…And there is a Dietz on every muster roll throughout Jirmania’s history. I know you will do your best to uphold our name and not fail your ancestors”.
I had already decided to join Grandpa Willi’s old regiment, the 3rd Jirmania Infantry Regiment, a unit that had a fearsome reputation for savagery, but steadfastness on the battlefield.
They were known as the “Deathshead Regiment” and had earned their title through hard, brutal fighting over the millennia. I remembered that they looked like a bunch of wild-eyed savages, with their beards and warrior rings, and carrying axes and blades that looked decidedly out of place in the Imperial Guard. They were born soldiers who walked with a quiet, confident swagger that instantly appealed to me. This would, I decided, be my life and the dice had been cast.
As I was young, fit and gifted with unlimited energy I breezed through the ritualized and almost barbaric recruit training. After twenty weeks, I was relieved and proud to remove the white-striped helmet of a recruit, and begin my career as an Imperial Guardsman.
Immediately, and without a pause to sit on my laurels, I was whisked away to begin my new life in the service of the Golden Throne. Ignorance and youth buoyed me along; it seemed like a great adventure. But the truth, the stark reality of it all, was that most of these eager, young men who surrounded me would never return home. Their rotting flesh and bones would be left, mostly forgotten, to fade away on some far-flung battlefield on a far-flung planet.
Welcome to the meat grinder that is the Imperial Guard…
All in the name of the God-Emperor of Mankind.
Fate or perhaps unseen hands were at work. I found himself in the First Platoon, of the First Company, First battalion, the “Kopftjägers” in our native dialect, and in Imperial Gothic, the Headhunters. This small unit of dedicated warriors was made up of the crème of the regiment, the toughest warriors and all of them fanatical champions in their own right. Each and every one of them had survived numerous battles and assigned great swathes of the Emperor’s enemies to oblivion. They were indestructible statues that were born to kill.
Fate… or not?
It had taken one of these veteran’s deaths to secure my place within the unit, and a very rare opportunity presented itself.
The future had been set for me. I was now amongst some of the very best troops the Imperium had to offer, and it was an excellent training ground if I wanted to survive my twenty-five years service.
“Don’t you disappoint me lad’, said my commanding officer, a dour, serious Colonel called Frederick von Eicke, ‘you foul up and you are out on your arse with my boot wedged firmly between your buttocks. Fail me just once, and you’ll be out of 1st Truppe* before you can yell ‘Emperor Protect Me‘. You‘ll be out of the Truppe, the Kompanie, and out of my beloved regiment. Do you understand young man? One Fic up and that’s it. From this point onwards, you are on probation. Do not fail me… do not fail us, any of us.
The Kopftjägers are usually chosen from the finest warriors in the regiment. Men who have earned their place through blood, sweat, toil and above all, loyalty to me, their commanding officer and warlord.
Loyalty young Dietz. I demand it, and with your loyalty comes my generosity and my respect”.
I remembered that he had stared long and hard into my eyes as if he was trying to delve into my soul. As I stood in front of him at the position of attention, I found myself shaking, and felt sweat meandering down the joints in my spine.
“Your position amongst the rest of the men will cause you untold misery,and hardship, and some, if not all of them will hate you. Tough, I don’t care. Your discomfort does not concern me; you will face far greater tasks in the future. You keep your head down, you learn from the men around you, and above all, you do as you are told.
One day, when you think you are worthy, you will offer yourself into my service as a warrior, and from that point on, you will become my brother. If you survive everything that is thrown at you, and make it, I know that I did the right thing in letting you enter the Kopftjägers. If you die, I can always find another man to replace you. It is as simple as that”.
The colonel paused and picked up a crystal decanter that was sitting on the corner of his desk. It contained an amber liquid that bubbled and hissed. Eicke raised it to his nose and took a deep breath, taking in a mixture of air and vapour. He sighed and then smiled to himself.
“I am only doing this out of respect for your family name’ he continued, placing the decanter down reverently ‘and especially for your grandfather, who has long been a close comrade of mine. He believes that you, young man, are destined for greater things, so do not let him or me down.
I expect, above and beyond the call of duty from you from now on… and nothing less”.
* * *Oberst*.. Colonel
SO THERE I was, the youngest Trooper in the entire regiment, and thrown straight in at the deep end, as the saying goes.
The regiment, designated the 3rd Imperial Guard Regiment (Jirmania Prime), the “Deathshead” Regiment, had a history stretching back into the mists of time. Its roll of honour was long and prestigious; a veteran regiment ruthlessly forged in the crucible of battle.
But I was just a Jungen, a derogatory Jirmanic term for a child, and straight out of training; a fact that I was reminded of on a daily basis, with insults and thrashings. I imagined that they did; indeed, loath me, and I beleive that the first few weeks of my arrival were deliberately made intolerable. After the tenth beating for some minor infringement, I felt at my lowest ebb, lonely, miserable and a long way from home.
“This is nothing to what its like on the battlefield, you filth”, a veteran cursed one day ‘get used to it; you don’t get a second chance out there”.
But during those darkest hours, when I lay in my bunk at night, I would think of my Grandpa Willi, and even the myth of my father, and I would feel a new strength building up inside me, a hidden power that could not be defeated. I would shake myself out of my melancholy, and grit my teeth. I would stand tall, and I knew that I would make it. I would show them all. I would see it through to the end, and make Grandpa Willi, and my father, wherever he may be, proud of me.
To do that, I knew that I had to prove myself worthy to wear the uniform, the cuff-titles and the medals, and the only things the grizzled warriors around him respected were other warriors, and a warriors fighting prowess and creed. I would have to become a master of both.
I was a Kopftjäger now but only in name. The [I]Kopftjägers[/I always lead from the front and the whole regiment looked to them for guidance and example.
For now, I was nothing more than a snivelling wet-nosed Untermench* and I knew that if I was on my own and in trouble, none of the men around me would lift a finger to help. When the brown stuff hit the fan, I would be very much on my own.
When I stood in their ranks, I was always mindful of this. I stood out from the others, but not just because of my youthfulness, because there were young warriors in other units who were not much older than I ... it was the beards.
In war-like Jirmanic society, a warrior was distinguished by his beard. Only a soldier who had proved his worth in battle was deemed worthy to grow one. I was un-blooded, fresh, and had yet to prove myself. As the weeks passed by, it gnawed at my bones.
On Jirmania, a mans ultimate goal was to become one, to fight and die for the God-Emperor. Warriors occupied the positions of power, protected the weak and looked after the poor, it was the Jirmanic way.
In order to fulfil his life, a Jirmanic warrior would achieve victory, unflinching in the face of adversity, whatever the odds, whether injured, infirm or aged. A glorious death was the only fitting end to a glorious life.
I became consumed by the desire to walk tall amongst them, but I knew, that to get there, I would have to kill, and I would have to kill the Emperor’s enemies in large numbers.
I knew that out there in the vastness of space, they were waiting for me…. And I, Trooper Dietz of the Emperor’s loyal Imperial Guard, would have plenty of opportunities to achieve my goal…….
* * *SO HERE I am, crouching in soft white silica, hot, sweaty, and thoroughly peeved off, on a planet, billions of light years from home.
This planet, this hostile lump of rock with its twin suns, its unbearable heat, and persistent, driving winds. It was a hot sticky hell-of-a-place that spawned swarms of biting insects and was host to a myriad of strange creatures, which had adapted to the harsh desert environment, creatures that would fill me with wonder… and dread.
It was roughly two in the morning, adjusted Terra time but it felt like the middle of the afternoon. The suns were just over the horizon. The temperature was already rising and it was beginning to get uncomfortable in all my combat gear. Soon it would be in the high forties and topping fifty degrees and then it would be unbearable.
Distant birds began to call out; eagerly greeting the new dawn in a crescendo of high pitch squawks and shrills.
I was now bent almost double, with my senses strained to breaking point. I had slung my Lasgun over my back and I could feel its reassuring weight against my shoulders. The Lasgun was a fearsome weapon with a simple but sturdy design. It pumped out rounds at a high rate of fire but was not known for its accuracy. It mattered not, it was designed solely to kill, and it did that job very well.
I had never fired it in action yet, despite being on the planet Handshaar these past two months. The enemy always filtered away when we approached, or they hit us from a long distance away before we could return fire. I was a frustrated wannabe-warrior who longed to feel the weapons heavy pulse in my shoulder. I could think of nothing better than taking the fight to my elusive enemy.
But I was not going to be using it today, not yet at least. Today I would use the age-old favourite, a weapon used by billions of soldiers throughout history… the good-old fashioned boot knife… and I could not afford to fail.
I had found a large clump of tall spiky desert grass, known locally as Flyfax. It stood about two metres high with long pale-green stems with bulky, red-pettled flowers at their ends. A ragged bush of meter-long spikes surrounded its base. The spikes were razor-sharp with serrated edges, and quite capable of piercing our uniforms and even the soles of our boots. My arms and legs were already sticky with blood, from a hundred lacerations.
Some, like Warren Cholitz from third squad, known with affection as ‘The Professor’, would describe the flowers of the Flyfax as beautiful. But he was a well-educated ex-teacher, who appreciated just about everything.
But their deep red flowers did not disguise the odour that they gave off. They stank of what one wag described as a combination of rotting flesh and mouldy cheese. This odour attracted a multitude of white-eyed, thumb-sized carrion flies who were mesmerized by its smell. The flower’s pollen carried its own hazards. The small yellow grains were highly corrosive, and if a few of them got onto exposed skin, blistering and open wounds would result. The pain was supposed to be excruciating. I did not have the slightest inclination to test out this theory. Most of the troopers wore gloves in this climate and were ordered to wear their helmets, with the visors down, to protect their faces. But in the unendurable heat, the head and brain could literally boil, so most of the men discarded them for simple sand-coloured field caps.
Unfortunately, I could not afford to be so blasé. I was not in a position to do anything off my own back. I had not earned the right. I continued to wear the Tri-dome, the standard-issue Imperial Guard helmet, but when I moved into the grass, I dared to flip the visor up. It helped slightly, but the heat still sapped away my energy. I avoided the spikes and pollen but could not avoid the flies. One of them, a big, flat-headed monster with a long probing labium
hovered just above my head, watching me with what appeared to be curiosity, through large compound eyes.
I had something that it wanted, a commodity so precious on this planet that it was worth more than gold… liquid, but to be more precise, the saline solution protecting my eyes.
At first, I tried to ignore the fly, but it was persistent, languidly hovering just out of my reach, and waiting for its opportunity to strike. Every now and again, it would dart forward and flick my cheeks with a pair of tiny silver wings. It appeared to be taunting me. I blinked rapidly and even tried to blow the creature away, but it kept coming back for more, until it would not leave at all. Eventually, it landed on my right cheek and closely observed me.
I could do nothing now, the Beddo scout was too close and any sudden movement was sure to be detected. My enemy had moved to within arms reach but was oblivious to the danger he faced, lurking in the Flyfax. I was so close, that I could literally blow on the mans face.
The fly shuffled forwards another couple of centimetres.
Please, you disgusting creature, just leave me alone for a
few more seconds, and when this is all over, hell, you can drink my whole canteen… but please, just for the time being, leave me alone.
* * *
Untermench*... (literally) sub-human
THIS PLANET, THIS lump of bleached sand and rock, was known as Handshaar. It was the Shining planet, a glowing beacon of civilisation in a far corner of known space.
To the thousands of Imperial Guard Trooper’s stationed around its surface, it was described somewhat differently. Milder metaphors listed were; ‘The Hated Hell-Hole‘, “The Orks Armpit” and the “rear-end of the world”, depending on your point of view.
It was a land of tall jagged mountains, rolling sand dunes and endless open desert. It was also a place of mythical monsters, vast salt plains, and shifting sands. A man could also become very rich harvesting the planets unlimited natural resources of minerals and precious metals.
Handshaar was the only inhabited planet in a small sub-system made up of three planets and three moons. Handshaar itself was caught in the gravitational pull of a huge blue gas giant made from hydrogen and helium called Ukodus. It was twenty times the size of Handshaar and was circled by a ring of floating ice particles and rocks. The ring was a thousand miles wide and lethal to the unwary traveller. Ukodus had its own moon made of water and rock with clouds of methane. A quarter the size of Handshaar and uninhabited, MX302 was believed to house the remains of an ancient xenos civilisation. A Munitorum space station with its population of Adepts and servitors scoured the moon for any signs of life and try to discover the secrets it held. They braved the low temperatures, the wind and icy rain, and many died in the bitter cold storms.
Ukodus’s shadow never fell on Handshaar, locked as it was in its endless orbit. It sat high up in the heavens, a great globe of blue and grey. It was so large and close, that you only had to stretch out your arm to feel its cool embrace.
The other planet and moons circling above us were classified as Death worlds, planets deemed too dangerous to inhabit, and were either barren balls of rock or primitive environments, with poisoned atmospheres or surfaces of molten rock, metal or ice.
Life, that is life as we know it, existed in numbers, only here on Handshaar.
The planet had been colonised over ten thousand years ago, but only had a small population, numbering a few million, perhaps no more than ten. It was hard to carry out a consensus when a great chunk of the population was nomadic and never remained in the same place for very long.
It also had a long and ancient culture based on religion and trade.
People travelled through the asteroid belts, the dust clouds and pirate fleets, to get to Handshaar’s vast reserves of
minerals, precious metals and stones. They also came to the shrines and holy places on Handshaar, to give homage to
The God-Emperor. Everyone visited its capital, Nabulûs City, a religious centre of some significance, where many miracles had occurred and valuable Holy relics were stored.
Life was very hard here, with an almost blast furnace heat during the day, and when the suns crossed over the horizon, a bright, hot night Living on the planets surface was hard and uncompromising, and to be caught away from habitation, shade or water meant certain death.
There was no precipitation here, no rain to ease a parched throat, or precious water to grow crops, to bring life… There was just the raw heat, dust, windstorms and never-ending daylight.
Vast water conveyors, the size of large cities, shuttled in and out of the atmosphere all day and all night, bringing in the precious lifeblood, without which all life would cease.
However, despite everything, indigenous life did exist on this sun-scorched rock and the Flyfax and flies were a testament to that.
Handshaar had not always been as dry or arid as it was now. Millions of years ago, if you had walked upon its surface, you would have found flowing rivers here, with lakes and vast oceans. Green trees and life forms in their billions roaming lush and fertile lands.
Then it all disappeared, some catastrophe had struck the planet, and turned it into the lump of rock it was today.
However, due to a freak of geology, any water that remained, remained so underground, hidden and out of sight. In places, small springs did manage to reach the surface, and when it did, it brought precious life to the deserts.
An eco-system evolved around these small water fissures. Flies and insects lived off plants; small reptiles lived off the flies, and so on, all the way up the food chain to the huge mythical monsters that roamed the deep deserts, which was the stuff of local legend.
The Handshaari lived in small airy cities or shaded encampments, which were linked by wide high ways or caravan tracks. Small-scattered outposts dotted the surface, where the hard men lived, trading with any who paid the fair price. In the deep desert, there were the Beddo … and rumours, quiet rumours of horrors beyond comprehension that no one ever talked about. Outsiders never explored the vast wastes, and if they did venture out, few, if any, ever came back.
Handshaar was a valuable outpost of the Imperium, and Imperial forces had been fighting the illusive rebels for nine weeks now, tracking them down in the vast featureless wildernesses. The small cities and towns had virtually fallen without a fight, and the rebel forces were driven ever backwards, ever retreating. Now, all that remained was the capital city itself, and it was here that the rebels had decided to draw a line in the sand.
* * *
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.
“Unteroffizier*….’ 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*…. Senior Corporal
Schlactaxe*... Jirmanian War axe
Beardless one*... Only warriors are permitted to wear beards. To not have a beard is a great dishonour to the Jirmanic's
STABSFELDWEBEL ROLPH SCHAEFFER, First Sergeant of the Kopftjägers, and the most senior sergeant in the regiment, and known with affection as “the Spiess“.
To those who knew him, he was a living legend, a hero to the common soldier, but a constant thorn in the side of the officer class. To me, he was a terrifying figure, a hard-arsed
veteran of a thousand battles, who was also my protector, and, if the stories were true, the best-goddamned rough-and-ready Non-com in the whole Imperial Guard.
Schaeffer. The name has been heard before. But this was not the Schaeffer, the Peoples Hero that was the stuff of legends. When people think of Schaeffer, they think of Colonel Schaeffer, the bloodthirsty leader of the 13th Penal Legion, known as “Schaeffer’s Last Chancer’s”.
This Schaeffer, Rolph Schaeffer, was from a small village on the banks of the Sorperzee Lake on Jirmania Prime, and he was something else all together. He was a soldier’s soldier and leagues apart from Colonel Schaeffer, his namesake. He was as tough as steel spikes and twice as sharp. He was a rare and dangerous breed, a professional soldier through-and-through, a warrior from legends who walked the worlds today. He had an impeccable fighting record, unmatched, and second only to an Astartes.
The two Schaeffer’s did share many physical characteristics, in both height and build, and had probably shared similar experiences serving the God Emperor.
Nevertheless, Colonel Schaeffer would happily sacrifice a thousand lost souls in the blink of an eye, if it meant final victory. Rolph Schaeffer would do everything humanly possible to keep his men alive.
He was six feet tall, and very slim and gaunt looking. He had a drawn forlorn face that had seen too much war. He was the wrong side of forty, but looked far older, the twenty-five years service in the Imperial Guard, had clearly taken its toll on him. His skin was grey and had a leathery look, hardened by harsh weather and climate extremes.
You were immediately drawn to the black patch he wore over his right eye.
Schaeffer would not have an augmentic fitted and preferred wearing an old-fashioned eye-patch, which became his trademark.
He had lost his eye during a vicious close quarter fight with a Tyranid Hormaugaunt on Aspen 432. Schaeffer had killed the Tyranid warrior, but at a heavy cost. He lost the eye, and received multiple wounds during the encounter, which would have killed lesser men. His body was now a mass of scar tissue and metal plates.
Schaeffer wore the fallen Hormaugaunts teeth on a necklace made from some of its leg sinews. A priceless trophy and an obvious reminder to all, as to just how tough and lethal the man was.
He was an incomparable warrior, and a soldier of renown, but unlike other Jirmanic soldiers of the warrior caste, he refused to wear a beard or display any warrior rings to signify his status. He was always clean-shaven and immaculate in every way, the very epitome of a regular NCO. He remained aloof from most of the Jirmanic ways.
He never removed the heads of his fallen enemies, and never robbed the dead. He always treated his enemies with the utmost respect, even the xenos breeds. By leading by example, he tried to encourage his men to do likewise.
He was highly decorated and his dress tunic was adorned with medals and honours that he had earned from across the universe. Schaffer would barely give them a second glance, but a casual observer would be impressed, very impressed.
The Close-combat clasp in gold for 150 days of hand-to-hand fighting, the Jirmania-issued Infantry assault badge, the Wound Badge in gold, five Tank-Hunter badges in silver for the destruction of twenty-five armoured vehicles without the use of rockets or flamers. The Eban Emaal* and Kuban Primus* Campaign Shields along with the Lax System Triumph cuff title. Above these, and rare achievements in themselves, he wore the Ultimata Honorifica and the Medallion Crimson for the horrific injuries he had received. In battle, he only wore the Tyranid necklace and the Eban Emaal Shield on his arm.
The senior sergeant also carried a small, intricately carved hammer on his belt, an alien weapon that was produced on the Squat Homeworld’s. No one, except Dormagen perhaps, knew why he carried it. The hammer was another mystery that surrounded this living legend.
As far as anyone was aware, he had no kinfolk, and no family to mention. He hailed from the lake region in central Jirmania, but did not have a home, a place where his roots were. No one where he came from, a ghost.
He was one of the Teutons, the tribe-less mercenaries who roamed the planet, selling their services to the highest bidder. Men with no allegiance to any chieftain, clan or tribe.
His leaders, his officers, they all recognised his worth, and was offered a position in the Bodyguard Regiment, the personal escort, to the Great War chief and the Imperial Commander, Adolph Haussar on Jirmania Prime. This was a great honour, and any warrior from the Bodyguard was held in great esteem in Jirmanian society. Schaeffer had subtlety declined the invitation, preferring to fight in a line-infantry regiment like thousands of others. When they offered him a commission, he turned that down without hesitation.
“I am my own man’, he would tell them ’and subject to no one except the God Emperor himself. Besides, I hate all officers”.
They never pushed it any further. They accepted him, and respected him for who he was… they could not do otherwise.
Schaeffer was a warrior-knight in the classic sense. His men loved him, and they would follow him through the Eye of Terror, if he led the way.
Eban Emaal*... A 653 day siege, that finally lead to an Imperial victory
Kuban Primus*... Epic land battle between Ork's and the Guard
* * *
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