And just like that it was over. The courtyard which had only moments before been a riotous pandemonium of gun-fire, sweat and blood was now comparatively quiet. I didn’t move from my post at the window for several moments. I had thought we were safe before the doors blew open and I wasn’t sure that we were out of the woods yet. Still, the off-worlders and the black-clad behemoth were freely talking. If they were sure of our relative safety, I would follow their lead.
I was increasingly aware of the relative smallness of the building we’d huddled in, diminished somewhat by the gaping hole in the wall and the open windows but small none the less. More than the size of the room, and my desire to move into the courtyard, I was aware of the pain in my leg. We were not truly safe yet, and as such there was no time to waste with rigorous medical procedure. It needed to be wrapped and endured until we reached a manned outpost.
I sat down, my back against the window frame and contorted my leg round to look at the wound. Where the shrapnel had gone through my trouser was slightly singed. That was good news. If the shard had been hot when it had gone in, it would likely have cauterized its own entry wound and would bleed less. I rolled my trouser leg up, exposing my lower leg. I would need to bandage it with something and, as meagre protection as it provided, I wasn’t willing to tear my own clothes apart. To my right was the corpse of the third off-worlder. I leaned over and pulled him closer.
Taking out my combat knife I cut away a few strips of fabric from his already mangled clothes. “It’s not like you’ll be needing them.” I justified to the dead-man. I doubt his compatriots would be too appreciative of me desecrating their dead. I reached into the wound, breaking the crust of charred flesh by doing so, and found the shard. With a grunt I worked it out of my leg, flecks of charred flesh fused to it. Spots of blood marked my fingertips and more blood slowly oozed from my calf. Quickly I wrapped the pilfered strips of fabric around my leg, tight enough to keep the sides of the wounds close together but lose enough to afford me movement. I extended and contracted my leg a few times to check it and, satisfied, I rolled down my trouser leg and stood up.
The off-worlders and the colossus had stopped speaking and now it was coming towards the building. I was as wary of it as I was awed by it. Perhaps it was coming to reprimand me for staying in the building so long. Perhaps it thought me a coward. I had felt its cold glare when it had killed the ork and its harsh command to Hal told me if it found me wanting there would be all hell to pay.
I made a quick exit, arriving from the hole it had made. I assumed it would speak to me, question why I had taken so long but it didn’t even look at me. It looked through me, behind me. It came directly at me, not even acknowledging I was in its path and it was very apparent that if I didn’t move he would walk though me and over me, probably without noticing. I quickly moved out of its way and let it go about its business. It was probably better that it didn’t speak to me, for I’m not sure what it might have said or what I would have done in response.
I briefly ruminated on the giant war-machine. There were tales told be preachers and clerics of the Emperor’s Angels of Death. Spirits of retribution called by the drums of war and the sins of Mankind’s many enemies. Clad in thick armour plating and wielding the most destructive weaponry imaginable, they brought salvation to the worthy and death to the mutant, the heretic and the xenos. Such tales seemed too fanciful to be true, but how else would I describe this being that delivered us than with such apocryphal language. The off-worlders seemed to know more about this being than I did.
I approached the two of them, reaching for my fresh pack of lho. "Greetings off-worlders. Thanks for the help. I'm sorry about your friend." I took a stick for myself and offered the contents of the packet to the pair.
'Thank you, friend,' the larger, more weathered one said stiffly. 'That's a filthy habit.'
"Maybe, but at this rate we'll all be dead by dawn, so I doubt it'll matter" I responded, the stick between my fingers and wry smirk on my lips. If these troopers were anything like old sailors, projecting confidence was key to endearing oneself to them. The more patrician of the two took one without persuasion however
'Fug it, my whole squad just died.' *Yeah, and most of my platoon* I thought to myself, but I kept that to myself.
I lit my lho-stick. "If you don't mind my asking, is that..." I began, gesturing to the main building "...what I think it is?" If they had to ask, I was probably going to sound exceedingly foolish.
'The Angel? aye.' So the stories were true. 'You might be dead by Dawn,' he nodded his head curtly. 'I won't be.'
The larger of the pair laughed with an infectious echo. 'Don't worry, I'll look after you. If the Orks come, I'll give you the Emperor's Mercy.' He looked almost too serious to be joking. Even if he wasn’t I couldn’t waver at the thought of such an action, else he would likely think less of me. I had to match him
"I appreciate the offer but I think you might have to beat the Angel to it." From what I had seen of him so far, I was confident that much was true.
The revelation continued to unfold in my mind. My thoughts escaped my lips as I took another long draw of my lho. "An Angel of the Emperor. We're not fit to lick its boots. No wonder it regards us as vermin."
'Emperor knows how the hell he ended up here the same time as us. I guess that's why we call them angels.' The movement of the more patrician of the pair brought me back to the moment 'Don't grovel to him.'
'He's in the same boat as us,' The other said 'And it's sinking.' As much as I wanted to disagree, we had started this evening with probably over four dozen men. Now there was only half a dozen of them left.
"Well, pray tell, what are the names of my crew-mates on this damned voyage?" Another draw. The less worn of the pair cocked an eyebrow, as if I had asked a curious question. The larger of the two extended a hand, which I took firmly.
'Elias, but you can call me sir.' He smirked and it made me want to smile too, though I suspect the joke was more at me than with me.
'Just call me Corporal. We'll all be dead by dawn, anyway.' Said the other. Elias struck his fellow's helmet with his palm.
[I]'That's Tobias, my brother.'[I]
I was convinced they were screwing with me. They probably knew damn well I wouldn’t know what rank they really were or if it had the same significance as in the PDF. Presumably Elias felt his brother had taken the joke too far. Or been too forthright.
"I'm Alec..." I said, finishing my lho. I dropped the stub to the floor and ground it under-foot as I spoke "...and whatever your ranks actually are, I'd wager there a damn sight higher than mine anyhow and I'd say that puts you at the helm of this ship, after him..." Again, I gestured to the Angel of Death. "...and I assume that means there work to be done."
Tobias, still scowling at Elias, put out his own stick in turn.
'The angel says we have to burn all of these beasts.'
"I'll make a start piling bodies then."
'Not yet. Get a group of troopers together to come outside the wall with me. We need to get Promethium from the wrecks, and burn the bodies outside, too.' he turned to his brother 'Are you coming with me, Elias?'
'I'll stay here,' Elias said. 'Get this rabble together, try to fix the breach. Watch yourself, Tobias.'
'Right, onto the chores then.'
"I'll grab that big guy on top and two others. With the Angel staying with you, sir, I'd wager that's fair…” neither of them were listening to me anymore. They’d both begin to wander off to their own respective tasks. I could hardly have expected anything different, they knew nothing of me or anyone else, save that they had to save our arses. Still, they didn’t seem to actively dislike me, which was a positive at least.
I walked over to the rest of PDF soldiers. “According to the Angel and the two off-worlders, we need to burn the bodies and to do that we need to go get the promethium left in the wrecks of the cargo-haulers. Dom, Liam and Hal. You, me and Tobias are going on that particular field trip. The rest of you should probably report to the other off-worlder, Elias. He seems to know what he’s doing and probably out-ranks you anyhow. If you don’t like the idea of that, my suggestion would be to take it up with the Angel of Death. From what I hear, he’s very open to suggestions…”