The Krieg Way
The palour of the new dawn was obscured in a biblical airburst of electrifying white-light. A few grubby seconds later, the concussion of the blast hammered down upon the entrenched Regiment, beating upon their shrinking forms. They huddled, forced to bear witness to the apocalyptic carnage raging high above. Even now, their fates were being wrought by guile not of their own making. A tapestry of the future, interwoven by their fruitless gallantry, held together by their naïve lives. Though ultimately, threads and spent lives were cared for by none. But numbers upon a cogitator. Their glory would be snatched by greedy, plump hands and by men who had never witnessed entire generations reaped by the scythe of Chaos. Who had only carelessly ordered it behind inch-thick armourglass.
A blazing holocaust of super-heated air ignited the troposphere for milliseconds. This stray lance beam stripping entire weather-systems in its fickle bearing for leagues around. Dense patches of chlorine-swollen clouds evaporated into caustic droplets, belching over the Krieg lines. Plumes of gritty, metal particulates dispersed from the industry-fouled air; raining greedily down upon the anxious thousands. And so it rained once more, in keeping with the monotony of Vraks.
Their shell-shocked forms hid beneath haphazard trenches, as radiated dust soiled them; a gruesome reminder of each man’s home world and his inevitable fate. Burial then death. Few would even acknowledge their deaths in the coming charge. They would be trampled by so-called friends, former Korpsmen who had jibed and carelessly gamble `los scant hours before. All sense of former comradeship would devolve into a berserk rush, knee-deep in bloodied slush, squelching through corpses pickled in irrigated blood.
A man`s previous arrogance is swamped by the tide of fear… We lurk within the blasted shadows, nourishing our guilt… For we are the Death Korps of Krieg, thought Otto Van Bäur darkly. His once innocence-brimming thoughts now centered upon a maelstrom of naught but death. He glanced about the Trench, a construct ten spans deep of rotted wood and compacted earth. His comrades clung to the trench-sides, desperation etched across their faces like a crude masquerade, each alike, yet subtly unique to the wearer: I, Otto, Field-Captain of the 101st Siege Company, proud veteran of Stalingsneld, knelt in reverence. I had done so upon several battlefields before, surrounded by this same band of men. Nay, of brothers. A Brotherhood of Krieg, of the Vaterland.
My calloused hands were clasped to my chest, head dug firmly into the poisoned dirt. Hans, in antithesis to my own fear stood aloft, his regal bearing radiating great pride. His greatcoat swirled upon the blustering wind, like a hero of antiquity, bearing our banner, the manifestation of our company honour. Joseph, our Field-Medick, crouched low to the squelching ooze, fumbling with needles, torquinets and bandages. He viewed me sharply, crusted lips drawn in a sneer. The Rat. Never a truer name given to a Krieger. A loathsome, squalid man. Next was Detrier, the silent one. The Owl. Still fresh-of-youth, and plucked of his amsec in daily gambling, he didn't care. His sobbing was even audible over the torpedo-detonations and lance-volleys sparring high on in orbit.
Finally was Kemmerich. Company Commissar. He was a man whose look spat daggers of hatred and whose glare could pierce a man’s soul in search for the smallest traits of impurity. The bastard. He fiddled with his bolt-pistol in a mundane tradition, typical since his battlefield-induction from the Schola - wherever in blasted hell that was. He was decorated flawlessly: A flowing, red sash tucked a pair of gilt sabers across his considerable gut, the cloth picked out by sunburst blonde tassels. The colour clashed with the dominating black of his uniform and buoyed irritably in the nuclear winds. He watched, as he always did. He dares me to impede upon his superiority, his prowess. Ignoring Kemmerich's fickle sense of justice my inquisitive stare meandered yet further, across the true expanse of the Krieg lines…
Picklehaube's, with their steel-eagle Aquila's freshly polished, burnished in an unmatched fervor, shining ever brighter in response to the thunderous cataclysm of Orbital lance-fire. Their emblems were a bulwark of faith against the stream of corruption sweating from Vraks. A sigil of the Emperor's divinity and a statement of courage every Guardsmen wearing this archaic symbol would succor deep upon to sate the predacious appetites of their fear. Dusted greatcoats flapped spasmodically in the radioactive gale, scouring the charcoal-black fabric in a wash of ozone tang. The storm howled for an eternity across the huddled matt-grey carpet that was the waiting forms of the Death Korps.
Still we wait, our bodies sullied in anxiety, our minds raging with panic, but still we wait.... the storm of our charge builds. The Death Korps wait...
An occasional scream would burst from a Korpsmann, as retaliatory bombardments from enemy guns within the Bastion were brought to bear. Crudely lobbed shells by Cultistic sycophants punctuated the roaring harmony. Grim, short-lived verses of primitive noise contrasted to the roar of Orbital energy-salvos; the odd, pitiful scream lost amongst the cyclone of roiling backwash. Several dozen unfortunates were swept away in the blink of an eye. Their bodies not hunkered firmly enough to the parapet of their trench, leading to deathly repercussions. Human bodies, constructs of flesh and blood now dissolved into amniotic fluids and severed limbs in a terrifying instant. Showering their comrades in salty bursts of half-boiled gore.
Dust stirred across the trenches, scouring the possessions of men, and the men themselves. Plastek lenses of rebreathers, worn-leather gambesons and gun-metal Lasgun stocks, to say nothing of its impact upon the fragility of the human mind. Segregating the souls of the futile masses, this hallowed fog of corpse-stench caused men to piss-themselves in their dozens. Their nerves were wily and bladders uncontrollable by this slaughterhouse-cum-stage each every soldier would dance the dance of death upon. Their final rapore commenced not upon the parade-ground, but upon the backs of the dying and the dead.
Bathed in the bitter aroma of cobalt dust, the Korpsmann huddled, the almost playful peppering from the Archenemy’s guns falling silent at last. Amidst puddles of piss, liquefied bodies and cordite, Korpsmen now embarked upon one of the rare delights of war: Silence.
Peace. It is the companion of silence, the nemesis of fear and the balm of doubt... Close are we to our deaths, close now to our finale, so soon does the end come to greet us. It’s Children. Children of the damned.
This tranquil peace, a joyous fantasy now entreating the stowed Korpsmen, was abruptly dashed by the punishing master of necessity: Vox-static fizzled monotonously in hazes of white-noise before being attuned to relaying frequencies. Orders were given over crackling links; orders were acknowledged and obeyed without hesitance. Commissars strutted from their dusty bunkers, barking unintelligible demands, bellowing catechisms of inspiration and threats of castration in jovial measure.
We rise, the Death Korps stir, Krieg arises! Vengeance our sustenance, hatred our arrogance!
Slowly, from the flinty ground and hydrochloric murk awoke the men of Krieg. The lapping curtain of greatcoats separated, with figures plodding away from their near-burial within the sodden trenches with much relief. Wearily, men gripped Lasgun stocks with experienced hands, as other figures plunged vast assortments of knives, daggers, hatchets and other barbed melee tools into their fraying trench coats. Ancient autoguns were racked by their hundreds, energy-cells punched into Lasguns and figures in muddied suits dragged lumbering Autocannons in support. Gaits stiff from hours of trembled seizures, muscles bunching from shell-shock, this host of the living, once ranked and displayed was more akin to the march of the Undead. Crudely, ranks were formed as efficiently as the spiraling nature of the trenches would allow, and a bone-aching peace descended once more.
Peace and silence. Both definitively different, yet in most contexts both intertwinned in purpose. Whatever... for peace be a fickle lover, one who must be enjoyed whilst she lasts. We go to our deaths proud. Noble brothers of Krieg, we await yee upon the Emperor's ivory lap!
Pocket whistles blew in rough unison heralding the to-be slaughter of tens-of-thousands. These grimy, brass trinkets were blown again and again, repeatedly and frantically by Krieg Sergeants. Wicker ladders were slapped against the crumbling trench flanks in dutiful response and the men of Krieg surged in earnest. The Death Korps of Krieg roared in concurrence, each man adding his baleful hatred and thirst for peace from this diseased hell in a single voice – a waling scream of pure, cleansing barbarity. They erupted from dugouts, bunkers and siege works to enter the field of unholy battle, like ants would spill from a disturbed nest. Regimental discipline faded to the primal hunger of man's basest instincts. The Death Korps surged in a milling black tide hundreds of thousands strong like a gush of black blood, spewing from an enraged colossus with teeth gnashing at their enemies fore.
Sharp cracks of las-fire spat off towards the towering Bastion, illuminating its fell shadow for mere glimpses. A tangible aura of death and ruination hung about the citadel, its mere presence domineering and degrading to all but those pledged to the Gods of Falsity. The Krieg charge brought with it the golden light of truth, truth borne within the depths of ancient Terra and melded upon the wasteland of Krieg. Simply thousands: from one tortured horizon to the other lunged forwards with bayonets fixed, glimmering in the bloodshot sun. The cacophonous roar faded a few decibels, the surge losing momentum, succumbing to the inertia of the harsh terrain of the Bastion. Upon their heels rode the finest of the Commissariat, riding stolid black mares rippling with muscle and torqued in an aloof sense of pride. Hoping vainly to push the charge to its inhuman limit, they galloped in short-lived spurts to enact the Emperor's mercy upon those cowards forgetful of their vengeance for Krieg's century-old heresy.
I groped my way through the man-made fog, stumbling across alkaline shale and scree-slopes of rusted iron, corroding through my boots with each step. I snatched the banner of the Krieg 101st Siege Regiment from a wide-eyed boy slumped across the squalor. It was… Hans... clutching feverishly to a raggedly dissected torso. He flaunted his grotesque anatomy to the open upon his dying breath as I held the magnificent flag on high, the fabric wavering and snapping in the taunting wind. I bellowed to the sky amidst the tumultuous clash of battle and din of glorious death. The Aquila immortalized upon my banner provoked a leaden lump of pride in my breast. Blood surged in my veins, my heart beat in a wild rhythm. A rush of blood and over we go!
'Men of Krieg! Now is the hour of our redemption! Our glorious salvation born within the blood of our deaths and tempered by the blades of our enemies! Within the crucible of battle shall we enact retribution for our crimes to the Emperor! Our forefathers stain upon He. Forward! Forward to your deaths! Lowborn curs of the blasted planet, sons of the unyielding rock that is Krieg and scions of the 101st! Redemption through flagellation, sanctity through war, glory through death-'
A Commissar bellowed - Kemmerich, it was, with spittle hawking from his salivating maw. He was a man whose job was to send millions of youths to their deaths upon his righteous lies and litanies of falsity, whilst he drooled from the ecstasies of such power. A blossoming crackle split the air like a masters whip suddenly. A single smoking tracer evaporated in the ashen fog, connecting the Commissar to an unseen corner of the Bastions parapet. He frantically clutched his head, a film of arterial fluids surging down his eyes, now pools of absolute horror. The Commissar slumped to his knees, a chunk of his skull torn away and slewn across the dirt. A second las-bolt sliced neatly through his ebony breastplate, a violet pulse of energy melting through his leather garb with a fascinating ease. Before his pompous corpse could collapse to the ground, a third and final shot blew apart the rest of his skull, showering Otto with dank globules of capillary blood. He spooled to the mud, pale limbs entangling with those of Hans, a sickly embrace within the bosom of death.
Detrier fell next, his death an irony I almost chocked upon. Not even slain by the wicked hand of the enemy, his life plucked from the orchard of life by purest coincidence. He bolted down a murder-hole by accident, his legs snapping with a freakish breaking of bone and sagging of flesh. His moans echoed from the hole, his wounds so great even Joseph ignored his wailing. He will drown within that hole soon. Once blood is shed upon an undreamt scale, it will seep through, turning his prison into a hellish well. He will retch and gasp within the clotting gore of thousands, thick, salted liquid clogging his dying breath.
The Archenemy was no churlish band of fools, gathered atop the spiked ramparts of the Bastion awaiting to be drowned in the bodies of Krieg`s youth. Ten thousand-strong, Former Planetary Defense Force regulars, now thrown beneath the mantle of the Ruinous Powers of the Warp. Their martial skill was unmatched, their leadership indomitable, and their ambitions and stockpiles wild in estimation. They lured the sons of the Imperial Guard towards their bruised walls once more, to unleash a most satisfactory hell of the deadliest kind.
A tempest of green-hued las-bolts streamed from the walls, slicing through thousands of Death Korps, their corpses tripping over following ranks, decimating the charge, bloodying the nose of the beast. Autocannons fired staccato's of heavy slugs, Lascannons belched lances of armour-gorging light and missiles streaked behest thick oily trails. Far uglier weapons, spawned in the pits of the Dark Mechanicus engaged the stragglers at a closer range: Decapitating projectiles of biomechanical infusion, barbed chains launched in massed ranks from ancient looking brass cannons and concoctions of daemonic acids. Whatever the inventive method, or tried-and-tested machine, the resulting chaos was all the same.
The Death Korps struck back with all the zealotic ferocity their infamy was known for: Stout-barreled Medusas lobbed enormous shells on colossal trajectories against the mile-high ramparts. Showers of rockcrete engulfed entire sections of the wall, dragging corpses of hapless cultists to their dusted, bloodless tombs. Ranks of Earthshakers, donned behind the maze of spidering trenches in orderly ranks spat forth their one-tone munitions, obliterating entire forests of stubber-nests and dark-iron totems to the Forbidden Gods. The storm of Krieg bounded along, their assault punished for every inch of radiated ground claimed. Waves of barbed-slugs and stubber-rounds saturated the charge, bringing hundreds to their knees every second in a hail of lacerations. Lengthy gushes of sickly daemonic flames branched from hidden ground-turrets, engulfing entire columns in liquid agony and leaving vacuums of roiling smoke in their wake.
Otto and the remnants of the 101st crawled, gingerly through the mud, now slickened to a viscous, pink paste. Men fell to the gory refuse, skinny arms held high in deliverance. They wanted death, they wanted their souls to drown within a torrent of pain. Why? So that this torture would end. Joseph squawked, suddenly. His Lasgun fell through numbed fingers, his knees hitting the dirt. Blood streamed from his nostrils and his tongue hung limp from his blackened teeth. He bent double, his scrawny back arched high, like some animalistic ritual. He beat his fists into the ground, whilst his screams cut through the bloody pomp of battle. His head, bereft of feeling, turned lackly towards Otto. Vomit and saliva, threaded through by strings of scarlet trailed from his chin like a beard. His eyes blank. Portals of anguish and loathing. He groaned from his mouth, grunting syllables the human biometry was not created for.
“… They’re here… the cohorts of the Fallen. They arrive… to spread ruin upon us all. Us all… in our own ignorance… us all… all of us… we who are Legion… we who are Krieg…’ his head snapped back, surprisingly without a cringing snap, silencing his gibbering heresy. His body slid languidly down the shelled slopes.
“What in feth does that mean? Who? Who are here? I see `nothin but rockcrete, bodies and trenches. Wh-” Otto staggered, his tongue swelling to bloated proportions as he tasted electricity, crackling throughout his mouth. His nose ran with blood, his every sense awash with a metallic sheen. It was reminiscent of gun oil and ozone – an unholy, mechanical broth poisonous to the lungs; incense to the Machine-folk.
“No... not now, please no… not like Stalingsneld, not like before,” he whimpered like a frightened child, groveling to those who would not listen, not even the omnipotent Master of Humanity himself. “I beg of you, not now. The fizzing of my tongue, the scent of ozone – of another dimension, the bursting of blood vessels throughout my body… Warp-Xenos… conjured by the barbarity that dwells within Vraks! No!’’ he snatched his Lasgun with a furious tempo, pounding up the crumbling flanks of this trench, gaining barely a few yards with every shove of his booted feet.
“Sir... What are you doing? We must pull back… the enemy are too many, we too few. Who knows what horror’s they have summoned beyond our sight? We must retreat… Sir- Otto! We must flee!’’ begged Jospeh, his simple mind having reasserted itself over his body once more.
Anger builds within me… like a colossal fire, doused in fear, but still… it is not enough…
“Do not, ever, speak such heresy again, boy! Your life will meet its unexpected demise if it ever shall. My men will never have to listen to cowardice or blasphemy. Kemmeirch is dead, but that will not or shall not keep me from putting a las-bolt through your skull! Now pick your piss-poor excuse of a body up and get the feth up this hill!’’ Otto roared in barely tamed hatred. Finally, they crested the shale-mound, only to be baffled and awed by the spectacle the Dark God’s had generously entreated them too-
Pustulent clouds of bloated, black flies gathered upon the dusky horizon like a feotid daemonic fog. Their fell buzzing was a rank chime of rusting death sweeping forth in an unholy tide of necrotic decay. A gurgling, chocking laughter, retched from liver-spotting lips and roiled across callused throats. It bubbled from the walls themselves. These morbid incantations wept disease in prayer of Plague-Father. Adding to this chorus of devotion and plague by the Cultistic abominations lining the parapet, the shambling flutter of diseased flies was fraught with praises to the Lord of Decay - even their wings buzzing an offering. Excreted pus dribbled from the swollen thoraxes of the cyclopean freaks summoned to the forefront of the Krieg assault, now fully-fledged rout. Maggots and other squirming detritus writhed within their bloated corpses. Fattened upon the welcomed feast of pock-marked flesh and putrid, black-blood. The animated horde droned forwards, swinging half-rotten weapons, their edges not fit to cut through even the barest of protection, aimlessly shuffled from Warp-borne portals.
Flurries of sparking Lasguns punctured through ichor dripping muscles bearing the knotted emblazon of Nurgleth. Only, aghast cries of deliverance to the Emperor by petrified Kriegsman, did they re-knit into leathery tumors. These growths sprouted from bulbous veins and knots of pustules formed the trio of deathly skulls upon greenish hide. It was all sickeningly grown into rotting appendages, as if by a foul artist, who wielded disease as his brush.
Hosts of filth-bubbling maws, agape with nests of needline fangs descended with a gleeful enrapture. From pus-lined clouds streaked by gaseous vapors, tens of thousands of flies fell to harass the Korpsmenn. Otto slammed a fresh pack of cells into his Lasgun, firing wildly into the living, sweating rain. Tendrils of panic slithered across his mind, burrowing into his conscience.
''Joseph, a flamer! We need a fething flamer!'' he bellowed, instilling a frightening sense of awe into the runtish Kriegsmann. The Rat nodded in quick succession, digging his hands through pyres of bodies and stacks of equipment. Hands bleeding from caustic fluids, he dragged a battered flame-unit up the corpse-mount, slinging the cylindrical promethium tanks across his wiry shoulders.
Otto gazed out to the Imperial assailment of the Bastion, entire rows of Krieg dead buffeted by sheets of solid fire. Young sons lay naked, their cherished greatcoats seared from malnourished frames amongst a sea of brass shells; spent cases from the never-ceasing fire coming from the Cultists.
Daemonic visages, manifested plague-spirits - Plaguebearers - gibbered forth upon the heels of the retreating forces, phlegm-choked chanting a foul chorus to complement the Imperial rout. The champions of the Plague Lord wielded poisoned glaives in their shambled lurch. Sword hafts that crumbled showers of wet splinters from warped grips hacked down stragglers without thought. Without contempt or even perverse joy. Necrotic bones held taut by puerile skin canvases sloughed from disjointed sockets, to their monotonous march.
A Gale of Pestilence...
Joseph idled with the flame-unit, still seeking his fiery retribution. Hoping to waylay the Warp-monstrosities to buy precious, golden time for the mauled 101st. Otto slapped him. Hard. Clogs of flesh wedged beneath his dirtied nails, drawing rivulets of blood from the Medic. He simply stared from sunken eyes.
''It is lost, all lost. Our cause fruitless, corrupted and plagued. The fruit has soured, Joseph, and we are not fit to eat it. Burn… burn it all... remove every last trace of this charnel house.'' his broken soul pleaded.
Otto Van Bäur knelt to the sickened ground, curling his mud-clogged boots around him, sobbing. Within a bowl of corpses his tears mingled with the bodies, the silent wardens of the underworld, damned to watery-eyed vigilance until rot infested their mortal dreams. His hopes to, waned as the world died a putrid black...
''... What can men do against such reckless hate?'' he sighed before unconsciousness took him.
Trails of throbbing fire streaked across a hallowed sky....
A sky polluted, dead and ragged...
The sky was but silveresque mirror... opaque and now gilded in death. Showing to us, the straggled few - the forlorn remnants blessed by the fickle boon of luck – the thousands who lay dead around us. Like a mirage, reflecting only bereavement and death. The deaths of millions . And yet… this newfound hope thundered down, flaring upon jets of bluish fire. The Emperor`s finest had come asunder. Vengeance was at hand, and yet… it mattered so little… winked out of importance by the annihilation of the 101st…
His raw hands dug away crusts of blood that matted his eyes. The gesture increased the pain coming from a stitch-void gash that forked down his scalp. He saw plush sons spitted upon ugly spikes, their half-rotten flesh devoured by carrion. Nerveless entrails played host to ravening scavengers, cavorting amongst ropey strands of graying putrefaction. The vermin of the sodden ground writhed within this moldering decay; mingling with the accumulative filth of this biological spectacle. It was the but one of thousands of horrors littering the field from the aftermath of war: a great banquet for the scum that resided within the dirt. He viewed it all, from baffled eyes.
A ground fattened upon a rich, crimson wine. A wine so eagerly spilled, so carefully made, so metallic in taste if one were to sup such a concoction with cosmopolitan and open-minded delight. Clotting... cloying to severed lungs, foaming within husked throats, leaking from shredded bowels...
''... A man could take a flagon to the earth and gulp heartily from the ruby-liquid until his stomach burst. Blood. Deaths welcoming bounty; life’s final, parting gift. Blood is everywhere...'' the voice of Otto Van Bäur spoke aloud, conveying slaughterous ideals to the sky without a thought for repercussion or chastity from the Commissariat.
This, all of this was a triumph of war, wreathed in a glory not bedecked by pert, sobbing maidens, twinned in fluttering laurels, adorned by the sweet tang of victory, but of death. In all its simplistic, Gothic finery. Even the greatest artiste's of the Imperium's colleges would pall to replicate death as Vraks did, within paint, stone or song.
The lone figure of Otto turned from the former trench. Now a bloodied cesspit, fattened upon bloated corpses, drowned in life-blood, cleansed in loosened bowels. A bloody theatre of an epic magnitude, the pinnacle of the Imperium`s militaristic might, manifested upon the virgin innocence of Vraks. He wandered through the butcher’s room, cordoned off in some mute horror by a staccato of colossal craters bracketed by unknown artillery. These great depressions formed a pathway throughout the diseased bog of the battlefield, linking up to other parts –other theaters- of the charnel house. Otto picked his way through this foul metaphor of chaos with his hollowed mind and cold body, sucked of all its pride.
One corpse, either by cruel fate or sheer luck, was that of Joseph. His flamer was still clutched to its pale hands, his body rotting, a small garden of biodegradation to Nurgleth. His left arm was raised on high – freakishly bent in several places and speckled by blood. But it bore no rot. A last defiance to Chaos and a last salute to the 101st.
“Aye lad. No retreat, no quarter, not even an inch of soil do we spare to our foes. That, my dead friend, is the true way to redemption’’
A man dies for what he fixates his bloody heart upon because he does everything in his feeble grasp he can for what he believes in. He sacrifices, he fears, and he suffers, but always believes. He rushes the battleground not knowing nor caring because he believes. Blood will run, and men will suffer, but he will always, always believe in the forlorn fruits of hope...
'Hope nourished within the garden of the Imperium’, Otto trumpeted aloud, his tone somber, his words grimly mocking, ''tended to by its corrupted Lords, fed by uncaring hierophants, shackled too by depraved masters and hurled at the Xenos, the Mutant and the Heretic with wanton abandon.. we are slaves within the Galaxy, our bondage our birthright, our freedom our duty to die.'' Otto unfastened his Pickelhaube, tossing the bowel of sloshing ooze and burnished metal, Aquila-first upon the earth newly wedded by the kiss of dusk.
''We fight and we die. `Tis the Krieg way…''