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21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone, I'm new to this forum and thought I would post up my first 40K fanfic, which I recently completed. This is the first of fifteen parts. Hope you like it! Comments and feedback would be much appreciated.


One foot in front of the other. Over and over and over and over.

Mikael trudged through the ruins of Valerion, dozens of other guardsmen spread out around him. All walked as he did; listless and lethargic, their energy sapped by the months of relentless conflict. Even the captain and the commissar had given up trying to force a greater pace from the men; perhaps they viewed any progress made as a triumph of sorts. Perhaps their spirits were as enervated as those of the men they commanded. Mikael didn’t know. Didn’t care.

A piece of rubble shifted under his foot and Mikael’s ankle twisted. He flung out a hand to catch himself as he fell, hissing under his breath as a stone dug into his palm. He slowly got to his feet, wincing slightly as he put his weight on his ankle. It seemed fine. At the beginning of their campaign in Valerion, Mikael would have cursed quite graphically if such a thing had happened; the priest attached to their regiment had told him on more than one occasion that he had a remarkably foul mouth. Now, however, it had happened so many times that he no longer had the energy. He started forward, stopping after a few seconds as a thought occurred to him. He went back, and retrieved his lasrifle.

Nobody else seemed to have noticed.

Valerion stretched around him in all directions, or at least what remained of it. Every square inch of the city seemed to have been fought over at one time or another; every road had been churned up by explosions and coated in rubble from toppled structures. Not one building had avoided being damaged. Most had been ripped apart by explosions, or had their interiors gutted by fire. Now only the skeletal remnants of the once-proud structures still stood. They reminded Mikael of blackened, bony fingers protruding from the earth; clawing at the sky as if pleading for succour. There would be no aid from there, though. Mikael didn’t look at the sky any more; nobody did.

They didn’t like what it had become.

The distant rumble of explosions was constant, to the point that Mikael barely noticed it any more, except in his dreams. There it was Valerion’s heartbeat; the stuttering, irregular spasms of a failing organ. Sometimes he dreamt that the heart faltered and finally stopped, expelling a great torrent of semi-congealed blood to ooze through the streets and parks of the city, coating everything with the texture and foetid stench of death. In his darker waking moments, and they were many, he reflected that such a vision was not all that far from the truth.

He wondered just when his dreams would become reality. Would he even notice?

A scream split the air, and everyone stopped walking. It was an anguished howl, ripped from the throat of someone in tremendous pain. Just the sound of it told Mikael that whoever, or whatever, had given voice to the cry did not have long to live.

A whistle blew, and Mikael looked round. It was the captain.

“Forward, men”, he bellowed. “For the Emperor!”

Mikael clutched his lasrifle tightly to his chest, hesitating for a brief moment. A figure approached, clad in a once-black trench-coat now so stained by dust and blood that barely a hint of its former colour remained. The commissar. He looked deep into Mikael’s eyes.

“You heard the captain”, he hissed. “Forward!”

Mikael began to run. The scream echoed inside his head.

2,996 Posts
Firstly: Welcome to Heresy. Now, onto the actual story: An excellent opening, Tyrant (Not even gonna attempt to type that name...). I can't help but to imagine Stalingrad during WW2 when reading this, although I am sure that Mikael's name doesn't help that :p I look forwards to more mate, finally get to read this from the start now! Plus rep, keep up the good work (...I am sure you will.)

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Hey Boc, I know you've seen this before, the comment is appreciated anyway!

DA- good to hear from you, hope the rest of the story doesn't disappoint! Speaking of which, the next part will be up right about..........now.

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
The guardsmen moved quickly down the road to where it became a t-junction, turning left without hesitation. The air was still, and the sound of the screams was easy enough to follow.

The screaming.

It never truly stopped, only paused for periods of no more than five or ten seconds. Long enough, Mikael imagined, for a heaving chest to suck in a few more lungfuls of air, long enough for a ravaged voice to gain enough strength to scream again. And again.

And again.

Soon that sound was the only thing that Mikael could truly hear. The rapid pounding of the guardsmen's feet across the rubble-strewn ground, the rasping of his breath, the yells of the commissar to pick up the pace: all faded into nothing. Only the screaming remained.

Mikael rounded another corner, and saw that the guardsmen ahead of him had stopped. He slowed his pace, raising his lasrifle and scanning the surrounding buildings for any sign of enemy forces. Nothing. It looked like a firestorm had swept along this road at some time in the past, every building appeared burned out. Their windows were little more than ragged holes, the rooms beyond seemed utterly dark. They reminded him of gaping, empty eye sockets.

In the centre of the road was a chimera troop transport, parked at an awkward angle as if it had been abandoned there. Its rear ramp was down, but something was sprawled across it. A body.

The corpse was that of a man, dressed in their brown regimental uniform. It was heavily stained by dust, but not as badly as those of Mikael and the other guardsmen. As he drew closer, he saw a small hole in the centre of the guardsman's forehead, its edges neatly cauterised. Mikael had seen that kind of wound countless times before. It had been caused by a lasrifle.

The man's eyes were open, staring sightlessly upwards. Mikael looked at them, and for a brief moment saw a faint image of the sky reflected in their glazed surfaces. Nausea bit into his stomach and he looked away. Another guardsman crouched down and carefully pushed the eyelids shut.

For a few brief moments, Mikael had blotted the screaming out. Now it returned, far louder than before. When each scream ceased he could hear deep, rasping breaths for a few seconds before the next agonised howl began.

On the other side of the chimera, four more guardsmen lay on the ground. Three were facing in different directions, as if they had been trying to run for cover. Each had wounds caused by lasfire across their bodies, but also had a single shot to the centre of the forehead, just as the first body had.

The fourth guardsman was the one who had been screaming all this time. Eight of Mikael's comrades stood in a loose ring around him, but still the man's cries continued unabated. None of them moved to help him, even though so close to him the man's screams must have been almost unbearable. Irritated, Mikael pushed his way through them and looked down at the guardsman, then stepped back almost immediately.

The man's body was rigid; arms tight against his sides and legs together, as if he were ready to be buried. The heaving of his chest was the only visible indicator that he was still alive. From the neck down he looked perfectly ordinary, just another guardsman. The head, however, was another matter.

His expression was a mask of horror; mouth gaping so wide that the muscles in the lower part of his face were pulled taut and stood prominent beneath his pallid skin. His lips were cracked; split wide open, with dried blood smeared across his chin. His lower jaw quivered slightly as he continued to scream, but apart from that, his head remained motionless. The guardsman's eyes were the worst of all.

They were gone.

In their place were twin pools of congealed blood that filled the sockets entirely. The area around the eyes was completely free of blood, or any other sign of injury.

Mikael had been in the Imperial Guard for thirteen years, and in that time had seen things that most people could never even imagine. Despite that, this was easily one of the most horrifying. By all rights, with such injuries the man should have died long before. Yet he still lived.

What bothered him just as much was the reaction of his fellow guardsmen. They simply stood, and stared. Mikael could well understand not wanting to get too close to the injured man, but why wasn’t anyone calling for help, instead of just standing there?

Why wasn’t he?

“Get out of my way, you fools!” The commissar stepped into the circle, and stared down at the screaming man lying on the ground. Mikael saw his face twist, and for a moment the commissar looked as if he were about to speak. Instead, in one smooth motion, he pulled his bolt pistol from its holster and fired a single shot into the man’s chest.

The detonation of the bolt shell blew the man’s torso open, and his body jerked upwards like a rag doll before flopping back to the ground. For a long, impossible moment, he continued to scream, his mouth seeming to gape even wider than before. Fresh blood glistened on his lips as the cracks split open again. Then, finally, the sound ceased.

“Krayn! By the throne, why did you do that?” It was the captain who spoke. Mikael suddenly realised that he had been one of the eight guardsmen standing around the wounded man, just watching him scream.

Krayn stared at the captain, his expression utterly cold. “His cries were giving away our position to the enemy”, he replied.

The captain and the commissar locked gazes for a few seconds; the rest of the guardsmen said nothing and just watched warily. This was not the first time that the two had clashed during the campaign, and Mikael was sure it would not be the last. He was so used to it that he felt little more than a faint contempt for their posturing.

The captain was the first to back down, taking a pace backwards and looking around. His eyes narrowed as he took in the sight of dozens of guardsmen standing around, watching him.

“What are you idiots doing?” He snapped. “Throne, have you forgotten everything you were taught in training? I want a perimeter established now! Teams of two will sweep the buildings; whoever did this could still be in the area. Get to it!”

The captain began selecting teams with flicks of his fingers. Mikael and another guardsman were assigned a building about two dozen metres away, close to where the rubble from a toppled hab-complex had blocked off the road almost completely.

As he started to move, Mikael glanced back at the corpse of the screaming guardsman. The commissar’s kill-shot had jolted the body, and the man’s head now lay on its side. The congealed blood inside his eye sockets had oozed down the man’s face and on to the road surface. Mikael watched the blood slowly spread outwards, and for a brief moment he could hear the irregular rhythm of a diseased heart, pounding somewhere in the distance.

He shuddered, and looked away.

2,996 Posts
The newest part was superb. The screaming Guardsman-thingy was darkly delightful, and now I am left wondering as to what exactly it was (I don't think it was a normal injured dude, after all..). The moment when the Captain turns up was rather tense and I applaud you for successfully pulling that of, it was.....Well, brilliant. Looking forwards to the next part now mate :)

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
As they drew closer, Mikael was able to get a better look at the building they had been ordered to search. It looked like a hab-block, a small one at that. He estimated that the building was probably only large enough for a dozen or so habs. The sort of accommodation that middle-management types could afford; senior Administratum clerks and the like. More up-market than where the majority of Valerion’s population would have lived.

At least, it had been. It looked like it had been severely damaged by fire; the top of the block seemed to have collapsed, and the glass in the windows had blown out and now littered the ground in front of the building. Mikael dodged the fragments wherever he could but avoiding them all wasn’t possible, and he was painfully aware that the loud crunching their footsteps made would advertise their presence to anyone inside.

He crouched beside the entrance to the block, the other guardsman just behind him. He listened for a few seconds, but could hear nothing apart from the ever-present sound of explosions and warfare somewhere in the distance. Pressing the stock of his lasrifle into his shoulder, Mikael stepped through the entrance and immediately moved to one side, to give the other man room to enter as well as to minimise the time he was exposed in the doorway.

Mikael blinked rapidly to help his eyes adjust. They were in a small lobby; to the right was a flight of stairs leading upwards. To the left of the staircase was a short passageway; he could see several doorways set into the walls. He motioned for the other guardsman to watch the stairs and stepped forward carefully, gaze flicking between the sight of his lasrifle and the floor in front of him, ensuring that his feet didn’t disturb anything and make a noise that might betray his presence.

The first two doors were locked, but the third door was open. Moving toward it, Mikael cast a quick glance at the area underneath the stairs, but there was nothing there. The room beyond the doorway was a supply closet; shelving on one wall held various cleaning products, and several mops lay on the floor near the door. There was no sign that anyone had been in there recently.

Mikael turned to move back towards the lobby entrance, and caught sight of the floor underneath the staircase. His eyes narrowed. He could see something there now, that he hadn't seen the last time that he had looked. He stepped closer.

It was a plant.

Only a few inches tall, its stem disappeared into a crack in the flooring. It had eight slender leaves, each a vivid green. He stared at it, unable to remember the last time he had seen such a shade of green, the colour of healthy life. Certainly not since he had entered Valerion. For a moment he was tempted to reach out and touch it, to feel the texture of the leaves between his fingers.

Mikael stood up, forcing himself to focus. He had a job to do, he couldn’t afford to let himself get distracted like this. He moved back to the foot of the stairs, where the other guardsman was waiting. Mikael shook his head, indicating that he had found nothing. The guardsman nodded, and motioned up to the next floor. Mikael started to nod, then hesitated. What was the man’s name?

It took him several seconds to think of it, and when he remembered it the name came with a sense of shame that he had forgotten, however briefly. The guardsman was Leon Haem, they had fought together for years on half a dozen different worlds. How could he have forgotten that?

Haem was staring at him, probably wondering what the delay was. Mikael nodded sharply, and the other man started up the stairs, Mikael close behind him.

This floor of the block had suffered significant fire damage. Every wall was blackened and scorched, and the air was thick with the stench of burning. The corridor doubled back on itself and ran parallel to the staircase before turning back round again and meeting another flight of stairs. A window in the far wall provided some illumination, but everything was so blackened by the flames that had swept through here that it seemed very dark.

There was a single door, charred and cracked, but still standing closed in its doorway. Haem tried the handle and pushed gently, then shook his head. No good. Either the door was locked or, more likely, the heat had warped the door and its frame so that it could not be opened without considerable effort. That meant they would have to make a noisy entrance. Mikael pointed his lasrifle at the doorway and waited while Haem stood against the opposite wall, then lunged forward.

It took two kicks to get the door open; it slammed back and hit the corridor wall before rebounding towards them. Mikael was already halfway into the hab though and stopped the door with his shoulder, his attention focussed on what was inside. At the end of a short passageway was what looked like a kitchen; two doors on either side of the corridor led into other rooms. Mikael moved to the first door on the left, Haem taking the right side of the corridor. They made no effort to move quietly; any element of surprise they might have had was long gone. Speed was of the essence now.

The first room had several chairs set up facing a vidscreen that was attached to one wall. There had been a fire here as well; the vidscreen was broken in half and the rest of the furniture had been wrecked. Clouds of ash kicked up by their entrance hung in the air and Mikael had to stifle the urge to cough.

"Clear!" He yelled, and moments later an identical cry came from Haem. He left the living room and moved up to the second room on the left side of the corridor. A bathroom. No space in there for anyone to hide. He stepped into the kitchen as Haem entered the remaining room. Nothing there either. There was a worktop in the centre of the kitchen and various appliances lined the walls. Ladles, spatulas and the like hung from long hooks embedded in the ceiling above the worktop.

Mikael entered the corridor and a few seconds later Haem joined him.

"All clear", Haem said. "No sign that anyone has been here".

"Same", Mikael replied. "We should....."

Movement to his left.

Mikael turned and dropped to a crouch, raising his lasrifle as he did so. The shadows in the kitchen were moving; he counted one, no, two figures; their outlines vague but nevertheless they were there, moving towards the doorway. With Haem following he threw himself into the kitchen, finger tightening on the trigger.....

The room was empty. Nothing had changed, except that the kitchen implements hanging from the ceiling were swaying back and forth, as if stirred by a slight breeze. Mikael just stood there, unable to make sense of it. There was no other way out of the room, and nowhere for anyone to hide. Yet he was certain that he had seen something.

"You saw it too, didn't you?"

"Definitely", Haem replied, looking just as confused as Mikael felt. "It must have been the ladles and stuff swinging, made the shadows move".

"Maybe". Mikael nodded, although he was far from convinced. They had certainly looked like figures.

"Let's keep going".

They left the hab and moved to the bottom of the next flight of stairs. When they looked up, however, they saw that the next floor was sealed off. At the top of the stairs it looked like the walls and ceiling had caved in; blackened joists protruded from a heap of shattered brickwork and sheets of plaster. There was no way through.

Mikael and Haem headed back to the ground floor, each looking into the hab as they passed the entrance, but this time there was no sign of movement. At the foot of the stairs, Mikael paused.

"Go on ahead, okay? I'll be with you in a second". Haem looked at him curiously, but shrugged and left. Mikael walked through the lobby towards the area underneath the first flight of stairs. He wanted to look at the plant again. It was slightly odd, he knew that, but even so. Who could tell how long it would be before he would get to see another? He reached the back of the staircase and crouched down.

The plant was gone.

Mikael stared, then rubbed his eyes, as if doing so might make the plant magically reappear. Still nothing. He leaned forward, and scrutinised every inch of the flooring. When he had first seen it, the plant had been growing out of a small crack in the flooring, but even that was missing. There was no sign that the plant had ever been there.

Mikael got to his feet and clutched his lasrifle more tightly, suddenly aware that he was alone in a dark building. It just didn't make any sense. He was positive that he had seen the plant there, just as he had seen the shadows move upstairs. There had to be an explanation. He was exhausted, he knew he was. That had to be it. Fatigue was making his mind play tricks on him.

Or he was going mad.

All he knew for certain was that he wanted to be away from here as soon as possible.

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Mikael was relieved to step outside again. Although that meant he had to once more be careful not to look up, at least the air was a little fresher out here, and there was no sign of any strange plants.

As he jogged back to rejoin the unit he felt vaguely foolish. He was tired, he knew that. Clearly the plant had never been there to begin with; his mind must have been playing tricks on him. It was the same thing with the shadows; he had seen movement and in his exhaustion he had thought it to be caused by something hostile when really it was nothing more threatening than kitchen implements swaying in the breeze. Slightly embarrassing, but better to overreact than not to be paying attention at all, he supposed.

He passed the perimeter that had been set up, nodding to a couple of the guardsmen, and made his way to where the captain was standing by the front of the chimera, talking to Haem and other guardsmen who had been assigned to sweep the buildings. Krayn was crouched by the bodies, and seemed to be examining them. Mikael came to a stop by the captain and waited for him to look in his direction.

"No sign of anyone in our building, sir".

"Thank you, guardsman", the captain replied. "Haem has just finished telling me the exact same thing. And none of you found any sign of enemy presence either?" The latter was addressed to the others, who shook their heads. The captain sighed and looked around. Mikael noticed that one hand was wrapped around the butt of his laspistol, gripped tightly enough that the knuckles were white.

"It just doesn't make any sense. It's almost as if....."

"Captain Veran!"

Another guardsman emerged from inside the chimera, cradling a vox-unit in his arms.

"How is it looking, Meeks?"

Meeks set the vox-unit down carefully then straightened up, scratching his nose idly as he always did when he was confused.

"Looks like someone's had a real go at this vox, sir. You can see all the dents in it, if I had to guess I'd say someone hit it a few times with the butt of a lasrifle, or something like that anyway".

"Is it operational? We need to get in touch with Command urgently".

Mikael found himself nodding in agreement. During their last engagement with the cultists, almost three days ago, the unit's vox had been damaged beyond repair. Since then they had been out of contact, and had no idea what the larger situation was in Valerion.

"Well I gave it a try", Meeks replied. "All I got was a frak-load of static across all the bands. Now it might be that something inside the vox got damaged when somebody tried to beat the hell out of it, or maybe it's interference from....." Meeks hesitated, and pointed upwards. "Well.....that. It's probably a bit of both. I won't know for sure until I get a proper look inside it. I'll do what I can, sir".

Veran nodded. "I know you will, Meeks. See if you can find a way to strap that to your back or something, we'll be moving on soon and you'll need your hands free. Frox, give him a hand".

"Yes sir".

As Meeks and the other guardsman moved away, Veran looked round. "Listen up! We're moving on in ten minutes. Get what supplies you can from our fallen comrades, we're running low on rations and Emperor knows we can get more use out of them than they can".

Veran walked round the chimera, to where Krayn was still examining the bodies. Mikael and some of the other guardsmen followed him. Krayn got to his feet as he saw them approach.

"What have you found, commissar?"

"It is as we suspected, captain Veran", the commissar replied, brushing his hands together as he spoke. "They were ambushed. Whoever hit them was good, I don't think they had a chance to defend themselves properly. We need to stay alert".

"Thank you, Krayn", the captain replied. "Gather the men, we're moving on soon".

Mikael listened to all of this with a growing sense of bemusement. It sounded as if the two men were reading from a script, and he had never heard them speak to each other so civilly, not since the start of the Valerion campaign. He glanced at the others, but none of them seemed to have picked up on anything unusual. Why would they be putting on such a show?

One of the bodies caught his eye, and he crouched down to get a closer look. Like all but the screaming guardsman they had found when they arrived, this man had been shot through the centre of the forehead. He had also been shot in the back; it was probably those wounds that had brought him down and the forehead shot had finished it. Mikael looked more closely at the damage to his back. The guardsman's uniform was heavily scorched around each point of entry. Mikael had been around long enough to know that that meant the lasfire had hit him at close range.

A horrible thought occurred to him. The positions of the guardsmen: they had fallen as if running for cover. What if they had been running from one of their own? The close-range nature of the wounds and the damage to the vox-set supported that, as did the fact that there had only been one survivor. When Mikael had arrived, that man had been in no fit state to do anything, but that didn't mean he couldn't have been responsible......

Was that why the captain and the commissar had gone through that little routine? Was it for the benefit of the other guardsmen, to conceal the fact that one of their own had turned his back on the Emperor?

No, that couldn't be it. Mikael stood up slowly. He was being paranoid, that was all. It had probably happened like the captain and commissar had said. The damage to the vox could easily have been caused by cultists. There was no real reason to believe otherwise.

But as he walked away to rejoin the rest of the unit, a little voice inside Mikael's head asked him just who he was trying to kid.

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Boom-boom. Boom-boom.

Mikael walked slowly down the centre of the road, his lasrifle hanging from a strap over his shoulder. The road was unlike any other that he had seen in Valerion; rather than being composed of thick blocks of poured plascrete, its surface was made up of square, grey flagstones, each a few metres across. It was the same all the way down the road for as far as he could see, until the haze of the distance defeated his eyes. He imagined it was the same behind him, but couldn't be certain. He was unable to look back.

Boom-boom. Boom-boom.

On either side of the road were immense buildings; tall, brooding gothic edifices so high that they covered the road with perpetual shadow. They had no doors or windows; their exteriors had arches framing blank patches of wall. Further up were parapets lined with gargoyles, sculpted to resemble hideous creatures from near-forgotten legend. Mikael did his best not to look at them, just as he ignored the faint rasping sound of stone on stone, as the gargoyles slowly turned to watch him walk down the road.

Boom. Boom-boom.

There was something on the road ahead of him. It was a plant of some kind, growing where the corners of four flagstones met. Mikael knelt down, and as he did so his lasrifle banged against his side. Without looking he slipped the strap off his shoulder and placed the weapon on the ground next to him.

Boom-boom. Boom.

The plant was about six inches tall, and had eight slender leaves growing two thirds of the way up its stem. At the top of the stem was a flower, but it was closed, white petals wrapped tightly around one another. Mikael counted eight of them. He reached out with one hand and gently touched one of the leaves, feeling the texture of it between his thumb and index finger. It was soft and delicate; he sensed it would take only the slightest pressure to break it, and he had no wish to do that. He released the leaf, and as he did so the flower atop the plant trembled.

Boom. Boom.

Mikael watched, fascinated, as the eight petals all began to quiver. With aching slowness they began to fold open, unfurling one after another. He could not help but smile. When all of the petals had opened fully, mirroring the alignment of the leaves beneath them, at the centre of the petals he could see a small circle of red. The flower. He reached out again, but hesitated. Something about the colour of the flower was not quite right. It was very dark, almost the colour of.....blood.


It wasn't a flower at all, he realised. It was a drop of blood. Mikael stared as the drop expanded outwards, staining the lily-white petals dark red within seconds. The stem of the plant began to darken also, the colour travelling down from the flower to the leaves where one by one they turned red as well. Soon the entire plant was the colour of blood.


Mikael lurched to his feet as the blood, impossibly, continued to spread outwards from the plant, through the tiny gaps where each of the flagstones met. He took a single step back, but found himself unable to retreat any further. Soon the entire road, for as far as he could see, was like a gridwork of dark red, each flagstone outlined by the liquid. Mikael reached down for his lasrifle, but it wasn't there. As he looked around frantically, suddenly desperate to locate his weapon, he became aware of the


No, that was wrong. It wasn't completely silent. There was something, so faint that he could barely hear it. It was a rushing sound which at first he thought to be the wind, except that the air was utterly still, oppressively heavy. The rushing sound grew louder and louder, became more liquid, a gurgling roar. Then, in the distance, he saw it. An immense tidal wave of blood, growing higher and higher the closer it came, an impossible wave that refused to break. A single thought echoed inside his head, something foreign to him, yet spoken in a voice that seemed somehow familiar. The heart of Valerion has fallen, and now everything will be swept away in blood.

Mikael tried to move back, but found that he could not. Looking down at his feet, he saw that the blood from the plant had overflowed on to the flagstones, and now swirled around his boots. No matter how hard he tried he was unable to move his feet even the smallest amount; somehow the blood was holding them in place. He was trapped. And all the while the roaring of the oncoming wave grew louder and louder. All he could do was watch as it drew closer and closer. When it was almost on top of him he thought he could see struggling figures within the wave. Men and women, thrashing and writhing, their faces masks of desperation and hideous, incomprehensible suffering.

The tide of blood struck him, and he was plunged into darkness. The grip on his feet was released and he thrashed his arms and legs, clawing for purchase against the thick liquid as he struggled towards the surface. All he could hear was the gurgling rush of the blood swirling all about him.

Mikael broke the surface, gasping and retching as the semi-congealed blood oozed down his face. The tide was carrying him with it and he was travelling back down the road at terrifying speed. He shook his head and finally the haze of red across his vision receded, and he could see the sky.

The sky.

It was an impossible visage; a mass of violently clashing and swirling colours that was in constant flux, shifting in hue and shade from one second to the next, never remaining stable for even the briefest instant. There were colours there that he could not put a name to, that human eyes should not be able to perceive and, he instinctively knew, that they were not meant to. But that was not the worst of it.

Shapes moved in the sky, at once part of the endless melange of colour and yet distinct from it. Hideously beautiful forms, cavorting and battling endlessly. He could feel their terrible, pitilessly ancient scrutiny upon him. A thousand thousand chattering voices, overlapping and merging into a single roar of endless horror screamed in his ears; enticing him, threatening him, pleading with him.....

Mikael screamed and clasped his hands over his ears, tearing his gaze away from the sky. His eyes burned inside his head, and the voices continued to scream within his mind.

Just when he felt as if his head would explode from the agony, something grabbed hold of his ankles, and pulled him under.

Mikael awoke, gasping for air. For a moment he thought he could still hear the voices, but a second later they were gone, fading away into nothing but leaving him filled with disquiet and a sense of horror that he was fast becoming accustomed to.

He groaned and sat up, checking the time on his chronometer. He had been asleep for almost an hour and a half, yet despite that felt no more refreshed. If anything, he felt even worse than before. There was only another hour before the rest period was over and they would have to move on, so he decided that there was no point in trying to get back to sleep. Rubbing his eyes, he got to his feet and looked around.

The unit had holed up in what had once been a vast garage, a storage and maintenance area for civilian vehicles. It was filthy: littered with vehicle parts, tools and piles of rubbish, and the metal shutters at one end of the garage had been blown in by shell fire at some point in the past. Despite that, it was enclosed on three sides and, more importantly, the roof was intact, shielding them from the sky.

The other guardsmen lay on the floor all around him. Some were tossing and turning in uneasy slumber; others simply lay still, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Captain Veran was on watch with four other guardsmen at the entrance. The commissar was sitting in one corner, well away from the other men. Mikael couldn’t see whether he was awake or asleep, and he didn’t care enough to go and look.

Stretching and rotating his arms in an attempt to ease some of the knots out of his muscles, Mikael walked across the garage to where Meeks sat. The guardsman had placed the vox-unit on a bench against one wall and was now perched on a stool next to it, one hand pressing headphones against his ears while the other adjusted various dials and knobs on the vox-unit’s surface. Intent on his work, Meeks did not notice his approach, and practically fell off the stool when Mikael tapped him on the shoulder.

"For throne’s sake, don’t do that! I’m jumpy enough as it is!"

"Sorry about that", Mikael replied. "How’s it going?"

Meeks shook his head. "Not well. I’ve opened it up and checked the internal components; most seem okay but I’ve swapped out one or two with spares I had. Still nothing but static across all the bands though. I’m thinking it’s probably atmospherics, but there’s a few more things I can try yet".

Mikael nodded. Meeks was the unit’s vox-man, and the only one of any of them who understood how the things worked. He was by far their best chance of establishing contact with Command again.

"How about yourself? You look like you need some rest". It was true. Meeks looked completely exhausted. His eyes were bloodshot, with dark rings under them and his skin was pale and clammy. Not that Mikael exactly looked the picture of health, he thought.

Meeks shook his head again. "I’m not too bad". He twisted slightly and adjusted one of the dials on the vox, pressing the headphones closer to his ear. "Honestly, I would rather keep busy. Had some weird dreams lately".

Mikael felt a faint chill steal over him. "Like what?"

The guardsman’s expression froze for a few seconds. "Damn it!" He twisted the dial again, then scowled, and flung the headphones onto the desk.

"What is it?"

"I had something, just for a moment, then it was gone again". Meeks paused, and when he spoke again there was a strange look on his face. "It said.....well, I’m not sure, but it sounded like look at the sky".

Mikael shuddered. Only a few hours after the unit had lost their vox, the sky over Valerion had changed from a pleasant blue to.....what it was now. Nobody could stand to look at it for long; those that lasted longer than a few seconds became very ill, very quickly. He hated to think what the effects of looking at it for any prolonged period of time would be. He remembered how it had appeared in his dreams, and horror filled him. The dreams had started the same night the sky had changed; that couldn’t be a coincidence. But what did they mean, if anything?

"Mikael? You okay?"

He snapped back to the present, and looked at Meeks, who was regarding him with a concerned expression. "Yes, sorry. Look. What you heard the vox say. You must have been mistaken. The last thing that any of us should do is look at the sky".

"I know. I was probably hearing things. Look, you should go get some rest. I’ll keep trying".

Mikael nodded and walked away. After a few paces he paused, and looked back. Meeks had his back turned, and the guardsman was gazing up at the ceiling, almost as if trying to look through it.

Then he turned back to the vox-unit, and picked up the headphones again.

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
The unit moved on a little over an hour later. It took a while to get everyone moving, despite the shouted orders of the commissar and the quieter words of captain Veran. The rest period didn't seem to have done anyone much good; those that had managed to catch some sleep complained about feeling worse than before.

Mikael understood exactly what they meant. What little sleep he got was always dominated by the same dream over and over again; reliving the nightmare seemed to leave him a little more drained of energy every time. He knew that he wasn't the only one who had been having nightmares, but hadn't asked any of the other guardsmen precisely what it was that they dreamed about. If he were honest, he didn't know which answer he feared the most: that everyone was experiencing the same nightmare, or that he was the only one.

They were all exhausted, and as a consequence weren't covering anything like as much ground as they would have been able to normally. It didn't help that the captain and the commissar had responded to this by reducing the number of rest periods, perhaps in the hope that this would somehow galvanise the guardsmen into making up for lost time. It wasn't working, although nobody dared say as much to their faces.

Mikael glanced around at the unit. They were walking down the centre of a broad avenue, that had so far been mostly clear of rubble, burned-out vehicles and other obstructions. He was bringing up the rear of the group, and every so often checked behind them for any sign that they were being followed. There was nothing, as always. They hadn't caught so much as a glimpse of the enemy since the sky had changed. He didn't know what that meant, if anything. If not for the ever-present rumble of explosions somewhere in the distance, he would have found it easy to believe that they were the only living souls in the whole of Valerion.

The rest of the guardsmen were on edge. Those walking on the outside of the group seemed very nervous, flicking anxious glances into every shadowed doorway they passed, as if expecting hordes of bloodthirsty cultists to come pouring out at any moment. Vigilance was essential, but they seemed entirely too twitchy. One of the worst examples was Jase, the guardsman who carried the unit's plasma gun. Imperial plasma weaponry was temperamental at the best of times; the last thing any of them needed was for such a gun to be carried by someone who was not only sleep-deprived to the point of exhaustion, but also jumpy and nervous. Mikael didn't know what could be done about it though; certainly nobody else was much better at the moment.

After half an hour of walking the avenue split into two roads, leading away to the west and east respectively. Ahead of them was an immense tract of parkland, or at least what had once been parkland, before war had come to Valerion. The captain waved them forward without a word, and the unit left the avenue.

Mikael thought it was a mistake. Although going around would probably have taken the unit hours, tactically it would have been the better option. The unit would be visible for quite some distance, with no cover should they be attacked. Even worse, they were out under the open sky, without the comforting presence of buildings to shelter them. He found himself hunching over, anxious to avoid catching so much as a glimpse of it. Other guardsmen were doing the same.

He imagined that the park must once have been a pleasant place to come to. No doubt parents had brought their children here; to have picnics, to play sports. Now, however, the park was little more than a blasted wasteland. Charred stumps of trees protruded from scorched earth, while other areas were pockmarked by craters or churned up by explosions and the passing of heavy vehicles. Apart from the guardsmen, there was not a single living thing to be seen; not so much as a single blade of grass. The air was heavy with the stench of rotting vegetation and the ever-present smell of burning that was pervasive throughout Valerion.

Mikael felt tremendously exposed, like a bug crawling across the wasteland. He felt, absurdly, as if the sky was watching him. Part of him found the idea ridiculous, but the rest of him, remembering the dreams he had been having, found it very easy to believe. He had to constantly fight the urge to look up and see for himself if it were true.

Ahead of him the ground sloped up, forming a ridge that obscured the rest of the park from his view. Some of the guardsmen were just reaching it, and as they did so they immediately dropped to the ground and trained their lasrifles forward. The rest of the unit began reacting; those on the flanks crouched lower and ran forward to support the vanguard, while the rest advanced cautiously, crawling the last few metres to avoid presenting an inviting target for anything beyond the ridge. When Mikael reached the top of the ridge he looked at the other side for a few seconds, then let out a long sigh.

The far side of the park was littered with wrecked and burned-out vehicles. Mikael saw Leman Russ battle tanks, chimera transports, Hydras, even a Griffon heavy mortar carrier. At least two dozen vehicles, which from their positioning had been firing on each other. The cultists had access to Imperial vehicles, commandeered when they had mounted their insurrection. Most of the vehicles below Mikael were so badly damaged that it was impossible to tell which side they had belonged to.

Captain Veran led the way down the slope. As he walked he made quick gestures with his free hand and the unit dispersed across the battlefield to check for survivors. They quickly found bodies scattered everywhere. Many were burned beyond recognition, but some were comparatively undamaged. There was an even mixture of guardsmen and cultists. Mikael had been around death all his life in the Imperial Guard, and he estimated that the battle had been at least four days ago, judging by the condition of the corpses.

The unit moved on after a while, when it became obvious that no survivors were going to be found. Nobody said a word, but Mikael noticed a few of the men make the sign of the aquila. He muttered a brief prayer for the souls of the fallen guardsmen.

Near the edge of the parkland they found yet more bodies. These appeared to have died far more recently, perhaps within the last day. Some of the men looked at Veran expectantly, but the captain didn’t react.

As the unit walked on, Mikael noticed something unusual. All the bodies, as far as he could tell, were those of guardsmen. All had died from wounds caused by lasfire or close combat. There were no cultists among the dead. He found it hard to believe that a unit of guardsmen could be ambushed and wiped out without killing at least some of the enemy. Or perhaps the cultists had recovered the bodies of their fallen? But why would they do that, when they had never bothered before?

Mikael shook his head, as if doing so would drive the questions from his mind. He needed to focus. They were approaching the edge of the parkland and ironically this period, so close to reaching cover, was when they were in the most danger. The unit might have been incredibly vulnerable while crossing the parkland, but at least they would have been able to see any enemy forces approaching. That was not the case here: cultists could easily be hiding in the buildings on the edge of the park even now, watching them draw closer.

The structures on this edge of the park had been private dwellings by the look of them, for those wealthy enough to afford a home overlooking what would once have been green and pleasant parkland. A low wall separated the homes from the park; it didn't look at all secure, but Mikael imagined that the buildings had probably had security systems. A few of the homes had collapsed, but the rest appeared to have been spared any substantial damage. There were a lot of windows, and Mikael tightened his grip on his lasrifle as he glanced at them one by one, looking for any signs of movement.

One of the guardsmen at the front suddenly yelled a warning and raised his lasrifle, firing several shots at one of the windows. Others joined in and soon volleys of suppressing lasfire were being aimed at the building's windows and those of the adjacent structures.


Commissar Krayn sprinted past Mikael; bolt pistol in one hand and chainsword in the other, the teeth of the blade already whirring into life.

"Forward!" He bellowed. "Sweep the buildings and cleanse them of the heretic scum. For the Emperor!"

As one, the unit charged forward. Mikael did the same, and as he ran a single thought echoed in his head.

At last.

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
It took at least twenty seconds for the unit to cross the rest of the parkland. No fire came their way from the structures; the cultists were probably too busy avoiding the barrage of suppressing fire that the front-runners were laying down. Jase fired his weapon, and Mikael saw a ball of blue plasma strike a building, tearing out a ground-floor window and a large chunk of the surrounding masonry. Hopefully the plasma fire would have dealt with any cultists foolish enough to shelter in that room as well.

Mikael was still running at full speed when he reached the low wall and promptly hurdled it. The edge of his trailing foot clipped the top of the wall and he stumbled as he hit the ground on the other side, but adrenalin kept him moving forward. At any second he expected to be scythed down by fire from the windows overlooking the garden. Most of the unit were assaulting the next building over where the first contact had been detected, leaving Mikael and three or four others to sweep this home. Closing rapidly on the entrance, he fired a quick burst at the door’s lock and hit the door hard with his shoulder.

The door refused to give way and Mikael fell backwards, losing his balance and hitting the ground awkwardly. He cursed, rolling to one side and hauling himself up into a crouching position, struggling to ignore the pain burning all the way down his right arm. He could see the door had practically been torn out of its frame, but was hanging awkwardly at the top; there was probably a bolt there holding it shut.

A volley of lasfire hit the top of the door, chewing through the wood in an explosion of splinters, and the door toppled back into the house with a crash. Someone took hold of his shoulder and hauled him to his feet. It was guardsman Frox.

“Move, you frakker!” He yelled and dashed into the house without another word. Mikael snarled and flung himself forward, the other two guardsmen right on his heels.

It was much darker inside the house and that threw Mikael briefly, he almost ran into a table but managed to sidestep just in time. The room looked like a kitchen, with two doors set into the far wall. Frox was moving through one of them into a corridor and Mikael followed, motioning for one of the guardsmen behind him to check the other door. It was probably just a pantry, but they had to be sure nobody was hiding there.

Moving more slowly now, Mikael entered the corridor. Frox stepped into a room to the right, leaving Mikael to keep going. At the end of the corridor was what looked like the building’s front entrance. His eyes rapidly adjusting, Mikael could see two heavy bolts thrown across the door. To the right of that was an open doorway and to the left a staircase. Walking down the corridor with his lasrifle raised, Mikael almost fired when a figure emerged from the doorway suddenly, but relaxed when he realised it was Frox. The guardsman shook his head briefly, and pointed at the stairs. Mikael nodded, looking back to see the other two men waiting.

He walked forward quickly, struggling to bring his breathing under control. His shoulder was beginning to ache more as the adrenalin rush that had carried him this far subsided. He could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears. Mikael knew that his fatigue was beginning to tell, but he had to push through it as best he could. Reaching the base of the stairs, he turned sharply, and brought his weapon up.


It was little more than a flicker in the shadows, but Mikael fired as soon as he registered the motion, then dashed up the stairs two at a time. No shots came back in reply and he reached the next floor within a few seconds, the other guardsmen right behind him. He turned left, eyes flicking over the gaping holes that his lasfire had torn into the wooden panelling fixed to the walls. Ahead was another doorway. Light, probably coming in from outside, was illuminating one of the walls in the room beyond. On the far wall a shadow moved. A man, holding a rifle of some kind.

Mikael fired, and as he stepped forward he saw the shadow flinch back. Switching his lasrifle to full auto he threw himself into the room, dropping into a crouch as he swept his weapon round the room, firing continuously.

There was nobody there.

Mikael stared around the room, unable to believe it. His lasfire had stitched a line of ragged holes across the walls at waist-height. The only items of furniture were a small bed, pressed tightly against one wall, and a chest of drawers next to it. There was nowhere for anyone to hide.

He looked back at the wall, and had to bite back the urge to yell. The shadow was still there; an impossible patch of darkness with nothing to cast it. The figure’s head seemed to turn, almost as if it were looking at him. Mikael’s head pounded. But was it his heartbeat he was hearing, or someone or something else’s?

Frox entered the room with his weapon up, and Mikael glanced round. When he looked back at the wall, the shadow had vanished. He stared around the room, half believing that it might have reappeared elsewhere, but there was no sign of it. It was as if it had never existed.

“Did you see that?”

Frox looked at him, a perplexed expression on his face. “See what? What the hell were you firing at?”

Mikael stood up slowly. “I’m telling you, there was something here. Didn’t you see the shadow?”

The guardsman stared around the room, then his expression hardened. “For frak’s sake, there’s nothing here, Mikael. Stay put. The three of us will sweep the rest of the house”.

He nodded, but Frox had already left the room, and a moment later he heard the guardsman muttering something to the other two. Their footsteps receded into the distance and eventually there was quiet. He listened intently, but there was no further shooting. Soon there was only silence, but for the sound of his own panicked breathing.

Was he going mad? First the dreams, and now this?

Suddenly Mikael didn’t want to be alone any longer. He walked out of the room and left the house as quickly as possible.

He kept a close eye on the shadows.

2,996 Posts
Sorry I haven't had time to reply to each individual part, but I have been preoccupied over the last few days :)

The dream sequence, was immense. I utterly loved that, your descriptions cast a awesome mental image and they continue to do so with each part that you post. Overall I haven't been able to pick up any problems, there is certainly a professional air around you mate. Keep it up, I look forwards to more :)

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
He stepped outside to find another guardsman standing in the garden, weapon held ready. He looked surprised to see Mikael.

“I was told there were four were sweeping this house, where are the others?”

“Back inside”, Mikael replied. When the other man looked confused, he tried to appear embarrassed. “I managed to run straight into a table. Banged my shin pretty good and couldn’t walk on it for a few minutes. The others are checking the rest of the building”.

The guardsman grinned, then jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Fair enough. Orders are to regroup in the park”.

“Anyone had contact with the enemy?”

“Nothing so far”, the guardsman said. As Mikael walked past he grinned again. “Mind out for the wall, yeah?”

Mikael bit back a caustic response. Better that the guardsman think him incompetent than a madman.

Most of the guardsmen had assembled in the park, and more were arriving in groups of two or three. Captain Veran was standing at the edge of the park, talking to each group in turn. The commissar was nowhere to be seen, probably still in one of the buildings. From what Mikael could gather, nobody had found any sign of the enemy, but not every building had been confirmed as clear yet.

Mikael spotted Meeks off to one side and walked over to him. The guardsman was squatting in front of the vox-unit, hunched over as he made adjustments to the controls. He was wearing headphones and seemed intent on what he was doing, but barely moved when Mikael tapped him on the shoulder.

“I’m busy, go away”, he snapped, without even looking to see who it was.

“I just wanted to know if…..”

Meeks twisted round suddenly. “I said I’m busy, damn it! I almost have it, almost. I need to work!”

Mikael stepped back, surprised by how intense Meeks was. It was completely unlike him; normally he was one of the most easygoing members of the unit. The tension must have been getting to him, just like it was everyone else.

“Alright, I’m sorry mate”. Meeks didn’t react, simply turned back to the vox-unit as if Mikael wasn’t even there. His lips were moving, but Mikael couldn’t tell what he was saying.

“Have you found anything?”

It was Veran’s voice and Mikael turned to see the captain standing a short distance away talking to Frox and the other two guardsmen who had swept the house.

“Nothing sir”. Frox glanced at Mikael briefly. “No sign of the enemy at all”.

“Alright, get some rest. We’ll move on once the rest of the unit reports back, assuming they’ve found nothing too”.

Mikael looked at the ground as Frox and the others walked past, not wanting to meet their eyes. He was certain he had seen something. How could they have not? Perhaps they were lying; perhaps they had seen the same thing he had but just didn’t want to face the implications of it. He wished he could believe that.

Another ten minutes passed before the remaining five members of the unit returned, having completed their search of the house where the contact had first been reported. Krayn was among them. He had sheathed his chainsword but had his bolt pistol in his right hand. Veran walked over to meet him and Mikael edged closer, wanting to hear for himself what they had to say.

“There was nothing”, Krayn said before Veran could even open his mouth. “No cultists. No sign that they had been there in the past. Only a damn mess caused by our lasfire. What about the others?”

Veran shook his head, and Krayn scowled.

“This is completely unacceptable”. The commissar stepped forward, shrugging off Veran’s restraining hand on his shoulder, and moved to the centre of the group. “Listen up! Which of you was the first to fire? I want a name, now!”

The guardsmen looked at one another, but nobody said a word. Krayn waited for a few seconds, tapping his bolt pistol against his leg impatiently. “Come on, speak up! Which of you was it? We have just wasted our time sweeping deserted buildings. The noise of our weapons firing will have betrayed our position to any enemy forces in this area. All thanks to whichever one of you thought he saw something. Speak up, now, or I promise you that your punishment will be far worse for remaining silent”.

“It was me”. Leon Haem stepped forward. “I fired first”.

Mikael groaned inwardly as Krayn turned slowly to face the unfortunate guardsman. Mikael remembered that Haem had been with him when they had swept the hab-block, shortly after finding the screaming guardsman beside the chimera. Mikael had seen something moving in the shadows then, too. He remembered that Haem claimed to have seen it as well.

“Why did you fire, trooper Haem?”

“I saw someone, sir. One of the cultists”.

“I don’t see how that is possible, trooper”, Krayn said softly, taking a few steps closer. “You and I went through that entire building, didn’t we? We found nothing. The rest of the unit has swept every nearby building, and there was still nobody to be found. Are you still certain that you saw someone?”

Haem was trembling slightly. “Yes…..yes, commissar. I did”.

“Very well. What, pray tell, did this cultist look like?”

“Well, I…..I didn’t see what the cultist looked like. It was more of a shadow. But it moved, I swear by the Emperor it did!”

“A shadow”, Krayn repeated, his tone flat and emotionless. “You wasted both our time and ammunition, jeopardised our mission, all because you thought you saw a shadow? I’ve heard enough”. The commissar raised his bolt pistol in one swift motion, aiming it at Haem’s forehead. Several guardsmen cried out in disbelief. “Trooper Leon Haem. You have exercised poor fire discipline, and in doing so jeopardised the success of our mission. I hereby sentence you to death. Do you have anything to say?”

“That’s enough, Krayn”. Captain Veran stepped in front of Haem, and stared at the commissar, apparently unafraid. “You’ve made your point. Haem frakked up, no question. But I’m not going to let you execute one of my men for being fatigued, understand?”

“Might I remind you, captain, that as a commissar it is both my right and my duty to execute any guardsman who demonstrates incompetence in battle. Trooper Haem is certainly guilty of that. It doesn’t matter that he is tired; we all are. That is no excuse for gross dereliction of his duty. You will step aside, now!”

Veran opened his mouth to respond, but before he had the chance to say anything a nearby guardsman yelled a warning. A second later, Frox shouted as well.

“Meeks! What the frak are you doing?”

Everyone turned, Mikael included, and what he saw sent a feeling of pure horror racing through his body. Only a few metres away, guardsman Meeks was standing perfectly still, arms tight by his side. The vox-unit lay at his feet, apparently forgotten.

His head was tilted back, and he was staring up at the sky.

21 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Mikael practically ran towards Meeks, stopping only when one of the guardsman’s arms snapped out, palm facing towards him.

“Meeks, please. Stop it”. Around him he could hear the other guardsmen saying similar things. “It’s not safe, mate. You know what happens to people who look at the sky”.

“It’s fine, Mikael”. Meeks’s voice was perfectly calm. “I understand now. The vox explained everything to me. Just look at the sky, Mikael. It’s so beautiful”. Slowly he lowered his head, turning as he did so until he was gazing directly at Mikael. The guardsman gasped in horror and stepped back. Cries rang out as the others saw his face, and those that had been advancing toward Meeks stopped dead, unwilling to approach any closer.

A web of dark red streaks covered the whites of his eyes. Blood. As Mikael watched in horror, the blood spread outwards gradually; even the pupils were covered by it. Within a few seconds Meeks’s eyes were entirely red. A single drop of blood fell from one eye and ran down his nose slowly, almost as if he were weeping.

It must have been agonising, yet Meeks gave no outward sign of being in any pain. The guardsman simply smiled. “Just listen, and you will understand too”, he said, then pointed at the vox-unit, lying on the ground at his feet.

Impossibly, the vox unit activated and the air was suddenly filled with the sound of static, amplified to a near-deafening volume. Mikael instinctively snapped his hands up to shield his ears, and thus was caught off-guard when Meeks stepped forward and hit him. The guardsman struck Mikael in the chest with the heel of his palm; his feet left the ground as he was sent flying backwards.

Mikael hit the ground hard, driving the breath from his body. He tried to get up but fell back almost immediately, gasping for air. His chest was on fire; it felt as if he had been hit by a tank. There was no way Meeks should have been able to strike him so hard. Unable to move, Mikael could only watch as Meeks, still smiling, raised his lasrifle and opened fire on the unit using full-auto.

There were screams as the lasfire scythed through the guardsmen, and thumps as bodies hit the floor. Whether alive or dead, Mikael couldn’t tell. The rest of the unit began to return fire, but Meeks was moving too quickly. Frox stepped in to try and intercept him; Meeks responded by smashing the stock of his lasrifle across the soldier’s face. As Frox stumbled back, Meeks threw himself forward, rolling and coming up with the barrel of his lasrifle pressed into the stomach of yet another guardsman, who didn’t even have time to scream before Meeks fired.

Mikael rolled over and dragged himself across the ground towards where he had dropped his lasrifle. If he could just get to it before Meeks noticed, he could…..he could….. He was finding it increasingly hard to think. The roar of static from the vox-unit seemed to fill his head; he could barely hear anything else but the white noise.

No, that was wrong. It wasn’t static, he suddenly realised. Not entirely. There were voices somewhere in there, whispering…..what were they saying? He could almost make it out, almost understand the words. Something…..something about the sky, and…..


It took Mikael a second to realise that the cry had come from his own lips. He fought to block the noise out. It was listening to the vox-unit that had driven Meeks into insanity, he would not end up that way. No matter the things he had been seeing, and the contents of his dreams, he refused to listen! With what felt like a huge effort Mikael reached out and closed his hand around the stock of his lasrifle. Hauling himself into a sitting position, Mikael aimed at the vox-unit and fired.

The vox-unit toppled over, smoke pouring from dozens of holes in its surface as Mikael continued to hold the trigger down, only letting go when the lasrifle’s power cell ran dry. The sound of the static cut out and Mikael gasped in relief as the voices that had been whispering to him fell silent. But before he could even look round, a hand seized him by the throat and dragged him upright.

Meeks stared at him, his impassive face no more than a few inches from Mikael’s own. Blood was now coursing down his cheeks; indeed his eyes seemed to be dissolving into the liquid and Mikael could see the glint of white bone within the sockets. Despite that, he somehow knew that Meeks could see him with perfect clarity. Too close to use his lasrifle, Mikael dropped the weapon and clasped both hands around Meeks’s, attempting to lever it away from his throat. When that didn’t work he tried kneeing him in the groin, but the guardsman just took the blow without flinching. Just as Mikael’s vision was beginning to darken around the edges, Meeks suddenly jerked and toppled over, dragging the guardsman down with him. Mikael broke free and scrambled back a few metres, seeing the scorch marks on Meeks’s chest. He had been shot from behind, and the lasfire had passed right through his body. Only luck had kept Mikael from being hit as well.

Meeks was still alive. Somehow he still seemed to be looking directly at Mikael. His mouth lolled open and blood oozed out from one side of it.

“The heart of Valerion has fallen, and now everything will be swept away in blood”.

Mikael stared, disbelieving. They were the very same words that he had heard in his dream. Even Meeks’s voice seemed different, more like the voice that had spoken that phrase to him while he slept; the voice that somehow seemed achingly familiar, although Mikael knew that he had never heard it before coming to Valerion.

A shadow fell over Mikael, and he looked up to see commissar Krayn standing over him, staring down at Meeks with contempt.

“The only thing that has fallen, heretic, is you”, he snapped. His bolt pistol fired once, and silence fell. Mikael let himself fall back, but after a few second shot upright as a thought occurred to him. It was too quiet.

“I can’t hear them any more”.

Krayn looked round, an irritated expression on his face. “Hear what, guardsman?”

“The explosions. Listen!”

The commissar stared at him for a moment, then his eyes slowly widened as what Mikael had said began to sink in. Ever since they had arrived in Valerion the distant rumble of explosions and the sounds of warfare had been constant in the background, so much so that most of the unit had simply filtered them out. But now, no matter how much he tried, Mikael couldn’t hear the noise at all.

Silence had fallen across Valerion.
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