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Hey everyone, I've been writing this bit of fluff about a Basilisk crewman. I will post it in parts, and here is the first bit. I like the down and dirty reality of War in the 40th millenia - so there aren't any heroics or Space Marines or anything cool like that. I try somewhat to depict the less glorious aspects of the otherwise glamourous fluff of heroes, etc. I guess it's somewhat violent, but I think that's pretty much par for course, haha. I look forward to hearing your criticism and comments. I've only proof-read it once, so I'm sure there is a lot of ideosyncracy, go-nowhere sentences and incoherence. I can't wait to see the responses. Here it is:
The salty grime stung as it dripped into the eyes of the trooper dragging a sledge towards the Basilisk. He stopped, hunched and breathlessly drew his forearm across his eyes, his face tightening. The filth from his forehead mixed with the rivulets of sweat that traced down his face and entered his eyes again. They stung, his ears rang and his parched tongue tasted only of cordite. In the driving rain, he turned again to the artillery shell on his sledge and shouldered the harness.
“Hurry on there! Back into it trooper! We’ve –“
The hoarse cry of the gun crew leader was suddenly obliterated by the roar of the Earthshaker cannon. The trooper winced as the entire carriage rocked back with the furious recoil of the gun. In the ringing silence of his tortured eardrums, the trooper ground his teeth together and hauled the shell towards the gun emplacement, draped with soaked, drab tarpaulins. Two forms slipped out from under the rain-sodden camouflage netting and ran shoulders hunched in a half-crouch towards the trooper. Their blackened hands groped awkwardly onto the lines tied to the sledge and with their combined efforts they heaved the shell across the earthworks that surrounded the entrenched Basilisk. Taking deep gulping breaths of the stinking air, the trooper slouched against the cold steel of the gun carriage. He fumbled for a moment with the flap of a pouch on his webbing and drew out a Lho-stick and with a trembling hand proffered it between his lips.
“Trooper Culn! Not around the sodding shells!”
The gun crew leader, an unshaved junior officer, had his hands on the edge of the gun carriage and was looking down upon him over his right shoulder. He wore his blouse unbuttoned and a sweat-rusted Aquila icon dangled right above Culn’s head. Culn closed his eyes in resignation and slid the cellulose tube behind his ear. By now others had tethered the shell into a winch and it was being lifted towards the smoking, oily breech of the cannon. Carefully manoeuvred by cautious, filthy hands, it slid into the gun. Culn watched as one of the crew closed and locked the breech behind, before realizing the junior officer was looking intently at him.
“Do guns feed themselves with shells?”
Culn met his stare with a dull, incredulous look. Utterly exhausted, the officer’s sarcasm was lost upon the still heavily breathing trooper.
“Back to the ‘carrier, bombardier! Brolm-“ the officer paused as a thin trooper who’d been stacking spent shell casings behind the firing deck of the Basilisk came to attention – “go with him, we need to maintain our rate of fire or Company will have my neck.”
Brolm saluted quickly and Culn followed, a second later. It was enough for the junior officer to fix his eyes on him again. “Quickly now,” he finished tersely, his gaze not leaving trooper Culn. He turned to the vox operator, who had been until that moment crouched unseen and wordless with the earpiece pressed against his head.
“Range, twenty-seven hundred. Elevate five degrees. Time on target, eighteen seconds,” the vox-operator said calmly. Culn noticed he had a rag in the ear that wasn’t pressed to the voxcaster. The junior officer turned to the rest of his crew.
“Bombardier, load and bless the shell!”
Another un-armoured trooper, his combat blouse sodden to his chest with rain responded in clipped tones.
“Shell loaded and blessed, sir!”
The edges of the junior officer’s mouth turned upwards into a crooked smile.
“Gunner, for the Emperor, FIRE!”
Culn braced but the shattering crash of the Earthshaker ripped into his head, sending searing lines of pain from his aching eardrums down his spine as the ground around them vibrated slightly. The two troopers ran out into the rain, as the voices on the gun carriage faded into the sound of the rain. Culn was happy to get away from the monstrous, deafening gun.
The two men scampered over the ruined and despoiled terrain, ducking low between the scarce patches of cover afforded by scrubby, stinging-nettle brush. Culn had a vague idea of his surroundings; beyond the bit of ground occupied by his element of the artillery company, he knew only whispered rumours and the propagandistic ‘bulletins’ of the commissars of the infantry company his unit had been attached to. Two kilometres to the north of where his gun crew was emplaced lay the outer reaches of the city of Caulder, which Culn, in his own small way, was besieging. In between him and the city’s edge lay a raised road, a river, followed by a demolished expanse of shattered homes and carefully tended forest, which now were little more than ruined brick and naked, shattered tree trunks. He could hear echoing dull and flat across the devastated, shell-cratered ground between his position and the perimeter of the city the fire of heavy stubbers and the crack of lasfire. Straining his eyes, he could even see the flashes of light and muddy bursts where Earthshaker rounds fell. He noticed that the sound of the shell impacts reached his ears several seconds after he saw them hit.
On the other side of the embankment road that afforded them this vantage point sat their Centaur carrier. It had thrown a track in a shell crater, and lay lopsided having been subsequently knocked over by enemy counter-battery fire. The shells lay strewn messily about, with the random pattern of distribution afforded only by an explosion. Because of the mud and the unexpected accuracy of the enemy, Culn had been dragging seventy-five kilogram shells since two hours before dawn.
“Culn Get down!” Brolm hissed. “Get down-,” this time more a whisper, before falling dead silent. Along the raised road that ran alongside their battery’s position a vehicle was approaching. Culn didn’t need to be told twice. The two men slid down the embankment and lay pressed flat to the ground, sinking into the mud. Culn wished he could sink in further. Lying on their backs, they could hear the metallic noise of treads churning through the mud and gravel of the road. Twisting his neck, Brolm risked a glance upwards. Culn heard him exhale; his relief palpable.
The Chimera had two broad blue and white stripes painted across its turret – it was a command tank of the infantry company they’d been providing fire support to. Brolm stood and waved, his webbing and gear rattling about, and called out an identification.
“Gloria Imperator! Cadian!”
A hatch clanged open, and a helmet emerged, round tanker goggles across the sooty nose of the face of the soldier who wore it. A long scar ran across his chin and disappeared behind the eyepiece of the goggles he wore.
“Cadian!” he called out in response. He shifted his weight and, placing his hands on the cupola, hoisted himself out of the small Chimera turret. He stood upright, resting his right arm on the pintle-mounted heavy stubber and exhaled. “Look alive out here, lads. Enemy units crossed the river overnight. Let your JO know, and tell him to vox the Major if he gets any sight of them. Last thing we want is someone causing bloody chaos-,” he paused with a pained and fearful expression on his face, “in our rear echelon.” Culn realized the Chimera commander was looking at him. “Lho sticks?” Culn braced for a reprimand. “Come over here trooper! I’ve got a light, share with me one of those would you? Tomorrow we may all be dead!” The commander paused for a moment, then his grim features broke into a wide, yellow-toothed grin and he laughed hollowly. Culn unbuttoned his combat blouse’s pocket and produced two more. The officer reached down to the offered sticks, lit them and inhaled deeply. He handed the other two down, which Culn accepted and Brolm declined. Shrugging with a look of mixed surprise and indifference, the officer leaned back down into the tank and gave it to his driver.
The Chimera’s engines spluttered noisily to life and the officer saluted sloppily and lowered himself into his cupola, slamming shut the hatch. Greasy clouds of black smoke billowed from the exhaust as the tank churned up mud as it sped off. Culn saw ‘Death to the Enemies of Man’ etched in the careful scrawl of the illiterate on its rear doors.
The two troopers had made it ten feet down the other side of the embankment towards the Centaur when the terrifying roar of an explosion struck them full force from behind. The awful scream of rent steel filled the air as the Chimera, fifty metres further down the road atop the embankment burned furiously. A second explosion from inside the Chimera and the personnel carrier teetered on one side before it flipped entirely, sliding slowly down the wet mud of the roadside. The fuel and ammunition inside began to cook off, popping lightly in counterpoint to the oily black smoke and roaring, oxygen-sucking inferno that blazed from the personnel carrier’s armoured hull. Culn and Brolm threw themselves for a second time to the ground. The rain continued unabated. Wiping mud and sweat from his brow, Culn saw forms moving in the foliage three metres from the roadside, adjacent to the Chimera’s wreck. In horror, the two troopers watched as the hatch on the Chimera’s turret burst open and a form thrust itself out, fully ablaze. The dull thud of distant artillery began anew, to provide an awful counterpoint to this close, personalized atrocity. Culn realized that he had never before actually seen a man die.
The forms at the roadside advanced cautiously, and one raised a weapon at the immolating Chimera commander. The body of the screaming officer twisted from the hatch and fell onto the muddy road, and the other figure pushed aside the barrel of the weapon, away from its target.
“They’re going to let him burn.” Brolm spat. Until this moment, Culn hadn’t even realized this was the enemy he was watching from a distance; a distance that all of a sudden did not seem as vast as an artilleryman was used to. Culn watched as Brolm reached downwards, struggling to unbuckle the soaked and filthy leather holster on his harness. He slid out a dirty looking laspistol. Culn then realized, as well, that he wasn’t even armed.
Watching from their prone position, they saw another dozen forms emerge from the tree-line. One slid a bayonet into the charred corpse of the Chimera commander, who had died with one hand clawing towards the grey clouds in the sky. Culn’s felt his stomach turn as one of the enemy soldiers knelt beside the burnt cadaver and snapped off the claw-like hand at the wrist with a wicked-looking bayonet from his boot. As Brolm turned to him to speak, Culn watched in silence as the soldier, with an echoing yell, attached the severed hand to a chain around his waist.
“We need to get out of here. We need to warn the junior officer!” Culn nodded and began to back away, down the embankment. He saw his crushed Lho-stick, knocked from his mouth as he was thrown to the ground, buried in the mud. Ducking away from the embankment road, they cut back across to the site of the Basilisk.
The men moved quickly. They were tense, but did their best to ignore the crash of artillery and keep up the pace. After fifteen minutes of breathlessly running, ducking for cover and running again, they arrived at the gun emplacement. The two troopers paused in the underbrush that lay to the right of the embankment road. This was the clearing in which Culn, Brolm and the other six troopers had in the inky light before dawn set up their gun carriage. To their left lay the embankment Before them lay a bloody mess. A handful of the figures milled in the still grey air around the Basilisk. By now the rain had stopped, and the wet, grim sky was shattered infrequently by the thunderous crash of Earthshaker fire. It was cold, windless and calm. Culn noted with growing anticipation that the air around them had been silent for the last few minutes before their approach. They now heard in the unsettling the gasping screams of the JO. Peering across the clearing, they could see the Vox-operator sprawled over the edge of the gun carriage, his rag-less ears instead trickling dark blood. Several other of Culn’s fellow gun crew lay draped around the emplacement, their dark soaked khaki uniforms caked with mud and blood. The entire crew save the junior officer had been killed in ambush. The enemy stood in a semi-circle around his poor ragged form.
The man with the limply-hanging hand on his belt drew a long, filthy trench-knife from behind his back. In a language Culn did not understand, he cried out. His fellows responded in kind, and with a uneasy gust of wind that seemed to come from nowhere, he sawed the blade across the throat of the panting, wide-eyed JO.
“What did they say?” whined the terrified trooper Culn to Brolm. Brolm was attached, in turn, from the local planetary defence force to Culn’s Cadian artillery company. He’d know what the enemy infiltrators were saying, Culn thought without thinking for a moment he’d rather remain ignorant of that.
Brolm exhaled and said simply: “Blood for the Blood God. I don’t dare utter what the men responded.”
Culn gasped audibly and felt his head swim with animal fear. He wanted to turn and run.
Brolm then dared to say the men’s response in a low whisper. “And Death to the-” his voice became nearly inaudible- “False Emperor.” Culn’s eyes grew larger and Brolm nodded solemly.
"Not Another Step Back! Death to the Enemies of Man!"
I like it.
Keep up the good work.
Arch Overfiend & Grand Despot
I currently play:
Doom Eagle Space Marines
Hive Fleet Omega Tyranids
Goff Ork Boyz(dead)
Tau of O'me
Inquisitorial Xeno Hunters
and my attempted foray into fantasy
'Dark Angel Green' Dark Elves in need of fluff
thats really well written!
Great stuff here.. Brilliantly written.
If possible, a few of the minor characters like the JO could possibly use names, quirks, descriptions, maybe the odd reference to how the characters feel about them at various stages, etc.. Building up those kinds of connections makes the emotional impact more real, and there's an emotional depth in your writing which I think you could exploit through that.
Also, I think you could stand to add a little description of the chaos cultists. How they look, how they dress, whether or not they're really inhuman looking or frighteningly normal. Obviously, you don't have to give everything away (show, don't tell) but a few details could really spice up the mental image there.
As I said though, great writing.. I look forward to more.
Really great writing! Your descriptions are ace, and you have a really good way for detailing whats going on! You have a great way with words! Carry on posting more!