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Vladimir Pugh was born into a poverty-stricken worker family in Hive Njord on the ice world of Inwit. His father had died shortly after Vladimir was born in a gas mining accident. This resulted in Vladimirís blind mother caring for her children on her own and the children were forced to work for food. Despite her disability, his mother did possess a talent for storytelling. In the evenings she would tell great tales of the almighty Emperor and his golden angels who travelled the skies and fought the forces of evil. Young Vladimir was especially taken by the tale that the most noble of the Emperorís sons Rogal Dorn himself may have actually been born on Inwit. It seemed too fantastical but Vladimir loved to pretend that he was one of the golden angels his mother spoke of. She had told him that she had seen them as a young girl before she turned blind. In golden ships they came and took the bravest and finest boys to their fortress in the sky. Vladimir suspected that this was something she made up to impress him though. How could such things be true?
Vladimir was the oldest of four brothers, and from an early age he was sent to work the streets as a runner for local businesses. At the age of nine, Vladimir was already large for his age and showed amazing mathematical and organisational skills. He caught the eye of a local loan shark called Jaco Parthil who took him under his wing. Vladimir would run errands and organise Parthilís business, for an extremely modest salary. He quickly made friends with Parthilís thugs and worked out ways to increase their salary without their boss finding out. He was a quiet boy who rarely smiled but his intelligence was second to none. Vladimir was drawn to the shadowy life of illegal affairs and by his twelfth birthday he controlled Parthilís business completely and indirectly controlled several others. Parthil himself did not realise this until it was too late. He reportedly fell out of a sixth floor window a week later.
All of this was completely unbeknownst to Vladimirís family who continued their daily life although his mother was very pleased with her son bringing home such good pay for running errands. A year later the whole family moved out of the one-room hab-unit and into a nicer apartment.
Things were going well for Vladimir who was affectionately known to his associates as ĎThe Brainí. Despite his extremely young age, Vladimir commanded great respect among his men and had an amazing ability to instantly see through someone. Nobody could scam young Vladimir.
But it was not to last.
Inevitably, high-hive gangs became jealous of the success of this low-hive teenage upstart. On a fateful night a group of masked figures broke into Vladimirís home when he was away, and murdered his brothers. His mother was left alive to pass the message that he was to back down and give up his business.
The incident threw Vladimir into a rage. He ordered retaliatory attacks on every high-hive gang in the city, much to the disagreement of his men, and brought the whole lot down on his outfit. It was a complete disaster.
Vladimir was driven out of his area and his men abandoned him. He managed to escape with his mother to the underhives where there were no rules.
Now fourteen years old, Vladimir swore revenge. His organisational talent soon found its place in the chaos of the underhive. He built up a means of gathering food and equipment and at the same time trained himself physically. This came naturally in the unforgiving environment but he also knew that he would need to be able to take on gang thugs if it became necessary. He mustered a gang of desperate souls who either were born in the underhive or outcasts like himself. His mother would tell them stories like she had done when he was small and they would listen and be inspired. Soon their numbers grew and before long hundreds of underhive recreants gathered together every night to hear the tales. Vladimir envied his motherís gift of speech. His skills were merely logistical and practical. Listening to his mother speak of great and ancient battles, however, awoke a fire within him that he knew he could never awaken in others. His gift of insight did not fail him however. Either way it was clear; these people who gathered to listen to the old blind woman every night were yearning for a change, wishing for the tales to come true and save them from their underhive misery.
If only they could be inspired to take action. If only they would follow him. Then his revenge would be a reality and all these people would be on the road to a better life.
A bitter, tragic plan formed in his mind. It would break his heart but it would set his plan in motion. He would unleash the rebellion tonight.
In the darkness of the night Vladimir slit his motherís throat.
He carried her body into the square where she told her tales and cried out.
ĎThey have killed her! She is dead.í
The reaction was unprecedented. Led by Vladimir and stricken with grief the people of the underhive invaded the high-hive. Despite their rage, Vladimir commanded them with icy precision and razor sharp decisions. The high-hivers met the attackers with expensive weapons but the underhivers fought with faith. Hundreds died on both sides but it mattered not. Vladimir knew his life meant nothing. All that mattered was victory. And his victory was revenge.
The fires spread for miles and triumph was imminent.
At that moment the world exploded into light. Beams of holy light shone down upon the combatants and all became still. Vladimir dropped to his knees as manifestations from his most beautiful dreams appeared before him. A dozen golden vessels, gleaming and magnificent descended from the smog-filled sky. Howling engines like the war cry of gods stabbed at his ears as they landed before him.
On the sides of these ships of gold was a symbol of utter beauty and power:
A single clenched fist, black as night and gleaming like the gauntlet of the Emperor himself.
Vladimir was stunned as the ships of gold came to rest before him. All around him he sensed the same emotion of awe instilled in everyone, friend or foe. For a moment that seemed to last an eternity all stood still. Then as one the vessels opened.
The prows of these ships of the sky slowly expanded as boarding ramps fell to the ground. Vladimir winced as the light from within burned his eyes.
Then he saw them.
From the light of the sky-ships the angels of gold descended. Clad in bright yellow armour and moving with both holy grace and majestic power they came towards him.
Vladimir shivered at their sheer magnificence. Here before his eyes, in the city of his birth was the divine light of the Emperor embodied. He was numbed by their presence, their perfection. Their armour gleamed a golden yellow, in their hands were immense weapons of divine authority, their helmets instilled both dread and assurance and on their chests were the mark of the Emperor himself. Deep red symbols of His divine authority, the perfect beauty of the Imperial aquila - the two headed eagle.
He saw the angels spread out in perfect formation. A dozen they were, each heading in a different direction. One advanced directly towards Vladimir.
The golden angel halted before him, a giant figure towering above the kneeling youth.
For a moment all was still. Then as one the angels attacked.
Vladimir sensed the other angels around the area swing their fists and then he felt an explosion of pain as the angel before him hammered him to the ground. The sensation of a golden iron gauntlet to his face was that of worlds colliding and he was sent flying. The world spun as Vladimir scrambled to his feet, shocked.
The massive figure approached again and before Vladimir could react he felt an iron grip around his neck and was hauled to the air. Around him he could hear sobbing and wails coming from other youths around the plaza who were going through the same treatment but Vladimir remained quiet. Emotion was about to take over but raw cunning flooded his veins instead. Dangling high above the ground in the angelís gauntlet Vladimir shifted and with a well-placed swing of his leg he kicked the angel in the face.
The kick knocked the huge helmet clean off revealing a scarred and very surprised face. A human face, Vladimir thought, but not really human at all. More than human.
Vladimir smiled down at the numb struck face and expected that the retaliation would be unavoidable. He closed his eyes and awaited his inevitable death.
But it never came.
He opened his eyes slightly and saw the angel smiling back at him, the smile widening and turning into a deep laugh. He spared a glance around and saw that all the other golden figures were looking his way and seemed to be laughing too.
ĎThis one has spirit,í said the angel holding him and gently put Vladimir down.
ĎWhatís your name, boy?í he asked.
Vladimir was dumbfounded but managed to mumble his name.
The angel winked at him and then grabbed him by the arm and jerked him towards one of the awaiting ships.
A few other lads were also dragged away while but most were left where they lay, sobbing and curled up in terror. The angel noticed Vladimirís confusion and said,
ĎWe only take those with heart. We are the fists of the Emperor, boy. Prepare yourself for one hell of a journey!í
The shipís ramp clanged shut and Vladimir saw his home for the last time.