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Ex-Corporal Walters has been sent to die. He's been shot at, abandoned by his own side and is right in the middle of a war. His only thought is in finding a way off-planet, but between him and his goal are two hostile armies. Above him looms the forbidding Fortress, deep within which lies an ancient and malevolent evil.
Follow Walters and his strange allies as they fight and claw their way to salvation. Raw courage, sheer bloody-mindedness and just the right amount of luck combine to deliver an outcome that not even Walters would have believed possible.
One thing is for certain, his enemies have picked the wrong guy to mess with and now they are going to pay.
---------- Post added at 13:39 ---------- Previous post was at 13:39 ----------Sudden Dearth
The wind-driven rain stung wildly onto the upturned faces of the men huddled in the barely dug trenches. The prison guards had driven them here, as fodder for the enemy forces, leaving little doubt as to their worthlessness. “The Emperor Protects” was tattooed on each of the men’s foreheads, a sign to remind them of their indoctrination now thrown away by each of their heinous crimes, or at least that was what the Commissar had screamed at them before they were herded like cattle to the battle front.
Ex-Corporal Walters spat on the ground in disgust at the memory of the cruelty they had received at the hands of the Emperor’s enforcement squads. He had little time either for the Glory of the Emperor or the ruinous forces of Chaos. Personally being stripped of his rank and thrown into Penal Battalion 3246 was more than enough to occupy his mind at present. He was still unclear what he had actually done wrong, he had neither raped, murdered or plain spoken badly about anyone. Oh, sure, he had broken two of Commissar Wurtz’s teeth, when he had hit him with the las rifle's solid wooden butt, to stop him from whipping the civilian any further and possibly the fact that he had given him two new Adam’s apples didn’t really help, but sh*t weren’t you supposed to protect your own?
He had been extremely lucky, apparently, to not have been summarily shot on the spot by the Commissar, if he could have raised his head above the horizontal that is, but maybe the fact that his troop commander agreed with him saved his sorry ass.
Whatever the reason he had been blessed with two months of rehabilitation in the 3246 for his troubles and was now to be given his glorious moment. He knew that in ancient times this had been called the Forlorn Hope, an opportunity for men to redeem themselves by an act of unspeakably stupid and deadly foolhardiness. Led by an officer who was looking for rapid promotion and arm in arm with men who would either die here today or would rejoin some regiment. They would however always wear the tattoo on their foreheads to remind them of their tawdry past.
Walters spat again and this time his spittle landed on the boot of the hulking brute next to him, a man as wide as he was tall and who looked as though he had probably landed himself in the battalion for all of the right reasons. He grunted and leered wickedly at Walters, before spitting back with a stupid grin on his face.
“Not to your liking, huh?” he grunted again through badly misshapen teeth.
“What do you think?” replied Walters.
“Don’t, just get on with it.” muttered the man whose tunic was stencilled with the name Berbatov
It was then the first rocket lanced through the rain and struck nearby their position, Walters heard the crunch and thump of the close impact, followed by the screams of wounded and dying men.
“Ah, frak!” he muttered and dived to the ground, twisting to follow the train of fire of the ensuing fusillade. To his surprise he saw Berbatov, standing where he had left him, calmly squinting into the fiery trail and watching the carnage unfold. Berbatov looked down and grinned at him,
“Lot of folk’s gonna die tonight, but not me. Stick with me son and you’ll live too.” With that he began a shambling run towards the source of the rocket fire and to his surprise, Walters found himself scrambling to his feet and following, yelling at the top of his lungs.*
General Hamner looked over the battlefield from his hilltop vantage point, he knew that many of his junior officers disdained his use of “old technology”. His night vision scope gave him a perspective of the real death and suffering, he could never have hoped to comprehend through the use of the holo-tank in his command post. Tonight many men would die, if only to satisfy the whim of the strategists. The enemy position looked unassailable, and surely was, and that was why the penal battalions were being thrown into the fray. He was sorry that Captain Wiseman had volunteered to lead them, he was a good man, though young and hungry. Not for him were the political connections which allowed rapid advance, rather he had earned his pips, or so he liked to tell all his avid listeners.
Penal or CF battalions, cannon fodder, as they were better known, were a good way for the Imperium to cleanse its ranks. Now and again there were a few mistakes made, but not often, and what were a few errors in the overall scheme of the Emperor’s grand design? He was a little worried about the Chaos cursed enemy though. They had received reports of new troops, similar to the blood pact forces but somehow different. Men talked of deformed monsters, almost human animals, who stalked in front of the normal chaos forces. They had yet to capture one, but if description was anything to go by, they were facing the worst cross between a dire wolf and some form of ravening lizard. The beasts came in all shapes, sizes and colours but were deadly effective. They had already lost one platoon of imperial guard on night patrol, well not exactly lost, they had found the shredded remains of uniforms soaked in blood, mucus and gore. Already the rumours were circulating through the troops and the General knew they needed a good old massacre in order to remind the faithful of their true purpose.
He was one of life’s cynics, not wasteful of his resources, rather benignly indifferent. Which did little for the chances of the CF troops fighting below. The General had little intention of amalgamating this rabble back into his real forces and he was silently wishing them a glorious victory and an even more glorious death. Sighing inwardly, he placed the night scope in front of his eyes once more and surveyed the nightmare scene below.*
“Berbatov, you clown,” screamed Walters, “Where the hell do you think you are going?”
“Over there,” indicated the giant, vaguely waving his meat cleaver of a hand in the direction of the attacking troops.
“Sh*t!” cursed Walters, “another bloody genius,” and then “Well wait for me, at least you give them enough of a target that they’ll forget about me.”
Berbatov grunted, in a sort of muffled laugh and continued his shambling run forward. His rifle was still strung across his back and he had picked up a large chunk of wood from somewhere, which he swung viciously in time with his awkward gait. Walters still had his rifle clenched at high port and had little thought of doing anything more than running behind the big man. It was then the monsters appeared and the world went pear shaped.
Walters slammed into the back of Berbatov as he ground to a sudden halt, and then ducked as the club whistled past his head. Looking around he could see that they were well in advance of their fellow unfortunates and were surrounded by what could only be described as a pack of trouble. The monsters varied between six and eight feet tall, covered in mottled fur and with huge canine teeth and even larger claws, and they had stumbled right into the middle of them. They seemed to be attacking a smaller version of themselves, from what he could see, a twisting writhing mass of silver grey fur and blood. At least three of the larger wolf like creatures sported wounds and luckily for them they appeared rather occupied. That was until Berbatov roared and charged into the melee, his club whirring around his head. Walters flicked the rifle onto semi-automatic and followed, spraying bursts of fire into the back of the nearest creatures.
He ducked wildly as a huge slashing claw narrowly missed and pumped pretty much the full cartridge into the beast, slamming it off its feet in a bloody mass of destroyed flesh. Walters grabbed the empty cartridge and flipped its identical mate into place, taped conveniently to its twin, and continued firing. The archaic chemical propellant guns were all the CF were given, after all, they weren’t supposed to survive the assault, just die gloriously. However, in this case he was thankful for the oversight of the commisarium. The heavy lead- jacketed bullets tore a swath through the pliant fur covered bodies, cutting a path for him right through the middle and he kept on, in hot pursuit of his idiotic companion, who was laying left and right, crushing limbs and skulls as he moved inexorably forward.
Walters heard the whistle of the razor sharp claws as they barrelled towards his unprotected head and knew that he at least had fulfilled his Emperor’s wish. There was a blur of grey and he was bundled to one side as snapping teeth rent into his attacker. As he rolled to his feet he saw that the victim was now the attacker and was tearing into the throat of a browny blue beast with gusto. Then there was a flash of silver and a second beast joined the fight.
He looked for Berbatov and from a kneeling position began to use his ammo more conservatively, driving the remaining wolf lizards from his comrades back. His work was so effective that two of the beasts split off from the five surrounding the idiot giant and charged straight at him. He flicked the magazine to fully automatic and let them have it. The first beast, eight feet tall and fully rabid, disappeared before his eyes, but the second, even bigger and even more angry came straight on. He could almost feel its foetid breath on his face when he heard the leaden click of the empty chamber and threw his rifle forward, drawing his bayonet and preparing to meet his death.
Cursing Berbatov once more, he leapt forward to meet the beast, getting inside its claws was his only chance, and ducked his head to avoid the slashing jaws. Once again he was blessed by the intervention of the smaller creatures, as they attacked the beast from the rear. As the monster raised its head and roared in pain, Walters drove the bayonet fist deep into its throat and chest time and time again. The hot blood poured over his hands, the beast’s feral roar rang deafeningly in his ear and suddenly, there was silence. He stood panting, with the blood soaked weapon in his hand and stared over the steaming corpse at the two remaining creatures. They stared unwinkingly back at him and then looked around sharply as a whistling Berbatov returned, blood streaming from numerous gashes, but otherwise the total picture of serenity. He swung the club harmlessly around, blood and skin flicking off in all directions and stopped in front of Walters. He dropped his weapon and then picked Walters up in a bear hug and swung him round gleefully, like a child at a fair.
“Good fight,” he laughed as he dropped Walters to the ground, “who are your new friends?” With that he picked up his club and once more began to walk towards the enemy lines, without a care in the world.*
The general saw the CF battalion decimated before his eyes as the ravening hordes streamed forwards. The laser rifle fire did little more than infuriate the packs of creatures who charged onwards. The chaos infantry behind them laid down an incredible barrage of fire and the Imperial troops wavered, turned and then ran. They were lost, he saw Captain Wiseman intent on trying to rally his troops, fall beneath the jaws of at least three of the wolf-like creatures. His men waited no longer and charged back towards their own lines, flinging their rifles and equipment to one side in order to lighten their burden.
Then the Commisar led Imperial troops opened fire, cutting down the remnants of the CF forces, whose only escape had always been in death. The Commisars and their men lasted little longer as the Chaos hordes over ran them. General Hamner spoke briefly into his communicator and the bombardment began. He saw the full effects of the arial bombardment, followed by the ground artillery. The enemy forces were swept away in their thousands, but still they came on. Calmly the general turned toward his command post, signalling his orderly to call for his transport as he spoke once more into his communication device. There was a muffled roar and the ground opened up in front of the advancing Chaos troops, bathing them in white hot fire. He had saved the plasma charges until last. They may well have wiped out his own troops, but the area had been sanitised. He looked up as his ride arrived and waved to his command staff as he moved towards the aircraft. He took one last look through his night scope, surprised to see movement on the plain below and even more surprised to see the fresh troops pouring out from the hillside fortification. He shrugged and strode into the aircraft, this would now be a cleansing operation and the next call would not be his.*
Walters groaned as the world once more turned the right way up, he didn´t know what had hit him, but it hurt. He spat mud and stones from his mouth and groggily looked around. To his left, Berbatov was sat on a rock, staring out across the plain and picking his teeth. He heard a muffled whining to his right and found one of the creatures pawing at a clump of shattered earth. Crawling closer he could see one bloodied paw sticking out of the ground. The grey furred beast looked at him and whined again, and shrugging, Walters unclipped his bayonet and began scraping at the loose earth. Personally he felt it was a waste of time, but he had nothing better to do right know and it at least gave him something to concentrate on.
As he worked away, he gradually uncovered a foreleg and then the head, but he knew he was too late. The animal’s head was bent backwards at an unnatural angle and was bathed in blood. Its twin whined again and Walters continued, until all of the creature was exposed, what was left of it that is. Where the earth had been shorn was also where the creature’s torso ended and Walters backed away as the grey wolf moved forward. The animal began to howl and in that moment became no longer a chaos tainted beast to Walters but one more soul in torment and he shuffled forward again to sit next to the beast, mumbling nonsense soothingly. The heavens opened again and there they sat, incongruously as one in the midst of a man made chaos.
Berbatov looked over and was struck by the scene, he was a simple man given over rather too easily to the baser pleasures in life, but he was unswervingly loyal. He had seen something in Walters and saw it again here. A man who was unafraid to risk himself for a companion of whatever sort. He had been right, Walters would do. With that, he turned round and watched the remnants of Chaos and human forces struggling to survive amidst the inferno caused by the plasma charges. They were safe for now, but soon they would come again, he thought and then grinning to himself, more to kill and maim, just as he liked it.*
K´san was alone, more alone than he had ever been in his short but violent life. His pack-brother lay dead at his feet and he knew he would soon join him. The human at his side was strange, he had fought well, saving them once and then fighting with them as a pack against K´rasa. The larger of the two humans had also fought and had celebrated with this one their victory. They too must be pack, but he was different, he had vengeance to fulfil. Soon, no doubt their paths would part, the humans joining their own to fight against the Lord’s Army. He knew he could not join them, not with their filthy false God’s Priests. His life would not be worth seconds if he followed them, as he should to repay his blood-debt. Soon he would add that shame to his others and turn back towards the fortress and the death that awaited him there.*
General Hamner looked down on the devastation below, he had little remorse over his order to blow the plasma charges. He now knew that they had two choices; planetary bombardment or planetary bombardment and sending in further troops. To him, he would rather just continue striking the planet until it was a cinder, but he knew that many of his more zealous colleagues would want to return and “recapture” the world for the Glory of the Emperor. He had actually become bored with this world and wanted another one to play with. His communicator pinged and he heard the detail of Imperial survivors left fighting on the planet, now he would have little choice, but to risk more of his troops, fighting for who knew what. He sighed and turned to look at the remaining battalions left to him, sorry that they were not CF troops. These were real soldiers he now had to waste on this useless planet, or did he? He noticed that there was movement on the battlefield and on zooming his screen he could see that some CF troops had survived. Maybe he could send in the last remaining CF units, with weapons, fail miserably and then wipe out the planet. This needed to be thought about carefully.
Colonel Ibrahim Wolfe watched the details flow down and across his data slate, tutting in dismay at the information contained there. Although a Colonel in name, he was in fact an officer without troops, and without portfolio. He had been sent by his commanding officer to check on the potential of Founding a further regiment on his homeworld of Luther, however he had found the planet riven by disease.
The planetary authorities had declared the world in quarantine and had turned his ship around, for all he knew now, there was no world to all intents and purposes. The rune priests had been chanting about taint and the cleansing light of the Emperor. He didn’t really want to consider what that might mean, although it did mean that there were no more replacement troops on the way.
His anxiety was caused by the fact that his regiment had been sent as a combined force to liberate some ball of dust and in his absence had been decimated, almost entirely. There were less than three hundred active Lutheran soldiers on the lists and these had been amalgamated into the command of an apparently incompetent General Hamner, who had managed to get embroiled in a skirmish on an unnamed planet, of little significance. He knew that the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry was no more, but they were his men and he wanted them.
He had hitched a ride on a military transport and had rejoined the fleet, but no-one was willing to give him passage to his troops. Of course, he was told that they were no longer his troops, but it hurt deep down that the pride and joy of Luther had lasted for only six weeks in active combat and were no more. Also he carried a burden of guilt that he had not been there with them, he had left them in the capable hands of his Executive Officer, who had also been lost.
Wolfe decided to run a check on outgoing transports once again, maybe persistence might pay off, where influence failed.“Attenshun!” shouted the soldier at the front of the group, his tattered Corporal’s stripes flapping in the breeze as he snapped a salute in Walters’ direction.*
Walters knew he had two options, he could lie, or he could shoot Berbatov. He glanced sideways at the hulking brute, whose mis-shapen teeth were on prominent display as he grinned at Walters. Then he had a brainwave.
“At ease men, Sargeant Berbatov can be a little overzealous at times.” As he spoke he watched, the grin slowly disappearing to be replaced by a puzzled frown. It looked for one moment that Berbatov was about to say something, but then the grin reappeared.
“You heard the frakking, begging your pardon sir, Leftenant. Put your backsides at ease!” screamed Berbatov, spittle flecking the corners of his mouth.
As the Corporal relaxed, he seemed to notice the tattoo on Walters’ forehead and his hand twitched towards his laser rifle. Walters noticed the movement and casually replaced his bolter pistol in its holster. He nonchalantly removed his cap and spoke.
“I always seem to have that effect on people, Corporal ……?”
Military discipline kicked in and the Corporal replied, “ …James, sir of the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry. My section here got separated from our platoon in the firefight and we were about to try and find our way back, sir. Begging your pardon, sir, but can you identify yourself? It’s just the tattoo, sir?”
Walters could see the man fighting with the urge to call him a liar, which he undoubtedly was, and the soldiers need for leadership. He wanted to believe Walters and for this leftenant to take over responsibility. He had also just told an obvious lie and wanted it overlooked.
Beginning to enjoy himself, Walters spoke.
“Okay, Corporal James. I don’t normally indulge in reminiscence and couldn’t give a flying frak if anyone takes offence at my beautiful body art. However, in the extenuating circumstances, I will make an exception.”
He paused motioning for the troopers to resume their places around the fire, rummaged in his pack for the amasec bottle he had recently thieved and sat down on a nearby rock. He took a pull from the bottle and passed it first to Berbatov, who after half emptying the bottle, passed it around the watching men.
“As you can see, Sargeant Berbatov and I are but recent graduates of the Penal Battalion. I personally was given the choice of commanding a platoon of my fellow criminals or being shot. No, no don’t interrupt ….” he growled threateningly as James made as if to speak and his fingers caressed the holster of his bolter pistol.
James almost choked on the fiery liquor and protestingly motioned for Walters to continue.
“I will not bother you with the details of my crime, however I was sentenced to a three month tour of duty with a CF regiment, and Sargeant Berbatov kindly offered to join me. We appear to have lost most of our platoon to a particularly unpleasant friendly fire incident and I have decided that I need to speak personally with General Hamner about this matter.
“We,” and here he indicated his Sargeant, “have decided to find a way of this planet in order to keep our rendezvous with our beloved General. If this means that we have to fight our way through the fortress up above, or we have to shoot a couple of Commisars in the process, that is one and the same to us. If you wish to join us you are welcome, as we could use a pair of hands or two, but, if you would rather go your own way …..”
Here, Berbatov belched and then stretched his hand out to the nearby halberd.
“Sir, we’re with you, sir,” agreed Corporal James rapidly, “we don’t have much of a regiment nor army left, sir.”
Grinning, Berbatov took the bottle of amasec out of the Corporal’s rigid hand and raising it on high, made a toast.
“To Walters’ Army,” he roared and the soldiers gladly joined in.K’san remained hidden behind the rock outcropping at the top of the hill, staring curiously at the group of humans below. The pack was now bigger, the new members behaving correctly and deferring to the lead male, as was expected. At first he had wondered if it was wise to continue with this new pack, as they were alien to him and all of his teachings preached the foulness of the human scum. However, he had been accepted by the pack leader, they had fought together and paid respect to his fallen brother.*
He lifted his head to the breeze as he recognised a familiar scent, which was closely followed by the howling call of a hunting pack. He saw the leader swiftly rise to his feet, calling something in his strange tongue to the others and without conscious thought rose and moved to take his place by his side.The recently christened Leftenant Walters scrambled to his feet, as the now familiar howling of the K’ran reahed his ears. He saw the rest of his makeshift army scrabble for their weapons and take up a hastily formed defensive circle. Corporal James stiffened and almost subconsciously Walters knew that the “puppy” had returned.*
“Hold, “ he barked, as the silver furred beast glided to his side. He could see the awe of the faces of the troopers, as the K’ran calmly moved to his side and faced outwards.
“But sir …..” protested James.
“Shut the frak up and take cover,” spat Berbatov, moving to Walters side and turning to face the same direction as the beast.
Walters raised his hand demanding silence and looked at the K’ran, he could almost feel the lack of nervousness in the beast, see the quiet confidence in its posture.
“They’re close, but are not hunting us. We do however need to move. Sargeant?”
“Yes, sir.” responded a smirking Berbatov.
“Let’s get our gear together and move out. Away from the fortress in the first instance. We need a couple of troopers flanking us, our friend here,” and here he indicated the K’ran, “will take point.”
The beast glanced at him and then began to move away from the slowly receding sound. As though it had understood every word and again the men looked at Walters almost reverently.
Berbatov motioned for the Corporal to take over and hung back next to Walters.
“Got a plan, sir?” he asked in a barely concealed stage whisper.
Walters waited until the men began to move about before he spoke, “Yup. My plan is to make this up as I go along. You got me into this and now we’ve got to play it out fully.”
He glanced around the makeshift camp, adjusted his bolter pistol in its holster and thought hard before he opened his mouth again.
“Listen, Berbatov. My little impromptu speech yesterday wasn’t far off the mark. We have got to get out of this warzone and if at all possible off planet. Our lovely leader could not give a damn about us, in fact he did his best to kill us. Probably, his commisars and personal troops have direct orders to shoot us on sight and we have an army of crazed beasts and half human soldiers who also want us dead.
I personally don’t want to hang around and find out who gets the first chance at us. Our situation has improved and we have convinced the Corporal and his men that their best chance of survival lies with us. But, you know that this charade can only last until a real officer or Emperor forbid, a commissar checks up on us.”
“Don’t agree,” mumbled Berbatov.
“With which part?” questioned Walters half sarcastically.
“About the checking up on us,” replied the huge man, nervously switching his halberd from one shoulder to the other. His face twisted into an unrecognisable grimace and Walters suddenly realised he was thinking. Then he began to talk in a surprisingly reasoned voice.
“It’s like this, sir.” he began, “Most officers know frak about being an officer. They tell people what to do and the Sargeants and Corporals do what they were going to do in the first place, as you well know. Any trooper will follow the cap and greatcoat, without asking too many questions.
You’re right that some jumped up sh*t of an officer could question you, however, they probably won’t if you act the part. The Emperor loving commissar who asks too many questions, can be easily convinced, “and here he affectionately patted the weapon on his shoulder, “ not to.”
Walters looked enquiringly at Berbatov, “When did you become such a frakking scholar?”
Berbatov furrowed his brow, spat on the floor and resumed his usual expression. “Don’t need to be, that’s why we made you the officer.”[SIZE=3]Watching the big man move away, Walters wondered again where Berbatov had come from and what real chance they had of pulling this off. The truth was that they were committed and could not back out now. He realised that he needed to be convinced that he was an officer and not just playing a part. Reflecting on the good and bad of his situation, he decided that he really had nothing to lose. Shaking his head, he followed Berbatov, at first slowly and then with more confidence as he finally accepted the paper he had chosen to play.
Last edited by Rayo Azul; April 10th, 2009 at 23:52.
The crack of the laser rifle was followed by an explosion of rock fragments which peppered Walters’ face. He ducked behind his temporary shelter and shouted across to Berbatov.
“Can you see them?” and he flinched involuntarily as another round whistled past him.
Berbatov’s answer was to grab James by the scruff of the neck and drag him forwards, as an inhuman scream broke the charged air. The big man then pushed himself to his feet and disappeared into a dip in the ground.
“Here we go again,” thought Walters as he rose to his full height and sent round after bolter round in the general direction of the ambushing forces.
It had begun quietly enough as they had approached the remains of the forward trenches, with Walters striding purposefully forward and hailing the dug-in Imperial troops’ position. Initial responses had been favourable, but a tall thin Commisar had screamed something along the lines of “kill the chaos tainted scum” and all hell had broken loose.
To their credit, the ex-Lutheran light infantrymen had responded instinctively, laying down a barrage of covering fire, allowing him to retreat graciously to their current position. He had maintained a small hope of being able to talk his way out of the situation, but this had been shattered when they had received incoming fire from their rear, they had been set up. Now, he knew that they would need a miracle to get them out of this. Then had come the inhuman scream and he was sure that the K’ran was behind this.
He watched as a decapitated head sailed skywards, followed by a maniacal laugh.
“Berbatov,” he muttered under his breath and with a sigh ran from behind his cover, passing a slumped headless corpse to his right. Glancing sideways he saw his troopers moving forward in a textbook manner; one trooper laying down covering fire as the other advanced, the favour quickly returned. There was however, no sign of Berbatov and his only indication of the man’s presence was a blood smeared trail, peppered here and there with body parts.
Running out from behind a boulder, he crashed directly into the back of a crouched Commisar, who had his chainsword held high above the head of a prone Corporal James. Their combined momentum unbalanced the man and sparks flew as the teeth of the blade bit into the floor. Walters did not have time to explain the error of the man’s ways, before he dove backwards to avoid the expected bolter round fired at point blank range. The round did not have the chance to leave the pistol’s chamber, as James surged upwards from the floor, his combat knife grasped firmly in his right hand. The Corporal hammered the blade into the Commisar’s thigh and was rewarded by a high pitched scream. This was abruptly cut off, as James withdrew the blade, pulled the man backwards by his hair and buried the blade up to it’s hilt in the man’s neck.
With a feral grin, the Corporal pulled the blade out as he dropped the lifeless body to the floor.
“I always wondered what it would feel like to give one of them a taste of their own medicine,” he pondered, as he wiped the blade on the black shirt below him. And, looking upwards at Walters, he laughed, “It felt damn good!”
With a rapid, “ scuse me, sir,” he picked up his rifle and raced off in pursuit of Berbatov.
Walters knew that many a Commisar, officially killed in action, actually lost his life to his own men. He felt little sympathy for the man, he was an idiot, blindly following orders, with an unswerving righteousness. Well, it seemed that this self belief was little armour against determined men, and especially men who had nothing to lose.
He heard the clink of metal against rock and spinning rapidly raised his pistol. There was no time to fire and using the momentum of his spin, he cracked the barrel of the weapon against the side of the face of the man in front of him. With a satisfying crunch of metal against bone, he saw the imperial guardsmen crash to the floor in a crumpled heap. He thought for one moment, about emptying the gun into the man’s head, but decided against it as he heard Berbatov’s roar, now behind him.Sat in the foremost trench and drinking from a bottle which he held in his hand, Berbatov looked scornfully on the men below him. Each was on his knees, with his hands behind his head and watching the K’ran. The beast was sat, to one side of Walters, cleaning its blood soaked paws with slow, licking actions. Now and again, it would stop, growl menacingly and then continue with its personal hygiene.*
Walters was engrossed in the data slate in his hand, one of many they had found in the nearby command post. It appeared that this was a forward outpost, which had been charged with summarily executing all survivors of the original battle. General Hamner had made the decision that anyone who had survived both the Chaos-led attack and the holy cleansing, must be tainted and lost forever.
Corporal James had found a poorly dug grave at the back of the trench, and a pile of stacked bodies awaiting burial. He had wanted to personally shoot all of the prisoners, when he had found remains of his former comrades tossed on top of the pile, but Walters had stopped him.
Surprisingly enough, all it took was a quiet word from the “Leftenant” and James had backed down.
“Okay,” said Walters as he stood up, the K’ran watched him for a moment and then continued with its ablutions.
“Bring me the first of the prisoners and tell Corporal James to join us.”
Berbatov laughed inwardly at the growing assurance of the ex-Corporal Walters and his instant response to Walters growing authority. However, he moved to obey him, finding himself liking the feeling of being a Sargeant and the kudos associated with the position. He liked how the others both respected and feared him, as well as how easily “Walters Army” had bonded together.K’san watched attentively as the pack leader drew closer to the prisoners, he could almost taste their fear. This was also confusing. This could be almost a pack within the Lord’s army; they killed with relish, the leader inspired fervour in his pack members and particularly the large one, delighted in sending trophies to the Blood God. Or so it seemed.*
As each moment passed, K’san felt as one with the pack. He had been ostracised amongst his own as being too small, too clever, too questioning. Here his leader trusted him with the most dangerous of assignments, scouting and ranging in front of the pack. He was allowed to be close to the leader’s person, fight alongside him and kill. This was nothing like he had expected. He licked his lips as others moved to join the pack leader, augmenting the palpable stench of terror. Avidly he waited, he knew what would happen.“Jimmy’s on his way, sir,” grunted Berbatov as he returned.*
“Jimmy?” queried Walters.
“Jimmy, Jimmy James, sir.” laughed Berbatov.
“Should have frakking known,” mumbled Walters. “I suppose it’s your job to name them all, huh.”
“Yup,” agreed Berbatov sagely, “Everyone needs one, a name that is. The Leftenant, Puppy, Jimmy …..”
“And you?” questioned Walters, raising one eyebrow.
“Sargeant Berbatov, sir!” shouted the brute, springing to attention.
“Right …” agreed Walters, as “Jimmy” James approached.
“Pick one of these men and bring him to me.”
“As you wish, sir,” responded James gleefully, grabbing randomnly from the group and, placing a large boot in the subject’s backside, kicked him to the floor in front of Walters.
Walters ignored the man and spoke to the others, numbering eight in total.
“I have had to change my opinion a little of you men. We walked in here, arms open and received a poor welcome. In fact, it was downright discourteous. We simply want to get back to barracks, a barracks that is far from here. We don’t want much …. But, as I said, no-one wanted to listen.”
“It seems,” and here he encompassed them all with a wave of his arm, “someone convinced you that we were the enemy. You all decided to shoot us and” here indicating the pile of bodies behind the trench, “we are not the first, you have welcomed this way.”
“I have already had to restrain my Corporal once, who as you can see is busy polishing his very large, and very sharp knife, in the hope that one or all of you answer incorrectly to a couple of my questions. Yes ….”
He could see that Berbatov was bursting to say something, so he ushered him forward.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir. But I don’t feel that they’re paying attention.”
“What would you suggest Sargeant?” inquired, Walters, knowing he would not really be prepared for, nor like the answer.
“This ….” replied Berbatov, cleaving the halberd into the lone prisoner’s neck, blood fountaining upwards and splattering onto Walters’ greatcoat.
“Sorry, Sir.” apologised Berbatov as he moved away. Walters watched him go in momentary stupefaction then turned to the now quivering block of frightened troopers.
“Well, it seems as though the questions have become a little pointless. Let me explain the situation to you clearly. You turned your back on fellow Imperial troopers and I am going to allow you to mend your ways. You can, if you wish, join our little adventure, or …” and he indicated the crumpled body below him, “the Sargeant can try to sharpen up on his overhead cutting technique.”
“The Corporal here, will approach you individually and have a little chat on a more personal level. I trust his people skills and am sure you can convince him of your usefulness, or not as the case may be.”
With that Walters sauntered away, trying to hold in the revulsion at the clinical way in which Berbatov had dispatched the man. Walters knew that his men would see it as another demonstration of the Leftenant’s ruthlessness and that soon he would have some new recruits. Self-preservation was a real leveller and these men were used to the brutality of the Commisar. Swapping allegiance was not a difficult choice, as he had never asked them to fight against the Emperor. Well not really, anyway.
---------- Post added at 18:58 ---------- Previous post was at 18:51 ----------
Just so that everyone knows how this is going to go.
This is a complete novel which has been published on another WH site and in another guise on a different site.
I will be publishing, life allowing, one Chapter per day or so, giving time for any comments or feedback. There are 31 Chapters and if people like it, there is a second instalment.
As well as this there is another complete novel waiting in the wings, which is set in the WH40k world, but it's a little bit different.
Please feel free to comment, critique, whatever grabs you. All is welcome.
Hope you enjoy this.
General Wolfe relaxed back into the form-hugging chair and contemplated once again his situation. He had finally managed to convince his peers of the need for a senior officer to review current operations under Hamner. The reluctance of the Fleet Command was more political then operational and although the reticence was there, the constant requests for advice from the aforementioned officer had finally made people admit that there was something wrong.Chapter 4
Wolfe had trawled through the fleet hospital and managed to put together a Company of Lutheran Light Infantry. Normally commanded by a Major, Wolfe had requisitioned them and with a pair of borrowed junior Leftenants had boarded a Navy Transport bound for General Hamners command.
The trip would take them three more days and he was not quite sure what his reception would be. His orders were to carry out a non-invasive audit and advise Hamner on the outcome. His objective was much clearer; he wanted to recover as many of his men as possible, show how incompetent Hamner was and if necessary relieve him of his command. As of yet he was not entirely sure of how to do this, although the Regulations gave him a number of options. He would just have to wait and see.Leftenant Walters scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of encroaching Chaos Forces or returning Imperial Guard. He had decided to make the forward outpost there base of operations whilst he figured out what to do next. He felt fairly secure in his choice, as the data slates had indicated that there was little regular contact between the outlying units. It appeared that General Hamners lack of ability extended beyond command decisions and his cobbled together army had absolutely no idea of their orders. The vox-unit they had recovered and were monitoring had little traffic, some requests for re-supply, occasional reports of the sighting and execution of tainted soldiers, but nothing of contact with the enemy, nor plans for the taking of the fortress.*
The last two days had been spent in reshaping his recently formed platoon. He had split the men into two sections, something whose structure he understood, with Sargeant Berbatov taking their new recruits under his wing. The Sargeant’s eye-catching call to attention, had convinced all of the men that there future, and not only the immediate one, depended on them joining “Walters’” Army. They were a rag-tag mixture of men, pulled together by the extinct Commisar. Originally they were cooks, scribes and medical assistants, who had been given basic training and a rifle. Their assignment of shooting unsuspecting Guardsmen had been about to their level, although when they had faced the combined assault of Berbatov, the K’ran and the rest of the men, they had easily folded.
Berbatov had used them to clean up the trenches, removing various body parts, discarding useless weapons and for digging a grave for their victims a respectable distance from the outpost. Walters could hear Berbatov’s dulcet tones now, berating some unfortunate for their inability to know which hole they were supposed to talk out of, never mind the right end of his rifle.
Corporal James had led his section out on a number of patrols, in the process he had restocked their supply of weapons, ammunition and dry rations. He had also found two Lutheran Light Infantrymen hiding in the surrounding hillside and incorporated them into his section.
Now Walters was worried about the K’ran, or Puppy as he was affectionately known. The beast has been gone since daybreak, on one of its solitary scouting missions. It seemed to have attached itself to him, leaving his side only for sporadic forays into the surrounding countryside. What was taking it so long?K’san had been following a familiar scent for a while now. It was a mixture of K’ran and the semi-human troops in the Lord’s Army. They had not seen or heard anything of other K’ran, since the howling of the hunting pack two days before. This in itself was unusual due to the wide ranging patrols which would normally have preceded the Chaos Troops. However, K’san did not know why the offence had been halted, surely the bombardment could not have changed the Lord’s plans so drastically.*
He stopped. There was something …. Then he rolled to one side, narrowly avoiding the slash of sharpened claws.
“K’san ,,,” hissed a voice behind him. As he turned he saw the mottled fur of K’tar, one of the lead scouts for his father’s pack.
“You are dead,” growled the scout, “or that is what we were told.”
K’san heard the snick of claws on rock to his right and saw another two K’ran slide into view, their eyes gleaming and spittle beginning to drip from their fangs.
“Hold!” barked K’san and the warriors pulled up short at the command in his voice, they were young males, not yet blooded and very unpredictable. Their pack imprint was strong, but they had yet to either bond or be accepted fully. Freshly hatched, thought K’ran to himself, I may just have a chance.
“Who are you to command us, whelp?” gruffed K’tar, himself unsure as to why the lone K’san was so confident.
“I am K’san, lead scout. I follow W’ratr.” He tried his best to repeat the sound he had heard the human pack call their leader, “ a great warrior.”
“Who is this W’ratr? He is not of us, I do not know him.”
“Why would you?” replied K’san, “you are not worthy to be in his pack. None of you are.”
K’san saw the impact on the young males, their hackles rising as the challenge stung their pride.
“What?” roared K’tar, leaping forward. His intention was clear, but K’san had been waiting for the charge.
As K’tar launched himself in what he thought was an unexpected attack, K’san stood his ground. At the last moment he sprung to one side, twisting in the air, his front claws slashing across the unprotected stomach before him. The moment his back feet struck the ground, he used his momentum to flip himself around in order to face his adversary. He opened his mouth in a lop-sided grin, baring the jagged row of teeth within and stalked forwards.
K’tar lay on his side, a long glistening string of intestines stretched out behind him. “You have no right ….” he gasped, as K’ran’s jaws closed on his throat, crunching through flesh and sinew to end his life.
K’san stood slowly and faced the two young K’ran, his muzzle was streaked in the blood of his fallen adversary. “Down!” he growled and the two warriors dropped to the floor, their necks stretched forward in submission. K’ran closed his jaws gently across their necks one after the other, biting deep enough to mark them, but not to injure.
“Come,” he barked softly, “ you belong to W’ratr. He has called you and you must answer.”
With that he turned his back on them and moved away. He did not look back, he knew that they followed him, he could smell their excitement, they were now pack and soon they would be blooded and named.The troopers scrambled to their feet, rushing to take up their assigned defensive positions, as the K’ran slowly descended the hill. Walters, climbed up to stand on the earthworks to get a closer look. He heard the rapid breathing of one of the troopers next to him, one of Berbatov’s section called Williamson. He was a pimply faced youth, the youngest of the new recruits and sweat poured down his face.*
“Steady, son,” said Walters in a soft and reassuring tone. “Do nothing unless the Sargeant or I say so.”
“Y-y-y es, sir.” he stuttered nervously.
The closer the beasts approached, the defended position, the more tangible was the state of expectation. Walters moved forward to meet the K’ran on his own, a state of recklessness overwhelming him.
“Sir!” shouted James leaping to the top of the trench.
Walters waved him back and moved to meet the group. Behind the silver furred animal, walked two other K’ran. Their gaze flicking from side to side, as the lead beast halted, the growling began. The other two K’ran were larger than Puppy, one a blue grey colour, the other green with brown flecks on its shoulder fur. Almost nonchalantly Walters strolled forward, causing the K’ran to halt.“Behold W’ratr,” growled K’san, “and fear.”*
“He is human,” whined the blue grey animal.
“He is my master, and yours.” snapped K’ran, bowing his head to Walters.
The two young males, hesitated for a moment and then prostrated themselves, their necks pushed forward. K’ran wondered what W’ratr would do, how would he know the correct response. He looked quickly back at the other two and felt W’ratr’s hand on his head. What was this? Then he realised that although the hand was clawless, the gesture was one of approbation and he mewed softly.
W’ratr moved away from him and pausing slightly he placed his booted foot on the neck of the first K’ran. He pushed his weight down sufficiently that the beat whined in pain, but remained still. W’ratr repeated the gesture on the green furred beast and then both K’ran leapt to their feet, howling with joy, they were pack.“I don’t believe it.” gasped Walters, “You do realise that we’re well and truly frakked?”*
“More than usual?” queried Berbatov.
“Well, we re-educated a Commisar, so to speak, we executed a couple of Imperial Guardsmen, we have aliens as allies and we are pretending to be people who we are not. Did I miss anything?” asked Walters.
“Nup, that about sums it up. And your problem is?” replied Berbatov innocently.
“What?” screamed Walters.
“Now, now, Leftenant sir. You’ll scare the children,” the Sargeant admonished his officer.
Throwing up his arms in exasperation, Walters stormed off, and Berbatov watched him go, with a smile on his face. The boy was shaping up, he was beginning to realise the futility of their situation. There were really no sides to choose in this game, whether the Imperium brainwashed the common man or the Chaos Forces induced religious fervour in their followers, all that mattered was the man at your side. He chuckled to himself as he saw one of the K’ran climb back into the trench. Did he say man?General Hamner was confused, no more than usual but confused anyway. Reports from the front were patchy, no-one seemed to be able to take the initiative in this conflict. He had given strict instructions that all returning soldiers were to be treated as the enemy and things seemed to stall there.*
He had already heard of two rebellions, particularly amongst the ex-Lutheran soldiers and he had information that three of his most forward outposts had failed to check in with their commanders. He had decided that this wasn’t good enough and had despatched a Company of men, under the command of his personal Commisar to re-establish order. That was well over three hours ago and they should have reported back by now. What was going on?Commisar French ordered the Chimera to a halt and waited for the troops to deploy in a protective cordon, before he left the vehicle. They had already dealt a summary justice to two positions and were chasing the remnants of the remaining soldiers to ground. He had decided to personally supervise the clean up of the final group himself.*
He had been glad to leave the headquarters and looked forward to a little more action. So far the hunt had been unsatisfactory, dumb protestation followed by the feel of his chainsword biting into flesh, was hardly satisfactory. He motioned the section leader forward, and the men moved forward, scanning the surrounding terrain. He was still contemplating the praise he would receive when the first bolter round struck.
Leftenant Walters had been warned of the approaching transport by the K’ran, their short yipping barks usually meant they wanted to show him something. He had seen the vehicle and knew that there could only be one response. Corporal James had taken up position on the high ground to the left of the trench and he had kept Berbatov and his men as a backup. They had watched the Lutheran infantry pass through, staying hidden as their bait circumvented the obviously defended outpost and waited for the Imperial forces to arrive.
The K’ran hugged the ground close to Walters position and he knew his men were waiting for his signal. When he saw the command given for the assault to begin, he fired first, the satisfying spray of blood signalling a direct hit.
A rapid fusillade of las rifle fire decimated the packed ranks of Guardsmen around the Chimera and with a wild yell he charged forward, the K’ran surging past him.
French saw the K’ran first and screaming “For the Emperor”, he raced to meet them. The last thing that passed through his mind, just before the bolter round, was that this was why he had joined in the first place.
Walters saw the Commisar’s body fly backwards as the bolter round punched clean through his forehead, exploding in a spray of blood and gore from the back of his skull. He raced to keep up with the K’ran, who sped past the first troops and launched themselves inside the Chimera. The tell-tale screams spoke volumes and he suddenly found himself alone and faced by a screaming mob of Guardsmen.
It was just about time to pray for forgiveness, when the comforting laughter of Berbatov could be heard, as the giant Sargeant, pushed him to one side and jumped straight into the defending Guardsmen. Walters had time to fire off one more round, and then he lowered his pistol, the danger of hitting his maniac Sargeant becoming too great.
Berbatov was not alone, whatever he had said to convince his men was effective. They obviously feared him more than the incoming las rifle fire and rushed to join him. Their coordination of fire was poor, but they made up for it in enthusiasm and once at close quarters the infectiousness madness of the big man took hold. Rifles became clubs, knives were drawn and the carnage began.
Walters saw the K’ran leave the Chimera, and watch the fighting below. He felt the gaze of the lead beast on him and he smiled reassuringly. It seemed as though the K’ran were content to let Berbatov and his men have their fun.
It was soon over, there were no survivors. Walters strode past the crumpled bodies and entered the transport. The stench of faeces and blood was overpowering, the mangled remains of the driver and vox-operator gave him pause, but he pushed the vox-man out of his position as an incoming transmission could be heard.
“French, French, report.”
“I’m sorry but he is unavailable,” he replied into the instrument.
“Who is this? This is General Hamner, I need to speak with him urgently”.
“Oh, so you’re General Hamner. I have a message from the Commisar. Sorry, can’t talk right now. I’m a little dead. Please accept my apologies. But don’t worry, I am sure that you will soon be receiving the same treatment from my friends here.” and with that, Walters flicked the switch to the off position.
Walters knew there was something unusual going on, it was not normal practice for the majority of the men to be huddled around Berbatov, in fact they normally did their best to avoid him. Yet, since yesterday’s battle, there was a change and now this. He sauntered over to the rear of the confiscated Chimera and Corporal James jumped up with a guilty, “Sir!”. Instead of the normal rapid dispersement following his appearance, the men stood together, their heads hung in embarrassment.Chapter 5
“Berbatov?”, he queried, causing the man to back out of the rear of the vehicle.
“Yes sir?”, he replied, sheepishly.
“What’s going on?”
“Well sir, it’s like this, “ began Berbatov. “The boys and I”, and here indicated the troopers, “we were thinking it wasn’t right, sir?”
“What, wasn’t right, Sargeant”, queried Walters exasperatedly.
“That we don’t have one sir”.
“One what, Sargeant?”, Walters could see that this was going to be painful.
“A picture, sir, “ and seeing Walters’ incomprehension, “ for the boys sir. Oh, and especially for you, Leftenant.”
With that he pulled what looked like a bundle of cloth, from behind his back, and continued his explanation. “The Lutheran’s had one, even the Penal guys had one, sir. So we decided “Walters Army”, had to have one. Especially with Williamson being so good at it, sir.”
Walters had a strong urge to pull out his bolter pistol and shoot Berbatov there and then, but he just managed to restrain himself and smiled encouragingly. With a quite theatrical gesture Berbatov unfurled the cloth, revealing a remarkable likeness of a snarling K’ran in silver, stitched onto the green background.
“What do you think sir?, “He asked, a huge grin on his face.
“I like it, “ gruffed Walters, turning away to hide the emotion he felt and it was then he noticed Williamson with his needle and thread, stitching a smaller version to one of the men’s tunics. He now looked more closely and saw that the majority of them had already passed by Williamson’s clothing outlet, the emblem had been hidden as they had huddled around the Sargeant.
He almost fell over the K’ran as he turned away and called back to the Sargeant.
“What about them, Sargeant”. And here he indicated the animals.
“Sorry, sir. They are the emblem”, replied the Sargeant.
“Well, following your logic, they need names and I’m sick of calling this one Puppy. What do you suggest?”. Walters was sure he had caught the grinning brute out.
The Sargeant thought for a moment and then with a laugh said, “Easy Sir. K’ran, Kran One and K’ran Two.”
Walters turned back to the beasts and feeling slightly awkward, he pointed at them in turn, indicating the silver one initially. “Okay, this one is K’ran, to the blue grey beast, K’ran One and to the green K’ran Two.”
The animals howled as one and began leaping and cavorting around him.
“Looks like they like the names, quipped Berbatov, and turned away laughing.“We have been named, “ they howled together, “we are pack.”*As the shuttle docked into the larger vessel, General Wolfe unbuckled his seat restraint. It had been a tedious journey, the officers accompanying him had been poor company. His impatience had gotten the better of him on a number of occasions and he was sure that the two young men thought that he was close to madness. At last however, they were here.*
A navy rating was waiting for the General in the docking bay, to show him the way to his quarters. He had been assigned an office on B deck and had asked that all of his belongings were placed there as soon as possible. In the meantime, he wanted to study all of the available information on the current campaign, in particular anything to do with the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry.
He was a little lost in thought, but as he glanced upwards he saw the markings for A deck.
“Where are we going, son?, he asked the rating.
“Sorry, sir. My orders were to take you directly to the bridge, where the Captain is waiting for you.”, relied the man.
Wolfe started to speak and then thought better of it. There was little chance that the lowly rating would know his Captain’s mind and so, he waited.
On entering the bridge he received a number of perfunctory salutes, which he returned impatiently. It was only when he reached the raised dais containing the Captain’s chair, that he relaxed slightly. The man there, in middle age, rose to meet him with an outstretched hand and a welcoming smile on his face.
“General Wolfe, Captain Arnesson. Pleased to meet you, sir”, he began. “I thought that it best I greeted you personally, especially in the current circumstances.”
“Excuse me, Captain. What exactly are the current circumstances?”, Wolfe questioned a little anxiously.
“No one informed you General?”, and seeing the expression on his face, “Obviously not. Let me fill you in.”
“Please do, Captain,” replied Wolfe, taking the proffered seat at the Captain’s side.
“Well sir, and getting straight to the point. It appears that your ex-command has rebelled directly against General Hamner’s forces, that is to say Imperial Forces. The overall details are still sketchy, but after the original assault on the fortress objective, and the subsequent retreat from the Chaos incursion by the CF battalion, the General ordered a clean up of the area. Both aerial and ground bombardment was ordered, which meant some regular troops did not have time to get out of the target zone.
Once carried out, the General issued a proclamation that anyone who had survived this cleansing operation must be tainted by Chaos and sent a clear instruction that these men must be eliminated.
It appears that those Lutheran troops on our side of the line, refused to fire on their returning comrades. Commisar French led a team in to re-educate them and it appears he met with some trouble, terminal trouble that is.
The General received a communication from an unknown source, which we assume was a member of the rebellious and hence Chaos-infected ex-Lutheran troops. This basically promised him a similar treatment to that received by the Commisar.”
“How do we know that this unknown source was one of my men?”, queried Wolfe.
“We do not have clear confirmation, but General Hamner appears convinced”, responded the Captain, obviously a little uneasy at the tenuousness of his argument.
“And where is General Hamner right now? I would like to speak with him straight away, Captain”.
“He’s planetside, General”, said the Captain, “directing our operations”.
“Right, never mind getting me settled in here, I want a shuttle organised to take my men and I directly to General Hamner. It seems my auditing skills are urgently required.”
‘Jimmy’ James counted slowly to ten and peered over the rock ledge, for once he felt like he was part of something. Spread out beside and slightly behind him were the men of the two sections with which he had been entrusted. Every day more men were joining them and poor old Williamson was busy at his tailoring duties more and more. The Leftenant had decided to give James a field promotion to Sargeant and had bumped up Chivas, one of James’ original squad to Lance Corporal. Chivas now ran the second section under James and was inordinately proud of the responsibility.
James was trying to instil some sort of military discipline in his men, unlike the maniacal Sargeant Berbatov, who basically taught his men to fear him first and the Leftenant second. Any fear of the Emperor, the Chaos Forces or just about anything else was laughed at and it seemed to be working. Just yesterday Berbatov had led his men in another of his suicidal charges, they followed without pause and spent the whole time hooting with laughter. Totally unnatural it was.
A muted whistle was the signal he had been waiting for and he crouched down, checking that he had a fresh power pack in his las rifle. He looked across at Chivas and nodded, after a short delay he heard the crump of detonating explosive and stood up, opening fire on the Chaos Troops below.Walters was situated on the other side of the valley, waiting for the fighting to begin. He had thought long and hard about their next move and realised that they could depend on no one but themselves. They were hemmed in to the rear by the Imperial Guards Forces under General Hamner and above them the unknown Chaos forces. Unknown as to motive, he knew that there were K’ran amongst them, but little else. He needed more information and he needed breathing space.*
It was a dangerous gamble. Annoying both sets of forces could very quickly get them killed, but he needed to build on the unity of his men, and K’ran. Berbatov had given them an identity, he needed to give them a purpose. The only real purpose he could see right now, was to avoid getting shredded to pieces. So, he had decided to start small. First they had made the outpost their’s, then a small radius around it and now they were pushing out little by little. The Chimera had been turned into a gun emplacement, it’s bolter cannon their first line of defense. Here and now he needed to make his enemies respect their zone of influence, “Their Sh*t” as Berbatov had so succinctly named it.
He felt the K’ran move beside him and placed a hand on the silver shoulders, it looked up at him and whined questioningly. One and Two were quiet, waiting in anticipation.
“Okay, “whispered Walters and drew his bolter pistol, “let’s go”.This time K’san did not race recklessly ahead, he paced along by W’ratr’s side, his packmates ranging to the right and left. He was sure of himself, of their victory. There would be death ahead, killing for everyone. He could be K’ran alongside W’ratr and he howled gleefully.*Leftenant Walters surveyed the aftermath of the battle, there had been in fact not much of a fight. James’ men had caught the enemy totally by surprise and had laid down a devastating wall of fire. Those that had not died or had not been mutilated by the carefully laid explosives, were caught in the hailstorm of las bolts.*
Walters looked down of the remains of one of the semi-human soldiers, it’s uniform a mimicry of an Imperial Guard one. During his original training he had been told of the strange runes which would be written plainly in view on such an enemy, either in cloth or directly into tissue. It was hard to say about the latter, as there was little recognisable of the body left. Their weapons were obviously stolen Imperial issue and poorly maintained. With a shrug, he turned away, he had wanted to give a message to the Enemy Commander and he hoped there was enough rationality left in the remains of his mind to understand it.
He spun as he heard a snarl behind him, but he was too late, crashing to the floor under the oppressing weight of the charging K’ran. He rolled to one side, managing to avoid the backward slash of claws which snagged on his greatcoat pocket. Walters didn’t try to clear his bolter pistol from its holster, he simply discharged the weapon against the side of the raging beast above him. It was risky, but so too was doing nothing.
There was a smell of burning fur and charred meat, and he was free. He shrugged his way out of his greatcoat, throwing it to one side and drawing his chainsword, the weapon whirring reassuringly as he activated it.
“Come on then, “ he growled through gritted teeth as the massive beast charged.
Walters planted one foot forward, meaning to swing the weapon at the beast, but a stone rolled under his foot and he fell to one side. Determinedly he held onto the chainsword and the teeth of the weapon bit into the back leg of the K’ran, half shearing it at the knee cap. Not waiting for his luck to change he scrambled to his feet and plunged the whirring blade into the back of the beast’s skull. His action was rewarded by a fine spray of blood and bone and then the weapon stopped functioning, it’s mechanism caught in the rocky earth below. He felt a hot breath on the back of his neck and reached slowly down to his boot, removing his combat knife. Things were about to get really ugly.K’rin watched unbelievingly as his champion was downed by the puny human, one strike of his weapon and he was no more. Now though, the weapon was disabled and it was his turn. Bunching his muscles he readied himself for the killing leap. It was then he was struck simultaneously from the side and the rear, claws ripping into his flesh and severing tendons. He pulled himself up by his front paws, his rear set were useless as he had no muscle control due to the damaged ligature.*
It was then he saw something unexplainable, the human was surrounded on three sides by K’ran, but instead of dismembering him, they waited for him to recover his weapons and only then, they followed him towards K’rin. He heard his kin approach too, forming a circle around him, there were five of them left and they waited, growling softly.
K’san barked threateningly and pushed his way through them.
“Brother, “ he hissed, “how low you have fallen”.
“How can this be,” mewled K’rin, the pain causing his breath to catch in his throat. “K’shir outlawed you, spoke the death words.”
“Our father’s words mean nothing to me. You and the others, decided that you would do the Lord’s bidding, murder your own brothers and why? Because we chose to question the need to forget who we are?” .
Foam flecked K’san’s lips as he leaned closer , the words spat from his maw.
“We are K’ran. The Lord has fooled you. There are other ways to please the Blood God.”
“Blasphemy!”, screamed K’rin, as K’san’s claws slashed through his throat.
The words were quietly spoken by K’ranwon, but echoed by K’rantu. As he looked at the others, he heard first a murmur and then a roar.
“The truth!”Walters heard the scrunch of gravel as James approached.*
“What the frak is that all about sir?” , he asked pointing to the K’ran.
“I really don’t know, Jimmy, I really don’t know. But whatever it is, we should be thankful they’re on our side.”Within the Fortress, the being known as the Lord stirred, something had changed. He had felt a thread part, a reduction in his vital energy. This world had been given to him to do with as he willed. It was his, as were all upon it. Raising his arms, he screamed his rage to the sky. There had a been a birth, an unplanned event, a wrongness not created by him. It would be found, crushed, ground and brought pleading before him to beg for mercy and ultimately be destroyed.*
The musty smell of stale sweat and the remains of a half-eaten meal permeated General Hamner’s private quarters. He had spent the previous evening locked within his room, accepting no callers and feigning a headache. Each day his officers asked for more information as the situation worsened and he found it easier to avoid answering their, to him, ridiculous questions.
Today he would make an effort to instil some level of discipline within them, who were they to question his judgement? He swung his legs off the bed and tugged at the front of his crumpled jacket. His nose wrinkled in disgust, as his own scent wafted to his nostrils. It was time to get cleaned up and face the day.
It was then he heard raised voices outside, followed by the sound of a falling object, and a pounding began on the door, almost matching that in his head.
“General Hamner, open this door”, roared someone from outside the portal.
Hamner cracked open the door, ready to demand an explanation for the impertinent attitude, but was roughly bowled backward, catching his knee against his desk and sprawling unceremoniously to the floor.
“What the……”, he began.
“Say nothing, you miserable excuse for a human being.” A man stood in the doorway pointing an accusing finger at the cowering General.
“I am General Wolfe of the 5th Lutheran Light Infantry. It appears I have arrived none too soon.”
“Guards!” shouted Hamner, backing away from the furious officer.
“They can’t hear you. My men have taken them into custody and you, sir, are under arrest for gross incompetence.”, hissed Wolfe
“How dare you, “ spluttered the General.
“How dare I? You have managed to decimate your command. You have lost all control over your men. The troops are in open rebellion and we have an unknown quantity of Chaos Forces, up to Emperor knows what, on our doorstep. You are lucky I don’t summarily execute you right now!”
“That is a clear misrepresentation of the facts!”, screamed General Hamner, beginning to recover his normally bellicose nature. “ Men from your own command are the rebels, they have turned away from the Emperor and joined those same Chaos Forces. Do not preach to me about competence ……”
Hamner’s tirade was abruptly terminated, as Wolfe’s fist crashed into his jaw, cartwheeling him across the room. Before he could react, he was struck again and again, sliding blissfully into unconsciousness.
“Sargeant!”, shouted Wolfe, breathing heavily as the non-com entered the room and saluted. “Get this thing out of my sight!”
“Yes sir!”, replied the Sargeant, indicating to another soldier to help him lift the limp body upright.
General Wolfe followed the men from the room, stooping in front of one of Hamner´s staff.
“You”, he said through gritted teeth, ”Take me to the Communications Centre. I need to get this mess cleared up right now!”
The man nodded obsequiously and not waiting to see if the General followed, rushed off down the corridor.Their outpost was now a hive of activity, men coming and going, organising supplies and re-supplies. James had recently returned from a foray into Imperial territory. His mission had been to scout the area and locate supply dumps and positions. He had struck lucky, when he had followed a group of transports to a nearby depot. It appeared that word had spread and upon seeing the emblem displayed on their tunics, the supply group had not only turned around, but had stopped to pick up further ammunition at the depot. Those self same transports were now being frantically unloaded.*
He heard welcoming yips and saw Berbatov and his men returning. Gambolling like puppies alongside him were a group of K’ran. It seemed that the beasts had an affinity for the big man, who was striding through them kicking and cursing. Walters had decided to concentrate Berbatov’s attentions on the Chaos Troops, his wholehearted murderous frenzy was much bettered suited to this field of operation. The truth be told, Walters was a little uneasy still, with the idea of unleashing the K’ran and Berbatov against Imperial Guardsmen. It did not seem strictly right. He could stomach it, if it had to be done, but under preference tried to avoid.
“Sargeant”, acknowledged Walters as he came closer.
“Leftenant, sir”, grinned Berbatov, “now that was fun.”
“Fun, Sargeant?”, queried Walters.
“Oh yes, sir, lot’s of fun”, he replied.
“What exactly was so much fun, Sargeant?”, asked Walters, knowing that he would regret the question shortly.
“Well, sir. You remember asking me to have a look see at what our mangled friends were doing?”, and not waiting for his Leftenant to respond, he continued, “Everything was going along peaceful-like, when we happened upon one of their routine patrols. The puppies decided that they couldn’t wait for me and dived right in. Now, I couldn’t let them have all the fun, could I sir?”.
Walters snorted in disbelief, but waved the Sargeant on.
“The boys and I got stuck in. They seem to have caught onto the idea of hitting hard and taking no prisoners. So we did, and they didn’t. As I said, sir, fun .” ended the Sargeant, waiting like one of his ‘puppies’ for some praise.
“Did you retrieve any information? Any idea as to what they were up to? …..”, his voice trailed off, noticing the blank expression on Berbatov’s face. “Yes, Sargeant, glad you had some fun. Carry on.”
Berbatov saluted sloppily and ambled off to join his men. Next time, thought Walters, I’m doing the scouting and taking James with me.Rank upon rank stood before him in abject terror, incapable of meeting his eyes as he stalked back and forth. Now and then he stopped, drew the serrated blade from its sheath and plunged it deep into the chest of the nearest of his followers. Each time, he twisted the blade savagely, tearing it free, revelling in the torrent of blood. Almost absent-mindedly he raised the blade to his lips, licking the rapidly congealing mess and then starting his pacing once more.*
“Where are my Generals?”, he roared, and the front ranks parted to allow them access.
“We are here, my Lord”, they chimed in unison.
“You!”, he snarled, “Come here”.
The K’ran General flowed across the ground without fear and rose to his full height, muscles rippling beneath his silver fur.
“You were created to serve me, yet, I hear tales of desertion, stories of your youths leaving to find the truth about the K’ran. To test themselves against others of your kind. And now, I hear that amongst the followers of this W’ratr, in fact at his side is one of your offspring. Speak K’shir”.
“Lord. I too have heard these rumours and myself have chastised those who speak of this. The one they talk of, is dead to me. I personally will tear the living heart from his body and feed it to you. Let me lead my warriors into battle and expunge this stain upon our honour. The Blood God will feed deeply, I swear it:”, and with this he bowed fully down before his Lord.
“Do not fail me, K’shir”, he menaced, placing the edge of the serrated blade against the K’ran’s throat. “You will not live long enough to regret it.”“What is going on out there?”, asked General Wolfe, to no-one in particular.*
Reports were patchy, but it appeared that there was at last movement from the Enemy. Unusually the impending attack seemed to be concentrated on one of the former positions held by Imperial Forces, and from which had emanated the damning message cited by Hamner. In the last few days information had been arriving of continued skirmishing with apparently tainted personnel, however the local troops seemed to be playing down the severity of this threat. It just did not make sense.
Why would Chaos Forces be concentrating on this outpost, if indeed it was a hotbed of anti-Imperial sentiment. Who was organising these men and what were their plans. Whatever the situation he needed to know the truth and as such he motioned to the Vox-operator.
“I need you to transmit a message for me, soldier. Put it on a tight band, and repeat it word for word. Keep transmitting the message until you get an answer of some sort. When you do receive a reply, call me at once.”.
The soldier merely nodded in acceptance and began his transmission. His job was not to question the General’s sanity, merely to obey.“Sir, Sir!”, the voxman, hurriedly interrupted Walters’ thoughts. “We have an incoming transmission from Imperial Command, direct from a General Wolfe.”*
“General who? Never mind, what does it say?” inquired Walters, putting aside his data slate.
“It’s better that you come and hear for yourself, Leftenant, sir”, replied the soldier, worriedly.
“Okay, let’s go”, replied Walters climbing to his feet and following the man.
There were a crowd of men waiting anxiously for his arrival, including Berbatov and James. They said nothing, but moved aside to give him access and the operator flicked a switch, allowing all to hear the message clearly.
“This is General Wolfe, calling Lutheran 5th Light Infantry forces currently operating outside Imperial authority. Report in immediately. I repeat, report in immediately. This is an emergency”
“And?”, queried Walters, “What exactly has this to do with me?”
“Sir, “ stammered the operator, “this is on a fixed beam transmission. It’s directly meant for us, sir”
Walters looked at the expectant faces around him and spoke, “Oh, alright. I’ll speak to him, whoever he is. Yes, James?”
“I know the name sir. He’s on the General Staff of the Lutheran Command. He’s the frakker who left us here with Hamner!”
“Well, well.” , mused Walters, “ then this should be interesting. Patch me in.”
Once he was given the go-ahead he made as if to speak into the vox apparatus, but Berbatov interrupted him.
“Sir. I think it’s only right that I speak first. A kinda introduction, Leftenant, sir”
Walters arched his eyebrow in surprise, but passed the instrument over to Berbatov.
“Hello. How can we help you?” he asked, smirking at Walters.
The Leftenant snorted in disgust and waited for the reply. It was not long in coming.
“This is General Wolfe. With exactly whom am I speaking? Please follow formal communication protocol. Over:”
“Me;” responded Berbatov, “Oops, sorry….Over”
“Is this a joke? I would like to speak with your Commanding Officer. Over”
“Sorry, he’s indisposed at the moment. I’ll have to do. Over”.
Walters could feel the anger emanating from the equipment in palpable waves and snatched the receiver out of Berbatov’s hand.
“This is Walters. Never mind the protocol, General. What can we do for you?”
“I want your name, rank and serial number, soldier”, answered the General coldly.
“Okay, General. Let’s do this by the numbers, well in a fashion anyway. You are speaking with Leftenant Walters and I’ll agree to remain civil, as long as you do”.
“This is gross insubordination ….”, began the General, but was cut off as Walters snapped his reply into the vox.
“Enough, General. Let’s stop playing games. You called me, something about an emergency. Oh, and whatever happened to General Hamner?”
“General Hamner has been reassigned. For now I will overlook your insubordination, but we will have a reckoning. Leftenant, I do not remember a Leftenant Walters in the Lutheran 5th?”
“Good news, saves me a job anyway and no you wouldn’t, remember me that is, General. What is the emergency you called to discuss with me?” insisted Walters.
“Very well, Leftenant. Your position is about to be overrun by a large force from the Fortress above you. I will be sending someone to relieve you immediately and take over your command. You will report back here to me, for debriefing”.
“Hmmm, debriefing a lovely word.”, mused Walters. “However General, we need to clarify a couple of points. One, it would be unwise on your part to assume that you can send someone to relieve me, the last person to try that ended up being reassigned. And two, I don’t think the make-up of my current command exactly fits within the textbook definition of an Imperial Guard unit:”
“The 5th Lutheran Light Infantry fits perfectly within the definition ….”, the voice trailed off.
“Ah. You seem to be getting the point, General. This is not the Lutheran 5th, let’s call it an independent command, with an attached mobile unit,” and looking at the K’ran, “extremely mobile and rather experimental. We have so far managed to secure this area, repelling all attempts to displace us. I can assure you that we will continue to do so.”
Walters looked at the men around him, “Oh, and General, thanks for the warning. Please do feel free to call and chat at any time. Walters, out.”The General turned and kicked out savagely at a nearby container, sending it skittering across the room. He turned and glared at the vox-operator, daring him to say something. When no reply was forthcoming, he turned abruptly and left the room, leaving the soldier gazing pensively after him.*
Making sure the General and his staff had left, the vox-operator reached once more for his equipment. He paused, thinking for a moment and then began to transmit a new message.*
“Me and my big mouth, “cursed Walters,as he looked out over the ranks of Imperial Guard positioned below him. There looked to be at least three companies of Guards, spread out over the rough terrain and he had received reports of another company approaching from the west. At least there were no armoured units with them, if that could be called a blessing. And to make matters worse, James had reported in on the microbead circuit, that advanced units of Chaos forces had been spotted, early this morning.
“It seems, Sargeant”, he said, turning to Berbatov, “ that we are between a rock and a hard place”.
“Not to worry, sir.”, responded the Sargeant confidently, “you’ll think of something”.
“Oh, I’m thinking of something, Sargeant …” he muttered, but stopped to watch Private Williamson sprinting up the hill.
“Sir, sir!”, gasped the soldier, skidding to a stop, “you’ve got to see this”:
“Unless you are here to tell me that everyone is surrendering, due to our overwhelmingly unassailable position, I don’t really need to actually see anything else.” , commented Walters sarcastically.
Williamson stood open mouthed before him, “H-h-h-ow did you know, sir?”
“What? Speak up soldier”, urged Walters, restraining himself from grabbing the private by the front of his tunic and shaking him.
“We’ve just had a call over short range communications, sir. They want to suurender to you, personally. You are to watch the front ranks, Leftenant, sir.”
Walters turned and saw three men move out in front of the Imperial Forces, an officer at their head.
“Berbatov, we have some visitors, let’s go”, he said as, adjusted the chainsword by his side.
“Could be a trap”, gruffed Berbatov, then laughing he picked up the now infamous halberd, “could also be a whole lot of fun!”
Walters scowled at him, and settled his cap more firmly on his head. He felt the comforting nudge of the K’ran by his side and placed his hand on its head.
“Okay, let’s do this”, he said firmly, leading his two companions down the hill.“So it is true!”, breathed the young officer, as they watched the two men and the K’ran come towards them, apparently at ease in each others company.*
“Stand still, “ he ordered as a ripple of unease travelled through the ranks.
Berbatov grounded his halberd as he came to a halt and stared threateningly at the Guards before him. The silver furred K’ran growled menacingly, standing ready by Walters side. Walters himself said nothing, waiting instead for the Guard Officer to speak.
“Sir!”, barked the officer, snapping to attention with a parade ground salute.
“To what do we owe this pleasure…..?”, queried Walters.
“Second Leftenant Wilson, sir. I am here to relinquish command of 2nd , 4th and 5th companies to yourself, sir”.
“A Leftenant in charge of three companies? Rather unusual wouldn’t you say?”, asked Walters.
“Major Burne is injured, sir. So I have assumed command in his absence, sir.”, replied Wilson quickly.
“And the good Major, is in agreement with your decision?”, questioned Walters, watching closely for the other man’s reaction.
“I am sure he would be, sir, if he was not so indisposed”, responded Wilson.
“Hmm. Rather interesting. And the fourth company approaching from the west? What do you know of that, Leftenant?” The man looked surprised, his reaction genuine. “Nothing, sir, I can assure you.”
“Very well, Leftenant. Let’s say that I believe you. What would you have me do with your men?”
“We are here to fight the Chaos scum, sir. With you, sir?” replied Wilson, tremulously.
“This scum!”; snapped Walters pointing at the K’ran by his side, who bristled at the tone in his voice.
“N-no, sir. We heard that there were a large force coming to attack you here. That you would need assistance. That men from the 5th Lutheran and others were fighting by your side. That you did not prejudge those who were unfortunate enough to have been on the wrong side of the bombardment, sir”., he replied rapidly, stiffening further into his position of attention.
“All that is true. But there is one important question, Leftenant. The answer to which you need to consider well.”
“Who are you fighting for?”
Leftenant Wilson made as if to speak, but the man behind coughed and then moved forward. He was carrying a pole on which was tied a roll of cloth. Without speaking he unfurled the cloth and as if in answer, a breeze began to blow, which caught the cloth and lifted it fluttering before them. The breeze strengthened and there snapping in the wind before them, crudely fashioned, was the snarling K’rans head.
Cheers rang out, and Berbatov leaned in towards him, “Looks like you just got a promotion, sir.”“What are you telling me, major?”, Wolfe snarled at the cowering officer before him.*
“It appears that we have lost contact with a number of our units, sir”, replied the man, quaking before the General’s anger.
“And what do we know of their movements?”, asked Wolfe dangerously.
“Captain Arnesson has reported from orbit that they appear to be concentrating on Leftenant Walters’ position, General, sir.”, responded the Major, looking as though he expected to be slapped.
“Are they attacking ….?”, the sweet tone of the General’s voice, appeared to make it even more menacing.
The Major took a deep breath and replied, “No, Sir. Captain Arnesson indicates that they are deploying in a standard defensive formation, sir”.
Wolfe turned slowly away from the Major and seemed to be struggling internally with his anger. After a few moments he turned back round and spoke, “Very well, get me Walters on the vox. We need to talk.”*
“Yes, General Wolfe. How can I help you?”, asked Walters, speaking calmly into the transmitter.
“It seems as though we got off on the wrong foot, Walters. I am willing to try again, if you are. “ The General appeared to be in a conciliatory mood.
“Very amenable of you General.”, Walters, managed to keep the mirth out of his voice, but only just.
“We seem to have the same goal in mind, that of ridding this planet of the Chaos Forces. I am a loyal servant of the Emperor, but am not blind to the role you can play in this. Will you work with me?”, the General’s words came across as sickeningly sweet.
Walters waited a moment, collecting his thoughts, “General, General. Right now our objective is aligned I would say, rather than being the same. I seem to have a major disagreement with the Forces of Chaos. Not really sure what I’ve done, apart from stealing some of their men and killing a few more of them. Sound familiar?”, and not waiting for a reply, “Anyway, once I have dealt with that problem, what assurance do I have that you won’t just come running in to ‘reassign’ us?”
Walters could feel the grinding of the General’s teeth through the vox, but then he spoke, “I am willing to offer you a field commission to Captain, for the duration of this conflict. As long as you co-ordinate your actions with mine.”
“Make it Major and I’ll consider it.”, replied Walters, grinning to himself, “Oh, and remember General, co-ordination does not mean interference”.
There was silence for an extended period of time and then the answer came, “Very well, Major”.*
Walters flicked off the switch and stared into the distance. Things had just gotten a lot more complicated. There was absolutely no way that his command nor commission would be accepted once hostilities ceased. Neither General Wolfe nor his Commisars would think twice about ‘reassigning’ him, killing the K’ran and liquidating the men who had joined him.
If he was to get out of this, he would have to think of something original, something unique. That, was for later though, right now, as Berbatov would say, it was time for some fun.The newly crowned Major looked on in amazement at the scene before him. Sargeant Berbatov was buried beneath a mass of snarling and snapping bodies. With an enormous heave, he exploded from the middle of the melee and with a shout of pure glee, dived back in again.*
To one side stood Williamson, in his arms what looked like a pile of green cloth, which he dropped to the floor as Berbatov barrelled into him, cursing happily.
“Sargeant!”, shouted Walters, “When you have a moment?”
Berbatov batted one of the K’ran playfully on the side of the head and, after dusting off his trousers, swaggered across to Walters.
“Major, Sir!”, he saluted in an awful rendition of standard drill.
“Could you possibly explain to me what is going on?”, asked Walters, wincing as he saw the crafty expression cross the Sargeant’s face.
“Measuring, sir”, responded the Sargeant, staring past Walters’ shoulder.
He resisted the urge to turn and look at what Berbatov was fixated on and tried again. “Measuring, Sargeant?”
“Yes, sir. Exactly, sir”, replied Berbatov.
Walters waited patiently for more information, but it soon became obvious that Berbatov had nothing more to add. He tried again.
“Helping me, sir!” shouted Berbatov, getting into the swing of things.
“Helping you ……?”, queried Walters, wishing he had never started this.
“Yes, sir!”, said Berbatov, giving the expected response, “Will that be all, sir?
“Yes, Sargeant. That will definitely be all for now”, said Walters, as he watched Berbatov’s about turn in dismay.
Berbatov stopped to help Williamson gather up the cloth and then, with one arm around the nervous soldier’s shoulders, led him cheerfully away.K’san looked on at the interplay between the two men, their bond was obviously strong. It would need to be. Tomorrow they would face the might of his father’s forces and they would need true strength and belief. He knew that there could be no quarter in this battle. The Lord had pronounced the death of W’ratr and his own father had sworn to personally fulfil his command, with specific emphasis on the death of his former son.*
The K’ran knew this as more of his brothers had joined him, but alone they would not be enough. They needed W’ratr to lead them. He had proven that he was worthy of their brotherhood and they would fight, not just with him, but for him.
It would not be a battle only of guns and swords, but claws and fangs. There were many who needed to win their names, on both sides. He growled softly and K’ranwon and K’rantu moved to join him. As one they padded forward to join their pack.
Walters stood on the makeshift platform Berbatov had raised, with the help of his boys, in a cleared area in front of the outpost. His men, a concept he still found hard to believe, waited patiently for him to speak. He had tried writing a speech along the lines of those he had heard from other officers, but they really did not seem to apply. In the end, he had decided to just say what he was thinking, what he felt.Chapter 8
Right now, though, his mouth was dry and his palms were wet. His head ached and he wanted to be anywhere else but here. Taking a deep breath, he began.
“There are those who would question our right to be here, who wish to see us fail. There are others, waiting to forceably take not only this right, but our lives, our very souls.”
He watched them, their reaction, the shuffling of feet, the nervous glances and forced laughter and continued.
“We have lived through much in a short time; fear, betrayal, death and the loss of an ideal. But we have also found anger, courage, strength and a belief in ourselves and those by our sides.”
Walters saw the change as they straightened, nudged the men by their side and how their interest was quickened.
“Today we will need that courage more than ever as we face an enemy who will spare no-one, whose only thought is pain and chaos. Who believes in nothing but the destruction of all we have come to stand for.”
Now he saw flickers of fear in their eyes but also a stubbornness, born of adversity.
“I am proud to lead you into this battle, proud that you have honoured me with your loyalty. Strengthened, that we are together as one, and that we will let nothing stand in our way.
When this day, this battle is over and the field lies covered with the enemy dead. We will mourn our lost comrades, but we shall also praise them. They will have given their lives in defence of not only their freedom from the repression of others, but our own.”
Walters shook with the strength of his emotion, the pride he felt in these men and resolved not to let them down, not to fail in his quest to lead them out of this situation, off this planet and away from retribution.
He forced himself to breathe more easily and smile.
“There is only one more thing I have to say, and I cannot claim credit for this.
In the famous words of Sargeant Berbatov, it’s time for some fun!”
Silence greeted his words and then came the sound. Low at first, but then gathering in momentum, the roar of men and K’ran augmenting the volume as they shook their fists, raised their weapons and shouted their defiance so that all could hear.
“……Walters …….Walters …….Walters!”Sargeant James has chosen well, thought Major Walters, as he studied the battle field. Small patrols had been sent to harry and concentrate the enemy here, a small valley between two small hills. His men were dug-in on the hillsides, ready to pour covering fire into the flanks of the oncoming K’ran and stop them bypassing his main force.*
Wilson led the troops on the left hill, James on the other, with Berbatov here by his side. Walters knew that there would be little advantage from the terrain, but it was the best he could do. This would could down to a direct confrontation between the two sides, it was going to get bloody.
The silver furred K’ran moved back to join him, Walters smiling again at this morning’s surprise. He had at last found out what Berbatov had been up to. Each of the ‘puppies’ had been fitted out with a harness of sorts and were sporting an almost jaunty green bandana. In his unassuming way, the Sargeant had again corrected a potentially fatal tactical error. Now there was absolutely no way that they could mistake their allies for their enemies.
He heard the muted crackle of las fire in the distance and unconsciously checked that his chainsword and bolter pistol were in their accustomed places. Reassured he nodded to Berbatov and they moved forward as one.General Wolfe read his tactical report with an almost inhuman glee. ‘Major’ Walters was engaging with the Enemy, soon it would be time.*
He turned to the vox operator, “Transmit the message to Captain Arnesson.”
“But sir!” protested the man.
“Just do it!”, screamed Wolfe and the soldier turned to obey his General.*
Walters dived sideways, avoiding the snapping teeth and fired his bolter pistol into the K’ran’s side. He didn’t have time to appreciate the damage the round had done, as he ducked under another’s razor sharp claws. The blow was so close it scraped the top of his head, flipping off his cap and drawing blood. Screaming in defiance he struck upwards with the chainsword, the vibrating blade chewing its way through teeth and bone, finally emerging from the top of the beast’s skull.
There had been no respite and, as he had predicted, the battle had devolved into a mass of screaming and twisting bodies. He had lost sight of Berbatov, but the welcome flash of green, accompanied by a howl of triumph announced the arrival of the silver K’ran and his group.
Taking time to look around him, Walters found it difficult to determine how the fight was going. It didn’t look good though. They were heavily outnumbered and now that the advantage of their firepower had been negated, things could only get worse.
Initially, the ordered volleys of las fire had taken a terrible toll on the K’ran attackers, who had relied on their speed and agility to counteract the superior firepower of Walters and his men. Everything had changed when Wilson’s position had been overrun and the men driven like cattle down into the valley below. Within the rock covered hillside there was too much cover for the K’ran, who had pressed their advantage. James still held the right hand side hill, but was retreating steadily, determinedly reducing the K’ran numbers.
Then he heard a tremendous roar from the rear ranks of the K’ran and using the corpse of one of the dead beasts as a step, he climbed momentarily above the crowd around him. And wished he hadn’t.
Pushing its way through the Chaos Forces was the biggest K’ran he had ever seen, its silver fur covering a body of titanic proportions. The muscles under its skin bunched and rolled as it barged its way through.
“Oh, frak!”, he muttered to no-one in particular.K’san heard the roar and knew that his father had arrived. He felt the momentum of the battle swing and the renewed energies of the opposing K’ran, as each attempted to outdo the other in the ferocity of their need to impress the all-powerful leader of their pack.*
“It is time,” hissed K’san, and to K’rantu, “stay with W’ratr, keep two of our brothers with you and protect him with your lives!”
K’rantu gave a short bark and stood watching as K’san tilted back his head and howled. His pack brothers gathered around him and as one they charged in a tightly packed group, smashing their way through their enemies.
K’shir heard the howl and spoke, “He comes, My Lord. His heart is yours!”. He felt the presence of The Lord joining with him, the elixir of his ravening spirit intoxicating him. He too howled, and the K’ran parted as a wave before him.Fighting ceased around Walters as the K’ran allowed their leader to pass. It continued near both hills, where the engagement was brutal in the extreme. The Major rested on his sword, taking advantage of the brief respite, but then he saw the fatal charge, and ran closely followed by K’rantu and his brothers.*K’san skidded to a halt in front of his father, unable to repress a shudder of awe at the spirit-imbued beast.*
“Father,” he growled softly.
“No longer, traitor. It is time you pay the price for your treachery. I want your still beating heart in my mouth and there I will extinguish you for good.”
This thing was no longer his father, the spirit of The Lord had corrupted him further. With a roar K’san leapt.Walters saw the blow, heard the ribs break and the concussion of sound as the K’san hit the floor. He saw the almost sedate approach of the huge silver beast, whose tongue swiped too and fro across its line of sharp teeth. Without stopping his run, he drove his chainsword into the things back, using his momentum to its fullest.*
There was an ear-shattering roar and the beast turned, the still humming chainsword buried deep within it. The force of its turn ripping the weapon out of the Major’s hand. It rose up on its hind legs and struck. Its claws punched through the greatcoat, drawing Walters in towards the grinning maw above him. At lightening speed it withdrew its formidable weapons and struck again.
This time it enfolded the Major in a bear-like hug and tightened its grip. Walters felt the claws entering his back inexorably and smelt the terrible stench of its breath. The pain was intense and there was nothing he could do to stop it, his arms were crushed against his sides and he was held in a vice-like grip.
He had thought the agony could get no worse, but he was wrong, the beast used the claws embedded in his flesh to lift him and he screamed. Walters felt the touch of its saliva on the recently opened scratches on his head, and mewling in pain, buried his face against the rank fur before him.
Unbidden, the animal in him took over and Walters bit. At first K’shir felt nothing, then an annoying nip like that of one of his playful offspring, then true pain. He roared and tried to throw the human away, but in his Lord’s ecstacy he had dug too deep. His claws were entrenched in the body of the human below him, locked between skin and bone.
The realisation that he was dying hit Walters, but he was beyond caring. His only focus was on boring his way into the beast’s throat, chewing and gnawing he kept on. He was rewarded by the spurt of black arterial blood and felt the thing’s life pumping into his throat and he smiled. .Then he swallowed, and his throat constricted as he felt the thing’s blood scald his flesh. It burned, oh how it burned.Berbatov looked on in desperation, tears streaming down the big man’s face. They could do nothing for the Major, the beast in its frenzy to release its hold on him had opened huge gashes in Walters’ back. The Sargeant could see the white of bone, flashing amongst the mixture of red and black. He snarled and rammed the point of his halberd into the thing’s back, again and again.*K’rantu knew he had failed, but he would not let W’ratr die unavenged. Snapping and snarling he used his claws to drag himself up K’shir’s back and sank his teeth , deep into the K’ran’s neck.*Deep within the Fortress The Lord cried out in pain and rage. He had been so close to victory, but could feel it draining away, as the K’ran’s blood spilled out onto the ground. Removing his connection with K’shir he shook his head from side to side, slightly disorientated. When he raised his head once more, his face was contorted in a expression of pure fury. This time there would be no mistakes, he would take care of the Imperials himself.*K’san limped up to join Berbatov, who continued to strike at K’shir’s body. He knew it was futile, but he could do nothing else. It was then they saw the change as K’shir’s body physically seemed to diminish and the K’ran fell back onto all fours, burying Walters beneath it.*
Although it’s blood now ran only a darker shade of red, wisps of smoke still curled from the Major’s mangled body. His head and upper arms were black and charred. All noise had ceased but as K’rantu finally unlocked his jaws, the sound of power cells being replaced and angry growls echoed across the battlefield. It was then it happened.
The thing that had once been Major Walters began to writhe, thrashing from side to side and then the body of the now dead K’shir exploded off it in a rain of blood and gore. Wounds began to heal before their eyes, the body began to swell and it stood. The eyes opened, sparking a feral green and yellow, it opened its mouth and howled.
The sound uluated across the field of battle, reverberating in the chest of each and everything there. All fell to their knees, except Berbatov who stared stoically into its face, as the eyes changed back to their normal colour and it turned and spoke.
“Major”, nodded the big man, pulling a battered officer’s cap from his tunic pocket and twisting it back into an almost recognisable shape. He meekly offered it to Walters and grinned, “Now that was fun!”
Turning, Walters surveyed the prostrated men and K’ran before him. How could he explain what had happened, he was still unsure, uncertain. His death had been imminent; K’shir’s blood burning him both inside and out, eating away his resistance, corroding his will to live. His only conscious thought had been to rip the thing’s throat out, tear it from this world and drag it into to the next, joining him in his pain.Chapter 9
Momentarily he had felt that joining, had lived temporarily alongside the mixture of K’ran and monster, whose possession had abruptly been broken, but not so his connection with K’shir. They had spiralled into darkness together, the beast within him railing at the injustice of its end, and he had fought.
Spitting and snarling he had clawed his way back, until he felt all restraint break and he had been suffused with an incredible energy and vigour. He was conscious of his heart’s beat, of the blood pounding through his veins, cleansing his body of the vile blackness. Somehow the K’ran’s blood had catalysed this reaction, changing him, and now here he stood. Still he was Major Walters, yet he was that and more. Energy flowed through him and around him, he could feel the vast reserves of power within him, drawn in part from the adoration of those before him. And yet, there was something else.
His thoughts were interrupted by Leftenant Wilson, who nervously spoke.
“Is it you, Major?”
“Who else would it be?” said Berbatov, jovially cuffing the young officer across the back of his head.
Walters desperately tried not to break into laughter at the look on the Leftenant´s face. Wilson, obviously didn’t know whether to be affronted by Berbatov’s personal attention, or ignore the matter. The Leftenant glanced quickly at Walters and then decided that caution was the better part of valour.
“Indeed”, said Walters, breaking the moment of tension with his grin, “How can I help you?”
“W-w-well, sir.”, stammered the Leftenant, pointing at the battlefield, “What about this, sir?
“Have you been taking lessons from Sargeant Barbatov, Leftenant?”, quipped Walters.
“What are we going to do, sir?”, blurted out the Leftenant, “We’re right in the middle of a war here!”
“Not any more,” responded Walters his face darkening, and then more calmly, “Not any more.”Captain Arnesson stared thoughtfully into the distance, before replying. It had taken time to assimilate all of the relevant data, but now he was sure. They had stopped fighting and appeared to be waiting for something.*
“Send a message to General Wolfe and appraise him of the current situation”. he said in a clipped and disciplined tone to the subaltern.
“And the General’s request, Sir?”, asked the man respectfully.
“Do as he asks, although I am not quite sure that I agree with him fully”, replied the Captain.
“Sir?”, queried the man.
“Nothing. Nothing. Carry on, son”, and with that Arnesson returned to his musings. What was Walters up to now?Walters crouched down next to the injured K’ran, its laboured breathing the result of the broken ribs, received courtesy of K’shir.*
He laid his hand gently on the beast’s shoulder, “How are you, my friend?”, he asked softly.
K’san responded with a muted whine, which seemed to seemed to resonate echoingly inside Walters’ head. The sound rose and fell and then returned in strength as a violent buzzing. He clasped his hands to his ears, as buzzing became an all encompassing roar and fell to his knees. Blood started to drip through his fingers and he bent forward, his forehead touching the cool earth beneath him.
An angry growl began in his throat, rising in pitch and tempo and with it he rose to his feet, his eyes tightly shut and fists clenched by his side in a vain attempt to combat the piercing pain. His eyelids flashed open and again the feral green and yellow orbs gleamed for all to see. With a noise halfway between a growl and shout, he looked down on the K’ran below him who unconsciously trembled beneath his gaze.
“What have you done to me!”, hissed Walters.
“My Lord!”, whined K’san in despair and Walters stopped, his fist half-raised to strike the beast.
“I want ….the truth!”, he half-pleaded, half-screamed.
Across the field the K’ran responded, leaping to their feet in ecstasy, their Lord had spoken, they had understood, he was looking for The Truth.
“My Lord!”, K’san eagerly barked, “How?…..”
“I do not know”, replied Walters quietly, burying his face in his hands.Berbatov glanced once towards Walters and the strange scene depicted there, then resumed cleaning his halberd. The Major continued to surprise him, now he could talk with the puppies! He spat onto the burnished metal and continued cleaning off the caked and drying blood. He knew that whatever had happened to the Major was for the best, or at least he hoped so.*
They would have little time for rest, as they still had both General Wolfe and who or whatever dwelt within the Fortress to deal with. Neither of whom would be particularly happy about the charming scenes being played out here. He grabbed another, cleaner, cloth off Williamson as he passed by, sending the private scuttling away as Berbatov swung a boot in his general direction.
Whistling happily, the Sargeant continued his work. He had a feeling he would be needing his weapon soon, real soon.The Lord smiled as the last of the sacrifices were brought into the room, their squealing was most invigorating. It was quite strange how those who professed their undying devotion to his cause, tended to change their minds when asked to demonstrate it. The altar was old, older than the fortress itself. He had brought it with him, being attached to it both literally and metaphorically. It was his conduit with his master, which he rarely used, but he felt drained and in need of renewal.*
He nodded to the priest who began to intone the rite, the barbaric phrases calming his Lord. As the ceremony reached a crescendo, the hunched and cowled priest reached into the first victim’s mouth, gripping his tongue firmly in his clawed hands and slashed down with the consecrated knife. There was a squeal, a spurt of blood and then the glorious moaning began. The Lord was impatient, the ritual took too long. Drawing his sword he pierced the priest’s back with a savage stab and then reversed the blade in a sweeping motion, neatly removing the man’s head. The cowl flapped open, revealing the suppurating visage beneath and he laughed.
With incredible speed he struck again and again, resulting blood from each sacrifice spraying onto the altar and running into the neatly carved design on its surface. The stone seemed to shudder in delight and a point of light appeared, rapidly growing and swirling with a myriad of colours. Sickening to the eye, he drank it in and laying full length on the now sticky surface, he gazed fervently into the portal.General Wolfe vomited onto the floor, uncaring of the watchful faces around him. The thing that had been his astropath lay curled into a ball before him in his Command Room. The woman had screamed once, long and hard, then stood still, silent, as her skin began to melt. First one blister, then five, joining together in a strange and convoluted tattoo of pain, etched into her face.*
There had been no sound as the blisters burst and the fluid ran down her chest, boiling away. The stench had been unsupportable and Wolfe’s stomach had rebelled. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and gazed in a horror at the mutilated body before him. God Emperor what was happening? Had he been too late?None of the priests dared to enter the altar room. Every now and then they would hear an evil cackling, closely followed by a deep bass rumble. There would be a terrible pause, a sucking, tearing sound and then it would start all over again.*
Generals cowered in corners, mis-shapen monsters tore their own flesh from their malformed faces, yet still the priests waited. Each time they ventured close to the entrance, thinking that it was safe to do, the dreadful sounds drove them backwards.Walters too was not unaffected, the hairs on the back of his neck rose in response to the unnatural summoning. His lips curled back, baring his teeth and he snarled in challenge.*
His tunic seemed too small for him as his chest expanded with each shuddering breath. Then it was over, whatever had called to him was gone.When they entered, the priests found The Lord splayed across the stone slab of the altar top, his body covered in blood. Not only that of the victims, but his own in equal measure. It ran from his eyes, ears and nose in deep, dark rivulets. He gabbled insanely to himself, speaking in a strange and foreign tongue.*
The bravest of them touched him with the slightest of caresses and screamed, his right hand blackening and shrivelling instantly. He fell to his knees, his face a picture mirroring an undescribable agony. Transfixed on their peer’s torment, the priests did not notice that The Lord had returned to them, until the meaty thud of his feet on the cold stone reminded them.
He stood beside the altar in all his corrupt majesty and then a new sound commenced, the harsh scrape of metal against stone. It was a persistent, grating sound as he drew the serrated blade back and forth against the side of the altar. With each stroke the smile on his face broadened, and then he laughed. It was a short, dismissive laugh, and the priests laughed nervously with him. The laugh grew infectiously and one by one they howled with him in uncontrollable mirth, until they began to die. The serrated blade rose and fell, tore and rent, yet still they laughed.
Outside all trembled, and waited.*
The rage was unbearable, all consuming and so he had climbed to the top of the hill to be alone. He felt as if he was on fire, each muscle burning with a coruscating heat. Spasms racked his body, in a continuous roiling wave as he struggled to contain the warring forces within him.
A primeval urge to destroy, bubbled upwards and he drew his blade, but this was not enough. He threw the weapon away and smashed his fist against the unyielding rock, once, twice and then again. The tempo of his strikes increased incessantly, blow after blow and that which had withstood timelessly against the elements yielded. Stone exploded outwards, smashed into the tiniest of pieces and finally he was satisfied.
Walters looked down at his hands, at the unmarred surface of his skin wonderingly. What had he truly become?K’rantu lay hidden, his eyes fixed unwaveringly on his leader’s back. He had been charged with W’ratr’s protection once and had failed, he would not do so again. He had watched reverently as the rock had bent before W’ratr’s will and his heart had been filled with an almost divine joy.*
Making as little sound as possible he slipped away, K’san must be told, he must bear witness.It was almost dark when Sargeant Berbatov and his patrol found Major Walters. They had at first found his chainsword lying discarded amongst the rocks and had begun to worry.*
“Good evening, Major”, Berbatov casually greeted Walters, “Wanted a bit of you time?”
Walters smiled in spite of himself and responded, “Just needed some time to think, Sargeant”.
“Ah,” said the Sargeant, “Does that take a long time or are you about finished, sir?”
“Just about finished, Sargeant. Did you want anything in particular? Or ….”
“No, sir”, replied Berbatov, ”We were out for a stroll and thought we’d pop by, sir. Thought you might be hungry.”
“Very well, Sargeant. Lead on”, said Walters, suddenly realising he was famished.
At that moment Sargeant James appeared, with two K’ran.
“A party, Sargeant”. Asked Walters sardonically.
“Good idea, Sir!”, chuckled Berbatov.Sargeant James stopped and stared at the battered rock face in shock. Cracks ran up its surface and there were two distinct holes, whose lower face was patterned in a row of evenly spaced indentations. He ran his finger over them and whistled in amazement.*
He realised he was being left behind and hurried to join up with Berbatov’s party and then he grinned to himself. He must remember to remind his fellow Sargeant not to upset Major Walters, ever.
Banners arched through the sky. Their tattered tails of flayed skin, whirring in an unholy cadence, as they fell once more towards the mis-shapen hands of their owners. Symbols clashed, pinpointing a dissonant chorus of maddening sound, as the Chaos forces prepared for war.Chapter 10
High atop the battlements of The Fortress, the Lord avidly drank in the excess below him. The self-flagellation of the fervent, the mutilation of the unworthy; all was pleasing to his eye.
Waiting for him below was his war chariot, the still living bodies of the newly sacrificed, nailed to its sides. Their bloody bodies hanging limply against its sides, jerked into occasional animation by the prodding of the priest’s sharpened staffs.
Hideously deformed K’ran sat in the chariot’s traces, jaws snapping at any unfortunate who ventured too closely. Their enraged madness, mimicking the seething mass outside the walls.
A shout caught the Lord’s attention, there outlined starkly against the brow of the hill were the pitiful few who thought to challenge him. At their head he saw a cluster of shapes surrounding what must be their leader. He squinted, as the very side of the hill seemed to waver, to blur in and out of focus. An undulating, seething, seemingly endless carpet. The K’ran!Walters waited as the K’ran flowed past him, each body imparting a further spark of energy to that already within him. The touch of cloth against his skin was excrutiatingly painful, as his charged body struggled to contain the increasing influx of power. It began to leak from him, the static discharge causing K’san’s fur to bristle in response and arcs of blue-white light played around the halberd in Berbatov’s hand.*
Sargeant James looked back and rubbed his eyes. It was difficult to look directly at the Major, his shape had become hazy and indistinct. One moment he was there and the next his body appeared to writhe uncontrollably, causing the Sargeants eyes to lose focus. James blinked and his vision cleared. Major Walters was there, but interposed was a shimmering halo, whose outline followed the contours of the Major’s body, his every movement. It sparked and flashed, but no longer wavered, the shape of the beast was clear and strong.
The K’ran saw it too and they began to whine in tandem. Weakly at first, but gaining in intensity, until it was a joyous howl.
Walters had never imagined that he could experience something this intense, this invigorating. He drew in a deep breath and felt the material across his back tear. Impatiently he tossed the remains of his greatcoat away, his tunic following closely after, and stood bare-chested, thrilling in the touch of the light wind playing across his skin.
A pressure built within him, unstoppable in its intensity and he flung back his head and screamed his defiance. The K’ran, his men, all of them, joined him and the cry rang clearly across to the Fortress below and the thousands upon thousands of cultists in their massed and capering ranks……. And they trembled, they feared.
At a slow, funereal pace, Walters marched down the hillside. All around him, his forces kept to his measured step. They followed him willingly, lovingly, to battle, and on to death if necessary.Alarms shrilled stridently, and the Executive Officer rushed to Captain Arnesson’s side.*
“Sir, we have multiple vessel signatures, at least three.”, reported the Officer crisply.
“Ah, that would be the General’s surprise gift, I believe”, responded, the Captain reassuringly.
“Incoming transmission sir, from ……”
“Yes, yes. I know who its from.”, interrupted the Captain. “Patch me through to General Wolfe.”*
The first rounds from the cultists punched into Walters forces, but they neither changed formation, nor direction. Inexorably they advanced, returning las fire calmly and methodically. Walters paused for a moment and then began to run, gathering speed and momentum. The K’ran loped alongside him, matching him stride for stride. They hit the front ranks as one, but Walters entrance amongst the cultists was devastating.
The chainsword hung unused by his side, the bolter pistol forgotten, as he swung his arms. Vast, gaping rents appeared in the flesh of those who faced him, as though slashed by gigantic claws. Yet, he carried no weapon. One heavily armoured monstronsity swung a great, double-bladed sword towards him and he effortlessly sidestepped the attack. Walters grasped the horned helm in one hand, holding the creature in place and stabbed his other hand forward. His curled fingers hooked into the beast’s breastplate, cleaving through the blood-red armour as though it didn’t exist.
Onward they travelled into the chest cavity, bones snapping beneath the implacable advance. His hand gripped the creature’s still-beating heart and in one swift movement, he raised the squealing monster up high into the air. Taking one step back, he slammed his other fist into its head, the force propelling the thing backwards, smashing through the cultists before him, the steaming organ still grasped firmly between his fingers.
Walters lifted the heart towards his mouth, he sniffed it once and then threw it away disdainfully.
“Onwards!”, he screamed, springing forward once more.The whip snapped forwards, its barbed length tearing skin and fur from the lead beast. Time and again it lashed out and the chariot gathered momentum. The Lord brandished his sword in one hand, the whip in the other, needing no reins to control the vehicle. His animals cleared the path through the cultists, their snapping jaws indiscriminate as to target.*
The bodies swayed rythymically in time with the chariot’s motion, banging and slapping against its sides as it picked up speed. The Lord had dropped his whip and stood, his weight evenly balanced, as he came closer to front of the battle. He raised one hand and dropped it sharply and in answer the demonic guns roared from the battlements, their rounds falling indiscriminately amongst friend and foe. Smashed bodies were hurled high into the air, cartwheeling gruesomely before crashing again to earth. Engines snarled, smoke billowed and his machines of destruction rolled ponderously from the Fortress’ open gates.
On the battlefield Walters paused, one foot on the throat of his latest victim. He pressed his foot down, crushing breath and life out of the squirming thing beneath him. To his left Berbatov drove the point of his halberd into a cultist’s chest, twisted the blade and withdrew it. The man collapsed backwards and the Sargeant turned to look at Walters. The Majors eyes were now a blazing green fire, yet he still smiled at the Sargeant.
“Wait here”; said Walters , even his voice had changed, each word carrying a growled undertone. With that, he bunched his muscles and sprang high above the crowd, clearing at least five rows of Chaos troops before coming to earth. He smashed through them without stopping, striking in a blur, and each blow tore a massive hole in their lines. The K’ran surged behind him, ripping a ravening path of destruction.Captain Arnesson waited patiently for the arrival of his guests, their leader had asked formally to meet him, to be appraised of the situation on the ground below. It was really a courtesy visit, already the Assault Cruiser was finalising its preparations for the deployment of its cargo. They had wasted little time in niceties, demanding full cooperation.*
He heard the sound of booted feet and the metallic clang as something struck the side of the door.
“Captain,” announced his Executive Officer, “May I present …..”
“He knows who we are, “ rumbled a gargantuan voice, “Now where are the Chaos scum…?”Sargeant James was amazed at the brutal disregard of the Chaos forces for their own, armoured vehicles crushed their way through, their tracks churning through man and beast alike. Rounds flashed through those too slow, too dumb, or too engrossed to get out of the way. This eagerness was aiding the Sargeant and his men, it was taking a terrible toll on the Chaos Forces and allowing him time to direct his men.*
He had for the moment lost sight of the Major, but having his own pressing matters to deal with, he was unconcerned. At his side, one of the troopers dropped to the ground, unlimbering his weapon.
There was something different about him, about all of them today. His movements were sure, unhurried. He took time to sway away from the downward swipe of a blade, drawing his combat knife in a fluid motion and stabbing into the eye of the man above him. Calmly he cleaned it on his trousers, resheathed the weapon and continued in his preparations.General Wolfe waited on the landing platform in eager anticipation. The area was a hive of activity, as troops were marched into transports and armour was loaded. The comfortingly shrill tones of the Commisars rang out, followed by the occasional sound of a pistol discharging. This was how it should be, this was order.*
High above he heard the roar of approaching engines and congratulated himself. His plan had worked. Walters had been fooled completely, by his acceptance of the ‘Major’s? promotion.
Whilst Walters had taken care of the K’ran, Wolfe had been busy. He had sent a transmission to Fleet Command, asking for assistance, specific assistance. The content of the message had helped, he had at first embellished the note but things were falling nicely in line with his report. Walters had converted Imperial Troops, he had joined with Chaos Forces. The only part that was not strictly true was how the General had manipulated him into destroying the K’ran. However, Walters and his followers were now engaged in a type of mutual destruction with the Chaos Forces.
If he timed this right, he could lead a victorious assault, smiting the Emperor’s foes in His Name. Self-contentedly, he smiled at his Officers as the craft landed.