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    Master of Ownage Cllzzrd19's Avatar
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    Double Act: For The Emperor (all current chapters)

    Ok, listen up. I am only going to say this once THIS WAS NOT MADE BY ME!! All compliments for the making of this story should go to Dienekes. He is the person who wrote this, not me. I got his permission to put all of the current "chapters" of his story into one post for people who want to read them all without looking through 7 pages of comments and stories. ok, here it is!

    ------------------------------

    Double Act:
    For the Emperor




    “And how do you propose to do that?? Gale almost shouted. Despite being a clear three feet shorter than the man it was aimed at. He gulped as he realised his mistake. The tall, armoured figure put his bolt pistol to Gale’s head and pushed him against the ruined wall.

    “I intend to do it with the might of the Emperor at my side. You are becoming more blasphemous each moment I am with you. Perhaps I should finish what our enemies did not.?

    “Hold on a minute,? Gale insisted. He placed his hands on the gun and tried to move it away from his cheek. It was like trying to move an elephant. “Just take a look out there… I know you Space Marines are the b******s, but you can’t seriously think you stand a chance of taking out that post?? The marine’s features were hidden by his pale blue helmet, only the pistol pointing at his head revealed emotion.

    The marine dropped the pistol and crept away from the guardsman. His boots kicked away loose stones and rubble that lay scattered and broken as far as the eye could see. Gale looked up and shook his head. Lindium had been such a beautiful city before the invasion.

    Now skeletons was all that remained of the large buildings that had once filled the sky. Across the street, past the shells of tanks and corpses, lay what the marine wanted to kill.

    Of all Gale’s damned luck, he had to survive the assault only to get drafted into a marine’s solo campaign of vengeance. He almost shivered as he studied the blue armoured figure crouched low before him.

    “What’s your plan then,? Gale asked, joining the marine. His lasgun flapped against the giant’s armour as it slid from Gale’s shoulder. The marine took a hold of the lasgun barrel and turned it to the sky.

    “Keep a hold of your weapon. This armour is sacred.? Gale simply nodded. He switched the gun to his other shoulder and removed his purloined magnoculars from his belt. The orks were large and intimidating, and marched behind their makeshift barriers made of wire fencing.

    The outpost was nothing more than two walls of rockcrete supported by another pair of wooden ones. A large tower had been constructed at the centre of the square. The hulking figure on top wielded some beefy weapon Gale couldn't identify.

    “If you want them to spot us, warrior, I suggest you keep spying on them with that. If you want to live longer, put it away.? Gale returned the magnoculars quickly. The marine stood up and rushed across the street. For a moment the warrior was in plain view of the orks. Gale held his breath, then relaxed ever so slightly as the marine dropped behind a shattered wall. The marine glanced round the corner then looked back at Gale.

    "Great," he said. "You want me to follow you like some lost dog..." He shook his head, and edged towards the end of the wall. The marine looked like he was getting impatient, and signalled for Gale to hurry.

    "I hope they shoot your arse if I get killed," he said, and leapt up. He ran hard across the ground, kicking up dust as he made his way towards cover.

    "Your slow," the marine said. Gale shrugged and breathed in hard.

    "Well, I suppose that's the benefit of being a proper human." The marine made no retort and stuck his head out of cover.

    "I hope you are going to let me in on what your planning." Still no answer. "Look, if this is going to work, we are going to need better communication." The marine rushed off again, closer to the enemy. He found more cover, and turned back to Gale. Gale shook his head again, and rushed out, following the same path of the marine. The last few metres he performed a crouch walk as he noticed an ork was turning their way.

    "Look, I can see now that your about as sociable as an ork with haemorrhoids..." The marine put his gauntleted fist over Gale's mouth.

    His pistol was back in a holster on the man's belt. Now all he carried was a clean-looking boltgun. The marine looked over at the defences and nodded to himself. Gale took a firm grip on his lasgun. He could feel his hands perspiring, and his armpits. Even his arse was sweating.

    "Now what?"

    "We do the Emperors bidding." The marine knelt in cover then fired his boltgun, strafing the width of the fence. Bullet casings fell by his feet as smoke began to rise from the nozzle. Christ, the fool had opened fire! Gale thought. Perhaps he could slip away without the marine noticing during the bedlam.

    "For the Glory of the Emperor!" The marine cried and stood up. He planted his feet and fired again and again. Two orks to his right flew backwards, blood shooting from their mortal wounds. Another three to his left dropped quickly as they tried to return fire.

    Gun shots filled the street. Gale looked away from the fight towards the empty buildings, towards the possibility of safety. He heard the marines voice praising the Emperor as he raged war. It was pure madness.

    The marine had managed to get to the wire fence and was pushing his way through it with his strength. Bullets seemed to bounce off him as ork fire rained down from the tower.

    Gale crouched by the rubble, and lay his lasgun on the stone. He captured the large ork in the tower in his sights and squeezed the trigger. Las fire struck it in the face and the creature tumbled from his post, screaming all the way down.

    The space marine broke through the wire fence with a cheer, and met the first ork that charged him head on. The creature was smaller than the marine, but looked menacing none-the-less. It swung a primitive axe but missed, and followed through with a knife. The marine stepped past the wild swing and butted the ork. Its large head whipped back with a trail of blood and the beast stumbled. The marine fired his bolter close range, bringing down another pair of rushing orks.

    Gale rushed from his spot, trying to keep his head down as he followed the marine's path. He cut his arm as he pushed through the gap the marine had made through the fence, and cursed.

    Bullets whipped past him as he joined the marine by a mock wooden wall.

    "Ace plan," Gale said. He didn't know whether the marine knew about sarcasm, but he didn't honestly care. The marine shot round the corner, and ducked back as fire was returned.

    "Don't you love the Emperor's work, guardsman?" The marine bellowed. He fired down the corner again, then stepped back quickly. "They are about to charge, I suggest you attach a bayonet to that weapon."

    "Thanks for your consideration," said Gale. "But I have a sword, kindly donated by my -" Gale didn't have time to finish. Orks popped into view and met the marine with a clash of weapons. Then one charged him with a roar. Gale could see its large discoloured tusks and teeth, the mad look in its eyes. He dropped to his knee and fired his lasgun twice. The shots downed the ork but didn't kill it. The creature rolled onto its bleeding front, and aimed its pistol at his face. Then a boot stamped on its head, and the creature dropped the pistol to the floor.

    "Remember, guardsman, these orks are tough to kill." It didn't look that way for the marine. He was covered in black ork blood. It dripped from his fists and combat knife. "Come, broth-," the marine hesitated. He wiped his knife on the tunic of a dead ork. "There are more to kill." The marine quickly exchanged his ammo clip, thumping a new one in hard and with trained ease.

    "What's so important about this outpost?" Gale asked as he followed the marine round the corner, his lasgun trained ahead.

    "It is contaminated by ork presence and must be eliminated." Gale shrugged.

    "So, this whole planet is theirs now, surely we can take out more strategic targets?" The marine stopped and motioned with his hand towards a doorway connected to an intact building. Bullet holes covered the surface of the wall, along with recently added ork graffiti.

    "All is the same to the Emperor." The marine moved forward quickly, training his weapon in every corner for a possible attack. Gale followed, his palms sweating even more.

    The windows were wide open, revealing nothing but darkness within. Gale moved forward expecting a bullet. They reached the door much to Gale's relief. The marine seemed to be communicating something but Gale had missed most of it.

    The armoured figure crept under one of the windows. He took a grenade out from his belt and primed it. He waited - one second, two, three - then launched it into the room. It exploded a moment later with a deafening crack.

    A ball of fire shot out of both windows, followed by smoke and screams. The door shattered and fell. The marine was on his feet and moving before Gale had noticed. Gunfire hit the wall an inch from his face, chipping it with a thud.

    He snapped his attention towards the new threat, and felt his heart beat faster. There were dozens charging towards them across an open courtyard. He heard the marine’s bolter going inside the building and Gale quickly ducked through the smoke.

    “There’s loads of ’em,? he said as he noticed the space marine survey the dead. The grenade had killed three sneaky orks. Arms, legs and bits of body caked the room.

    “Come to see justice done,? the marine said, almost happily. He began to shoot out of the window. Gale followed suit.


    It took twenty minutes to overrun the outpost. Twenty damned minutes. Gale couldn’t help but shake as he watched the marine search the perimeter for survivors. He was as scary as the stories he heard. Brave to the point of complete disregard of his own safety. And how many had the fellow killed? Gale watched the marine as he started climbing the tower.

    Gale fished through his top left pocket for his iho-sticks. He removed one from the makeshift golden wrapping and placed it loosely between his lips. Now where was that damned lighter?


    What’s a joke?



    “Then he replied, ‘it looks like I did a pretty good job’,? Gale laughed loudly at his punch-line. The marine stared at him as serious as a hit-man about to pull the trigger. His laugh died down in bursts. “No jokes in the Marines ’ey…? he finished. Gale leant towards the fire and hovered his hands over the flames.

    It was the first fire they had made in days. The marine had suggested it, hauling them down in a bunker for the night. There were human bones on the floor, with broken weapons and bullet casings scattered in loose fashion.

    “Looks like a last stand to me,? Gale said as he took to his feet. The marine nodded.

    “They died with glory.? The marine stood and walked towards the heavy door at the south wall. “I will be back shortly, stay in cover.? Gale nodded and leant by the drawn window. He felt tempted to slide the metal curtain across to look at the ruined city and stars, but ork patrols would spot the fire and come running. Gale didn’t want that.

    Where the marine was going, he didn’t know. But then much of what the marine did was mysterious. He hadn’t even given Gale a name. His Chapter markings weren’t familiar to Gale either, though he knew the Dolphus Eagles had been present on the planet during its defence.

    The marine came back fifteen minutes later, a fresh splatter of blood on his armour. He didn’t say a word, he just knelt on the floor by the fire. He removed his helmet. He was bald and sported a thick goatee. His deep, blue eyes spoke of devotion, but something else as well. There was pain there, Gale knew. The marine would not admit it. Gale watched the warrior close his eyes and begin to pray.

    It was a regular occurrence. Everyday he managed to find time for a prayer. Sometimes it would last a whole hour, other times much shorter. In fact the marine hadn’t slept for days but looked as healthy as a man who had received a full eight hour sleep.

    Gale walked back to the fire and rolled his sleeping bag out onto the dusty floor. He kicked a skull aside and settled into the warmth the bag provided. He used his rucksack as a pillow, and turned on his side to face the marine.

    “Who are you praying too?? The marine opened an eye.

    “The Emperor, who else?? Gale nodded slowly.

    “What does he say?? The marine opened both eyes. He looked frustrated by Gale’s questions, but seemed willing to answer them.

    “Nothing,? the marine replied.

    “I haven’t prayed since I was a child…? The marine furrowed his brow.

    “I have prayed everyday I have lived.?

    “That’s nice to know.? Gale shut his eyes and turned onto his back. “I learnt along time ago, praying isn’t enough.? The marine seemed surprised by his answer and took to his feet.

    “Perhaps it isn’t,? Gale thought he heard the marine mutter, but he was drifting into sleep. He closed his eyes and dreamt.

    - - -

    Gale felt a firm hand wake him. His sleeping bag was thrown open and Gale could feel the cold air of the bunker hit his skinny frame. The fire lay spent; nothing but ash and black sticks remained.

    He rubbed at his eyes. The marine stood before him as nothing more than a blur.

    “Gather your senses, we’re moving out,? the super-human said. Gale yawned and stretched his arms. His stomach grumbled despite the decent meal he had cooked on the fire.

    “Ever heard of breakfast?? He said as he rolled his sleeping bag. He quickly began to pack his rucksack with the marine watching. “It’ll be a lot quicker if you gave me a hand,? Gale said, packing his mess tin with a clatter. He almost tripped on his gun.

    “Do all Imperial guardsmen treat their equipment so badly?? The marine asked as he watched Gale furiously stuff the rest of his kit into the bag.

    “Well, I’ve got a lot more in here than standard issue...? The marine shook his head.

    “When was the last time you cleaned that weapon?? Gale looked at his lasgun and shrugged.

    “Yester-year… I haven’t got a clue. Probably before the fall of Lindium.? The marine walked over to him and picked it up.

    “A lasgun is a hardy weapon, but you don’t want it to fail in battle. We aren’t leaving here until its done.?

    “But I’ve just packed it all away…? The marine handed Gale the lasgun and folded his arms.

    - - -

    The sun was high in the sky, Gale could feel its warmth on his skin. He closed his eyes. It was so lovely, he could almost swear there was no trouble at all. Heavy footsteps and a gravely voice brought him out of his reverie.

    “Stop dreaming.? The marine walked past and stared along the street. High walls flanked them. A furious engagement had raged down 54th Street. Both Imperial and ork tanks lay destroyed across the wide road and pavement. Gale hadn’t been around for that, and he thanked the Emperor for it.

    “Look at this…? he muttered, flipping over a piece of discarded metal. It rang across the street. Gale froze as he realised his mistake. The marine looked back and came running over.

    “Do that again and I’ll shoot you myself.? Gale didn’t doubt his words. Perhaps the marine thought Gale was nothing more than a personal demon sent by the enemy to defuse his one man-war. Gale shrugged.

    The marine turned his back to the guardsman and began to move along the street again. Then he ducked and motioned Gale towards him. Gale didn’t hesitate and rushed across the road. He’d learned to trust the marine’s commands. As he ran, thumping the ground with his leather boots, Gale noticed banners flying high. A loud stomping filled his ear drums, followed by boisterous voices.

    The orks emerged from a side street no more than fifty yards from the pair, who crouched behind a ruined chimera. The ground seemed to shake as the yellow armoured creatures marched onto the road in mob-like fashion.

    Gale looked at the marine and knew what he was thinking. Gale only hoped the warrior wouldn’t open fire. He found himself praying to the Emperor of all things. Please don’t let the maniac attack…

    The orks stomped past. One, two, three - Gale lost count. Their crude banners wobbled and blew in the wind bearing crude drawings of snakes and ork faces.

    “Don’t,? Gale said. He grabbed the marines forearm.

    “They are mankind’s enemies, guardsman.? The marine shouldered his boltgun. “As soon as I launch these,? he indicated the grenades by unbuckling them from his belt, “I want you to move to the left. I will rush to the right.? Gale nodded.

    “Right, cross-fire, got you. There is one thing you’re forgetting. I’m not a Space Marine.?

    “You can die like one,? the marine replied.

    The marine broke from cover and rushed to the right. Brilliant… fantastic… Gale lost sight of his blue armour as the marine reached a collapsed wall that littered the street. Gale moved his sword buckle so the scabbard would not trip him. Something told him he was going to need it. God bless commissar Lukgeg’s cold corpse.

    He checked his magazine and took a deep breath. He moved along the left side of the marching orks, staying a few yards behind, confident the beasts marching would cover his advance.

    He noticed the lead figure stood a head taller than the largest in the line. His head was covered with a bowl shaped helmet. His right arm was equipped with a giant yellow fist. Please aim for that one, marine…

    Gale caught a brief glimpse of the marine’s grenades as they landed in amidst the orks. They tried to break but the marine had timed the throw perfectly. Several explosions shook the ork line to pieces. Bodies flew in the sky. Gale squeezed his trigger. His shot struck an ork in the face as it turned from the smoke. It fell backwards, a hole through its thick skull.

    He moved position, jumping over a smashed warbike that lay on its side in a rusted heap. He could hear war-cries bellowed and something to do with the Emperor no doubt voiced by the marine in customary religious fashion.

    Smoke billowed from the ground, obscuring the marines fight. He could hear the boltgun, and a heavy amount of returned fire. But none was aiming for him. Perhaps, with a bit of luck, the marine would be killed and they’d just walk on by, forgetting about that one lasgun shot and Gale.

    Then a huge lumbering figure emerged from the black smoke, his rags ablaze. It fired a bolt pistol at Gale, the slugs ripped into the wreckage of the bike. No such luck, he thought as he dropped to his knee. He squeezed off two rounds and finished the ork as it began running from the smoke.

    He noticed more green brutes were rushing towards him. Gale wanted to scream. He was angry, more so with the marine than the orks. He swallowed his saliva and fired again and again. One down, another twelve to go…

    “For the Emperor!? The marine burst from the smoke, loosing both boltgun and bolt pistol into the ork rear. Orks stopped in confusion and turned, the rest didn’t even notice and carried on charging the guardsman.

    “Hummie,? one of the brutes cried with an open maw. Rings adorned its thick teeth while saliva dripped from its lips. Gale flinched as a round ricocheted by his face.

    Gale drew his sword in time to parry the ork attack. He felt his arm ring with the impact. Gale stumbled backwards and fell onto the ground, banging his helmet against a rockcrete slab. The ork regained its balance and sent its crude axe crashing down towards Gale’s head.

    Gale rolled to his left. He felt a sharp pain in his shoulder but ignored it, at least his head was still attached. Where was that marine when he needed him? The ork grunted and booted Gale in the stomach. Gale moaned but kept a hold of his sword.

    The ork lifted both of its great muscled arms into the sky. Gale took his chance and plunged the iron blade through its armour into its chest. The ork wasn’t quite finished; it spat blood on Gale and swung at thin air with its weapon. Then it dropped.

    “Stop lying down.? Gale heard faintly. His head swam with the rush of combat. “Its over,? he heard again.

    “That was too damn close,? Gale shouted, and stood up. He began to laugh as he looked across the ground at the ork dead. The marine pointed towards the north.

    “Stop laughing or I’ll take that as the influence of the warp,? he turned around. “There will be more orks coming soon. We need to set up another ambush.? Gale’s legs shook slightly as he moved towards the body he had killed at close quarters. The blade looked like a candle in a birthday cake. He withdrew it and cringed as he wiped the sticky blood from the edge. He sheathed it quickly and picked up his lasgun.


    The Mook Tree


    The fog was thick and blinded Gale’s vision, obscuring all but the few feet in front of his face. A cold, vicious wind stung then numbed his cheeks. The marine wasn’t having so much of a problem with his enhanced abilities and his wonderful wind-resistant armour. Gale wondered what the world looked like to the warrior.

    The past two weeks had shown a totally dedicated, religiously driven fanatic. Both stoic and dangerous with capabilities that far surpassed his own human standards. Gale stopped and spun on his heels. The wind whipped at his ears like he had placed giant seashells over them. Lindium could not be seen past the mist. His home had all but vanished.

    “Stay close, guardsman,? the marine called back.

    “My name’s Gale,? he replied testily, “I’ve told you that a hundred times.?

    “The Emperor is more interested in deeds than names.? Gale slumped his shoulders and carried on marching.

    “Why are we going this way again, not that I’m complaining. The further away I am from that ork invested place, the happier I’ll be.?

    “Are all guardsmen cowards?? The marine said, it was more of an observation than a question.

    “Only the best, why I cou-? Gale walked right into the marine’s back.

    “These footprints are not deep enough to be orks, but large enough not to be gretchin.? Gale nodded and crouched down besides the super-soldier.

    “Human then… ahh, now I see what we’re doing. Survivors.? Gale smiled. At least some had made it out. The marine stood up.

    “They lead into the woods.?

    “How far is the tree-line?? Gale asked. He couldn’t pierce the fog no matter how hard he tried.

    “About three hundred yards.? Gale nodded.

    “I used to play in them a lot, when I was a kid. If it wasn’t so damn foggy I could take you to all the hidey holes. If anyone has survived in those woods I’d say there was a good chance they’d have gone to the Mook Tree.?

    “Mook Tree? I have not heard of such a tree,? said the marine. Gale laughed.

    “I can tell you’re not a native of Lomania.? The marine led the way, stomping across the grass.

    “I do not see much of planets. In all my travels with my brothers, the earth is a place for battle, a war-zone. Space is my home, duty my desire.? Gale found the marine’s answer depressing. His smile vanished.

    “You have never played? Never rushed across grass or dived into a cold pool with your friends.? The marine did not reply. “And I thought it was tough being a regular human.?

    Gale’s boot caught on something solid and he fell. He found his face buried in a rotting corpse. The jacket was Lomania Guard issue. Gale gasped and rolled off the body only to notice another couple lay to the right. He couldn’t see their faces in the darkness. Gale didn’t want too. Perhaps he had known them? A large metallic hand hoisted him to his feet.

    “Watch your step, this whole field is full of the dead,? the marine said.

    “I hope we haven’t been wasting our time,? Gale replied, as he brushed his jacket and wiped his face with his sleeve.

    “No. The tracks I have been following were fresh in the city, no more than two or three days. Unless the orks have found them since, I believe they are still in hiding.?

    “Like we should be,? Gale added.

    They walked on in silence, passed the dead. Gale followed the marine’s heels to avoid another unfortunate trip. As they neared the ridgeline of the forest the mist thinned. The woods looked menacing at night, Gale had always thought so, even as a boy. But that didn’t stop him then and wouldn’t now. The marine wouldn’t allow anything else.

    “When do you think we’re going to get some help? Off-worlders I mean…?

    “I cannot say when. We must find the instruments to communicate off-world, there is none left intact in the city.?

    “But they will come, right??

    “The Emperor will not allow His planet to suffer and fall to the enemy.? Gale was about to point out that there had already been mass suffering. Lomania had fallen too but knew the marine would respond with a boltgun bullet to his head.

    The trees were large and twisted, the trunks more than five metres wide. Memories of his childhood flashed to mind, but were quickly stamped out as he watched the marine crash through the foliage. Gale looked up to the sky and noticed the stars; they sprinkled the purple sky like tiny gems.

    “This isn’t a sight-seeing mission, guardsman, the stars can wait.?

    - - -

    “I need to rest,? Gale said. He leant against a large trunk, chipping away large pieces of bark. He breathed in hard and out again.

    “I don’t, nor can the Emperor wait,? replied the marine as he looked Gale up and down.

    “But the Emperor isn’t here, is he?? The marine stepped forward and placed his hand around Gale’s neck.

    “The Emperor is everywhere.?

    “Let go of me you kraking lunatic!? Gale found himself kicking out at air as he held onto the marine’s arm. He was no longer on the ground.

    “You are a blasphemous toad, I should kill you here.? The marine held Gale in the air for a moment longer, then dropped him to the ground. Gale gasped and breathed in hard as he struggled to reclaim oxygen. “Rest, human, I can see that you are dehydrated.? Gale pushed himself onto his knees, and fell back against the tree.

    “There’s a stream near here, fresh water. I need to refill my canteen.?

    “Very well, take us there.? Gale picked up his bag and lasgun, dropped when the marine had lifted him into the air like he was nothing more than a bag of sugar.

    Gale tried to push past the marine but ended up walking round the immovable figure. Gale looked out for familiar signs, a tree or rock clump. The mist still clung to everything, but the particles were thin. Gale moved his las-torch into position and activated it. The beam penetrated the darkness and the fog, illuminating the ground and plant life in a cone of light.

    “Turn that off,? the marine demanded. Gale flicked the switch and darkness returned.

    “It might take a while,? Gale said. “I’m sure the stream is this way… but don’t take my word for it.?

    - - -

    Gale led the way. The ground was uneven, rising and descending in irregular fashion. Gale tripped and fell again and slid down a steep hill covered in dry mud and leaves. He looked up once he stopped, and noticed the sky through the canopy. The moon was high and seemed to glow a slight green.

    Gale could hear a soft rushing; the trickle of water between stones.

    “We’re here!? Gale called back. The marine was making steady progress down the hill. “You should have done what I did, trip on a root… gets you down a lot quicker… oh, I forgot, Space Marines don’t fall over. What makes you so damned perfect??

    “I am the extension of the Emperor’s will, guardsman, and the Emperor is perfection.? Gale couldn’t hide a smile. The marine was definitely crazy. But then he knew how dangerous contradicting those words were, for all of mankind living under the Emperor’s yoke. Showing signs of doubt would lead to swift execution, just like what happened to Gale’s parents.

    Gale un-screwed the lid free with a metal ring, and dipped his guard-issue canteen into the frigid water. The marine appeared behind and glanced at a readout on his armoured forearm.

    “The water has not been contaminated.?

    “Praise the Emperor!? Gale said sarcastically. He raised his canteen from the water and drank deeply. Water sloshed over his cheeks and chin but Gale didn’t wipe it off. He laid the flask down, crouched over the bank and cupped his hands beneath the shimmering water. He washed his face then beamed a smile before he dried himself with his sleeve.

    “Been bloody ages since I’ve done that,? Gale said. “I wonder how dirty I look??

    Gale reached for his heavy bag and unzipped a side-pocket. He pulled out something wrapped in silver foil. Gale unwrapped the foil and stared at the dry-root in his hand. He shook his head and took a bite.

    “Why, in a whole city of the dead, could I only find this rubbish to eat? My socks would taste better,? he said, with his mouth full. He swallowed the dry-root with a grimace, and watched the marine step over onto the opposite side of the stream.

    “How far are we from the Moot Tree??

    “Not far, this stream will lead us quite close.?

    “Good,? the marine replied.

    - - -

    They remained by the bank for a further ten minutes. Though the marine didn’t need the rest, Gale certainly did. His muscles ached, his stomach growled. He wanted the earth to swallow him and take him away from the marine.

    Dawn’s light pierced the leafy cover, stabbing the ground in shafts of gorgeous sunlight. A small frog leapt into the stream with a soft splash. Gale watched it cut through the shallow, clear water. At least some life on Lomania was unaffected by the invasion. It was normal business for Mr Frog.

    Then a flash; the water was disturbed, a creature long and thin uncoiled like a snake from the edge of the bank. It caught the frog in its mouth and didn’t let go. Moments later, the frog was swallowed and the water-whip returned to hiding.

    The Moot Tree appeared before them shortly after the marine had spent an hour in prayer. It was a long, tortuous march through the dense forest. It wasn’t the most discreet tree, with a dark trunk as black as pitch. Small and unspectacular amongst the other giant oaks. A long branch hung over the edge of a leaf covered hill, alive with deep orange leaves.

    Earlier the marine found the tracks he was hoping for. Human prints coming from the stream and leading back to the tree.

    “Where is the entrance to this cave??

    “Follow me,? Gale said, as he took the lead.

    - - -

    Gale pushed the branch aside and revealed a gap in the body of the hill the Mook Tree stood on. The sides were made from black rock, and nothing but darkness could be seen.

    “You going to fit in there like that??

    “Like what?? The marine asked, looking himself up and down in a curious fashion.

    “You might have to take that armour off,? said Gale.

    “Suggest that again and I’ll drown you in that stream, this armour is sacred.? Gale looked into the gap.

    “Well, if you get stuck, don’t expect me to help you.? Gale slid through first, holding onto the cold damp wall. He flicked his guard-issue torch on and scanned the front with a steady beam.

    Gale heard rushing water passing by where the stream ran through the hill. It couldn’t be accessed from within, which made sense with the tracks by the stream, but it could still be heard faintly through the rock.

    The marine pushed through, chipping his already battle-scarred beloved armour. Gale could have sworn he heard him curse the Eye of Terror for the damage. The narrow gap widened and they entered a chamber-like room. Boot prints littered the floor everywhere Gale shined the torch.

    “I’d say we’ve found them,? Gale said, he scratched at an itch by his elbow.

    The next passage sloped deeper into the earth and was supported by planks and beams of wood.

    “It used to be a place for hiding during the civil war,? Gale added, recapping millennia-old history.

    “I was not aware Lomania fought a civil war,? the marine said as he studied the ancient, well preserved panels.

    “Its not exactly a proud part of our history. We’ve gone to great lengths to forget the bloodshed,? Gale’s voice echoed down the passage.

    “The influence of the warp has scarred many worlds.? The marine went through the passage first.

    “Oh, it wasn’t the influence of chaos, this was good old-fashioned human desire.?

    “There is no difference,? the marine replied.

    The passage way led into a larger room where the ceiling rose a foot higher. The marine could not stand at full height without banging his head on the earth. Wooden crates lay stacked in neat piles, each one stamped with the Imperial Eagle.

    Someone had gone to a lot of trouble fleeing with these supplies. Gale slid the lid from one and found it to be empty, save the packaging protection. He opened another and coughed as dust entered his mouth and nostrils. The lid was harder to shift on the second one, but when he managed it the box was empty too.

    The marine pointed further down, towards the end of a wide passage. Orange light flickered on braziers, and oil lamps lit the room beyond.

    “Life,? Gale muttered, and fell in behind the marine. The marine began a slow but confident walk towards the flames.

    Then the marine ducked and knocked Gale to the ground. Las fire flashed past, illuminating the chamber with blue light.

    “We’ve got visitors,? a voice called loudly from the darkness. Another shot hit the ground a foot from the marine’s head.

    “They don’t seem happy to see us,? Gale muttered. He gripped his lasgun and took aim in the distance. He couldn’t see the figure, nor where the weapon discharge had come from. The marine seemed agitated and stood up. He walked forward - another shot whizzed past and hit the wooden planking.

    “Relax friends,? the Space Marine said as he paced into the room. “I am not your enemy.? A shot hit his white shoulder plate.

    “Kraking mercy, Jules, its a Space Marine!? the shooter cried out with a deep voice. The firing stopped.


    Reunion

    “Lookey what we got ‘ere.? The man finished his sentence with a wicked grin. He was bearded and dirty and wore his guard jacket loose, a green vest exposed beneath. He slapped Gale on the shoulder.

    “Thought you’d bought it, how‘d you manage to get out of that mess?? He said again. Gale smiled broadly.

    “I’ve got him to thank for that,? he said. Gale nodded over to the Space Marine who sat on a crate cleaning his weapon. No-one went near the warrior, they just stared at him suspiciously.

    Gale looked at the motley crew gathered in the main camp beneath the Mook Tree. The room was larger than Gale expected, supported by thick wooden panels and struts. The men looked ragged and lean, none had seen a razor in weeks. Most sat on makeshift chairs, smoking and talking amongst themselves. Four played cards around a larger box, a cloud of smoke above their heads.

    Gale could tell that, despite his welcome, the marine was not wanted. Perhaps they didn’t want Gale too.

    “Why don’t you sit down and relax for a while, enjoy the company of real human-beings.?

    “Thanks, Tone, I could do with that.?

    “Good to hear!?

    Tone led the way out of the crowded space, through smoke and banter. A solid-oak door revealed another room ahead. A figure was draped over a desk, his arms crossed. A candle flickered by his hand, the wax down to the last few minutes.

    He wore a sergeants jacket, the white chevrons evident on his epaulets. A laspistol lay well-charged on the table surface. Tone coughed loudly as he entered the room, and rapped the door with his knuckles.

    The sergeant shuffled and lifted his head from his elbows. He opened his eyes and yawned, his white teeth quite the contrast to his black-stubble cheeks and chin. He was young for a sergeant, Gale considered, even with the facial hair.

    “What do you want, Tone?? The man asked with a slothful look. He glanced Gale up and down and closed his eyes again. He pushed his hands through his brown curly hair.

    “Survivors,? Tone said. He reached into his top pocket and withdrew an iho-stick and a lighter. He lit up and took a deep toke. “You’re gonna’ love this, there’s a marine too.? The sergeant’s blue eyes flashed open. He looked at Gale more closely.

    “I recognise you,? the man said. “Collar’s lot, right?? Gale nodded. Sergeant Collar was dead, along with the rest of the platoon.

    “What’s your name, trooper??

    “His name’s Gale,? Tone injected, blowing smoke out of his nostrils.

    “Well, Gale, good to see someone else survived that mess. My name is sergeant Sutcliff. Take him back inside, he looks like he could do with a rest.? Gale couldn’t help but notice the lack of military discipline and formality.

    Tone led Gale back out the door.

    - - -

    “These soldiers are a bloody mess,? the marine said. Gale simply nodded.

    “Weeks underground will do that to you.? The marine shook his head as he cleaned his helmet with a dark cloth. The blue began to shine again.

    “They should be ashamed, you would never catch a Space Marine in such a state, unless he was bloodied and dirty from constant battle!? Whoopy-kraking-doo, marine, Gale thought.

    “Well, they better shape up soon,? the marine continued as he repositioned his helmet in his grasp.

    “What does that mean?? Gale asked, afraid of the answer.

    “My, guardsman, I thought you knew me by now. I intend to enlist these men of the Imperium and continue the fight against the ork menace.?

    “There can’t be more than fifty men here, you plan to wage war with that??

    “Its better than two,? the soldier replied with more enthusiasm than Gale had seen in him before. Gale had to admit that the marine was right, but what difference would two- or fifty, make against such overwhelming odds? In his eyes, Gale’s home was lost. He could see it on the other guards faces as he walked past them earlier. Each one, though keeping up acts of good spirit, was haunted by the war and destruction.

    The fight was gone, indeed, there was nothing left to fight for. No family, friends or future. Gale shook his head.

    “I wouldn’t ask them.?

    “That is because you are afraid, guardsman.? The marine stood, the height of the room just able to take his full length.

    “Damn right I’m afraid. These people are defeated, you think they are going to pick up a gun and charge just because you demand it?? Gale almost shouted his remark. Heads turned to watch them from the distance.

    “It is the Emperor’s demand, human, and must be obeyed by all.? The marine placed his helmet on firmly, and walked confidently into the large room where the guardsmen relaxed.

    “These are dark days, bro…? the marine paused to correct his mistake. “Dark days that must be met with bravery, with the Emperor’s Might and Will exacted upon His enemies so that the light of His goodness returns to this world.? Every face stared at the marine. Gale didn’t want to watch.

    “We must stand, stand and face this foe, to the last if need be. There are hearts beating here that still serve the Throne, hearts that can carry out His wishes. Will you sit here, in darkness while your world dies above, or will you stand and fight, like men! For the Emperor!? The marine thrust his ham-sized fist into the air.

    There was nothing but silence. Gale could see disbelief written on some faces, amusement on others. The card players returned to their game beneath the cloud of smoke.

    The marine paced back to Gale.

    “I am not sure what is wrong?? he said, “If I had given that speech to my brothers they would have been in good cheer, they would have filled this hole with brave words to match my own…? Gale gave the marine’s shoulder pad a pat.

    “Welcome to the human race buddy, I hope you enjoy your stay.?

    - - -

    Gale couldn’t sleep. He lay face up in a bed offered by the man Tone. He could hear the man beneath his shoddy metal bunk snore loudly. Tone was fast asleep. The chamber was small, enclosed by a thin and poorly constructed wooden wall. The door was ajar and filled his head with laughter.

    Was that all they did all day, play poker and sleep? It didn’t sound bad, considering the state of things. Perhaps they could all just stay grounded until support came. What would the marine say about that… Gale knew the answer. It would be a no of the highest order, possibly followed by a bolt round to his head.

    Then the light by his door flickered as a group of men walked past. They talked in hushed voices, urgent and quick. Gale rolled onto his side and tried to make out the whispered words.
    “He’s fast asleep,? said one. Gale gingerly fell from his bed with a soft thud. He stared at the darkened face of Tone as the man slept. Gale hadn’t woken him.

    With his bare-feet, Gale tip-toed to the edge of the door. The voices were further away, vanishing into the distance. Gale poked his head out of the doorway. They were moving towards the marines bed chamber. Sergeant Sutcliff had given the marine personal space in a room by his own quarters.

    Gale kept to the shadows as he moved closer to the rear of the party. Thanks to the marine, Gale had become proficient at this type of work. Or maybe the men in front were drunk and didn’t care what was behind them?

    “This is dangerous work, Len, you sure you want to do go ahead with it??

    “Of course I do,? the man called Len replied. His voice was raised and caused everyone to make shooshing noises.

    “Be quiet, we want the marine sound asleep, not awake and swinging when we do this.? Gale’s heart beat fast.

    “Everyone ready, he’s no doubt a tough son-of-a-*****, but we can do it without a mess,? Len said again. Gale watched them all nod. Then he saw that they all carried guns and knifes.

    Great, Gale thought, bloody fantastic. Side picking. Gale always hated it. Sport was always side picking. Now he had two options. He could return to bed and leave the marine be, let fate decide. Life would be better without the lumbering blue oath, always marching Gale towards another unfriendly, hostile situation. Or he could warn him…

    Gale turned and walked five paces before he stopped again, eyes closed.

    “I hate you, marine,? he whispered as he turned back on the murderers trail. “I bloody hate you.?



    Thought Process



    The corridor light flickered overhead. The room flashed from brightness into shadow. Gale felt his heart beat madly in his chest, not fluttering like a trapped bird but thumping worryingly hard.

    He was worried the sound would alert the guardsmen along the corridor ahead. A sharp pain stabbed his foot and Gale covered his mouth with a hand and groaned. Another damned splinter had penetrated his sole. He removed it quickly and wiped the spot of blood from the puncture wound. Of all the luck, he’d need a medic soon.

    Gale took a firm hold of the metal pipe he’d found moments earlier. He’d need some kind of a weapon to aid the marine. Though what would happen to Gale if the guards killed the super-soldier? Gale dismissed that thought. He’d seen the marine walk out of tougher fights.

    Gale recognised the hallway now. The space-marine’s chambers were close. The lights flickered and went off completely. The corridor was plunged into darkness. A familiar voice drifted with confidence in the night.

    “The easiest way to drive out rats is to give them their own feeling of confidence… traitors of the Throne, prepare to die!?

    - - -

    The buildings were on fire; orange flame and black smoke hugged the walls, transforming skyscrapers into pillars of ash-cloud. His eyes watered and blurred his vision, but that was not through fear or depression but prickled by drifting grenade smoke which lay like fog across the street.

    “Its up to you, Gale,? Sergeant Collar rubbed at his stubble as he finished. Thick, billowing smoke rose like a pillar behind the muscled, dirty NCO as he dropped besides Gale. The tall soldier poked his head over the wall and chucked the vox over with frustration.

    “Me, sir?? Gale replied. Gale didn’t want to look over the rockcrete wall. Orks were massed in large numbers by the wrecked city blocks. They fired shots and hooted like wild beasts.

    The Imperial line was stretched thin. Tank support was light; most of the vehicles were already smouldering ruins, and those that still sent shells into the enemy were falling back.

    “No bloody Vox, son, that mean’s we gotta’ use our legs,? Collar said. He motioned over his shoulder with his thumb. “You ’aint the best shot, Gale, but you sure can run.? Something exploded nearby. The boom reverberated wildly inside Gale’s head, then his vision and breath was clouded by smoke and dust. Screams went up then were drowned out by return fire. A Leman Russ rumbled past, missing its left-side bolter. Thick, ash marks marked the front. The smell of petroleum clung to the shell.

    “Ork flamers!? Gale heard someone shout.

    “Go, lad, go,? Collar hoisted Gale to his feet and pushed him. Gale stumbled but took to flight.

    “Fire at will,? Collar shouted loudly. Gale didn’t look back, he ran as fast as his tired legs could carry him.

    Gale rushed across familiar streets now littered with panicked people, rubble and death. A child’s toy was crushed beneath his foot; some mock model of a tank destroyed as easily as those tanks in battle when struck by rocket and shell.

    Planes above dropped bombs into packs of people in the streets. Ork air support. Gale tried to shut out the pain and horror. His eyes watered, his nose ran. He wiped them with his jacket and pushed through the throng of people all clambering towards the centre of the city.

    The Mason Corporation building still stood tall and proud, its own defensive shield provided cover. It was a straight-forward standard shaped building, with the domed top featured in so many of the cities skyscrapers. Gargoyles clung to the top in retro-style.

    It was his target, the epicentre of Lindium’s defence. A bright, white light flashed and the building ruptured and blew. Gale’s heart sunk. He fell to his knees and cried.

    - - -

    Gale couldn’t see the marine, but he could sense him, hear where he was. The marine hit the front of the guardsman with furious might and skill. Light flashed as the soldier opened fire with his trademark boltgun. The shots cut through the un-protected flesh of his foe like paper in a shredder.
    Screams like those he had tried to drown out in Lindium filled his mind now. Gale shook his head. The same anxiety he felt in the past began to boil in his blood. He fell to his knees and covered his ears, then began to scream.

    - - -

    “Help us!? Gale felt someone tug him. He opened his wet eyes and sniffed as he looked at the boy who pulled at his arm. The child was scruffy; his blond, curly hair was bold against his pale, dirtied face. The boy’s blue eyes showed fear but something else too, determination and bravery.

    The boy tried to pull Gale to his feet but thirteen-stone seemed too much for him. Gale didn’t move, he just studied the street. Bodies of civilians littered the rockcrete ground, pools of blood about them. There was no discrimination in the deaths. Men, women and children of all ages could be seen lying dismembered on the ground.

    “The Emperor has abandoned us,? one old lady shouted as she held onto her dead husband. Gale felt the boy tug again.

    “You are soldier, help us!? Gale tried to focus. He nodded and placed his hand on the white wall behind him. He raised himself to his feet with unsteady movements.

    “My mother,? the boy began to say. A shell exploded nearby soaked up all sound. Gale could see the boy’s lips moved, but couldn’t understand him.

    Shamed by the boy’s composure, Gale simply nodded.

    “Lead the way,? he shouted as the noise dropped a level. Another sharp crack flung them both into the air. Gale lost the boy’s small hand, though it was not from neglect, but simply the shock of the attack.

    Bullets began to whip through the air. A group of women tried to hurry children away down an alley. Gale was still prone when orks charged them. They wore crude iron helmets, and dropped to the ground from the very sky. Jet-pack troops were causing chaos.

    The smoke from their packs looked feeble compared to those pyres rising into the clouds and heavens. Gale noticed the boy in front of him. He was still conscious, and pointed away from the ork confrontation.

    “Okay, kid, where’s your mum?? The boy smiled, took Gale’s hand and led him away from the death-street.

    - - -

    Gale stopped his sobs when the shooting finished. He opened his eyes and noticed bright torch light was strafing the corridor.

    “Stop this!? Gale shook his head and tried to get to his feet.

    “On the floor again, guardsman,? the marine muttered from behind. The super-soldier’s armour dripped with blood.

    “I… I…? Gale tried to speak, but couldn’t find the words. All he felt was an incredible loss. Something he hadn’t felt since the fall of Lindium.

    “What, in all of Terra, is going on out here?? Sergeant Sutcliff stood outside his bedroom door. He didn’t shake when he saw the bodies of his men. He simply drew his pistol and aimed it at the marine.

    “You’re worse than the orks,? Sutcliff said. His gun-arm began to shake as he studied the mess and the bulk of the marine.

    “Relax, sergeant,? the marine said. “I have purged this den of evil.?

    “You planned this?? Gale said as he pushed his back against the wall.

    “Yes. Show rats a weakness and they will always reveal themselves.? Gale nodded his head.

    “That’s why you didn’t go crazy after your speech, right?? The marine nodded.

    “Why, guardsman, perhaps you’re cleverer than I thought.? Sutcliff tried to raise his voice and remove the tint of fear from it.

    “Why have you just killed half of what’s left of my command??



    New Army


    “Put the gun down, sergeant,? the marine said sternly. Gale found his feet and stood between them. Gale grimaced as he walked towards Sutcliff; the walls and floor were coated with blood and mess. A few bodies moaned on the ground as Gale moved past them. Sutcliff hesitated for a moment, then took a deep breath and dropped his pistol to the ground. It clattered lightly as it hit the floor.

    “These men were traitors,? the marine continued.

    “By what rights did you have to judge these men?? The sergeant looked angry. Gale shook his head.

    “I am a Space Marine, guardsman, that is all the authority I need.? The marine walked away. Sutcliff shot forward and grabbed Gale by his vest. The sergeant thrust him against the wall. Air escaped from Gale’s lungs.

    “You’ve brought more death here, Gale. Now what was the meaning of this? These men weren’t traitors, they were my soldiers. Brave fighting lads…? Gale tried to move but Sutcliff’s grip was firm.

    “I’m sorry, Sutcliff…? Gale tried to squirm free, but Sutcliff’s grip was firm. “You know the rumours about marines, they are fanatics worse than commissars who love the Emperor. These men refused to fight for his cause… and paid the price for trying to kill him.?

    “The price of what? That marine thinks he can wage war against the orks with a platoon! Preposterous, naïve. How can he believe that murdering, yes, murdering my men will solve anything? If that is the Emperor’s justice then I no longer wish to serve Him…? Sutcliff removed his hands and stepped backwards.

    “You might not have the choice…? Gale said as he smoothed out his vest.

    “We all have a choice, Gale, some just don’t want us to know it. Now get some bloody help to clean this up.? Gale nodded.

    - - -

    The marine towered over Sergeant Sutcliff as the pair stood side-by-side before the gathered troops. Gale tried to cast aside the serious atmosphere. He pictured them both as Caurol and Zarny; the finest comedians Lindium had seen in Gale’s life-time. He tried to paint a giant, stringy beard on the marine, and a beer-gut, broad smile and glowing eyes on the sergeant. Then the sombre realisation that they were likely dead stopped Gale’s smile.

    The marine was far too scary to be a comedian; the mask he wore spoke only of death and fealty. Though his armour had been washed after the recent fight, faded signs of blood remained on his white shoulder pads. The sergeant couldn’t pass for Zarny; the dark-rimmed eyes betrayed nothing but depression and fatigue.

    The marine pinned a large map of the city and land which encompassed the woods to a board on the wall. The paper rustled as he stuck pins in the corners. Gale, sat at the front, could see points marked in red ink at various locations across the ruined city; a circle with a cross here and there like miniature telescopic sights.

    “These locations,? Sutcliff began, “are what the marine here has identified as the ork strongholds throughout what’s left of Lindium. Obviously there is no information on enemy strength other than what we can deduce ourselves…?

    “Kraking thousands,? Tone said.

    “Yes, quite,? Sutcliff replied with a touch of annoyance. “These numbers,? Sutcliff indicated small figures at the side of each target with his blackwood cane, “are in the which particular order we will make our strike. Our initial push shall be to the east of the city, so if the bleep hit’s the fan we can fall back to the safety of the Mook Tree.?

    “We’re definatly going ahead with this then??

    “Yes, Jules, we are,? said Sutcliff. The marine nodded.

    Gale scanned the room, in particular, the faces of the men. An almost unbearable tension had gripped their souls; not one looked confident. After talk of the marine’s actions had spread through the survivors, a blanket of doom covered them once again.

    Jules, the hulking, bearded trooper scratched at his cheek and gave Gale a cold look with chilled-blue eyes. Gale shifted uncomfortably as the stare lingered.

    “First things first, we need to check weapons and ammo, stockpile everything we have here by mid-afternoon. We will try to distribute as evenly as possible. Corporal Tone and Trooper Gale will be responsible for both the stockpiling and distribution of arms.?

    “What will you be doing?? Jules asked.

    “I will be going over the plan with our marine here.? This is suicide, Gale thought, just the thing the space marine relished. Perhaps he wasn’t on their side at all and was some agent on the side of chaos.

    “Right, that’s it, get on with it. Dismissed,“ Sutcliff said. Gale stood up to get to work.

    - - -


    The boy kept a hold of Gale’s hand as he moved his little legs. Loud booms and gunfire could be heard from behind while the very sky, once blue at that time of year had turned grey and black. Every few heart beats the ground would vibrate like an earthquake tremor.

    Gale braced his legs as another flash accompanied the tremor. The boy stopped and wiped his running nose. Gale looked about the street. It was like a crossroads, but each way revealed nothing but shattered homes and bodies. Las fire flashed down one, and Gale could have sworn he heard a tank rumble past.

    “Where is your mum, kid?? Gale asked as he crouched down to meet the boy at his level. Gale noticed the child had a wounded shoulder where a visible cut through the shirt revealed blood.

    Gale dropped his bag and opened the straps.

    “No, mum needs help,? the boy said. He dived onto the bag and held the cover closed.

    “You need me to look at that cut you have there,? Gale indicated the slash with his finger. “I have bandages and can dress it.? The boy shook his head and didn’t move.

    “Mummy,? the boy cried like an angry child, then stormed off. Gale shook his head. He had wanted children with Sarah but that was no longer a possibility. She had died in his arms, but that wasn‘t the orks doing.

    “Stupid kid,? Gale swore and picked up his bag to give chase. He could still see the boy, his steps echoed as he went too. “Hold up!? Gale shouted. It was nothing but a pop, but as soon as he heard it, Gale found himself on the floor. The wall to his left had blown open. He could hear guttural shouts reverberate inside his mind.

    Dust and smoke lay over him like a dirty cloud. Damn but this was becoming regular, being flung about like a rag-doll. Gale coughed and stood up. He had lost sense of balance but managed to keep on his feet.

    Gale moved through the smoke and glanced down the side-street. Gale could hear a fire-fight rage like an un-tamed Woolmic. Bright lasfire flashed blue in the mist.

    Gale turned back to see the boy. He was dead. His lifeless body left bloody and broken on the street. Gale turned away and felt his throat constrict. He threw up.

    “You green-skin bastards,? Gale muttered.

    Gale turned around. Orks emerged onto the street from the damaged building. Lasfire kept them dashing across the rubble, heads down. All of them seemed to be unaware of Gale who stood in the open not more than fifteen metres from them. His mouth dropped open.

    He hadn’t seen an ork this close before, at least not a live one. They were big specimens with large, brutish features, beady eyes and tusk-like teeth. Gale felt his heart beat hard in his chest. He reached for his lasgun and began to take steps backwards.

    Gale moved slow and quiet, though the orks wouldn’t have heard him if he ran. They all crouched behind broken walls as lasfire continued to pin them down. One yelped and fell.

    Gale crouched. At least he could do something, pay the bastards back for killing the kid, for his killing his home. Gale rested the butt of his rifle on his shoulder, took aim and squeezed the trigger.

    - - -

    “How many is that?? Gale asked as another pair of half-dressed guardsmen dropped another crate into the room.

    “Twelve crates of clips for the MK3 lasguns. Forty-nine MK3 lasguns, seven las-pistols. One-hundred and six grenades, but a lot of those are old issue… you know the ones with the dodgy pins… two auto-cannons, three rocket launchers with decent ammo, and this,? Tone rapped his knuckles against a long box, “the coup de grace, one las-cannon.?

    “This is mad,? Gale said.

    “Hell lad, if there is one thing I know, nothing’s mad until you get into the thick of it.? A thick cigar dangled from Tone’s lips which wiggled and bounced as he spoke.

    “You haven’t seen the marine fight, its more scary than watching serg’ do the momba,? Gale laughed as he recalled Collar, drunk as a skunk, dancing. Good old serg.

    “Ha, Collar was a fine bloke, pity he’s gone,? Tone broke into a stop-start laugh.

    “Aye,? Gale replied. So were a lot of people. Gale didn’t want to think about his platoon.

    “I know he’s a mean bastard,? Tone began to talk again as he caught his breath. “After what he did to Lenny and the lads…?

    Gale nodded. He’d seen the marine do far worse.




    First 'Pop'


    “You live in a land of make-believe, guardsman.? The marine stroked his helmet and peered round the corner of the building. Night lay its cold, dark hand upon the city of Lindium. The marine could see well enough, but Gale found himself unsure of his footing.

    “A universe without war isn’t possible. There will always be something foul to kill. It is the permanent balance between good and evil that persists,? the marine continued. He was in a strangely talkative mood and had been since the bastard had woken Gale from his sleep.

    “But isn’t that what the Emperor strives for, you’ve just blasphemed as far as I can tell,? Gale replied then shrugged as the marine went quiet and stared at him. “Almost then…? Gale corrected himself for personal safety issues.

    “That fine work here is ours tonight,? the marine replied. “Praise the Emperor, guardsman, and pray, for it will be a bloody night.?

    “You sure about those transports?? Sutcliff said as he crouched down besides them. A trail of men followed him, bent forward using the low wall to cover them.

    “When we break for it those transports will guide them the wrong way, you know the plan, sergeant, stick to it.? Sutcliff nodded. He turned round to check on his men. Forty-seven souls, including the marine and Gale, were ready for war, decked out in cammo-paint, faces black as pitch.

    “How far are we from ‘Pop’?? Sutcliff asked. He reached for his map in his top pocket but the marine stopped him.

    “Seventy-five yards east of target. You’ll see it when we cross over.? The marine stood and rushed across the road. How he managed to stay so quiet despite wearing power-armour, Gale didn’t know. He wished he’d have learnt that art instead of being taught how to make clay pots at school. Since when had he even needed to make a pot? Not even in an emergency had that need arose. But good old-fashioned stealth would go a long way, especially when there was so much bloodshed in the universe.

    Three men had been selected for the transports, one in each vehicle. Jules and Tone had been selected, along with a thin, shaggy-haired man with a trimmed beard. His name was Jacob. The marine was going to follow them out, with suppressing fire for effect. Mad bastards the lot of them.

    The marine signalled across for them to follow, gesturing with his arm for them to move. Gale nodded, breathed deeply and rushed across the ground. He felt vulnerable and visible to everything despite the darkness and the distance of the enemy.

    Sutcliff patted Gale and the pair stopped as they reached the wall and opposite street. Lights could be seen ahead, burning gold and orange. Some were natural, others electrical.

    Sutcliff shuffled over to the marine.

    “Lets get on with this,? he said. The marine nodded. Sutcliff raised his left hand and thumped it twice like a half salute. The squad split into two groups. Sutcliff gave Gale a nod as he passed and rushed to the front of his men who spread out onto the left hand street.

    “Time to prove your worth again, guardsman,? the marine said. He sounded cheerful.

    “I’m sure it won’t beat your coming accomplishments,? or mass funeral, Gale thought.

    The marine stepped forward and Gale followed like a sheep. He heard the troopers behind him. Right now they sounded too damned loud. Surely the marine would say something if that were the case?

    The marine didn’t seem bothered at all.

    - - -

    Sutcliff settled down besides the las-canon man. Jules looked uncomfortable as he lugged the thing about. Despite his size and strength it proved troublesome. He nestled it on the ground with relief and lay prone behind the sights.

    One ork dreadnought stomped into his sights, completely unaware of its peril. He heard two clicks in his ear piece. The marine was in position.

    “Aim true, Emperor damn it,? Sutcliff whispered into Jules’ ear as he took cover. Jules captured the mechanical beast in the sight.

    “I’m coming for you, beastie.? Jules squeezed the trigger. The beam shot out and lit up the dark street. It struck the dreadnought directly in the chest. An explosion lit up the gates of the ork camp as their heavy support went up in smoke.

    “Move,? Sutcliff shouted, and his squad made towards the ork camp.

    “Whoo-hoo,? Jules shouted and stood up, an iho-stick lit in his mouth. He stopped smiling as he realised he had to pick the weapon up again. He shook his head and hoisted the weight into his hands and shrugged.

    The marine opened up, the sound of his boltgun chilling in the night.

    - - -

    “For the Emperor!? The marine shouted, again and again. He shouted with so much passion that it reminded Gale of his orphan house priest. Priest Dithers was extremely pro-Emperor. He was one scary man who used his cane like a Lindium politician used their secretaries.

    Gale fired his weapon and knelt by the marine who stood strafing his boltgun across the poorly made barrier and into the surprised orks. The green-skins fired back. Blood splattered Gale’s face. For a moment he thought it was his but it wasn’t.

    Gale noticed the body of a comrade on the floor, his skull a mess. Gale fired and moved; over a body here, ducking and finding cover. He ducked behind a wall, the sound of the marine’s boltgun close. He found himself very relieved that the marine was there. If he was going to be anywhere in a desperate fight, it would be near him. Not close enough to get into as much trouble as the mad-marine, but close enough to run to safety if needed.

    He felt the wall vibrate as bullets whipped it. Gale moved to his left, the spot behind him filled a moment later by another guardsman. Then his heart almost stopped as an ork charged him from the darkness. It swung at him with an open jaw that spilt thick ghastly saliva onto its jacket and face. The roar made his hair stand on end.

    Gale took to one knee and fired his lasgun once, twice. The ork dropped but two more followed. Gale dropped to his belly as they aimed for his head. Their shots went wide of the mark. Gale could feel his palms sweat as he pulled the trigger.

    His first shot missed and seemed to enrage the orks more. A flash followed his second shot, Gale had help now too. The orks charged in then stumbled as they noticed the blue-armoured marine stood weapon ready.

    The boltgun rattled and dropped the pair of orks in an instant.

    “Perhaps you should learn how to look after weapons,? the marine said. Are you mocking me? Gale wondered. Surely he was… Gale felt his anger rise.

    “You’re just an elitist bastard,? Gale whispered.

    “I heard that,? the marine said, then disappeared behind a veil of smoke.

    - - -

    “Where’s the boss?? Gale asked the marine as they found cover by a shattered wall.

    “Why do you assume there is one, guardsman?? Gale shrugged. Gun fire rattled close by, followed by the sound of lasguns.

    “So what is the strategic point of this mission??

    “To kill every ork that is here.? Great, sounds wonderfully barbaric.

    “More will come back,? Gale replied.

    “Then there will be more killing.? The marine stepped round the corner and met an ork mid-charge. It was shocked to see the marine emerge from behind the wall, but it roared a challenge and raised its meaty axe and fired its pistol. The bullets bounced off the marine’s armour, barely causing a scratch before the marine close-lined the beast. It writhed on the ground a moment. The marine crushed its head with his heavy boot.

    More charged. Gale began to fire from cover; he squeezed the trigger again and again. Lead the target Gale kept in mind. Las fire slashed across the dark night, the marine hauntingly highlighted by blue streams of energy.

    The armoured soldier was too much for the orks. The marine moved lightning fast towards the centre of the camp. Gun-fire bounced off his armour and thudded in the ground, spraying up dirt, dust and ceramite. The wide street opened up even more towards the centre of the ork strongpoint.

    Gale recognised the place. It was Market Square, close to the eastern gate and located in Trade Quarter. Ruined traffic lights dangled from suspending beams in the air like disused celebrations left to rot and decay.

    Gale stood and rushed forward. His adrenaline pumped, his mood dislocated from regular thought. He’d shoot at anything that came near him now. Friend or foe, he didn’t want to take the chance though he hoped it wouldn‘t he a friend.

    The marine ploughed forward; combat knife in one hand, boltgun in the other. He deflected a poor, strong swing from an oafish ork. It tried to leap on him but flew back as the boltgun found its head. The skull exploded point-blank. Two orks followed, pumping rounds into the marine’s armour. He stood his ground and used his combat knife to turn one attack as they met him. The marine lashed out with his foot, striking the beasts knee-cap and snapping its leg back. It howled and collapsed while the other struck the marine hard with its axe.

    It stepped back and planted its feet on the ground. The marine could tell it was more competent than the others he had faced. The broad-shoulder greenskin opened his jaw and roared a challenge. The marine shot its companion on the ground and charged.

    The ork went to meet him, and swung its heavy axe in one hand and fired his pistol in the other. Bullets struck the marine’s thick shoulder-plate but didn’t slow him, they met with a clash. The marine’s bolter was knocked from his grip and span away. The marine gripped the pistol forearm and crushed the wrist with a squeeze, the ork lost its grip on the pistol and lashed wildly with its axe but the marine met the attack with his knife. As the axe sailed past his shoulder he used the orks momentum and dropped the ork to the ground. It tried to get on its feet but the marine grabbed its head and twisted it. The neck snapped and shattered its spine in the process.

    Gale noticed the conflict out of the corner of his eye but he was too busy to help. Heavy rounds struck the wall by Gale’s head. He closed his eyes a moment, calmed himself then fired again. His cell was depleted. Gale flicked the magazine catch and thumped in a fresh one. How long had the battle raged? Minutes, hours? Gale couldn’t tell, all he knew was the smell of the lasgun discharge, screams and rumbles. Time didn’t seem important anymore, just the thought of the present moment.

    “Lindium, we have a problem,? Sutcliff’s voice filled Gale’s ear. He keyed the ear-mic.

    “What’s that mean?? Gale asked.

    “More infantry towards the north, its getting mad out here.? Gale could hear shots fired through the ear-mic, then a thundering explosion which lit up the area like floodlights in a stadium game of Gix-football.

    - - -


    “What in the Emperor’s name was that?? Sutcliff shouted. He paced along the wall his unit held and scanned the enemy position with eagerness. Large silhouettes moved through the fog and darkness. Track vehicles entered the space on the street.

    “Heavy support!? Sutcliff cried out loud as one ork vehicle lined its cannon weapon at them. The vehicle shook as it fired. A cone of light and smoke shot out of the nozzle.

    “Incoming!? Sutcliff barked, and ducked behind the wall.

    He felt the ground vibrate as the shot made impact. Bodies flew backwards, cries of pain with them. Then the other vehicles opened up. Sutcliff tapped a trooper on the soldier as dust and ceramite rose behind them. They’d be as good as dead if they stayed grounded.

    “Move, we’ve got to take out that fire-support now. Jules… where is that bastard?? Sutcliff couldn’t see the heavy at all. “Rangers, forward, fire-teams, keep your spacing!? The line of men stood up and jumped over the wall. Sutcliff and a chosen few remained to cover the advance. Jules opened up with the lasgun. The beam struck the wartrak, slashing straight to the ammunition. The wartrak went up in a fireball. Shrapnel shot across the sky like vicious rain. A cheer rose from Sutcliff’s lips before a shot struck him in the chest and flung him backwards.


    - - -

    “Time to move those transports in I think?? Gale asked the marine. They were both behind a low wall, the squad dispersed around them.

    “We have more to kill, guardsman, why leave?? Gale shook his head.

    “Every ork in the damned city can hear this, how long do you think its going to take them to get here??

    “Sutcliff has given the command to advance, we can not leave him now.?

    “Then order that silly bastard to fall back to the transports…? Gale wondered where they had found three suitable vehicles intact for the job, but another explosion discarded the thought. Who cared.

    “You’re not the one given orders here,? the marine snapped back. “But you are right, hit and run was the plan.? The marine spoke into his com-link. “Sergeant, get your men out of there, fall back to retrieval point.? There was no response. Gale exchanged a nervous look with the marine. “Sergeant, do you read? This is Blue-tango, over, do you read me??

    The link just buzzed static.




    Making tracks

    Sutcliff coughed up blood. He knew he’d been shot, though the extent of his injuries he could only guess. Coughing up blood was not a good sign. He had passed out too.

    “Serg.? Sutcliff could feel someone shake him. His eyes watered but he could make out the face. It was Jacob.

    “Serg!? the man said again with more desperation. Orange light flickered on his face and all around where things burned. “Hold still,? Jacob said as he checked the wound.

    “Where am I hit?? Sutcliff said. He felt like he couldn’t breath.

    “Your chest, its missed organs though, from what I can tell.? Thank the Emperor, Sutcliff thought. “I’m not a medic though, don’t hold my word to it.?

    “I won’t have to if you’re wrong.? An explosion rocked the ground and showered the pair with debris. “What’s the situation??

    “The traks have chased us back to the wall, sir. More infantry is out there too.? The flicker-flash of an auto-cannon blinded Sutcliff for a while as Jacob applied the bandages and injected him with a pain-killer. Sutcliff took a deep breath.

    “Where’s that Emperor-damned marine?? Jacob shrugged.

    “Don’t know, sir, still fighting I guess.? Jacob pointed over to the right, amidst the shattered buildings. Las fire still flared in the night.

    Sutcliff shuffled over to the wall and rested his back against it. He pressed the pin on his ear piece.

    “Marine, this is Sutcliff, what the hell are wartraks doing here??

    “Thought you were dead, sergeant. We knew there could be something like this here. Tell your men to fall back to the transports. The Emperor protects.?

    “About time,? Jacob said. Jacob tried to help Sutcliff to his feet, but the sergeant shook his head and gripped the wall.

    “Rangers, fall back.? Sutcliff shouted again for effect until he was satisfied they heard him. The shouts caused pains to shoot through his chest and lungs. Sutcliff collapsed again.

    “Give me your charges, Jacob, and your grenades.? Jacob nodded and dropped his pack. Two thick brick-style thermal charges exchanged hands, then the grenades.

    “Now get your arse to the transport. I’ll be right behind you.? Jacob hesitated but could see his sergeant was determined. “Go man.? Jacob nodded and moved. Sutcliff spat blood onto the ground and watched his men disperse and retreat, shooting back towards the orks. Sutcliff turned towards the enemy. A mass of them moved behind three wartraks which rolled towards him like figments from a dark dream. As soon as the wartraks crashed through the wall, Sutcliff primed the charges.

    “Right you ugly bastards, this is for Lindium.? The charges exploded.

    - - -

    “By the Throne,? the marine whispered as the mushroom cloud of orange lit up the sky. “That is a sight to see, the Emperor’s work has been done tonight.?

    “We’re not out of the bloody woods yet,? Gale said.

    “Woods?? The marine said. “That’s where we are going, guardsman…?

    “Its just an expression,? Gale said through hard breaths. It was tough work keeping up with the marine. Orks were still on their trail, Gale could hear them whoop and take the odd pot-shot.

    They moved through the ruins of Lindium as quickly as they could. Gale tried not to notice the surroundings. If he recognised anything it would just take him back to his youth, back to a time before all this gak had happened. He couldn’t afford that now, not when he was still alive and in trouble, there would be time for reflection later if he lived. If he died, well, he’d be another cold corpse for the buzzards and worms.

    His lungs screamed but on he pushed with legs that felt like lead, it was the only way to survive. Gale had gotten used to running.

    - - -

    Gale’s cheeks puffed with a constant rhythm as his legs pounded the street. He passed the body of the boy who led Gale here. He wouldn’t have time to bury him which pained his heart more than he could say. The boy deserved a proper funeral at the least, not what he had in store.

    Gale tossed a glance back over his shoulder. He couldn’t see the orks, had he managed to lose them? Gale slowed down and put his hands on his knees, doubling over to catch his breath.

    He could feel himself perspire; the droplets cascaded down his armpits and ribs, even his trousers were soaked. Gale wiped his palms on his trousers and sat by the wall.

    “Help…? the voice was weak but close. It belonged to a woman and was followed by despairing sobs and cries of agony.

    Gale sucked in air and stood. He checked the street. Broken nav-cars scattered the road where they had been abandoned by their owners. It looked like an end-of-work traffic jam. The silver metal nav-cars (all manufactured in one simple colour) flashed blinding in the remnants of the sun. Gale shielded his eyes and moved towards the cries. A boom reverberated in the distance followed by what sounded like thunder. In the distance another building collapsed from the ork assault, pitching more dust and smoke into the polluted sky.

    Gale searched the area but found nothing but dead bodies. He skirted round a crater in the road and the wreckage of nav-car and person. The voice was closer now… But what could Gale hope to achieve? Was there really any point in saving this woman when all was lost anyhow?

    Gale placed his hands on the bonnet of a car and lifted himself up. He slid to the centre of the car and looked around. Gale couldn’t see her - wait - there was movement, a blond haired girl trapped by a beam of ceramite two-hundred yards away beneath the Falker Bank which, eerily, remained untouched by the chaos about it.

    The marble walls still shone black with recent polish, the gold italic writing that displayed the bank name still gleamed. Its windows were un-shattered like its neighbours. Gale leapt from the vehicle and moved quickly towards her.

    She was pale, almost as white as the ancient statues in the Acropolis and the Eucalypt Groves south of Lindium. Such peaceful places, though they were nothing but ruins from millennia ago.

    The girl’s eyes were closed. Tear tracks traced her cheeks where she had shed them. Her rose-red lips parted as Gale knelt beside her.

    “Help…? she whispered. Gale took a hold of her hand and gently squeezed it.

    “I’ll try and move it.? The beam had trapped her legs but Gale couldn’t detect any serious damage. There wasn’t any trace of blood. Gale took a hold of the ceramite block and tried to roll it from her. It didn’t budge. Gale shook his head and closed his eyes - think, damn you, think.

    Gale placed his shoulder against it and pushed hard, so hard it felt like he had cut his own flesh. He moaned with exertion as he carried on pushing. The girl suppressed a scream as the block finally rolled off.

    Gale looked at her legs; they remained as shapely as they had been before, he guessed. There was small cuts that had already clotted over, and some dark bruises where the block made impact.

    “Thank-you,? she said. Another thunder-boom echoed in the distance. Gale smiled and reached into his bag. He withdrew a water canteen and raised it so she could see it. She nodded and took the canteen eagerly.

    She drank deeply, without any concern for conservation. Gale didn’t mind, there would be plenty of free water canteens now. Why, he could walk into a store and just walk out with a bag full.

    The girl looked older than Gale, though not by much. There was a calm in her eyes that Gale felt relaxed him. She would be the type of girl Gale would have enjoyed the company of in normal circumstances.

    “Is my boy with you?? She asked. She tried to sit up and look about but could not see anyone but the trooper.

    “I am alone,? Gale replied. He wondered if this was the woman the dead child had tried to lead him too. She lost her calm and frantically tried to stand. Her weak legs gave way and she collapsed. Gale tried to catch her but missed.

    “My boy…? she said, louder this time, urgent. Gale didn’t know what to do or say. If her boy was still alive there would be little chance of finding him. It seemed like random luck that he had bumped into her.

    “I must find my son,? she said.

    “What is your name?? Gale asked. The woman gripped the wall and raised herself.

    “Mikel!? she screamed out. “Where are you?? The young woman seemed utterly dismayed, as though all the chaos about her didn’t matter as long as her son was well and safe from harm.

    Gale’s heart missed a beat. Greenskins emerged from the road along the length of the street. Some carried large spray cans in their hands they used to paint crude designs onto the nav-cars and walls of the houses.

    The woman instantly shut up and ducked. Gale motioned her towards him, he was sure one would emerge from the nav-cars in front and finally end Gale’s life. So far they hadn’t noticed them, they seemed far too busy looking into shop windows and smashing cars like a group of youngsters with a rebel complex. Gale took hold of the girls hand and forced her to follow him.

    They shuffled across the gap from the curb to the bank door. Gale placed a hand gently on the surface of the door and pushed. His heart beat like a Tyronian drummer. The door made no sound as it opened up to reveal the bank. Gale entered first and kept the door open for the girl. He let go of her hand and slowly slid the door back into place as careful as he could manage.

    A sense of relief filled Gale as the walls of the bank engulfed him. Gale studied the room. A fine wooden counter ran the length of the east wall, pigeon holes behind it. Luxurious sofas occupied the waiting area. Pot-plants grew tall and trimmed in corners and various locations of the room. PDA’s lay scattered on small knee-height tables of pure white. Gale banged his knee on the corner of one as he began exploring the place for a good spot to hide. The blow was painful and felt like it had drawn blood.

    “Great, the orks can’t wound me, just my own stupidity…? Gale said through gritted teeth. The girl did not look amused. Gale pointed to the counter and pushed onwards at a crouch, firmly aware of the giant glass windows which could betray them.

    “We should stay here a while,? Gale whispered as he placed his back against the counter. The woman seemed like she was about to protest but slumped back next to Gale and placed her head in her hands. Gale could hear sobs as she started to quiver.

    “I’m sorry,? Gale said.

    “Lindium has fallen, hasn’t it,? the girl replied without raising her head. Gale closed his eyes.

    “Maybe it was lost before all this…? The pair didn’t speak for the rest of the evening. Gale tried to keep watch as she slept and as darkness set in but couldn’t stop his eyelids from dropping. It had been a busy day after all.



    Switched Perspectives


    Leonidas pressed his armoured body against the wall. He wasn’t hiding; foot-steps clamoured on the street mere feet away. Leonidas checked his boltgun.

    “The Emperor protects,? he said. The space marine tossed a grenade from his cover which sailed through the air and dropped exactly where he wanted it too, the explosion that followed tore up the road and beasts to pieces.

    Leonidas squeezed the trigger of his trusted weapon again and again; short controlled bursts which opened holes in the greenskin bodies as easily as paper. The Ork voices were raw with rage and deep as a roaring Duploth he had once seen grazing in the fields on Altron VI. The greenskins weren’t as shaggy-haired as the Altron ox but they were far more dangerous than tame animals. Some began firing back, aiming sluggas at the cone of light from Leonidas’ position in the dark building’s second floor.

    More fire slashed across into the ork line from the opposite street. Marcellus opened up from his ground floor spot on the building opposite with the precision of a well-trained marine. Leonidas relished it; the Emperor loved heroes and he loved the Emperor. The ork had no place in mans world.

    Ceramite sprayed his armour as slugs hit the wall. Orks whooped like chaos-possessed beasts in a bloodbath swimming pool. He noticed figures rushed beneath his view. A moment later Leonidas heard and felt the mines he had planted at the bottom of the stairs go off as the orks tripped the wire. The explosion poured black smoke out the building like a kettle leaking steam.

    Leonidas kept firing into the maddened mob then noticed some of the beasts had Marcellus by the legs and were dragging him onto the street. Marcellus offered no resistance; his eyes were closed and blood ran from a wound on his forehead. The marine’s helmet lay crumpled by the door. The orks circled the still marine then parted to let the largest ork in the mob through. Leonidas could only watch as the nob, with a boss-pole covered with pale dangling human heads, took an axe to Marcellus’ neck. The ork tore the marine’s head from his body and hoisted it into the air, a section of Marcellus’ spinal column dangled tendons like a jelly-fish.

    Leonidas clicked in a fresh clip and shot the nob between the eyes. Leonidas carried on shooting.

    - - -

    Gale watched the marine crouched at the back of the truck. His massive, armoured figure blocked the view of the road behind, and the enemy in pursuit. Shots could still be heard ringing out in the night.

    Jacob drove the truck like a seasoned pack-car racer in the monster leagues. Jacob threw the men stuck in the hard-top truck around like dolls with every turn.

    “We’re gonna’ suffer more in this than ork fire,? one guardsman shouted, his face hidden by shadow. The man banged his head on Gale’s shoulder as the truck bounced on the road. “He’s gonna’ turn this kraking truck over if he carries on like this…? the man said again as he held onto the seat. Gale didn’t pass the comment over, it seemed an entirely reasonable statement.

    There was only one figure in the truck that was steady with every jump and frantic twist in the road. The marine held onto the back of the transport with one hand and his precious bolter in the other. He was like a poised statue, grim and foreboding, some gargoyle perched on a building with a boltgun. Gale shivered as he pictured giant wings spreading out on the marine’s back. It didn’t seem impossible if the marine grew them and took off into the skies, he had already achieved incredible feats.

    The marine opened fire. Beyond the growl of the truck engine, Gale could hear the roar of pursuing ork bikes. A sudden flash and bang indicated an explosion. The marine had hit something. He didn’t turn round. The flicker-flash explosion portrayed that spooky gargoyle. Gale shivered.

    - - -

    Leonidas removed his helm and knelt on one knee. Marcellus’ body had stopped leaking blood. One arm twitched slightly. Leonidas stood up and walked over to the corpse of the nob. The greenskin lay sprawled on its back and bore a stupid look on what was left of its face after the bolt round had penetrated its skull. Its green hand was still wrapped around Marcellus’ head. Leonidas removed its fingers and scooped his companion’s head up into his armoured hand.

    It took him ten minutes to construct a shallow grave. A small crater provided the depth. Leonidas covered the body with stone. He did not mark the grave, Leonidas did not want to give the orks a reason to dig Marcellus up again.

    “Farewell, brother,? he said. He sent a prayer to the Emperor to guide Marcellus’ brave soul to the Emperor’s bosom.

    Leonidas looked at the sky. It was getting late. The sun was setting; he could see the sky was turning orange where the great ball of fire was sinking. The image was striking.

    Then he caught a flash. Leonidas was ready with his bolter but relaxed as he noticed that it was only a boy. The child looked dirty. He had blond curly hair and deep, blue eyes.

    “Help us,? the boy said. The marine was shocked to see that the child was not afraid of him. Most of the humans had shivered in his presence. Not this boy, there was courage in his heart.

    “The Emperor protects, child. What assistance do you need?? The boy turned to face him sideways, and pointed back where he had come from.

    “My mother,? he said. Leonidas nodded.

    “Lead the way, child, and I shall see what help I can offer. Though be quick about it, there is work to be done here, cleansing and enemies to smite.? The boy broke into a smile and offered the marine his hand. Leonidas stared at it for a moment.

    “Lead the way.? The boy nodded and began a run. Leonidas followed.

    - - -

    The truck came to a stop at the eastern fringe of the city. The once proud and tall city walls were breached in several places. He could see rotting bodies still lay where they fell trying to defend Lindium. The marine hopped out of the back.

    “Wait,? Gale shouted. The marine stopped. “I can help you.?

    “You will only slow me down. Regroup at the Moot tree.? Gale nodded.

    “Well that was a one off, marine, don’t think I care what happens to you.? The marine laughed heartily.

    “Ha. You are worried your protector will vanish in the night.? Gale shook his head.

    “Don’t come back.? Gale gave the marine’s shoulder pad a pat. Jacob and the others had already disembarked and were moving away from the transport. “The Emperor protect you,? Gale said.

    “He always does, guardsman.? Then the marine rushed away, back towards the city. Gale shook his head.

    “You coming, Gale?? Jacob called back. Gale watched the marine enter the city and disappear behind a building. Good luck you mad bastard, Gale thought. He spun on his heels and made to catch up with his group.

    - - -

    It was night by the time the boy stopped. A road sprawled out in front. Silver nav-cars flashed in the night like they were standing to attention in a parade ground inspection. Leonidas was surprised that the boy had not needed anything to eat all day, or drink. He had seen men collapse from exhaustion, but not this boy.

    He could see that orks had passed this area by; crude drawings marked the walls and cars common to every ork attack Leonidas had witnessed in the last thousand years.

    “Mom,? the boy said. He pointed to a building that looked un-touched by all the chaos around it.

    “She is in there, child?? The boy gave a nod. It was a bank. As unaccustomed as he was to one, Leonidas knew what they were used for. He moved towards it, boltgun ready.

    Above, in the cloudless night sky, the moon glowed green.




    Coincidence

    A mist rose from the grass like steam from a body out of the sauna. It drifted playfully upwards into the sky. Gale moved through it like the mist was solid. He found it tied his legs in place like long grass.

    A voice seemed to swirl about him with the mist, and as he focused on the swirling pillars, he noticed faces too. Gale closed his eyes and pushed them from his mind.

    Gale took a few more steps. His eyes flicked open. Gale was no longer standing on the grass, but on a flawless street. Everything was clean; there wasn’t a drop of litter on the ground, nor anyone to drop it.

    A few more steps and Gale found himself pushing open a door in the middle of the road. It was made of thick Lindium oak, the smell of the forest about it. The Moot Tree base was behind the door, but Gale did not pay any heed to these inconsistencies.

    He was underground now, traversing the wood-panelled corridors of the ancient base. Someone he recognised, an old girlfriend, was sat on a barrel outside a closed door. She smiled. It was such a familiar smile, warm and welcoming.

    “You don’t want to go in there,? she said, and pointed towards the door. Gale found himself compelled to open it. She vanished as soon as he opened the door. Maps and men were inside, though they were all faceless. A large figure was inside too, at least seven-foot tall, but only the silhouette.

    It moved towards him, blurring the view all around it. Gale stepped back but couldn’t. He felt like he was rooted to the spot. As soon as the figure encompassed him he found himself standing outside the bank.

    Two people waved at him with smiles on their faces. It was the blond haired boy and his mother, hand-in-hand.

    “Wake up, guardsman.? The voice was strong. Gale’s eyes opened wide. A large, armoured figure stood before him. The girl was gone - no wait, she had been in his dream with her son. The figure spoke again.

    “On your feet.? It was a kraking space marine. Gale’s heart tried to jump out of his chest.

    * * *

    “That, my friends, is a full block. Start praying boys,? Jules said with a smile. Jules placed each card onto the table with a mocking pace. He flipped over five blue crystals and clapped his hands.

    Groans and complaints shot from his opponents mouths. Tone chucked his cards away in a huff and stood up. Jules leant forward and cupped his arms around the small stash of goods at the centre of the table. He dragged them towards him still smiling. He plucked out one of Tone’s cards that had landed in the pile and dropped it to the dusty floor.

    “I’m just too Emperor-darned good for you boys to handle…? he said. Gale watched with sleep filled eyes from the corner of the room.

    It had been almost a week since the operation in the city and the disappearance of the marine. Something told Gale the soldier was still alive, that somehow he was out there facing odds only Gale could imagine.

    Then there was the nagging doubt. The pessimistic side that told him all was lost, that the marine was most likely lying on a sidewalk dead. Hadn’t the rest of the marine’s chapter died too?
    “Hey, Gale, wake up lad,? Tone said. Gale, draped over the makeshift table, lifted his head.

    “I’m awake, just thinking is all.? Gale leant back and stretched.

    “We’ve all got time to think, lad, too much thinking is bad for you. Perhaps you should take your mind off things for a while, go have a game of Blue Stripe with the boys, I’m out of the next round, that scheming bastard Jules is just too good for his own good.?

    “I heard that,? Jules said.

    Gale looked over at the table occupants. The scruffy group of men all needed a shower, but he had become so accustomed to it that now he didn’t notice. Some still bore wounds bandaged with dirty, grey cloth; an arm in a sling, one masquerading as a bandana, others on chests, biceps.

    In fact, Gale noticed only three men escaped the affair without a bruise; Tone, Jules and himself. Everyone else had been unfortunate enough to receive one through combat or the ride home in the trucks.

    Jules motioned him over with his large hand, and chuckled wickedly as Gale hesitated. Sod this, Gale thought, I’ll not have him think he’s won without even trying!

    “I’ll play,? Gale said. He stood quickly and paced towards the table, taking up Tone’s unoccupied seat.

    “Five-card deal, you know the drill?? A trooper asked, chewing tobacco. He spat it out into a silver spittoon in disgusting fashion, then placed another load into his mouth from a pile on the table.

    Gale looked at the almost black tobacco. He preferred the good old iho-sticks, taking the smoke into his lungs (despite the possible consequences). All chewing the stuff did was make his gums and teeth look decayed.

    “I know how to play,? Gale said, and looked over to the previous winner. Jules winked.

    “Don’t matter what you know, you ’ain’t going to beat me, that’s for damn sure.?

    “We’ll see,? Gale said. ‘Chewy’, the name Gale gave the dealer due to his filthy habit, began to shuffle the cards in his dirt covered hands.

    His fingers worked quickly and Gale could see Chewy was an expert at the process. Once he was satisfied, Chewy began to deal the cards, first left then following round the table.

    Blue Stripe was a game of chance, something Gale well knew of. Skill was useful but didn’t determine the luck of the draw when one reached for the pile. Unlike Poker, where one could read body-language and determine opponents styles, Blue Stripe relied on the luck of the draw.

    Top bill was a straight hand of Blue Crystals, running down to four blue Crystals and a random, to three and so forth. Gale watched his final card slide over to him. He picked them up and studied the pictures on the printed card. No blue crystals. All were red squares and yellow stars.

    Wonderful, Gale thought, and looked over to notice the smug look on Jules’ face.

    * * *

    Leonidas peered round the shattered wall of a tumbled apartment block and watched the orks with interest. In the dim and dying light, he could make out several large orks standing above the crowd of smaller ones. The largest wore armour as thick and heavy as Terminator armour.

    A large pole fashioned to its back displayed the ork army banner; a mismatch of yellow and green squares in a border round the very edge framing a large ork jaw chomping on human flesh.

    At the tip of the pole was a skull of a creature Leonidas was unfamiliar with, perhaps some kind of bull. Horns stretched out the length of the broad ork and carried many human heads dangled from string and rope. He noticed a few blue marine helmets there too, helmets from his chapter.

    Leonidas watched as every ork went silent as the largest spoke. Its voice was thick and heavy.

    “Dis is its, boyz, da’ moment youz all bin waitin’ for, da’ big leave ’ere az soon az possible. Gardagz ’az moved and needz uz boyz to follow him north towardz Winzin, the last of the ‘umie townz in da’ north. Firez ’em up boyz, coz’ the umiez are in for a world of hurt!?

    “Forgog, ‘az Gardagz killed da marinez?? Forgog nodded, opened his metallic jaw and bellowed. The orks began to shout together and fire their weapons into the sky. Leonidas ducked behind the wall. All his Brothers dead, surely not! Though it would explain the lack of communication.

    All day the roads had been busy with activity. Orks, usually so undisciplined and chaotic, had somehow managed to gather their things and make good on an exodus of the destroyed city of Lindium. Outside the crushed walls, gathered in the fields of grass, thousands of orks milled and waited for the order to push further north. The mere sight of so many filled him with revulsion. The Emperor would have his vengeance, that was sure, but right now it looked like it would be a slow affair.

    * * *

    Gale licked his lips. He’d sat for three hours at the table and came away with a tidy fortune all down to the last hand. Jules was good and the luckiest bastard Gale had ever seen. How the man managed to draw blue crystals into his hand most of the time was beyond Gale. The luck of the devil, that’s what he put it down to, and boy did Jules love it.

    Gale moved through the damp smelling corridors towards his newly adopted home. Tone was sat at the plain desk, a bottle of whisky in one hand, a cigar in the other. Smoke drifted lazily from the glowing tip towards the ceiling, creating a small cloud above their heads. Tone looked like he was in another world and didn’t even notice Gale until he dropped his winnings onto the bed.

    “I’ve got that bastards watch,? Gale said, twirling the silver linked time-piece round on his index finger. “Didn’t see it coming,? Gale said.

    “Good work, lad, though I’m afraid you’ve probably made an enemy there.?

    “I got the feeling he pretty much hated me before this.?

    “He hates everyone but his lackeys… maybe even them. He’s an odd one, Gale, playful and friendly one minute, hostile and crude the next. I’m not into backstabbing so lets leave that there, every man has his faults. Though Jules has many, there isn’t anyone I’d trust more at my side with a gun in a fire-fight.?

    “It took my mind of things…? Tone offered an understanding smile. “Like that bottle no doubt is.? Tone looked at the half-filled bottle in his left hand. He had peeled the Jack Thomas black label from it so it was a clear glass bottle.

    “Ahh, yes, this… its not doing much truth be told. All its doing is reminding me of my wife, and what she would say if she saw me now. Clean up no doubt… ahh, lad, but you should have seen her. As beautiful as a striking sunset, strong like a lasting oak tree, calm and loving like all wives should be. We had no children, but that didn’t stop us being happy. We knew that to bring a child into this world would end in tears for war is all there is. But those moments with her…? Tone stopped and took a deep swig.

    Gale placed his hand on the broken man’s shoulder. He didn’t know what else to do.

    No-one did.




    A Good Day to Die


    Gale crouched low and felt the soft earth sink beneath the weight of his knee. The stream bubbled along pleasantly before him, cutting its way through the forest like a giant snake. Gale dipped his hand in it and smiled. The cold was refreshing. Further along the stream Tone was already submerged naked in the water. He was washing himself thoroughly.

    The day was warm and calm. Streams of light filtered through the canopy of intertwined leaves above, striking the stream and forest floor with a pale beauty Gale had rarely relished before. Gale cupped his hands and moved his head towards the water. He washed his face, rejoiced at the cold water. Gale removed his top and picked his small sponge from out of his bag. He scrubbed his body hard until it felt raw.

    But he felt clean. The first time in a while. Too much underground living had spoiled his hygiene. It was a pity only Tone was the other man who felt the need to wash himself of dirt.

    They were worse than animals, stewing in their own filth day-in-day-out. Being outside was a real pleasure and something Gale realised he took for granted. Before the war, he had not been forced to spend time in a room for longer than he wanted. Now it seemed like the only logical choice.

    He took deep breaths of the fresh air while his body dripped with water. He didn’t dry himself, he wanted to feel the sensation of something other than sticky sweat and fear.

    Perhaps it could wash away all the pain as well. That was wishful thinking, Gale knew. There was no chance for anything now that the Orks were here. Not even the Space Marines could stop them.

    A clucking sound above brought him out of thought. An orange Cluckoo stood thrashing its wings on a tall tree branch overhanging the stream. The sound reminded Gale of the old clocks he had seen in museums from his youth. Of the Cluckoo which sang the day he had met Valine in the Forums of Agrippa, and the day they had made love.

    He tried to picture her face again, the flowing brown hair which stopped below her slender shoulders. He was losing more of her each new day Gale continued living. He had heard time did this, though it was not something he expected himself with her. She had been life… even with the strict guard routines Gale had found time to himself. That time was always spent with her.

    Two years had gone since he had last seen her face, moments before her cremation. Lying cold and pale within a wooden coffin of simple build, though he had tried to buy her the best.

    “Aren’t you going to dive in then?? Tone’s voice broke his chain of thought. He was moving upwards through the stream, as naked as the day he was born.

    “For the Emperor man, cover yourself!? Gale said.

    “Nothing to be ashamed of, son, unless you have reason to feel ashamed.? Tone laughed and ducked back into the water. Gale laughed.

    “I wouldn’t swim naked in here with you if we were the last two people alive…? his words trailed off as he realised how close to the mark his words really were.

    * * *

    The Orks had been moving out all day. Leonidas watched them stomping off north, towards the human stronghold that still offered resistence. The war boss, Forbog, remained behind overseeing the movement. His headquarters, a shoddy reconstructed taxi-rack, glittered in the night with orange light. Large forms moved backwards and forwards outside the open doorway. The figures were armoured and well equipped. Leonidas guessed they were the Ork leaders bodyguard, the toughest Orks in its army.

    He moved with speed in the darkness. The first Ork was a brute, with a large off-set jaw and small nose. It squirmed in his grip as he snuck up behind it and moved his arms around it. One swift movement, a crack of bone and Leonidas had broken its neck.

    Lifeless, the marine dropped the body to the ground. He looked about him and moved to his next target fifteen metres away. Leonidas whipped out his combat knife and launched it into the beasts face. It crunched in with brutal force and knocked the Ork backwards into a wall.

    Leonidas moved over to the quivering body and drew the blade free. Ork blood dripped from its silver finish. It was a pair next. They were smaller but still broadly built. Leonidas charged towards them from a corner and out of the darkness. He crashed into the first one and sent his helmeted head towards its own Ork features.

    The Ork collapsed, splattering his armour with blood. The other Ork tried to squeeze off a round but the marine moved fast. He sliced the creatures wrist off holding the weapon. It stared transfixed as it watched its hand fall. Leonidas did not leave the Ork time to ponder. If it were capable of that.

    He lunged forward and forced its head down into his blade. It writhed for a moment before Leonidas let it drop to the floor. The other Ork stirred but Leonidas was quickly on it.

    He timed his knife thrust and killed it in moments. Satisfied it was dead, Leonidas stood and moved again. The street ahead was lined by high walls. A shattered wall ran through the centre of the broad road. It split it in two.

    On the right stood the base and his objective. The left, a small group of Orks scattered about in standard patrol patterns and sentry posts.

    He’d kill them all, one-by-one if he had to. So far it was doing the trick.

    Leonidas moved into cover behind the left central wall. Damaged guard battle-tanks scattered the left hand side and provided much needed cover. He ran. The flash grenade was in his hands by the time he arrived at a small Ork camp. He launched it into their midst, and took cover as the flash blinded them. They were stunned. Leonidas let out a few shots and dropped them in a single swerve of his gun.

    The next Ork stood at a gun post, leaning on the large rear of the twin-linked big shooters. Leonidas couldn’t quite believe his luck. How had the thing not noticed the rounds he had let only twenty yards away? Leonidas killed it quickly from behind.

    Now all he had to do was kill the armoured ones. He’d countered nine of them, along with some other bizarre array of Orks.

    One carried a strange, decorated stick, with bells and bobbles all over it. It wore a hat just as odd, with yellow and blue stripes masking its surface. Squirming on the ground by its foot was a large yellow squigg, mouth open revealing giant, sharp discoloured teeth. It was chained to its master by a thick iron link.

    “My, these beasts are ugly,? Leonidas exclaimed.

    The guards were not as thorough or well trained as marines, or even guardsmen, and were not paying attention to his well performed actions. Leonidas rushed towards one and bowled the beast over with a clothesline. He broke its neck with a stamp of his boot.

    The entrance was momentarily clear as the guards performed some bizarre meeting playing some sort of game with their hands. One held its hand out shaped in a fist. The other timed it at the same moment and revealed a palm-down open hand. It clenched the fist and laughed.

    There was a strange smell inside. Ork sweat. It stank of the place, even through the filters of his helmet. Three Orks rose to meet him as he burst into the open room, boltgun in one hand, boltpistol in the other. He shot the Ork guards in the face, flinging their broken bodies backwards against the wall, knocking over the stout chairs they had previously been resting on.

    Then he turned his fire onto the Warboss. It was still armoured, with thick blue shoulder-pads, and a yellow chest plate. The rounds seemed to bounce from an unseen shield which glimmered blue as the bolt weapons struck it.

    The Ork laughed, shaking the big blue shoulder pads. It launched itself at him weapon ready. The large glowing axe came at him with surprising pace. Leonidas ducked the attack and moved inside towards the beast. His combat knife didn’t penetrate the armour, simply bounced off. The other Ork arm crashed into his side. He stumbled from the blow but grabbed the beasts axe as it came towards him low to the waist. For a moment they struggled, trying to determine who would win the battle for the axe. The Ork’s arm bulged with muscle and vein as it wrestled.

    Leonidas punched it square in the face, but its metal jaw rang from the blow and did little else. The Ork punched him back, one, twice, the third taking his helmet off.

    It didn’t connect with a forth. Leonidas let go of the axe and placed his armoured fist onto the beasts right shoulder pad. He used it to improve a jump that took him over the stumbling Ork.

    He thrust his knife through the beast's skull. It jerked and bled as the marine landed, boltpistol in hand. Two guards came at the entrance, and watched their leader die. Leonidas' dark shadow spread out to their feet. He fired the boltpistol and dropped one. The other charged with an axe in one hand, and a gun in the other.

    It fired but its rounds deflected off his armour. Leonidas moved forward and met its axe arm. He gripped its wrist and forced it back. Then he threw in a head butt. Though dazed, Leonidas could see it was too. It dropped its small axe to the floor which Leonidas scooped up into his hand. He struck it again and again, until the thing was dead and bloody. Leonidas moved to the body of the warboss, and withdrew his blade and sheathed it quickly.

    Leonidas retrieved his boltgun he was forced to exchange for his knife. With boltgun in hand, Leonidas moved quickly away from the scene, pushing back towards the darkness.

    * * *

    Gale washed his hands in the dead light. Why he had come outside at night was beyond him. Maybe it was the constant jibes from Jules that forced him out. He couldn’t stand listening to the egotistical madman any longer.

    The stream was an escape now, a place to think and ponder. A place to relax. The forest was silent, but every now and then a beast called out in the night. An owl was somewhere, hooting away an eerie tune.

    There was a light splash in the stream. In the moonlight which filtered onto the water, Gale could see a blemish in the shining surface, a ripple which, like a tidal wave, pushed out to see the shore.

    When was the last time he had seen the ocean?

    “Too long,? Gale whispered aloud.

    “Too long for what, guardsman?? The marine entered through the clearing. His armour was thick with Ork blood. “Come, for we have much work to do. The Orks move north, Guardsman, and so do we.?




    Double Act: The Trial of Trooper Gale


    Gale rubbed at his forehead. Why was it society kept prisoners locked in dark cells?

    His cell was small, no more than five-by-five. The bed occupied most of the space, with a bucket for a toilet. The one light flickered most of the time when it was on, but spent most of its time off. There were no windows, just the solid walls and the ancient metal bars facing the aisle between the rows of cells.

    Gale sat on the bed in a plain-grey outfit. The shirt was too small and he couldn’t do up the buttons, while the trousers were an ill-cut and rose high above his feet. They could have been long shorts for all Gale knew. His simple shoes were made of rubber and wore away at his feet.

    His hands were free of the cuffs, which was good. The red lines across his wrists were the aftermath of the holo-cuff power system. It was like being under a sun-bed.

    They were quite badly burned but Gale was allowed no relief for them. He didn’t even want to rub them.

    “Can I please have some water,? Gale called again. He was determined to get something for them but no-one responded.

    “I’ll just talk to myself then,? Gale said. There was a snore from the opposite cell, deep and choppy. Tone rolled over onto his back and began to snore again. Gale cupped his ears and closed his eyes.

    Three nights and he’d already began to lose his patience with Tone. What was it about the cell bed that made him snore so much? Gale shook his head.

    “Please be quiet,? Gale pleaded softly to himself as he pressed hard onto his ears.

    “Prisoner 2/4A01, I suggest you catch some sleep before your big day tomorrow.? The Cell Warden Feris Bligh scrapped his truncheon along the bars. They rattled as the Warden came closer.

    Gale let go of his ears and slid away from the cell bars just as the man came close. Bligh smiled and rubbed his ginger short-cut hair in a slow and relaxed manner. Gale stared into the man’s cold blue eyes. There was madness there, and joy.

    “They’re gonna’ hang you, boy, good and proper so you’ll be swinging dead and dropping piss all over the floor. I just hope you’re neck doesn’t snap straight away, I want to see you dangling in panic before you die.?

    He was a cruel bastard. If Gale had a knife and a moment from the cells, Warden Bligh would be dead. But he was right, his sentence of death would not be swung now. Not even the Space Marine could save him from this fate.

    Gale didn’t want to die. Not now, not over this. He was innocent of the charges against him but could not prove otherwise.

    Bligh savagely struck the bar but Gale didn’t jump. He wouldn’t give the man the satisfaction.

    There was a huge rumble which coursed through the cells. Bligh didn’t look concerned. He looked at the ceiling then back at the prisoner. His wide eyes and smile were truly frightening.

    “You know, you should be in one of those horror movies,? Gale said. Bligh’s facial expression twisted into one of anger. He opened the cell with a press of the key and stalked into the room. Bligh kicked Gale hard in the ribs as Gale lay on the floor. Bligh kicked him again in the side of his face and left the cell with a laugh. Gale slipped into the realms of un-consciousness.




    1.Sanone River



    Gale stiffened as he watched the sun rise from behind the low hills. There was little cloud in the sky, just a few floating wisps stretched out in long lines to the north. The fresh air and a gentle breeze woke him from his sleepy fatigue.

    Stretched out in a small ditch that lined a covering bush, Gale could see the rest of the travellers. They had called themselves a new name because many of the men were from different regiments.

    The 1st Irregulars. Gale thought it had a ring to it, something like one of those wild old movies produced in the golden age where a small unit of soldiers took on the might of something bigger than them.

    They were stirring from sleep, pulling the camo cloaks that covered them during the night from their bodies. Some stretched out their arms and legs. One began to boil some water for a cup of tea. He crouched low over the heating apparatus, and eyed it with interest.

    The Marine was up and about. The soldier cast his eyes across the road where the marine was looking at. Gale could see the destruction left by the advancing Orks. The ground was littered with excrement and other foul things.

    Every now and then one would come across a crucified human tied to Ork coloured constructions. It had made Gale sick the first time they had come across one. It was two days back, barely five miles from Lindium.

    “Eat up lads, we move in ten minutes,? Tone said. He clapped his hands together and licked his lips as Trooper Jacobs indicated grub ready.

    A burning cup of tea was thrust into the corporal’s hand and he nodded appreciatively.

    “Ahh, one could get used to this,? he chuckled as he walked over to Gale. “Morning, Gale.?

    “Morning, Corporal,? Gale said. He still felt sleep dust in the corner of his right eye, and rubbed at it as Tone took another sip of tea.

    “Early mornings again, some of the lads aren’t getting used to it,? Tone said. He looked across the dirty troopers and felt pride. The Marine came into view and stared at the camp.

    “Another band of Orks moved past last night,? the Marine said. “But the wind was strong and blew our smell away from them.?

    “Which is obvious since we aren’t all dead,? Gale said aloud. He stared at the marine, who, with helmet on was unreadable. Gale stopped smiling.

    “They were small in number and can be easily crushed today as we track north.? The marine spoke like everything was always fact and statement.

    “We move now.? Tone nodded and took one last gulp of his tea before he cast the rest aside into the trench.

    “Pack up, boys, we’re on the move.?

    The day moved slowly. The marine set a steady pace, always keeping two-hundred yards ahead of the rest of them. Gale was at point with the slower humans and so could see the marine at all times. His blue armour was easily noticed against the glare of the sun.

    By midday, with the sky beginning to cover with black clouds, and the breeze blowing harder, the marine called a rest. The 1st Irregulars were an unfit bunch. All but Jules. The man seemed to relish the job.

    “The Orks are close, no fires,? the marine told them as they found refuge from the blowing wind. The rock formation was the ruins of the old cities Northern Tower. Most of it lay crumbled and useless across the grass, but some of it still stood. There were no windows or doors, just gaps in the walls. There wasn’t even a ceiling.

    Close-by, Gale could hear the Sanone River winding its way north, on the same path as them. One could smell it on the air. He smiled and sat on the soft earth. No fires meant it was cold rations, but anything would do right now. He was starving and tired from the trek.

    He ripped into the tin foil packaging and withdrew some cold vitamin injected meat. He chewed on it industriously.

    “How far are they?? Tone asked the marine.

    “A few hundred metres. They are close to the river, camped across its banks. We move to ambush them. They are camped in an open space, so closing in on them will be hard. But there is cover further north of the river.?

    “What’s the plan then?? Gale asked.

    “We need to move east now, and travel north once we reach the river. There are trees and bush close to the water, if we move north from there we will meet them. I want to split us into two groups. One group will move east and travel by river towards them, the other, led by me, will engage from the cover provided further north. We will fire upon them when we see them. Distracted, you would be able to sneak behind them and rout them.?

    “Do we have enough men for the split?? Tone asked worried. By count, only thirty-three guardsmen were available. Some were even wounded.

    “Yes.? The marine quickly chose the two groups. Gale found himself attached to the marine’s. Tone would lead the group that would travel east towards the river, while the marine would push his group hard north, and quickly, in order to get ahead of the Orks.

    “Let us move.? Gale nodded and followed the marine away. He turned to see Tone offer a nod before the Corporal turned his group east.

    “Emperor be with us,? Gale whispered as his feet pounded the earth.



    2.Battle of Sanone Bridge
    Gale watched the river from behind his tree. He lay prone, lasgun pointed out in front. The tree stood next to the old stone bridge which spanned across the river. Its silver lining bottom reflected the water in shimmering patterns that waved pleasantly across its surface.

    In the river, submerged, was the marine. A thick amount of cover lay in front of him, tumbled onto the river. He stared menacingly along the view ahead. Gale breathed in hard. He felt anxious. His palms were beginning to sweat.

    The wait was terrible and he could see it plain as day on the faces that could be seen from their cover close to him. Gale couldn’t see more than half of the unit. The birds that sang so pleasantly when they had arrived were silent, some even fluttered away as he noticed the quiet.

    A splash in the river turned his attention to a sleek silver fish as it glided away from the surface. He could hear his own breathing. Was it too loud? What about the heart that hammered in his chest, would it reveal his fear?

    Gale shook his head and looked straight ahead.

    There wasn’t much cover above the embankment, but the marine was certain the Orks would move north along the river, close to the bank for their thirst and refreshment.

    Come on you Ork beasties, Gale thought. He pictured them now in front, walking unknowingly strolling to death. But then doubt entered his mind. These were Orks he was thinking about.

    There was a crack, a twig broken under-foot. Every body went alert, eyes to the front. This was it, time to shine as Sergeant Collar use to say. Gale swallowed his saliva and watched the Orks come into view.

    They talked in loud, loutish voices, some laughed wickedly. The lead Ork, a tall brute kitted in bright armour, lead the way, motioning forward with his arm. Two Orks pushed past it, and looked ahead.

    The marine opened fire. His shots crashed into the Orks already out in the open. Three fell. Then Gale opened fire along with the rest of the unit. He tracked an Ork that tried to find cover behind a bowled over tree and fired once, then twice. His second shot hit the tree as it ducked behind it. More followed it and others tried to dive into the water and reach the other bank.

    Lasfire crashed into the surprised Orks in streaking deadly lines. The Orks fired back, and soon the foliage above his head was peppered by solid shots. Broken leaves dropped around his head. He heard a shout as one guardsman was flung back.

    The man squirmed on the ground in pain then lay still. A shot hit the wall, then another, blowing large holes into the ancient surface. Gale squeezed the trigger and fired back. His shots burned into the fallen tree and sizzled in front of him as a reminder that he missed.

    The marine fired again and again, pausing only to reload his weapon. His fire was deadly. A pile of dead lay in his firing vision. Ork dead began to swim past in the current. Gale shot at one as he first noticed it, but quickly realised it was dead.

    His mind had cooled. His palms no longer were wet from worry. Now he fired like he remembered in training. Again and again. Short and sure.

    A head bobbed into view and Gale shot it. The Ork dropped dead and slumped backwards onto a branch.

    He heard voices to his right. An explosion rocked the ground and tore up the cover to his right. There were guardsmen there a moment ago, but now none remained.

    “Grenades,? Gale shouted. More explosions tore into the guardsmen. Cries flew out as the line broke. The marine moved forward, and flung a grenade towards the Orks. The explosion looked small compared to the Ork efforts.

    “Kracking mercy,? a voice cried out as the figure moved by Gale. It was Jacobs. The man looked shaken but determined.

    “Where’s Tone when you need him,? he muttered as he turned and fired into the Ork mob.

    “I thought the marine said they were a small group,? Jacobs said. Gale shrugged.

    “Don’t ask me, he’s a fanatic…? Then the firing stopped. Through the smoke Gale could see the glow of lasgun fire strike the Orks from behind.

    The marine rushed from cover, strode across the bank and met the howling Ork nob as its confused comrades fell dead about it. It roared at him and charge. It stabbed at him with the point of its pole-arm.

    The marine grabbed the weapon and punched the creature in the face. The Ork staggered back but did not fall. He moved forward, released the grip on the shaft of the beasts weapon, and drove his combat knife into its neck. It was dead before it hit the ground.

    The fight was over minutes later. The last of the Ork dead shot as it tried to swim downriver. The survivors met up on the bank to survey their work. More than forty Ork bodies lay scattered across the bank.

    “Good job,? Tone declared. “You should be pleased everyone.?

    “Who did we lose?? Gale asked. Tone took a head count and passed his eyes over the collected register.

    “Thompson, Lefare, Dickerson and Leroy.? Heads lowered at the names.

    “Four’s not bad,? Jules said bluntly.

    “Four is still four more lives,? Tone replied. Gale felt nothing but hatred for the Orks in that moment, and wished nothing more than to kill them all. He looked at Jules and for a moment wished for anything that one of those names was replaced with that arrogant bastards.

    “You did well today, the Emperor would be pleased, but there are more Orks to slay, guardsmen, perhaps even today…? The marine’s blunt voice made the situation worse. He was a constant reminder of their situation. Perhaps this was to be all their futures?


    Gale hoped not.





    3. Horde at Winsin City


    Winsin City, the great Northern Port city, was situated across the shores of the Ohman Beach. Ohman beach stretched for forty miles across the northern continent. Winsin City had grown and survived as a town which traded with the other continents further north.

    It had a great harbour with a fine fleet of warships. It was these that had fallen first. The Orks had bombarded the fleet of warships that sailed from out of Winsin Harbour and down into the river Sanone. Their broken hulls were scattered across the river banks and floated back out to sea.

    The people of the city first saw the pieces on the sixth day of siege. Pieces and bodies of the dead crews being spat out into the ocean in view from the harbour walls. But it had stout defences, with high solid walls that guarded the city, and small projector fields that worked as shields to protect the important buildings.

    The Orks had struck it with fury, Gale could clearly see it. They peered from the hills overlooking the beaches and the spread out Ork camps and troops that were on the golden sands.

    “It is worse than I feared,? the marine declared. Everyone could feel the horror of the scene. They had already been through it once. Now it was another cities turn.

    The Orks were not attacking Winsin at the present time. They milled around eating and laughing, even fighting amongst themselves.

    “We must find our way into the city,? the marine said, as he scanned the walls with the magnoculars. He looked about at the gathered men as they all watched the surrounded city.

    “How do you propose we do that?? Gale asked. The marine looked at him.

    “Why guardsman, we’ll do it with the Emperors Might at our side.?

    One of the guardsmen tapped the marine on the back. It was ‘Chewy’. He already chomped away at a fresh load of tobacco.

    “I know where there’s an entrance. I used to do top secret runs there from Lindium back in the days when I served as Crown Guard. Its close to the northern tip, where the city meets the high cliffs there.? The marine turned around and seemed to consider the guardsman for a moment.

    “Tell me more,? the marine said.

    “There is a passageway through the rock, which leads into a tower. Once inside the tower, there is a spiral stairwell which leads us into the sewer system of the city. We can find a way inside quite easily, that is if they haven‘t filled it in.?

    “Then we shall try that.? They moved onwards, north, towards the high cliffs. As they neared the rise, Gale noticed the straw like grass which grew in the sand. Clumps of it lined sand walls as they moved steadily towards their goal, out of sight of the Orks.

    As they reached the top, thick grass obscured much of the view.

    “There are Orks here,? the marine announced, as he stared out in front.

    “We must do this quickly and quietly. Equip your bayonets.?

    “Straight silver lads,? Tone passed the message around. In the dying light, the guardsmen all withdrew their bayonets and attached them to their lasguns. Gale slid his into place with a satisfying click.

    A strong breeze whipped up around them then and chilled Gale to the bone. They stalked through the grass, hearts racing. Gale felt the grass irritate his skin. For a moment he thought he was about to sneeze. In horror, Gale covered his mouth with his freehand and took a deep breath. Nothing came and he relaxed.

    The marine led the way. His bulk was too much to conceal in the cover, but he made that up with speed. The marine already had one on the floor as the guardsmen reached him. Tone stabbed it quickly as it struggled in the marine’s tight grasp. It kicked hard twice, caught Tone in the chin and sent him back into the grass.

    “Even in death they pack a punch,? Tone mumbled as two guardsmen helped him to his feet.

    Chewy pointed towards a silver rock, aged and covered with moss. It was wide and tall, at least a head taller than the closest rock. A few white birds perched above. A few Orks stood on the rocks that surrounded it, and watched the city with small beady eyes.

    “We’ll have to hit them hard. How is the rock opened?? The marine asked.

    “There is a small keypad device in the grass at its feet. I’ll open it when you kill the Orks,? said Chewy.

    “That is acceptable,? said Leonidas. Acceptable, Gale thought. Nothing was acceptable these days.

    The marine stood, and charged forward. Lasgun shots flew from the grass, past the charging blue warrior, cascading into rock and Ork in deadly fashion. A few green bodies were flung from the rock and tumbled down the cliff-face.

    The rocks shimmered with smoke as missed shots struck them. Leonidas fired as he moved, dropping a pair of Orks to his right. Fire glanced across his vision from the left, and he quickly dropped another with a shot to the beasts forehead.

    Gale stood and ran. His heart beat fast, and he could feel himself hot and sweating. The grass whipped past as he pushed through, sometimes slowing to push the long lengths of green back with his boot.

    The 1st Irregulars moved quickly to the rocks. Chewy stooped before the silver rock, and fumbled through the grass, pushing back in attempts to locate the keypad.

    “More coming up,? Tone shouted. Gale scanned back down the gentle slope. Orks moved through the grass in great numbers. At the front came a large one, wearing a bowl helmet with yellow horns. Heavy fire started hitting the guardsmen.

    Gale watched as two of his friends fell before him. One held onto his bleeding throat and made horrible wheezing sounds as he trashed about on the ground. Gale squeezed the trigger and hit an Ork square in the face.

    The marine stood on a smooth rock, slick with dark Ork blood, and fired down into the Ork mass. His boltgun tore deadly holes in the charging line as he swept his fire to the left and right.

    “Hurry up, Chewy,? Tone cried. Gale didn’t cast his glance backwards, there were too many foes rushing towards them to do that. He kept on shooting, and began shouting in anger as he did so.

    Then there was a loud sound of pressurized air. The rock door, so miraculously hidden moments before, slid open to reveal a poorly lit hole and ladder.

    “Get in,? the marine shouted. “I shall give you cover.? The guardsmen didn’t need anymore convincing. They rushed to the rock and began to slide down the ladder quickly. Gale provided further cover, aiding Jules and the marine.

    Jules had a large bolter in his hands, and rained down death from the cliff-top.

    “Time to go,? Jules said as he noticed only Gale and the marine remained. He stopped firing, and left the heavy weapon on the ground as he rushed for the ladder.

    “You’ve left your weapon,? Leonidas said. Jules shrugged.

    “Bugger that,? Jules said, then slid out of sight. Gale quickly followed. He found the ladder was rusty. His sweat and friction rubbed off pieces of it as he slid down. After a ten foot drop, Gale hit the bottom with a metallic ring. A thick mesh floor was beneath him.

    “Over here,? Tone said. Gale looked about in the darkness. His eyes had not yet adjusted. He felt a cold hand touch his shoulder. “This way, lad.?

    Gale could still hear the marine fighting above. Then the light that filtered through the hole darkened as a large armoured body filled the gap. He stayed there a moment, then dropped.

    He crashed right through the mesh ground on the floor, and tumbled into darkness. Gale watched in horror, but a series of explosions above sent him running for cover.

    “Where’s the marine,? Tone asked. Gale shrugged.

    “I think he’s dead,? was all he could say. Gale hoped he was mistaken.




    Alone in the Dark/ Last Resort Hall

    Leonidas looked at the metal poles protruding from his body. One had pierced his armour straight through his left shoulder. Gore dripped from its end, while little red droplets fell to the floor. Another had lanced through his right lung. Leonidas coughed blood inside his helmet, and pulled himself free.

    Blood shot from the wounds but quickly stopped as he fell against the wall. He looked up. There was a wide hole above, smoking from the recent explosion. The explosives had opened a rather large gap in the earth, and left it wide open for the Orks. Leonidas had hoped it would simply hit the silver rock with enough force to turn it to rubble and seal the hole.

    He was at least two hundred yards from the open hole. The shaft was wide, with a stair-case to his left which ran up and around the perimeter of the shaft. There was still mesh grating above, clinging to the walls, and dark holes in the walls which appeared to lead off into tunnels.

    Leonidas knew only one was the right tunnel which would lead to the city. It was proper procedure to confuse the enemy if the place were located.

    He could feel his wounds but paid them no heed; he was still combat effective and that was all that mattered. As he moved up the tunnel, he noticed shadows and shapes glide across the light provided by the gap in the rock. Then ropes began to unfold and fall, then bob as they went taut and found their length.

    Large bodies began to descend onto the remaining platforms. Orks, their crude laughter drifted down the shaft. Leonidas knelt on the floor, raised his bolter in his bloodied hand and fired at the enemy.

    Orks cried as they were hit, and tumbled down towards him. Leonidas side-stepped as three bodies landed by his feet, squirting pulp as they hit the ground. Orks began to fire down the shaft, but their shots were not aimed and thundered into the mesh gratings above, and into the walls of the shaft.

    Leonidas took to the steps and moved up the stairs with giant strides. He moved past one of the deep holes. A quick scan of the outer rim revealed no recent footprints. His comrades had not passed through this one. He looked around. There were more than fifty holes in the complex, how would the marine know which was the right path to take? Leonidas continued up the stairs.


    “Gale, if we had waited longer to search for the marine the Orks would have spotted us. There is nothing we can do,? said Tone. They moved quietly through the tunnel. Gale knew a run would vibrate the shaft wall, and the enemy could find a way into the heart of the city.

    “We didn’t look,? Gale said.

    “Well, perhaps it is for the best. The lads never liked him much anyhow.? Gale shook his head. He couldn’t believe what Tone was saying.

    The tunnel was thin, just wide enough for two abreast, with heads ducked forward. There were no lights, just those on their guns which revealed brown, muddy walls and white, dirt covered ceiling. Gale prayed to the Emperor that the man could remember the right entrance and not lead them to a dead end.

    “We’re better off without him lad,? Tone said again.

    “Maybe, but he’s not better off without us… I’m going back for him,? Gale said. He stopped and put a hand against the wall. What was he saying. He would have given anything to get rid of the soldier before.

    “Keep moving lads,? Tone said to the men in front, and let them push forward several metres before he grabbed hold of Gale’s arm.

    “You’re going to do what you’re told, lad, now keep moving.? Gale shook his head.

    “I know its crazy, Corporal, I really do. I can’t leave him there, it ‘aint right, not after all he’s done for us.? Tone let out a laugh.

    “What’s that then? Did he come down like the Emperor himself and save us?? Gale could smell the alcohol on Tone’s breath. “All the marine did was get us killed. Don’t waste your life for him,? Tone continued. Gale tried to shake the grip on his arm but found it relentless.

    “Let me go,? Gale said. “We’re already running out of time.?

    “I’m giving you a direct order, Trooper, and you will obey it,? said Tone. Tone seemed angrier than usual. The Corporal’s grip drew tighter. Gale tried to move but Tone smashed him in the jaw with a straight left. Gale fell back into the wall. Tone moved forward and struck with a right hook which sent Gale to the steel floor.

    “You’ll thank me one day, son,? Tone said. He gripped the un-conscious form of Gale, and hoisted him onto his shoulder. Gunfire streaked upwards, a tracer round lighting the distant shaft. It was a boltgun. No doubt about it.

    “Jules,? Tone shouted. “Get back here.? Moments later, Jules appeared. He looked at the still form of Gale, then Tone’s bloodied right fist.

    “Pissed you off to, did he?? Jules said. The man let out a short and choppy laugh.

    “Pick him up and take him through to the city. I’m going back for the marine.? Jules made to protest, but Tone moved Gale into Jules’ arms.

    “Do it,? Tone said. “Or I’ll hit you too.? Tone turned and rushed away along the corridor.



    Trooper Lars blinked slowly and rubbed at his tired eyes. The dull light in the complex and the glare of the monitor worked magic on his eyes. He felt his head bob for a moment, then sat more alert. His superiors could be watching, and Lars did not want to give them an opportunity to shoot him for falling asleep on duty. He’d seen worse ordered. Lord Brackley was no longer sane.

    “You heard about Brackley,? muttered Trooper Hans. Hans stalked into the low ceiling room and placed a heavy black suitcase on top of the white table Lars was hunched over. “Oy, sleepy-head…? Hans said, and pushed Lars’ shoulder. Lars jumped from his seat, which span and rolled over to the white wall with a clatter.

    “Thank-god you’re here,? Lars said. “I almost fell asleep.? Hans laughed.

    “Almost. I thought you were.? Hans looked up from his colleague with a smile, then narrowed his eyes as he noticed the flashing light on ‘Last-resort Hall’s’ monitor.

    The klaxons screeched into being, and filled the room with drones. Lars was wide awake now, and pushed his chair up to the desk. He watched the desk screen reveal the view of the passage. Human figures rushed into sight. The clear image portrayed them as soldiers of the Lindium Guard.

    The pressure door’s slid back, the sound hidden by the klaxons calls. Lieutenant Weaver walked into the room, her black hair hidden by her transverse crested helm. Her shapely figure, highlighted in officer-black uniform by the red flashing lights above, moved behind the pair before they realised.

    “How far are they into the tunnel… they’re almost here! Why don’t you both go back to sleep, mesh-brains.?

    “Defence grid is coming online, should be up in five, four, three, two up.? The image display flashed purple. Horizontal laser grids boxed the 1st Irregulars into a fine squeeze.

    Weaver moved to a series of buttons on the wall, and withdrew a cordless microphone from the device. She pushed the button with a slender, gloved finger and raised the microphone to her lips.

    Last edited by Cllzzrd19; December 9th, 2006 at 02:08.
    i need to find something interesting to put here

    Ok Scotty, jokes over... NOW BEAM UP MY CLOTHES!

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    Rock Walls


    Leonidas grabbed the Ork by its head and smashed it against the wall. Its thick skull saved it from death, but the Marine smashed its head into the wall again with a sickening crunch for good measure. He let the body fall on its own accord, and moved further up the ruined stairs.

    Solid slugs rained down like a hail storm. They struck the floor and walls with sharp whistling sounds that seemed to go on forever, though in reality they were short bursts. Mere moments. Orks abseiled down long ropes; ropes which wiggled like giant worms as the creatures descended them.

    The Orks shouted and laughed wickedly as they scrambled down the writhing worms. One lost its grip and fell, bashing its head against a ruined platform. It landed close to Leonidas with a bludgeoning thump. Leonidas shot it twice in the back and moved upwards.

    The Orks were close now, but so was the access tunnel, according to his structure readings. Then the beasts dropped. One landed on his back, but Leondias did not fall. It struck him with something solid, but failed to penetrate his armour. Another Ork landed on the steps before him, while one dropped a little further behind. They carried dangerous weapons - axes and swords- red with paint.

    Leonidas dropped to his knees and rolled the Ork off his back with a mighty heave. He launched the creature at its comrade in front, then squeezed the bolter trigger. His fire lanced into the creatures like spears in a cavalry charge through infantry. Green blood shot from mortal wounds and coated the walls and floor with fluid.

    Leonidas turned to meet the one that dropped further behind. It fired a crude hand-weapon at him, then opened its large jaw and shouted a challenge. It wore a white-fur coated helm that covered its needle-like ears, and a black storm-coat purloined from a dead commissar. It would have been almost comical in a guardsmans eyes, but Leonidas failed to see the humour.

    You shouldnt be wearing that, Leonidas said, and shot the beast in the face before it charged.

    Leonidas felt a shadow creep over him. An Ork dropped from the skies like an angry god, spittle flying from its mouth in long, thick lines of stringy phlegm. Lasfire smashed into and knocked it out of harms way. Smoke drifted from the body as it fell past the Marine, on into the depths.

    More lasfire met the Orks, catching two in a deadly rain of fire. They screamed and tumbled after their comrade. Leonidas recognised the man doing the shooting; Corporal Tone. The Guardsman knelt on the passageway entrance, using the sides for cover. A volley of deadly missiles struck about the gap in return, chipping wall and spraying dust. Tone backed away, waited a moment as the Marine heaved himself into the wide gap.

    Good of you to join us, Tone said, then grinned. Leonidas didnt say a word. He moved into the small tunnel. Ten metres inside he attached a small device on the wall.

    Whats that, Tone asked, as he fired back into the entrance. Orks blocked the light as they moved forward.

    Watch the Emperors Justice, guardsman. The device blew. It was a sharp crack which left Tones ears buzzing. Smoke filled his lungs and he coughed. Rubble from the collapsed ceiling lay on the ground. There was no way through.

    That should hold them for a while, Leonidas said.

    Why not plant another couple on the way? Tone suggested. He chuckled manically for a moment.

    Why, Guardsman, I do believe youve guessed my plan.



    Jules dropped Gale to the floor, and watched the laser grid hatch pattern shrink and close in on the guardsmen. The green laser light cast ominous shadows onto the wall, like an army of monsters moving towards the trapped men. The guardsmen pressed against one another, packed like slaughter-animals.

    We need immediate entry, Jules shouted. Or will you leave us to the Orks?

    The Orks are more my concern than you, Weaver replied. How did you find this route? Are you working for the Orks?

    Were kracking running from them. Thousands of the sons of bitches, drop the grid and open the damned door, miss, Jules said. Spittle flew from his mouth as he looked towards the white dot light from the camera.

    Its Lieutenant, Trooper.

    Gale opened his eyes. His sight was blurred, but there was vision. Green laser light, flashing like after images from a nightmare.

    Look, missy, I couldnt care less about rank right now, theres a bloody army of Orks, and theyll be here any kracking minute, Jules shouted.

    I told you to address me as Lieutenant. Smoke shot out from the ceiling, white and foggy. It was cold as snow. A burst shot into Gales mouth, and forced him to stand, coughing violently.

    See what happens when you say that. Youre lucky Im not pregnant or menstruating.

    Whats going on? Gale said. His voice barely rose above the coughing and curses from the packed soldiers. His own coughing left him panting for air.

    The Imperial Guards paranoia, Chewy said.

    Trapped like rabbits by our own side, see, I told you. We should have ran, someone muttered. This was a fools errand, he continued. In the green light cast from the grid, Gale could see it was Trooper Lacron who had spoken. He was a wiry figure, pale complexion mixed with a murderous look in his eyes. His cheeks were sunken, his face pitted with scars from bad acme.

    For the Throne, Lieutenant, let us in, Jules shouted.


    Lieutenant Weaver flexed her gloved hands and felt her bones crack. Arthritis would set in one day if she carried on doing it, but it seemed to be an unconscious action she had no control of.

    Close the vents, she said. Trooper Lars nodded, and flicked a thin switch. In the video footage supplied on the screens, the smoke stopped pouring out of the vents. What remained in the tunnel drifted upwards and clung to the ceiling like clouds. Hans, prepare Alpha Squad and collect our guests. Hans nodded, gave a sharp salute, and span on his heels.

    What do you think, Lieutenant? Lars asked. They seem honest enough. Weaver smiled. Her red lips parted to reveal a perfect set of white teeth.

    They would want us to think that, wouldnt they, if theyre the enemy. Lars nodded.

    One step ahead of me, as always, Lieutenant, he said.

    Thats why youre just a trooper and make that twelve steps ahead.

    Sir, there are two more figures moving towards the soldiers, Lars said.

    Put them on screen. I want to know what weve got here. Lars nodded confirmation. His fingers glided across the ancient keypad. In moments, the image of the new intruders was displayed in a small box at the corner of the screen.

    By the Throne, its a Space Marine, Weaver said. What on Lomania is going on!

    *

    Leonidas read the power patterns running along the tunnel. He placed another charge to the ceiling, gave Tone a nod and moved on. Crouched, the Marines steps were laboured. His armour brushed the tunnel ceiling, and screeched as he dragged his heavy frame onwards. Green light was up ahead, glowing hauntingly.

    Whats that light? Tone asked.

    Defence grid. Standard procedure in events like this. Wouldnt want the enemy to use it.

    Your own back door you mean. No, I guess not. I just hope the lads are all right.

    There are life signs ahead, Guardsman. Perhaps its them. Tone breathed heavily. He was getting too old for this. Fifty-two, by his account, or was it fifty-three? A sharp crack denoted the charge explosion. Dust billowed out behind like smoke from a fire.

    There goes my ears, Tone muttered. He placed a dirty finger into his ear. All he could hear now was a constant buzz. Damned war, he grumbled, and followed Leonidas along the tunnel. They reached the grid in short time. Gale was relieved to see them alive and well. Gale pushed past his comrades to stand on the opposite side of the laser grid, right by the Marine.

    Sorry about the jaw, kid, Tone said.

    They have not let you through, I see, Leonidas said. It was matter-of-factly spoken, with no trace of humour or ridicule. Drop the grid, Men of the Imperium. Unless you want to answer to me. That ought to do the trick, Gale thought. Insult them so they can gas us to death.

    Space Marine, we are operating standard procedure. A team is on the way to collect you shortly, but the defence grid will stay online until they arrive.

    As if by magic, figures appeared in the distance from the very tunnel walls. Bright, white light filtered into view, and dark armoured figures rushed towards the trapped guardsmen, lasguns trained in front.

    Let's do this nice and easy, gentlemen, Weaver said. Drop your guns on the floor and line up against the wall.

    You heard the Lieutenant, Hans said, as he moved a step before the rest of Alpha Squad. The guardsmen dropped their weapons to the floor with a clatter. Gale placed his weapon softly on the floor and moved to the side.

    I will not drop my weapon, the Marine raised his voice. Only the Emperors enemies can make me do that. Great, Gale thought. Perhaps it would have been best if the bugger had died in the drop.

    You have little choice, unless you want me to leave this grid up and blow the tunnel. Leonidas hesitated a moment, then stooped low. He placed the weapon on the dirty floor, with the care of an expert model maker, and marched to the wall.

    Let's do this quickly, Leonidas said. The grid disappeared. In moments, Alpha team rounded them up, took their weapons, and marched them along the tunnel.


    6.Bland Perfection

    The complex was spacious and cold. It was perfect for keeping the guardsmen and the marine locked up until someone with authority arrived. Perfection looked rather bland to Gale. He was sat on the cold floor, arms wrapped around his knees for warmth. The other guardsmen were silent, tired and sat or lay on the white, tiled floor. Gales attention turned to the brooding figure of the blue armoured Marine kneeling in prayer by the door. Leonidas hadnt moved since he took to his prayers.

    The Marine wasnt taking his treatment well. On more than six occasions, particularly the journey to the room, Gale thought the Marine was going to start a fight and kill his captors. The warrior now seemed to have resigned himself to fate and was prepared to wait for whomever was in charge to see him. Or at least that was what Gale hoped. Perhaps he was hatching some suicidal escape plan?

    It was the first time he noticed the damage on the warriors armour. The white shoulder plates were coated with Ork blood, and that of the Marines. Nasty holes were open in his chest and shoulder, coated with dried crimson.

    Gale stood up and edged through the lying men on the floor. He trod on a hand which moved into his step.

    Watch it, the man moaned. Gale shrugged an apology, and moved on. His steps echoed across the enclosed space, but did little to disturb the silent warrior.

    Gale crouched before the Marine. Leonidas helmet was on the floor before him, dirt covered from the recent ordeal. Gale looked at the wounds in wonder. If that had happened to a guardsman, an average human, they would be dead. Not the Space Marine, however. Their biology was far superior. For a moment, Gale wished he had the power of the soldier before him.

    How would Leonidas have turned out if he had not been recruited as a Marine, if that was what happened? Gale heard tales of test-tube babies and mad scientists at the reigns. Myths of old, told around schoolrooms and barrack halls.

    You alright? Didnt notice those wounds, Gale said. The Marine opened one eye.

    My body will heal, Guardsman. My dignity, however, might not. Leonidas opened both eyes and stood. By the Emperor, Guardsman, Ive never seen such nonsense in all my years. A Space Marine locked up by the Imperial Guard! Leonidas seemed more angry than usual, and Gale took a step back from the hulking figure.

    Look at that, Guardsman. Leonidas pointed to a table through the clear wall. I can see my Boltgun in there stashed like ruined guns of war. I am not pleased with this, not pleased at all.

    Through the solid, clear-plastek window that separated them from the free world, Gale could see their weapons stashed liked trash on a table in the other room. Guards in black armour patrolled outside. They wore black helmets that covered their faces like ballroom masks. They seemed like statues that moved with no emotion at all. Cold killers, phantoms of the night.

    I couldve guessed as much. Look, youll get your freedom and your weapon back, rest assured, Gale said. Just dont do anything stupid.

    I am a Space Marine, Guardsman. Nothing we do is stupid. Im fairly sure most of it is, Gale thought.

    Of course, Gale said.

    That weapon has not been more than a metre away from me since I was entrusted with its keeping, Leonidas continued.

    Well, to be fair, its really not that far away, is it. I mean, its not even half a jog-circuit length away. The Marine was about to reply, but his head turned to face the outer complex doors. Four figures moved through the sliding silver screens, dressed smartly in regimental colours of black and grey. One wore a cap and trailed a large, black storm coat behind him. There was a tall, dark-haired female on the left, and a broad Major on the right. The fourth was short and broad, and wore a white cap. He was a portly man, with a belly that wobbled like jelly. His face was round and reminded Gale of a pig, with puffy red cheeks, a large flat nose, and a double chin. His uniform did little to help his figure. He marched up to the door, stared in with some disgust, and turned to the woman.

    Are you sure its safe? The man asked. The woman nodded.

    They appear to be what they say they are, General, she replied. Gale recognised the voice. It was the same one that shot from the speaker in the tunnel.

    I see, the portly general said. He peered through the glass, looked Gale in the eyes briefly, and turned his attention to the Marine. Can they hear us through this? He asked, tapping the clear plastek wall. Lieutenant Weaver nodded.

    Good, good. Im sure they smell terrible, terrible He fixed the Marine in the eyes. I am General Bonty, second in command under Lord Brackley. What erm brings you here? He swallowed saliva and turned his sight away from the Marines cold stare.

    Open the door, General, give me back my weapon so that I can take the fight to our enemies, Leonidas said.

    Yes, yes, all in good time, Bonty replied.

    I should shoot you for this insult, Leonidas continued. You have stopped the Emperors Might from seeking vengeance upon His enemies. Orks are at your door, General, and I must slay them.

    Yes, well, you probably should, but first Id like to know what you are doing here?

    Leonidas tensed, and punched the wall. It cracked. General Bonty and his entourage looked shocked and took a few steps back. Leonidas withdrew a bolt pistol from concealment, and shot through the wall like it was nothing but glass. The plastek shattered, and fell to the floor in shapes like giant jigsaw pieces. Gale moved as far away from Leonidas as possible, backing towards his friends who now watched in horror and awe as the Marine broke free.

    What are you doing! Bonty demanded, in a timid fashion. The black suited guards trained their weapons on the Marine as he pushed past the General and his lackeys. He moved towards the table. No-one knew what to do. The guards were nervous, and backed away, lasguns held in shaking hands. Leonidas found his precious boltgun underneath a laspistol and gun, and took it into his free hand.

    If my battle-brothers were here, and saw this, they would laugh. You have no right to cage me like some chaos-warped monster. I am the extension of the Emperor, in His name I fight. Lower your weapons or Ill take this as the influence of the warp, and shoot you for the heretics you are. Gale did not doubt his words. Nor, it seemed, did the guards.

    Lower your weapons, Weaver ordered. The masked guards did not hesitate. They lowered their aims and backed further away, but remained tense, ready. The commissar stepped forward.

    We are not your enemies, Space Marine. What is it you wish of us?

    Take me to the man in charge of this City, someone who might know where the rest of my Chapter is. The commissar nodded. He turned to Bonty and smiled.

    Well, General, I think thats your job, Lord Brackley wont want to see me today, not after our last meeting. I have business to attend on the walls. Good luck. The commissar turned on his heels and paced away. His storm coat flowed out behind him like a curtain caught by wind. His steps echoed hard as his black boots struck the polished, stone surface.

    I am running out of patience, General, Leonidas said. General Bonty smiled nervously and nodded.

    Of course, Marine. Please, follow me. Lieutenant Weaver, find something for these soldiers to do, Bonty indicated the 1st Irregulars with a quick glance and turn of the head.

    Yes, sir, Weaver replied. She saluted. Bonty returned the salute, flashed his arm at the masked guards, and walked to the door. Weaver watched the General lead the Marine away, trailed by the Major and the guards. She smiled at the size difference, little and large indeed. Weaver then turned and looked Gale right in the eyes as he moved closer to the door.

    She looked him up and down. The soldier was dirty, tired and certainly not in top condition. She glanced behind him and looked at the ragged group of soldiers. They all looked like beggars, a bunch of street urchins desperate for food and cash. Most hadnt shaved for months and sported beards.

    This one by the door, however, was clean-shaven. Mid-twenties she guessed, possibly handsome if he had a shower and change of clothes. The question was what to do with them, and she had just the idea.

    Now, Ive got just the job for you, she said, and flashed a wicked smile.



    7.Solemn Duty/ The Last Eagle


    Gale didnt want to be here. It reminded him too much of Lindium, maybe not when it was fully together and untouched by war, but of the destruction and death left by it. The 1st Irregulars hadnt been offered the chance to clean themselves up. Fed quickly, they were tossed their weapons, and led to a damaged part of the city to aid with cleaning the dead and debris.

    Gale was used to death now, hed stared into its face and it stared right back. Gale stooped low by a pile of rubble, and shook his head as he noticed the bloodied leg protruding from the rock.

    He pushed large, heavy stone from the body, rolling it off with grunts. Dust flew once the stones fell to the ground. Gale grimaced as he noticed it was a body of a soldier. His torso was a bloody pulp of ruin, almost completely crushed. Gale closed his eyes and sat down. He pushed his back against the rubble.

    There were similar finds all across the street. The truck used for body collection was almost full to the brim. He could see arms and legs hanging out under the tarpaulin covers that spread across the top of the truck as it moved slowly towards him. Jacobs was at the wheel of the vehicle, and looked as pale as a pebble from the White Beach.

    What ya got there? Sergeant Harpkal shouted. He was a broad man, ugly and worn. He had an amusing large forehead, and big lips which failed to cover his yellow teeth when his mouth was closed. He had large, thick arms that were bigger built that Gales legs.

    Another one, sir, Gale replied. Harpkal peered into the debris.

    Poor sod, he said, then looked at Gale. What ya doing sitting on the floor, Trooper? Did I tell ya to take a break, pick out a picnic spot fer lunch? I dont think so, the Emperor knows I didnt. Gale stood up, rigid. Harpkal stood close, so close Gale could smell and feel his breath on his face, and the spittle that flew from the sergeants mouth.

    Whens I tell ya to do something, ya do it, got that clear in yer head, son? Gale nodded. I cant hear ya.

    Yes, sergeant, Gale said, quickly. Harpkal nodded and pointed his black cane at the body.

    Sort out this mess. The trucks full. Detail for today is almost done, Trooper. Harpkal turned around and stormed off towards another trooper. Gale shrugged, took a hold of the leg, and dragged what was left of the dead soldier out of the rubble, and across to the purring truck.

    ---

    Damn, that was filthy work, Jules said as he lay on the green clothed bed and stretched out his large arms. Hardly see the point in it, theyll be a load of fresh dead soon.

    To stop disease most likely, said Tone. He was exhausted, but sat on a plain marked crate, left elbow on the table. The twenty-seven men of the 1st Irregulars had been billeted with the 34th Winsin Lancers. Tall, rich men able to afford decent equipment and horse. They wore a sky-blue uniform, laced with white braiding and collars. Their large hats were furry black, and sat on their heads like hairy balloons.

    A few of the troopers attempted conversation with the aloof Winsin cavalry, but the Lancers seemed pre-occupied with work or rest. Only Chewy and Jacobs were conversing with some now, around a table dwarfed by smoke. They were playing cards, Gale noticed; Chewy the dealer, shuffling them like a croupier.

    Gale sat by himself. He couldn't rid himself of the image of a dead boy, much like the child he tried to help in Lindium. The boys pale face, his wide-open eyes revealing fear, not peace.

    Gale noticed a shadow pass over him. He looked up at a sergeant of the 34th. He was a young man, with a fine, trimmed beard and lively blue eyes.

    You look down, trooper, he said. Mind if I sit? Gale smiled and gestured to the empty seat by the small, wooden table next to Gales bed.

    I hear you are from Lindium, the sergeant said.

    Yes, well, was Gale said. He took hold of the mug on the table, and drank the chill refreshing water it contained. He wiped his mouth with his hand and looked at the sergeant.

    Sergeant Ghrame, of the 34th Lancers. Ghrame offered out his hand. Gale took it; it was a firm handshake.

    Gale, Gale replied. Sergeant Ghrame offered a sad smile. He stretched and rubbed at his short, black hair.

    It is a pity what happened to Lindium, it was a fine city. I am sorry for your loss.

    I am not the only one to suffer, but thank you. A cheer rose from Jacobs throat as he won a hand. There was moans from those who lost. One lancer stood, clearly angry, and walked away.

    Lomania suffers, Ghrame said. So too does the Lancers. What use are cavalry hidden behind stout walls?

    You should be glad of those walls, sergeant. Orks are creatures of death and destruction nothing more. Ghrame nodded and looked around. He pointed to a series of lasguns on the wall.

    Weve been issued lasguns, and given orders to stand on the ramparts to fight like infantry. Though I would defend this city any way I can, Id rather my lance and my horse beneath me, thundering across plains, straight into the enemy sorry, enough of this. We should not talk about war and death. I heard you came into the city with a Space Marine?

    Yes, we did, if it were not for him, I doubt we would be here now

    The Dolphus Eagles fell at Fort Teron I heard. Hopefully that is just a rumour. The news of a Space Marine is good indeed.

    He was alone, Gale said.

    Where is he now? Gale shook his head.

    I havent a clue.

    ---

    Lord Brackley blew his nose with a decorated, white handkerchief. He breathed hard, wiped the mess from the end of his nose and looked at the Space Marine. Brackley was a tall man, but very pale, dressed in fine grey cloth, a regal red and white cloak, and polished black boots. He sported a thin, styled moustache which curled like a smile.

    The room was large, decorated with painted windows that stretched to the ceiling like giant fingers. The walls were made from solid concrete. Statues of the past Lords of Brackley lined the red carpet which ran up to Brackleys throne like stone gaurdians.

    Lord Brackley held out his arm, the handkerchief dangling from his fingertips. A young man moved from the shadows behind his throne and joined his hands together in the shape of a bowl. Brackley dropped the handkerchief into the hands. The young man quickly disappeared behind the silver seat with the used item.

    Now then, Bonty, what have we here? General Bonty wiped his brow with a cloth.

    A Space Marine and a band of Lindium Guard arrived this morning. He wanted to see-

    I am Leonidas of the Dolphus Eagles. My Lord, have you heard news of my Chapter? A man wearing a mud-coloured duster leant into Brackleys ear and whispered.

    The Dolphus Eagles are destroyed, they fell at Fort Teron a month back, said Lord Brackley. Leonidas felt pain like never before. His battle-brothers dead, all of them, even Captain Lintus!

    Then I am truly the last Eagle, Leonidas said. My Lord, please show me the plan of your city, and discuss what measures you use to defend it. Lord Brackley laughed.

    I am in charge here, and will release information to you on a need-to-know basis. You are a soldier, who holds no rank with the Marines, and certainly not within the Guard and City of Winsin. You will fight where I tell you to, understood.

    Leonidas turned around and marched out of the room. He didnt have time for these fools. If they would not tell him what he needed to know, he would go out and see for himself.

    A rude fellow, isnt he, Lord Brackley said. His aids and generals laughed.

    ---

    Leonidas opened the large, iron wrought double-doors with a single push. The commissar from the holding room stood out in the hallway, leant against the wall, one leg on the ground, the other boot on the wall in nonchalant fashion. His cap was tucked into the crook of one arm, while his other held a slow-burning cigar. Beams of light slanted down from the windows that ran the length of the hallway, cloaking the man in a soft, pale light.

    Allow me to introduce myself, he said, as Leonidas went to walk past. The name is Conin. Commissar of His Imperial Armies here in Winsin City. I see youve had the misfortune to meet Lord Brackley and his cronies. What do you think of them?

    What do you want, Commissar? Leonidas said sternly. Commissar Conin used his black boot to push himself away from the wall and placed the hat on his head in a single practiced movement.

    I was hoping we could have a talk about the state of Winsin. Leonidas eyed the Commissar with interest. Seeing as Brackley wont say a thing, or lift a hand to help in anyway that doesnt amuse him. You see, Space Marine, he is quite mad.

    A chaos taint? Leonidas gripped his boltgun.

    Im sure that is not necessary, Conin said. What is, however, is the continued defence of Winsin. I have taken it upon myself, seeing as Brackley and his lords and generals do little but talk, dine and dance, to manage the affairs of the City during these dark times. When Brackley is moved to action, there is no sense behind it. Alas, it is bad times when the defence of a city lies with a Commissar.

    Winsin still stands, and if it is your organisation that has kept it safe, then the Emperor is pleased. Now tell me all you can. Commissar Conin nodded.

    Certainly, he said, with a relieved smile. Follow me.


    8.Charge of the 34th Lancers

    Gale woke up to a thunderstorm. Rain pounded the corrugated roof with relentless passion. Then thunder roared like a god cursing the mortal realm, shouting fury from black clouds. Lightning flashed like explosions in the night.

    Woke you up, did it? Gale tried to focus his eyes on the speaker. In the darkness, all Gale could see was a solid black silhouette. Then a small oil lamp sprang to life. Sergeant Ghrame was highlighted by orange, flickering light.

    Didnt mean to scare you, Gale. I couldnt sleep and noticed you stir. May I sit? Gale rubbed his eyes and yawned.

    Go ahead, dont need my permission. Ghrame sat down slowly, easing his bulk onto the simple stool. He placed the ancient lamp on the table.

    Have you seen my uncle?

    Whos your uncle? Gale asked.

    Lord Brackley, Lord of Winsin City.

    I have, on news reports and the like. You are nobility. Ghrame nodded.

    Yes, I suppose you could say that.

    Why do you bed in a barracks with common soldiers?

    I did not want to use my birth to enter the Guard unlike most of my family, who deem birth more important than deeds, I wanted to join the Lancers on my own terms, not my families. I earned sergeant. Gale sat upright.

    You could have purchased a commission, become an officer.

    I lead the Lancers. That is enough. Besides, theres nothing better than pissing off a father. Gale chuckled, then looked about the barracks. Tone snored loudly, close by. Jules, Jacobs and Chewy were awake and playing cards in the far corner, under a dim blue light strapped to the barrack bed. Every other soul appeared to be asleep.

    Where do you keep your horses? I havent seen any, or smelt their presence?

    They are close by, maybe I can show you them someday.

    To be honest, Ghrame, Im not a fan of them. Every time I go near one, I think its going to kick me in the head. Ghrame laughed out loud, and slapped his thigh.

    I havent heard of a Guardsman scared of a horse before. Orks are more scary, dont you think? Gale smiled. He hadnt really thought about that. Perhaps hed be calm about the tall beasts next time he was close to one?

    Well, Im off to sleep, see you in the morning, said Ghrame. The sergeant nodded, stood up and took hold of the oil lamp handle. Gale watched him walk off to his own quarters, concealed behind a solid wall. The light went out shortly afterwards. Gale lay back down on the bed, and tried to go to sleep.

    * * *

    He woke to bustle and noise. Gale watched as the 34th Lancers moved about the barracks. Sergeant Ghrame marched up and down the rows of beds, and soldiers, checking equipment and men.

    A long sword hung from a belt on his waist. It reminded Gale of his own sword hed left in Lindium. Sunlight poured in through the windows, and caught the silver sheath, causing the surface to sparkle.

    Gale reached for his shirt, and slung it over his torso, wiggling into it. His dog-tags caught hold of a loose seem, and stopped him from slipping into it quickly. Gale already wore his combat trousers. His boots were on the floor, shining with last evenings polish. Gales uniform was still dirty, but at the very least his boots and weapon were clean.

    Gale slid into his boots, tucked in the laces, and moved from his bed. He pushed past a young lancer adjusting the large fur-coated helm on his head. Ghrame noticed Gale approach and smiled.

    Whats going on? Gale asked. Ghrame seemed to not regard Gale for a moment, fastening a bag strap for one of his men.

    We are off to fight, Ghrame said.

    You are not taking your lasguns? Gale indicated the rack where each gun remained.

    Ah, no, for once we will be doing what cavalry should be doing. Lord Brackley desires us to open the gates and charge. Gale couldnt believe it.

    What do you mean? Lord Brackley wants to engage them in the open field? Ghrame nodded. Thats madness. If Brackley opens the gates, all will be lost.

    It is an order, and I must follow it.

    Its suicide, Sergeant, plain and stupid suicide. Ghrame looked at Gale with a sadly.

    But it is also an order, Gale. Keep your voice down now, lad, or youll scare my men. Ghrame turned to leave, but Gale grabbed his elbow.

    You cant, Gale said.

    Its been a pleasure to meet you, Gale, but duty calls. I am a serious soldier, and will do all I can to save the city. Farewell. Ghrame gave Gale a firm nod and shook free from his grasp.

    * * *

    Gale pushed up the stairs. They were broad and grey, at least six-foot wide. Blood stained the surface, dried and dark, like spilt ink stains on paper. Troopers rushed too and fro, and lined the battlements, watching the Ork camp with fear. The sun was out and burned bright, the sky a perfect blue, with little wisps of white clouds gliding like other-worldly swimmers.

    There were explosions striking the wall, sending pillars of whirling smoke into the sky and thundering noise across the City. Gale found a gap in the wall, and took a look at the Orks, squeezing between two, broad guardsmen. The enemy army was not advancing, only heavy batteries were assaulting the walls. The battery positions were covered with white smoke, forming dense clouds above the Grot heads as they toiled in their entrenchments.

    Gale still possessed his magnoculars. He placed them to his eyes and studied the enemy working away at the guns. They were small and wicked creatures, with thin bodies and gangly limbs, small beady eyes, long, warty noses and pointy ears. They looked like evil children turned wicked by the influence of chaos.

    Lord Brackley, Gale heard a soldier mutter with distaste. The soldier pointed towards a large tower behind them that rose higher than the rest, like a wooden spike in a field of grass. A thin, wavering line surrounded the white-walled tower like an aura of power. At the top, surrounded by a clear dome, sat Lord Brackley on a golden throne. His aids surrounded him like a pack of power-hungry wolves.

    Come to watch his nephew die, no doubt. Another soldier said. Gale stood a few hundred yards west of the south Gate, Winsins main entrance. He passed his eyes along the row of Guard that stood to his flanks. Above the gate, standing like a statue, was a figure in blue armour.

    Gale moved quickly, past a heavy weapons team loading a large, chequered missile into a wall-mounted rocket launcher. The soldiers worked with their tops off, sweating through white vests.

    An explosion rocked the wall, and Gale felt a violent vibration pass through his feet to his chest. Another enemy missile struck close by, destroying a part of the ramparts close to where Gale had previously stood. Men screamed and were flung back off the wall, with debris and smoke.

    I want the gates closed as soon as they are opened. The Orks are only three hundred yards from the wall, Leondias said, studying the Ork trench teeming with green bodies.

    It shall be done. This is a damned waste of decent soldiers. They would be more use if the city falls, or firing from the wall, than being wasted in a fruitless charge, Commissar Conin said at his side. Gale came up to the pair. Conin turned and looked him up and down. Gale gave a sharp salute.

    What is it, Trooper, Conin said.

    I came to see the Marine, Gale said. Is there nothing you can do to stop this madness. Behind the gates, directly beneath them, running far back down the road connected to the gate, stood the 34th Lancers. They looked splendid, dressed in their fine military clothes. Their steeds were large and well kept, and remained steady through the pounding and sound of enemy fire.

    Ghrame sat on a black horse at the front, silent and calm, sword still sheathed. The 34th Lancers colours were held by two horsemen at his sides, one bearing the regimental colours, the other Lomanias. The flags remained rolled up, ready for the release as soon as they opened the gates and charged.

    There is nothing I can do, Guardsman, Leonidas replied.

    There was a deep sound that filled the battlements. It was a horn. Gale felt the gates begin to move beneath his feet, slowly sliding backwards into the city. They screeched as gears moved and strained with the weight. Gale noticed the Orks at the closest trench react to the opening gates. There were bestial roars, like the cheer of a thousand, thousand Teron herd beasts. Gale turned around, walked to the edge of the battlements, and watched Ghrame draw his sword.

    34th Lancers, prepare to march, forward, Ghrame shouted. The lancers left in an orderly fashion, at a trotting pace out onto the churned out fields of mud.

    What once were lush meadows and grassy fields were now cratered, muddy swamps of death. Ork and human bodies were left to rot out there, dead bones exposed to the sun, war in all its haunting reality. The main road that led into the city was beaten and broken. Gutted shells of tanks lay on the road; some had been given Ork paint jobs.

    The 34th Lancers filtered out of the fort, spanning, Gale guessed, more than one-hundred yards across the city wall. The Orks were now brimming with excitement. Some stood on the muddy lips of their trenches, pointing grubby fingers at the cavalry.

    Gale took up his magnoculars and studied the Ork heavy artillery. As he feared, they were now trying to re-train their aims at the lancers instead of just the walls. A shell screamed over head, and hit the road the lancers had occupied before their advance. Shrapnel flew like darts in random lethal directions.

    Close the gates, Commissar Conin ordered. The Emperor be with them, he whispered afterwards.

    Fire began to strike the lancers. For a moment, Gale thought they wouldnt get ten yards before they were all cut down. Horses neighed in fear as shells and bullets slashed into them. Each rocket trailed smoke like dirty lines on a wall. Gale turned his head after a horse and its riders exploded; their blood shooting like fountain water into the sky.

    Then the 34th moved. It was at a gentle pace. They held their lances vertical, and almost looked like a forest stripped of branch and leaf as they moved towards the enemy. Mushroom clouds began to shoot up all around them, spraying riders with dirt and smoke. The unfortunate ones were hit by shrapnel, and fell from their steeds like puppets without strings.

    Gale watched Ghrames black steed leap a small crater. Ghrame continued through smoke. The lancers were dying around him. Sixty yards from the first crater and the Orks in the trench opened fire with everything they had. Ghrames steed took a bullet in the face which pitched it forward into the mud. Ghrame barely had time to stand up before a series of shots tore his body to pieces.

    By the time the Orks finished firing, and the clouds of fire dissipated, the 34th Lancers were dead. Piles of horse and men lay on the field. Not one had made it to the enemy. Gale closed his eyes and turned away.

    A damn waste, he heard someone mutter. Gale couldnt agree more.
    i need to find something interesting to put here

    Ok Scotty, jokes over... NOW BEAM UP MY CLOTHES!

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    Next parts!!!


    9. Saints and Sinners



    You realise were contemplating treason here? Conin said. The commissar shuffled uneasily. They sat about a round table, a holo-map program of the battlefield running at the centre, casting blue light across the dim room. Im a Commissar of the Imperial Guard, but I am still loyal to the city. This is the sort of thing my job is supposed to prevent.

    Your job is to make sure everyone is doing theirs properly, Commissar. Lord Brackley is wasting the Emperors troops as if they were nothing more than tap water, Weaver said.

    We are talking about removing Brackley from office, a grievous crime punishable by death. It cannot be entered into lightly. He is well guarded, and has many spies with watchful eyes, Conin continued. The holographic image flickered as the power fluctuated.

    Turn that bloody thing off, Weaver told a man by the controls. In a heartbeat, the room was pitched into almost darkness.

    What say you, Marine? Conin asked. Leonidas looked at those gathered, and turned to leave. Where are you going? Leonidas did not stop, he simply moved out of the room and closed the door behind him.

    You know him better than the rest of us, Trooper Gale. What do you think hes going to do, Weaver asked.

    Im not his side-kick, I havent got an idea how his mind works. He likes shooting things and shouting, for the Emperor. Thats about it.

    Surely you know more? Have you not been travelling in his company for months? Weaver continued, her eyes narrowed as though she were a teacher and Gale a lying pupil.

    He prays a lot too cleans his guns and scowls at me for being a heretic at times. He tried to crush my windpipe once, Gale said, grasping his neck for emphasis. I do believe he would have done it too. So you want my thoughts? Well, thats it. I trust him as far as I can throw him, and with all that power armour strapped to his body, that aint far. Conin looked at the ceiling, shaking his head. Lieutenant Weaver breathed out slowly, and shrugged.

    Then we shall not involve him, unless he involves himself. As I am in charge of City Security details, I can report Brackleys status, and any coming movements on his schedule, Weaver said.

    That cant be entirely trusted, Tone said. Hed been rather quiet since the charge of the 34th Lancers, and rather quick to join such a group and conversation. He had a bottle of Winsin Original Whiskey in his hands, a third of the golden liquid swished in the glass as he moved his hand.

    You shouldnt be drinking that on duty, Trooper, Conin said. He stood up and held out his hand. Give me the bottle.

    We shouldnt be sitting here discussing the removal of the Lord of Winsin City, but we are, arent we? Tone replied, and placed the rim to his lips. A single shot shattered the glass, spraying liquid and broken bottle fragments across Tones chest and lap. For a moment, Gale thought Tone would retaliate and strike the Commissar. Tones face muscles tensed, and he scowled. Conin returned his laspistol into its holster on his waist, stared hard at Tone before sitting back down.

    We need to be damned well sober if were to do this, Conin said. There was a series of nods.

    My only fear is Gritsreich. Evil hangs around him like flies to bleep, Weaver said.

    Whos Gritsreich? Gale asked, intrigued.

    You might not want to know, Weaver replied.

    *

    Gritsreich could hear them muttering like foolish children. He giggled and snorted sharply as his mind stretched outwards, encompassing the city like a blanket; smothering, suffocating. He couldnt detect the Space Marine. Whatever barriers that guarded the super-soldiers mind from prying eyes was working like a charm. It was his only concern. Not the fools sat around Lord Brackley discussing balls and parties, or even the invading Orks. A smile spread across his pale face. Gritsreich licked his thin purple lips, then traced his top set of sharp teeth with the tip of his tongue.

    What are you laughing at, Gritsreich? General Bonty asked in his usual brisk manner. Gritsreich despised Bonty. The obese leader of Winsins armies was nothing more than a clown. Well, that wasnt entirely true, it hadnt been necessary to corrupt Bontys mind and bend his will to Gritsreichs. Gritsreich turned to Bonty and looked him straight in the eyes. Bonty lost his nerve and turned away, paling as Gritsreichs pale blue eyes sent shivers down the Generals spine.

    Lord Brackley sat on his throne, his large lips quivering as he breathed in and out. The old fool was dying and he didnt even know it, the city with him. Warmaster Malik would be pleased. There would be a promotion, Gritsreich was certain. He rubbed his hands together and chuckled again. Bonty looked at him briefly, then turned away in disgust.

    Gritsreich, Lord Brackley said, raising himself up in his chair and rubbing his forehead. I must speak to you in private. Brackley stood up and waved his hand at the gathered audience of well-dressed fobs that cluttered the Throne room. They appeared slighted for a moment, but resigned themselves to leaving through the double doors, each with their heads cast down to the red carpet as they paced away. Bonty cast one wayward look towards Gritsreich, then stomped out into the hall.

    Your master, Gritsreich, can he grant me foresight? Gritsreich humbled himself before the Lord as Brackley sat back down.

    He can grant almost anything immortality even! Brackley smiled, and rubbed at his bearded chin. But there is something you must do. Brackley nodded eagerly.

    What is that?

    We must find a way to kill the Space Marine and his lackeys, for they plan on killing you, Gritsreich emphasised the word you with a long drawn-out hiss. Brackley shuddered.

    He is a Space Marine, they are tough to kill.

    But not impossible. Leave it to me, Lord Brackley, and I shall have his head by the end of the day. Brackley nodded, then sneezed all over Gritsreichs duster.


    *

    Gale looked at the night sky. He could see the stars glitter through the dark shapes of cloud far above the giant towers of Winsin City. He yawned, checked his lasgun and continued to march. He couldnt find the Marine anywhere. Every body he stopped to question shrugged their shoulders, or told him to krack-off and do something useful. What could he do? Conin had still not given the 1st Irregulars a proper job since theyd arrived in the city. Weaver considered sentry duty on the towers, but the roster was already filled by Winsin Guard Regiments.

    Perhaps they didnt trust them? With all the city had been through, Gale couldnt blame them. Even the sight of the Space Marine had been met with suspicion. Then he was greeted by a peculiar sight as he rounded a hab with smashed windows and holes for doorways. The street lights didnt function properly, but Gale could still picture the scene.

    There was seven armed figures, each dressed in long muddy duster jackets the colour of human waste and bleached bone. Gale picked out the man at the centre of the human circle. The figure was tall and lean, at least a head taller than the men that surrounded him. The man was dressed in a white robe that seemed to glow like natural light, some kind of holo-glow.

    The scene was highlighted in orange as low-flying sky traffic passed overhead, above the flat-roofed hab-blocks that penned the figures in like animals in a giant paddock. A low roar filled his ears from the machines. Gale could see the figure wasnt armed, unless the man had something hidden in the folds of his white robes, he couldnt defend himself.

    Found you, one said, as he raised a stubby pistol at the tall mans head. He cocked the hammer, and chuckled.

    Evidently, the tall man replied. There was no fear in his voice, only reassuring calm.

    Youre a heretic, the armed man continued. Well be doing you a favour shooting you in the face rather than bringing you back to Silver, but unfortunately were being paid to bring you to him alive, not dead. You aint afraid? The armed man stepped up to the robed figure and pushed his gun into the tall mans cheek. The other men laughed in unison, cackling in short bursts which made each appear like fools.

    You have strayed, wayward child, but there is hope yet. Embrace the Lord into your heart and feel His joy, the tall man replied. Then he held out his arms like a husband ready to embrace a wife, and smiled. The sleeves of his robe sagged as he held the pose, much to the delight of the armed men. There is still time. Drop your weapons and accept peace into your bosom.

    Hey, Jimmy, whats that in his bag? said a man holding a sawn-off shotgun, pointing towards the brown bag that dangled from white-robes waist. The man called Jimmy tore it off, and pushed the tall man to the ground. He opened the bag and took out a thick, leather bound book.

    Its just a book. Chaos filled dribble, he said, and tossed it to the floor.

    Please dont damage the book, the tall man said, crawling towards it on his hands and knees. That was as much as Gale could take. He flicked his lasgun torch light on.

    Everybody relax, this is the Imperial Guard, Gale shouted. He tried to sound confident, but that foolish confidence was slipping away as he realised just how alone he was. No choice now, idiot, Gale thought.

    Back away, and no-one will be harmed. Jimmy laughed.

    I dont think so, soldier boy, he fired a single shot in Gales direction. The solid slug hit the wall by Gales head, and was enough to cause a reaction. Gale ducked and went on one knee. He fired a single shot into Jimmys chest, which took the man off his feet and dropped him by the tall man still crawling for his book.

    Smoke drifted from the dead mans mortal wound. His comrades broke and ran, scampering for safety as Gale fired a flurry of shots into the air. Thank the Emperor they were cowards, he thought. Skilled murderers would have finished him, he was sure.

    Gale waited a moment and listened. He heard the faint scamper of boots on concrete as the armed group of men fled into the night. The tall man found his book, kissed it, and said something Gale couldnt hear. It looked like a prayer.

    Thankyou, the man said as Gale approached him. But there was no need for you to kill that man.

    Maybe not, Gale said. He looked at Jimmys corpse. The man stared blankly with open eyes, mouth agape. One leg twitched eerily. What did they want? Gale asked. The tall man fumbled inside his robes, and pulled out an object which flashed silver in the moonlight.

    They wanted to crush my religion, the man had a single silver cross attached to a chain around his neck which he dangled before Gales eyes. But they wont be able to do it, rest assured.

    What is it? Gale asked again, intrigued by the cross.

    It is the symbol of my Order, my religion. God watch over thee, my son, he said. Then he walked away. Gale watched him go. They had called him a heretic, perhaps they were right, but there was a peaceful aura to the man, which Gale didnt doubt.

    Where are you, Marine? he said aloud, then continued through the hab blocks, all the while staring towards the large building where Brackley presided.



    10. A touch of Chaos

    Gale felt something prod him hard in the chest which woke him from slumber. He was having a nightmare anyhow, the sudden interference didnt bother him. His dead girlfriend had visited him, and blamed him for her death, and the whole Ork invasion. What he woke up to seemed a relief in comparison.

    A guard dressed in black, like those that had escorted the 1st Irregulars from the tunnel, stood above him, lasgun pointed firmly at Gales chest. The rest of the surviving Lindium Guard were also being rudely awaken, pulled from their beds by armed men.

    What the-, Gale heard Jules say. Jules grabbed a guards gun and pulled the soldier towards him. Jules planted an elbow in his face and dropped the guard like a sack of potatoes. Jules collapsed to his knees a moment later as two more guards struck him with the stocks of their lasguns. General Bonty moved about them. He looked pleased that he had rounded the 1st Irregulars up with ease, and stood rubbing his meaty hands with a smile on his face.

    What is the meaning of this? Tone demanded as he was pushed towards Bonty by two armed guards.

    You are all under arrest, Bonty said, purposely holding back information to enrage the corporal further.

    On what charge? Tone asked, urgency in his voice.

    Treason, Bonty replied. Treason, how had they known? Had someone in the room turned them in? Had the Marine done so? Gale was herded into a line, directly behind a bleeding Jules. Jules glared at the guards angrily, and rubbed at his raw, bloodied wound at the back of his head.

    Dont do anything stupid, Gale whispered, Jules grunted a reply. The guards began herding the 1st Irregulars like cattle out into the pale light of early morning. It was still a little dark outside, the cloud above a sheet of black iron. A cold breeze blew in Gales face, along with a horrid stench that made Gale hold his nose.

    The Orks were assaulting the walls. Giant mushroom clouds rose high into the sky as the beasts fired artillery over the walls and into the city. The heavy sound of relentless fire pounding Winsin echoed like thunder through the streets.

    They were marched through Winsin like prisoners of war. The streets were busy, tank divisions moving forward, the steel beasts rolling past like ancient giants. Imperial Guard marched about in units, sergeants shouting out harsh orders, moving their men into position.

    Gale recognised the area they were stopped at. It was the holding cells they had been kept in on their arrival. Bonty was saluted by guards as he moved through the doorway of the solid looking hab first.

    Lieutenant Weaver sat at her desk and looked up at Bonty as he entered the detailing room. It was white walled and professional looking, clean and tidy. Her desk was littered with paper, and a small computer blinked at the left corner.

    What is this? She asked, standing to her feet. General Bonty indicated the prisoners with a sweeping arm gesture.

    Were to take these prisoners into the Old Cells, and ready them for execution tomorrow. I will leave Warden Bligh in charge of them when I leave. Warden Bligh nodded his head lightly, and smiled wickedly at the 1st Irregulars as he slammed his truncheon into his other gloved hand.

    Gale didnt like the look of Bligh. The warden was a large well-built man, with a perfect fitting black suit that showed off Blighs broad shoulders and barrel chest. He looked every bit as menacing as Jules did.

    Ive got a perfect place for you boys, Bligh said. His voice was deep and rocky.

    On whose order? Weaver insisted, glancing at Gale.

    Lord Brackleys. Bonty took a few steps further into the room, and breathed in deeply before turning to face the prisoners. Lieutenant Weaver, you will come with me. Warden Bligh will take over here. Brackley wishes to see you. Weaver narrowed her eyes, furious. She clenched her fists, then released them. Her cap was on the table, and with one brisk movement, she picked it up and placed it on her head.

    Ill be back, Warden, make sure these men arent beaten by the time I get back. Bligh made a courteous bow.

    Of course, Bligh said.

    *

    Leonidas marched up the broad stairs, his heavy steps echoing off the ancient walls of Brackleys palace. The stained glass windows cast light and shadow over the moving soldier as he passed each painted window.

    He knew he was being followed; the guards stomped angrily behind, asking him to stop. He wasnt going to, not until he spoke with Brackley, and found out just why he was wasting the Imperial soldiers on the planet. It made no tactical sense, which convinced him that Lord Brackley was mad. There was no place for such a man in a city under siege. Leonidas would dispense the justice he deemed fit. A quick execution if the man didnt see sense. As soon as he cleared the stairs he heard the guards behind begin to chase after him, taking to a run instead of a fast-paced walk.

    The hallway was flanked by great red curtains, with some handsome figure sat on a Throne upon each drape. Leonidas did not have time to look and marvel. He felt a hand on his left elbow. He whirled around and stared into the eyes of a young guardsman. The man was dressed in gray, with braided shoulders and a black shako.

    You must announce your visit, and await Brackleys acceptance before you can set foot in the Palace, he wasnt as confident as he hoped, and fear was easily displayed on his voice.

    I will see Brackley when I want. His terms are subordinate to that of the Emperors. The man let go of Leonidas elbow and allowed him to continue.

    It did not take him long to find Brackleys Throne room. The doors were already open and revealed a scene that would have made Leonidas spit on the floor if hed not been wearing his helmet.

    There was fast-paced music; a series of violinists fiddling, and flutists blowing into finely crafted pipes. There were tables set to the flanks of the broad carpet that ran the length of the room directly to the throne. Well dressed men and women sat dining and chatting. They were completely oblivious to the assault outside. To the death and suffering of a hundred souls. Were these the people his Chapter had died for? Leonidas wanted to shoot them all.

    I see I am effecting you. It was a whisper in his mind. Leonidas looked across to Brackley, and at the man dressed in a brown coat next to him. Brackley hadnt noticed the armoured warrior at the doorway, he was busy conversing with a lady dressed in a flowing-white ball gown. The man in the brown coat was staring directly at Leonidas. The Marine could see the twisted smile on the mans pale features.

    It is too late for this City, Marine. It will fall to the Orks like Lindium, like your Battle-brothers. There is no stopping it. The City walls have already crumbled. Orks are running loose in the City, killing and pillaging. You will fail like the Emperor will ultimately do.

    Enough words, foul thing, Leonidas roared. The music stopped, and the guests turned in shock. They panicked, the women screamed. Guards rushed in from the doorway and began to surround the Marine, an assortment of weaponry pointed towards the armoured hulk.

    More guards, standing idle at the walls before his arrival, pushed between the guest tables, and took up positions across the carpet.

    What is going on? Brackley asked. Gristreich did not answer the Lord. He simply waved his hands.

    Leonidas moved quickly. He fired his boltgun from one hand, bolt pistol from the other, sweeping both arms in an arch across the other. Bodies slumped back onto the floor and carpet in trails of blood and gore. The guards opened fire. The room echoed with the cacophony. Leonidas was peppered with las-shots and solid rounds. His armour chipped and dented. One shot lanced through his arm and he dropped his bolt pistol to the floor. Another dozen stuck his boltgun arm. He dropped that too, the boltgun clattering to the floor like spent ammunition casing.

    His wounds began to heal, but his foe moved in to finish him. Leonidas drew his combat knife and leapt onto an oak table to his right, knocking plates and candles to the floor with a crash. The table snapped in half and he landed in between two chunks of it. He slid one half in front of him, which rocked as a series of shots made impact. He gripped the other with one hand, and launched it like a discus into the crowd of guards. It bowled them over like skittles.

    Leonidas stared at the figure by Lord Brackleys side. Gritsreich didnt look back, he gazed at the floor like an obedient dog. Guards crawled bloodied at Leonidas feet, whimpering in pain as Leonidas strode past them, across the crimson carpet. One officer approached him with a chain-sword in one hand, a pistol in the other. The blade roared in the tall soldiers hand as he swung it at the Marines body. Leonidas moved his combat knife to guard against the attack, and managed to deflect the chain-sword wide. The sword purred like an angry metal animal as it sang past.

    The officer fired his pistol at Leondias face. Leonidas felt the impact and was momentarily dizzy, disorientated enough not to take advantage of his foes opening. He was fighting a skilled opponent, more so than the Orks he had come across on the planet.

    The officer drew his chain-sword back across, firing his pistol at Leonidas knee-cap at the same time. The slug exploded on impact, and dropped Leonidas to one knee. The sword came in and took Leonidas blade clean out of his hands, shattering the knife in half.

    Chaos filth, Leonidas roared as the chain-sword chopped into his shoulder, the teeth biting violently through his armour. Then it stopped working. Smoke rose from the hilt, rising upwards in swirling columns. The officer cursed, and struggled to withdraw it, pulling at the handle. Leonidas grabbed the man by his collar, and brought the soldiers head into his knee. There was a sickening crush as the officers skull was shattered.

    You are strong, Marine, Gritsreich said, raising his head from the floor. But that won't save you from me.

    Spawn of Chaos, I will cut that smile from your face with my bare hands. Gritsreich smiled wickedly.

    Come at me then, I tire working on these feeble minds. The guests screamed and ran behind the Throne as Leonidas withdrew the chain-sword from his shoulder.

    With pleasure, beast!
    i need to find something interesting to put here

    Ok Scotty, jokes over... NOW BEAM UP MY CLOTHES!

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