Secret War: Warhammer 40,000

Chapter 29

The thoroughfare was sixteen lanes wide, allowing us room to move. The high yield autocannon rounds chewed through rockcrete and vehicles alike as they travelled toward the Magistratum van.

Helma and the others scattered a millisecond before the vans reinforced bodywork was instantly torn to shreds like it was old tissue paper.

The shots veered left, tearing through the vehicles and following after Helma and Hayden. I couldn’t see their fates through the kicked up rockcrete dust.

I cursed if Hayden was killed we just lost our best chance of taking that thing down!

Darrance and I dashed off the thoroughfare, as the autocannon continued to chew through the scenery indiscriminately. We made it into the comparative safety of a side street, pressing our backs against the wall.

“What now?” I yelled over the roar.

Darrance pursed his lips and thought as I looked down the street, expecting in any second for the Ornithopter to appear into view.

“We split up!” he exclaimed. “lose ourselves in the streets and meet back at Taryst’s tower!”

I nodded, then stiffened as a thought suddenly hit me.

“I need you to distract it!” I said.

Darrance looked at me like I’d just insulted his mother in the most demeaning way imaginable.

“A what?”

It was then the ornithopter came around the corner, its autocannon spewing.

We sprinted down the street, along with the sidewalk as the pedestrians scattered and screamed.

Many suddenly, horrifyingly reduced into red mist, more innocent deaths upon my shoulders.

“What the hell are you planning, apprentice?” roared Darrance, barely keeping up with me.

I pushed past yet another civilian but didn’t answer, too busy looking for another turn-off and quickly, I saw a small alley on the right side of the road.

“This way!” I yelled, pointing and half expecting Darrance to complain but without any word we veered toward it, dodging and weaving through the streaming traffic as the autocannon rounds followed in our wake, chewing through the vehicles. I felt sick, and it wasn’t just the fatigue, these were supposedly Adeptus Arbites, here to protect the people, not slaughter them wholesale!

We finally ran into the alley, and I stopped and turned to Darrance.

“I need you to run back!” I said. “I’ll stay here and run to the other side! Keep your vox link on, and on channel nine!”

“” he roared.

“No time to explain!” I shouted. “Just go! Go! Before it flies over us! Get its attention! Keep it on the right side of that street!”

“Frig, I hate you!”

“I hate me too,” I said.

With a frustrated roar, he turned and ran back.

I waited, watched and listened as the ornithopter flew past, still firing it’s seemingly endless supply of bullets firing after Darrance.

I sighed and ran on, if we scattered I had a bad feeling the ornithopter would continue slaughtering innocents, it had to die. All I had one was a desperate bid; luckily this area was a large business hub.

Turning left onto the next street, looking for a suitable building as around pedestrians seemed to pour by as though nothing was at all untoward.

I would’ve sighed and thought it quite depressing really, but quickly caught sight of what I was looking for and with all my strength sprinted. Weaving and winding through the crowd while trying to keep track of the ornithopter by sound.

Approaching the building, I drew my power sword, activated it and burst through the glass double doors.

The two guards sitting at the lobby’s security desk were getting to their feet and reaching for their weapons, but my autopistol was aimed at them before they could blink.

“I need access to the top of the building!” I yelled as they raised their hands in supplication. “Now!”

One of the guards nodded nervously and pulled a key card from his belt.

“We can take the elevator to the top floor, then we will have to take the stairs from there!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, yeah! Whatever! Hurry it the frig up!” I snarled.

The guard nodded again and started to lead me toward the elevators, I followed, covering the other one as I passed.

He pressed the call button, and we began to wait for it.

“Frig,” I sighed. “Another damned elevator ride.”

“What?” asked the guard.

I ignored him, wordlessly watching the numbers descending and activated my vox link.

Immediately, I was treated to the roar of the autocannon, the screams of panicked, slaughtered civilians and the Darrance’s gasping.

“Darrance!” I yelled.

“Whaaaat!?” he screamed.

“I need you to try to make the ornithopter slow down!” I said. “And make it stop when next I call you!”

I cut off the link as Darrance began to reply with screaming curses.

“What the hell is going on?” demanded the other guard as the elevator finally arrived with a ding. “What the hell was that gunfire for?”

“It’s hard to explain,” I said, smiling slightly at my massive understatement. “My advice, just get the hell off this planet as soon as you can.”

I burst through the door, onto the roof and instantly took in my surroundings, the ornithopter had slowed and was about a kilometre away. Hovering only a few metres above the buildings and still shooting.

“God-Emperor!” gasped the guard as he emerged after me. “That’s an Arbites ornithopter! Why’s it shooting into the street like that? There’s people down there! What? You planning on taking that out?”

“Yeah, wish me a shit tonnage of luck, and It’s not too late to take my advice,” I said. “Take your loved ones and what money you can and leave Omnartus, now.”

Before he could reply, I abruptly burst into a sprint, crossing the twenty-metre space to the bulwark in less than a second. I leapt the three-metre distance to the next roof, an angled metal top that I was forced to plunge my sword into to keep myself from sliding off and ran on, my feet clanging off it horribly.

About halfway across, I slipped. I yelled out, my feet giving out from under me and I fell hard against the side of the roof with bone-jarring force, smashing the wind from my lungs, then I began to slide. I cried out barely keeping hold of my sword as my feet erupted over the edge.

Gasping in pain, on instinct I activated my sword and stabbed it into the metal. But I didn’t stop; the power field continued to slice through.

I was entirely off the edge when I finally deactivated my sword and stopped suddenly almost dislocated my arm in the process, causing me to scream again in pain and affording me a good view of the street, twenty stories below. Not even with my Wraithbone bone structure could I withstand such a fall.

“You alright there?” yelled the guard, still standing on the last roof and I flinched, well, that must have looked utterly stupid.

“Yeah!” I yelled and began pulling myself back up, trying to act cool. “I’m okay! I’m all good!”

Eventually, I climbed back on and slowly began again, carefully now. The next gap was a good four metre wide, onto a thankfully flat roof.

I found the ledge, and without the forward momentum of my sprint, I was forced to sway my arms and lunged.

I made the distance, just, almost overbalancing on the ledge, my arms flailing as I desperately found purchase.

I did, it mustn’t have taken more than a second or so, but it felt like a frigging lifetime and again erupted into a sprint.

After leaping over a low wall, I was forced to vault over a big air conditioning unit, sliding across its smooth surface before I hit the other side running.

The next building was a story higher, the next gap barely two metres to an enclosed fire escape, jutting out from the wall. A few metres to my left.

Without hesitation I veered and leapt, landing on top of the fire escape, then jumped again propelling myself up the wall with a few steps before grabbing onto the ledge and pulling myself onto it.

To keep my momentum, I combat rolled and kicked back onto my feet. My footfalls crunched across the strangely gravelly surface. The next building top was a good two metres down, but I didn’t baulk as I lunged down and rolled to negate the impact. Almost slipping in my desperate bid to continue sprinting.

This one looked like a habitat building of some sort, a really, truly old one. Made from rockcrete and small, neglected, acid rain damaged buildings dotted its surface to such an extent it felt almost like I was weaving and winding through a rodent maze. They may have been agrihouses, made in an age when Omnartus wasn’t a horrible, overcrowded and polluted hellhole.

I didn’t have any time for melancholy before being forced to leap to leapfrog over the parapet and the metre gap onto the next. A long, slightly angled roof I easily kept running across, and I quickly tried to locate the ornithopter. I saw it, catching a glimpse of it over the next building, and I cursed savagely.

It was too far away now, there was no way I could catch up, but it was still moving away, so still following poor Darrance. What could I do now?

Then an idea hit me, and I activated my vox.


“What the frig do you want now!?” he screamed over the autocannon fire. “You frigging little bastard!”

“I need you to double back!” I said. “Lead it back the way you came!”

“And tell me how will I do that without being torn apart!” he bellowed.

“Just, do it, please!” I cried and cut the link a mere millisecond before vaulting over another parapet and landing onto a metal fire escape, my feet clanging as I dashed up the three stories and onto the top of the next building.

I looked again and found the ornithopter was still moving away then with a sigh I sprinted on. I wasn’t sure what I’d got wrong exactly.

With bated breath I watched the ornithopter, hoping it would turn and come back.

Then it happened, the ornithopter seemed to abruptly slow and turned to the right, and I realised what Darrance had done, using another alley to turn around.

Smart, I just hoped Darrance could keep this up for only a little longer and began searching for a place to hide. I saw it almost instantly, a small building jutting from a rooftop sixty metres away. I glanced at it then the ornithopter it was quickly coming back and would have me in its sights in less than half a minute, and that was a very generous estimate. Luckily my synskin bodyglove would protect me from its sensors, but not from sight.

Clenching my teeth, I began running again; the small building was five rooftops away. I darted around a low wall, then bounded over a five-metre gap, clutching onto the next ledge, before pulling myself up.

My fingers ached from the effort, but I ignored it, vaulting over another chest-high wall, then weaving around a doorway.

I leapt off the parapet, across the two-metre gap, onto the next rooftop with space to spare, a bit more than intended, forcing me to roll. When finding my feet, I slipped on the acid worn surface, but in an instant I found my balance, barely slowing in the process.

My tired, stinging eyes looked to the ornithopter again, it was close, too damn close and it caused me to hiss through gritted teeth. It indeed seemed like I’d overestimated my abilities, time to improvise.

I dropped onto my side and slid prone, behind the parapet, watching my right. This was truly desperate. I had to time it exactly right and only there would only be a millisecond to do it.

While trying to control my breathing calm, with wide eyes, waited, trying to calculate how close it was through sound alone. My heart thundered in my ears so loud it was a genuine struggle, and I hoped, hoped beyond hope the ornithopter wouldn’t ascend any higher.

It was a glimpse of a blur, but it was enough as I was abruptly up and sprinting, activating my sword.

My foot was on the parapet, and I was about to plunge into the air, in the midst of roaring with all my might when the las-bolt fried through the ornithopters reinforced window and evaporated the pilot’s head. It must’ve taken less than a second, but it all seemed in slow motion to me, and I managed to switch my footing and leap back as the ornithopter immediately tilted forward and began to fall. Then turned and its back propeller swung straight toward me. With a frightened yell, I dived to the side, and it missed my toes by such a close margin I swore I felt it brush the tips of my toes and hit the ground so hard it would’ve broken my ribs if my bone structure wasn’t enhanced. The agony that passed through me made my vision blacken and gasp for breath.

It was the ornithopter exploding that brought me back to reality, and with a long groan, I rolled onto my back.

“Attelus, you there?” crackled my vox link.

“Hayden,” I hissed. “Why didn’t…?”

“Just made it into position a few seconds ago, didn’t know you were up to anything,” he said. “What were you doing, anyway? Jump off that building and kill the pilot through the canopy?”


“Then what were you going to do after that?” he snapped, and I’d never heard him so angry before.

Die, I realised with widening eyes; I’d never even considered what I would do after killing the pilot.

“Are you insane?” he snapped, and I barely stopped myself from replying, ‘on the verge.’

“I...I thought you were dead,” I blurted. “It was killing people, and I had to stop it.”

Hayden sighed, “alright, alright I…”

“Are you forgetting about me?” snapped Darrance’s voice. “I was in far more danger than the apprentice. I do not know why I had agreed to be a ‘distraction.’”

“Darrance, how many?” I gasped while starting to struggle onto my feet.

“How many? How many what? People killed? Well into the dozens, I’m afraid. Twenty alone were killed when the ornithopter fell into the street, even more from the resulting explosion. But I suspect many, many more would have died if we had not shot it down…”

“If I had not shot it down,” interrupted Hayden in a pitch-perfect imitation of Darrance’s haughty tone and voice.

“If you had not shot it down,” conceded Darrance. “I do not know why they were so readily killing innocent people to get to us.”

With a curse, I was then finally up and limping my way toward the doorway, “Hayden, how is everyone else?”

“Miraculously alive,” he said. “Everyone, even Helma but If you and Darrance hadn’t drawn it off, well...”

He let it hang.

The corner of my mouth twitched, as much as that was good to hear I couldn’t help but think, great, it’ll just be more of us alive to be later slaughtered by Space Marines.

There was a long pause, and it was Darrance’s voice that broke it.

“Well, did anyone else think that was a bit anticlimactic?” he said. “The apprentice’s way of killing the ornithopter would have been far more spectacular. Good shot, though, Hayden.”

Everywhere it was a morass of chaos and death, ruined, destroyed vehicles laid throughout the street, scattered and shattered. I could hear the screaming of the countless injured and see people moving through it yelling the name of a loved one or friend. Blood was everywhere; it sloshed around my shoes as I struggled through it all, at times I had to push my way through a crowd of dazed stupefied civilians, muttering unheard apologies all the while.

The dull, dead look in their eyes and their weary way of movement reminded me of myself, back during the war. I could dully remember once stepping on a pane of glass and looking down to see for the first time in months, my reflection. I was once exactly like them, and it scared me more than I could admit.

I wanted to do something for these shocked, terrified people, but what could I do?

I could hear the warbling claxons in the distance from the oncoming Magistratum vehicles, drawn to the chaos Or at least I hoped it was the Magistratum, it could be the remaining Adeptus Arbites coming to finish us off. If it was the Magistratum after their numbers were so depleted, what could they possibly do?

This was our fault; it was our war that had caused all of this. More innocent victims to add to the tally.

Darrance and I met a few blocks down; he fell in step with me wordlessly. We were both sullen, and sombre and guilt weighed heavy upon me.

It took a while for us to get back to the thoroughfare. It was Jelket and Roldar who greeted us, as they stood guard at the perimeter.

“Hello,” said Jelket, looking at Darrance and me with a hanging jaw of utter awe. “That was…”

He trailed off as he saw my grim expression and I shook my head. Too many had died again because of us; we didn’t deserve any praise.

“The captain wants to speak with you,” said Roldar grimly.

I nodded glumly and walked past them, I instantly saw Helma standing next to the ruined arbites van, talking intently into her vox but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. Pacing near her, was Arlathan, doing the same thing.

Helma glimpsed us as we approached and I gave her an un-enthusiastic wave, she nodded.

“Yeah,” she said. “Got you, yeah. Talk more when we get there, got to go.”

Helma cut the link and turned to us.

“Well, that wasn’t destructive at all,” she said.

I pursed my lips and shrugged, unable to think of anything to say, unable to even appreciate her massive understatement.

She sighed, scratched her head then looked me up and down with what looked like appreciation, “we’ll be getting a replacement transport in about fifteen minutes.”

Avoiding her gaze, I nodded.

“Why so long?” Darrance demanded, causing Helma’s narrowed eyes to snap at him.

“A travesty like this has further reaching consequences,” she said, as though explaining it to a child. “Traffic is backed up for miles around, including the medicae and service vehicles coming to help. I have ordered a ship to pick us up now we’re on the top level, but air traffic is almost as bad, due to the PDF reinforcing their orbital platforms.”

Darrance sniffed, grimaced and looked away.

“And you!” she snapped, looking to me. “Stop your damned sulking! This is war, and sometimes innocent people get caught in the crossfire! What’s done is done, get over it.”

I pursed my lips and shrugged again, shuffling my feet. That was easy for her to say if I hadn’t taken that pict, this may have never happened.

Helma grimaced in anger, opening her mouth to chastise me more but stopped as Arlathan approached.

“No good,” he said. “Been trying to get through to the Adeptus Arbites, no reply.”

“Not surprised,” said Helma.

“Do you think they might’ve left off world?” I said.

Arlathan shrugged, “seems a pretty good guess,” he said. “I’ve got my boss to send a few of us to have a look at their precinct; hopefully, they will find something.”

I frowned, and thought, more likely find their deaths.

“Until we’ve got that confirmed, we’ve gotta keep our eyes out!” snapped Helma and it was Darrance’s and my turn to give her condescending looks.

“So?” said Darrance. “What do we do now?”

“We wait,” stated Helma, once again stating the obvious. “You two need to help secure the perimeter. Attelus you take the north with Torris and Selg. Darrance your name is Darrance, right? You…”

“I uh,” I interrupted.

“What is it?” she growled, her eyes narrowing into dangerous slits; obviously she wasn’t used to being interrupted.

I flinched and decided not to press it, nodded and started north. Didn’t want to be near Torris now.

It was then that Arlathan abruptly reached for his vox, making me stop and turn back, “yes, sir?”

His face paled even worse, and I knew exactly why.

“They’ve entered the system?” he said. “Yeah, yeah and they’re, what?”

There was a very long, weighted pause during that time Arlathan kept nodding and had to wipe the nervous sweat from his eyes.

“And the SDF have engaged?” he asked, and he nodded again. “Okay, thank you, sir. Please, keep me updated.”

“Is it...Is it Space Marines? Was Brutis Bones right?” I stammered.

Arlathan nodded, “yeah, it’s frigging Space Marines,” he sighed. “But not those Grey Knights he kept going on about, they’re apparently from a chapter in our records called The Desolation Inculpators five standard Astartes ships and one unclassified one. The System Defense Force are engaging now.”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, and how long will they last? I wondered.

“They are on your database?” said Darrance with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah,” said Arlathan, with yet another nod. “They helped defeat a rebellion on Omnartus about two hundred years ago.”

I sighed, then sloped my shoulders, and now they’ve come to destroy it, how ironic-ish.

“What are you doing?” demanded Helma, almost making me jump out of my skin. “I ordered you to guard the perimeter, so hurry it up!”

“Yes, mamzel!” I exclaimed with a salute and left.

I stood on guard for what felt like forever until the flier finally frigging arrived when I’d initially walked up Torris had given me an ugly glance, before ignoring me utterly. All the while a horrid mixture of guilt, fatigue and fear curdled in my guts.

The anxiety didn’t abate either after the flier had landed and we walked up its ramp and strapped ourselves into its seats. It just got worse. Here I was, trapped inside a small, defenceless metal box that I had utterly no control of, in any second an arbites flier could swoop in and blow us to bits with one missile or lascannon shot.

I struggled to control my breathing as Arlathan, who sat next to me, looked at me and asked.

“You alright kid? It sounds like you’re having some kind of mini heart attack.”

All I could reply with was a nervous nod.

“What? You alright? Or having a heart attack?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“A bit of both, really,” I said.

Arlathan sniggered and shook his head.

I looked over the faces of the other passengers, Verenth had his face covered with his sweaty, tattooed, intertwined fingers as he hissed some prayer I couldn’t hear. Selg was sitting silent, staring off into space, his lasgun laid on his lap. Jelket was in the midst of stripping and remaking his lasgun, with practised, lightning fast precision despite the rocking bumping craft, he seemed as calm as calm could be, but I could see his hands were shaking slightly. Roldar looked like he was asleep but I could tell by his stiff body language it was an act. As though sensing me looking at him, his left eye opened slightly and swivelled my way.

I smiled and gave him an encouraging nod, which he returned, and after smacking his lips, he yawned in the most impossibly fake way imaginable, then went back to ‘sleep.’

Helma was sitting across from me, her attention set down to the floor, her brow furrowed in the deepest of thought, her fingers massaging her temples.

Darrance was cleaning his overlarge, ornate power scimitar with a fancy bit of cloth. I wondered yet again how he had got such a weapon, was it a family heirloom? If it was it just emphasised my theory, he was a descendant of some aristocracy, somewhere. Or he could’ve killed an aristocrat and stole it from them. Either way, it was a highly identifiable weapon for a family enemy of the family members themselves.

Next to Darrance was Hayden and as always, he was as calm as calm can be. His attention raised to the ceiling, his long-las held between his knees and also pointed upward. His thick arms wrapped around it, as he intertwined his fingers and nonchalantly twiddled his thumbs. He’d lost his auspex during the ornithopter attack and, I wished he hadn’t.

Last was Torris, whose face was set in grim determination and looking sidelong down at the floor, his shotgun gripped in his right hand so strongly his knuckles were a lighter shade of brown, wincing every so slightly with pain at every judder and shudder of the ship. I tried to get his attention, tilting forward in my harness and holding up my hand, but my friend gave me nothing, making me suddenly scratch my jaw to make it look as though I was doing nothing.

Arlathan’s suddenly vox beeped yet again and, with impressively fast reflexes, he activated it.

“Yes, sir?”

All attention was now fixated on him as he nodded and acknowledged. He was like this for a good few minutes, before saying farewell to his leader and cutting the link.

Then he leaned forward in his seat and placed his face into the palm of his hand.

“What is it now?” sighed Helma.

“The System Defence Force are already losing,” Arlathan said through his fingers. “Two ships of ours dead to their none. One of ours has already been boarded by Space Marines and is being slaughtered from the inside and...′

“And what?” said Darrance.

“One of the Astartes ships has broken through,” said Arlathan. “It’s headed straight this way and will be hitting orbit in about twenty minutes.”

I sighed and facepalmed too.

Helma activated her vox and barked, “pilot, what’s the ETA?”

“With the current air traffic, ma’am about half an hour,” he said over the internal speaker.

There was a collective groan from everyone but Hayden and me; I was too lost in thought. I couldn’t help but believe that ambush was just to delay us for the Space Marines. Etuarq would’ve known it was going to fail at killing us, and spectacularly at that.

“Well make it sooner, pilot,” snapped Helma. “We haven’t much time!”

“We’re all going to die, aren’t we?” said Selg, his tone depressingly matter of fact.

Helma’s attention snapped to Selg, her face as hard as a stone but her expression suddenly softened.

“It’s a fact of life that we all die, Selg, your name is Selg, right?” she said.

He nodded slowly, “yes, mamzel and with respect, I know that. I’ve seen enough death in my life to know that. I’m just tryin’ to face up to it. We’re up against Space Marines, the legendary angels of death. Even me with my small learnin’ knows that.”

A smile then split across Selg’s broad face, “it don’t matter, I don’t matter. If they’re really as strong and tough and big as they tell us, just being able to stand up to them and fighting them will take balls of steel. I’ve already faced those daemons and lived. If I can do that, I can fight Space Marines, too. Being killed by a Space Marine is the best death I could hope for.”

“I just hope it’ll be a quick and painless death,” he said.

I looked on in silence, stroking my chin with finger and thumb. Frigging brave words I had to admit and I couldn’t help but envy him. At least if he died, he died permanently.

We’ll see how well Selg does when he faces them, but I had a feeling he meant what he’d said.

“Good words,” said Helma, smiling. “But we’ll see if your bark is as effective as your bite.”

“I once saw my friend Selg here,” said in Verenth, “tear out a man’s throat with his teeth. So I can say his bite is as strong as his bite.”

“Won’t make any difference against Astartes,” I blurted out, despite myself, then I smiled. Verenth’s and Selg’s earlier apprehension toward me now seemed a little hypocritical. I could quite honestly say that I’ve never bit out a man’s throat before and would be quite incapable of such a feat. That had to be one of the most brutal acts of violence to perform on another human being; I’ve ever of and, I was a ruthless, pragmatic assassin.

I glanced at Selg and saw he was looking witheringly at Verenth, indicating he didn’t at all appreciate his friend sharing this bit of information, which must’ve meant it was true. Selg was a big bastard, bigger than Hayden or even Garrakson was, when high on stimms who knew what he was capable of.

From then on we sat in silence, except for Helma and Arlathan who kept on relaying orders to their subordinates through their vox links.

I closed my eyes, fighting against the apprehension in my stomach and called out to Faleaseen with my thoughts, hoping she could answer the questions I had forgotten to ask when we’d last met.

But I got nothing, Faleaseen must still be recovering, that or being blocked again either by Torathe or the Space Marines somehow.

I clenched my jaw, wishing to call for Karmen too but knew she couldn’t hear my thoughts and despite being surrounded by so many people and so many familiar faces, I couldn’t have felt more alone then. It seemed everyone I had built up any true comradery with was dead. Elandria who I had fallen in love with, fought and killed with on countless occasions, murdered on that bitch, Glaitis’ order and at the hand of the Mimic, both, dead as well and deservedly so too. Then it was Castella, who was like an older sister to me, she was the heart and soul of our small organisation. As Darrance had said, she was the best of us. I would miss her, terribly. I’d never see her smiling face ever again. After she was Garrakson, he was a true friend, a good, honourable person. As much as his end saddened me, and as much as I still found it hard to understand the idea of ‘a good death.’ I knew Garrakson’s demise was one any guardsman could ask for.

I looked at Torris; I just hoped that it wouldn’t ruin my friendship with him. Torris wasn’t a guardsman, a soldier. That world, that philosophy was as foreign to him as it was to me, I hoped one day soon he might understand and I along with him.

My brow furrowed, even though it now seemed years ago now, I remembered thinking about losing comrades and that it must’ve been what it was like to serve in the guard and ironically considering of asking Garrakson about it. So this is was what it was like, I just wished I didn’t have to learn it the hard way. But then another realisation hit me; this was my future with my new found immortality. I’m going to have to suffer through the deaths of every one of my friends, lovers not just from combat but of disease and old age as well. I would linger on, Karmen, Torris, Darrance, Hayden, Helma, Adelana. All of them and anyone else I’ll ever meet.

Faleaseen had said earlier whether I would take my status as a perpetual as a gift or a curse, well...

Abruptly, I shook away the thought, now wasn’t the time to get lost in such painful thinking. I had friends here and, now, that was all that mattered. Friends worth fighting for and I would continue making friends like that, over and over and over again. Their memory would live on with me.

Perhaps, this immortality was a curse for me, but a gift to others? I would be able to live to remember others, to pass on their stories for their descendants so they could forever be remembered? Perhaps I could live to pass on my encompassed wisdom and knowledge from generations past, so those that come won’t be doomed to repeat their mistakes.

I sighed and shut my eyes.

“You alright, kid?” said Helma, causing me to open my eyes and look at her, she smiled at me strangely. “The look on your face looks like your thinking over some heavy shit.”

I opened my mouth to lie but, the beeping of Arlathan’s vox link stopped me.

“Yes sir?” he said.

For a good minute, the Magistratum detective listened and acknowledged. Before finally finishing.

“More good news, I assume?” I said.

He shot me a withering look, which was gone as quickly as it came.

“If you are a fan of bad news,” said Arlathan, sadly, “yes, the battle in the void is going terribly and, the Astartes ship has entered orbit, they have boarded one of the orbital platforms and are slaughtering the Planetary Defence Force troopers within…”

Arlathan was stopped by his comm link again and activated it.


The call only lasted twenty seconds or so but, during that time Arlathan’s pailing face and dropping jaw showed it was the worst news of all.

“They’ve ejected drop pods,” he said while wiping the sweat from his eyes. “Three of them, according to the orbital scanners...”

He trailed off in his sentence.

“And let me guess,” I said grimly. “Brutis Bones was yet again right, their trajectory is…”

“Taryst’s tower,” he interrupted, his expression hard, as though he was utterly determined to stay being the bearer of bad news. “They’re going to make landing within half a kilometre and in a few minutes time.”

“Well, shit,” I sighed.

“And yep!” said Selg, sounding almost infuriatingly cheery. “We’re all gonna die.”

It wasn’t long before the ship’s pilot reported the fire trails over the internal speaker and me, Arlathan, Helma, Jelket and Roldar got up from our seats to watch through the pilot’s window and the explosions from the orbital defence weapons shooting at them. We all let out a triumphant yell when one of the drop pods exploded violently in mid-air from a lucky shot. We were a few kilometres away and flew through the sky but, I could almost feel the impacts of the two remaining drop pods hitting the surface from here.

I sighed as the pilot chastised us to sit down, we were soon to land. Taryst’s huge tower dominated the polluted skyline even alongside the broad, distant mountain range further north.

Hesitantly, we sat back into our seats. We were only a few minutes away but, I knew that the Space Marines would beat us there.

Very soon Helma was on the vox; I could hear even from here the panicked screaming from here.

“They’re attacking the alley now,” she reported. “Penetrated the gate with a meltabomb, at least twenty-five of us are down already.”

I sighed and scratched the back of my skull, imagining the poor mercenaries weapons raining ineffectually over the Astartes armour. They were there mostly to escape the constant war, to have a more comfortable life under Taryst’s employment, only now to be suddenly slaughtered by Space Marines and not having any clue why. I felt sorry for them; they didn’t deserve this fate and, soon, very soon we would be joining them.

“Landing in five minutes,” said the pilot, his voice shaking distinctly over the speaker.

“Great,” sighed Arlathan sarcastically.

I said nothing and shared a glance with Darrance, his face resolute and, I imagined my expression was similar. Our power weapons were our only hope to penetrate Astartes power armour.

This would be the ultimate test of my ability and, the fire of the coming fight raged in my belly, but I pushed it aside. Escape was the priority now and, I had to find Adelana and get Karmen from the medicae centre.

And if I had to die in the process, so be it. As much as the knowledge of my soul having to bathe in the warp terrified me, I was willing to suffer through it, for Karmen, for my friends.

I cleared my throat loudly, so all attention turned to me.

“There’s a way to escape,” I said. “I have a plan.”

Then quickly I told it to them.

Our hurried feet clanged down the boarding ramp and onto the landing pad. Darrance and I at the lead, power swords held ready. It was standing on that small plateau that showed just how massive the tower indeed was and how insignificant I am in this vast, vast universe. We couldn’t see further than a few metres through the thick cloud but the black wall was still prominent, it conquered the view, destroyed it, like I was looking out the window of a ship at the blackest void. No matter how far I tilted my head to look up it, I could never even glimpse its peek. The flashing red lights that laid at every story seemed to be repeated forever and ever.

“So, where to first?” asked Helma, Hell gun aimed at the doorway.

“The medicae centre,” I answered as I swiped my card across the security lock, causing the large door to hiss open abruptly. “We need Karmen Kons for the retinal scanner.”

“And why the hell do we need to go to Vex’s office?” growled Helma as we walked into the large corridor.

For the thousandth time, I sighed, I had too many ulterior motives to count and swallowed them all.

“We need Vex to access Taryst’s cogitator,” I said. “He may have had information stored there that might allow us to find our enemies.”

“That’s a hefty, ‘might’ there,” said Arlathan.

I pursed my lips and shrugged, “well, what else we can do?”

Arlathan just grimaced, silenced.

A hololith schematic of Taryst’s tower suddenly sprang from Helma’s armoured gauntlet.

“The closest to us here is the medicae facility,” she said, although I’d already known this. “the one Karmen Kons is in is on the ground floor, the nearest elevator is this way!”

With these words, she took the lead and activated her vox link.

“Sergeant Thol!” Helma said, but she paused, her brow furrowing slightly. Then she suddenly snarled a curse and punched the wall. The little, green hololith shivered and shook with the impact.

“The vox is being jammed!” she snapped, although I’d already guessed this fact. “Follow me! Sergeant Thol and his squad will be meeting us at the elevators!”

With my heart in my throat we weaved and wound through the corridors, our weapons constantly sweeping over every nook and cranny of them. It was eerily empty and silent, a stark contrast to the constant hustle and bustle only a few hours ago. It unnerved me more than I’d care to admit especially being aware of the slaughter going on below.

Finally, we found the elevators, turning a corner to see a twenty man squad of men wearing storm trooper carapace and with hell guns in their hands in all but two, one with a plasma gun another, a missile launcher.

They approached us, past the stairwells on each side, one of them holding his hand out in greeting.

“Oh thank the Emperor you’re here!” exclaimed the soldier, his voice crackling through his respirator’s vox link. “When the vox went down I feared the worst!”

Then his helmet head tilted as he saw Selg and Verenth.

“I uh,” said the stormtrooper.

“Do not worry about them!” snapped Helma. “They are with me, Thol!”

Thol straightened and nodded.

“Yes, ma’am!”

“We’re headed to the ground floor!” She said. “To medicae facility number one! Get your men into the elevators!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Instantly he turned and pressed the elevator call button, and we waited in silence.

Again, it was the silence that unnerved me and, I went to gaze down the right side stairwell, standing beside the three stormtroopers who stood with weapons aimed down it. I expected some sound from the battle below to echo through, but there was nothing. It really did remind me yet again just how freakishly tall the tower was.

“Is it true?” asked one of the Stormtroopers, making me jump out of my reverie, “are we under attack by Space Marines?”

I didn’t say anything, unable to answer.

That was answer enough for the Stormtrooper as he looked away and swore in a language I didn’t understand.

Then the two elevators finally arrived and, we went to file in.

I was riding in the elevator with Helma, Darrance, Verenth, Selg, Torris, Arlathan, Hayden, Darrance, Thol and four of his men.

My stomach lurched as it abruptly descended and I realised something, something of the most utmost importance. It must’ve been hours since I’d smoked my last Lho.

Sniggering slightly, with a shaking hand I reached into my flak jacket and pulled out that ceramic case, that familiar ceramic case I’d bought seven years ago on the refugee ship I had left Elbyra on and the ship in which I had performed my first, paid assassination. I’d been sloppy, of course, got caught by the ship’s authorities and was about to be executed until Glaitis had saved me and taken me in as her new apprentice. I’d always wondered how she just so happened to be on the same ship at that exact time and now I knew.

My thumb flicked it open and, I began to slide one out.

“No smoking allowed in the building,” snapped Helma suddenly making me flinch in fright.

I turned to her, my eyes wide with incredulity. Then my brow furrowed and with slow deliberation, I pulled out a lho stick, stuck it into my teeth, pulled out my igniter and lit it. All the while keeping my attention locked on her.

Helma grimaced, her jaw clenching slightly before she held out her hand to me.

“Screw it,” she said. “And screw the rules, give me one.”

I smiled and did as asked, then lit it for her with my igniter. She was in the midst of thanking me when the elevator found the ground floor and as it did I expected bolter fire to tear into the lift, exploding us into mist instantly. But there was nothing. Jelket and Roldar were the first into the lobby, fanning out with guns raised, followed by Verenth and Selg then Thol and his men. Again, besides, us the place was empty, but the silence was gone. From around the corner, I could hear the chatter of las-fire, the screaming of slaughtered men and the familiar roar of bolter fire. It was even louder and throatier than Brutis Bone’s one, despite being so far away.

“Let’s go! Go!” urged Helma, the smoking lho stick clenched in her teeth. “We haven’t much time!”

We were on the north side of the tower, the opposite to the alley entrance and thus the furthest away from the attacking Space Marines. This had been obviously organised by Helma, even before I’d told her of my plan. I wasn’t quite sure how to make of that. Too bad the only elevator to Taryst’s grotto was on the eastern side. I hoped we could reach it without incident on Vex’s floor, but my instincts seemed to scream that it wouldn’t.

What if they took out the cable of the elevator to Taryst’s grotto? That was the only way up there; I guessed we could take another ship in the large hanger on the seventieth floor but doubted any of those would be anywhere near as quick or as advanced.

I just hoped it would be large enough to convey us all, not to mention a few others as well.

As we moved, Helma ordered ten of Thol’s men behind to guard the elevators while the rest of us kept onward, into the corridors. Thol and four Stormtroopers took the lead while the other five covered the rear. Like every corridor in the tower, it was wide, allowing them to walk abreast with ease, even with their armour and abundance of equipment.

It only took around sixteen, seventeen minutes to reach the medicae but I must’ve smoked through at least six lho sticks during that time. My nerves were killing me as I expected that around every single turn and junction there to be a huge Space Marine, with bolter raised to blast us into red mist or chain sword readied to tear us apart, but each time there was nothing, nothing but more empty, white, brightly lit corridor. Which just made it all the worse as our ears assailed continuously by the roar of battle and the constant cacophony of horrific, blood-freezing screams that were getting louder and louder and louder with every step we took through that maze.

We arrived finally at the medicae the stormtroopers spread out to secure the entrance along with Darrance, Arlathan, Selg and Hayden while the rest of us went inside Thol leading with Hell gun raised.

He almost immediately walked into a tall scrawny young man wearing glasses and, I instantly recognised him as the assistant medicae who had attempted to stitch my facial scar back together hours ago. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember his name.

The assistant blanched and screeched like a girl, dropping the metal plate he held which fell to the floor with a horrid crash!

“Please!” he cried. “Please don’t kill me!”

Thol didn’t lower his Hellgun as Helma approached the assistant, a suspicious sneer on her scarred features.

“This place was meant to be evacuated by all civilian staff, why are you still here?”

Another medicae emerged from one of the rooms, he was old and wizened and he too I recognised as the one who’d worked under Brutis Bones, although I couldn’t recall his name either.

“We stayed because we still have patients to attend to,” the old medicae said.

“Aheth!” exclaimed Verenth. “Thank the God-Emperor you’re still okay!”

Aheth grimaced, “yes young Verenth, I am, but won’t be for much longer going from the commotion going on outside.”

Then he looked at me, “Mr Attelus Kaltos, good to see your still well and breathing.”

“Only just,” I said with a smile.

“So could you be so kind to inform me why, exactly, you are here,” said Aheth.

“We need to take Karmen Kons,” said Helma, in a tone showing she wouldn’t brook any argument.

“Why?” said Aheth, his arms folding over his chest, obviously ignoring Helma’s commanding voice.

“We haven’t time to explain!” she snapped. “Where is she?”

Aheth sighed wearily, “of course you don’t, she’s this way, follow me.”

With that, he turned and led us to the second room which he indicated with a lazy sweep of his hand.

Helma and I slipped inside and, there was Karmen, lying deathly still. The only indication she was still alive was the slight constant rising and falling of her ample chest. Her face still completely covered in bandages.

My heart fluttered from the sight, and for a good few seconds, I was unable to move, unable to breathe. Thol and the assistant pushed past me and together began to ready her for being moved.

“Hurry it up!” snapped Helma and we all involuntarily flinched as a particularly loud shriek echoed through the building, making us instinctively look over our shoulders.

“That was close,” said Thol, unnecessarily.

I hissed through clenched teeth, shuffling with my rattling nerves and impatience then with a shaking hand, absently began to take out another lho stick.

“Please, do not smoke in here,” said Aheth, looking at me intently.

I eyed the old medicae sidelong and found I couldn’t help but feel the greatest respect for him. Here he was staying back when everyone else had left, just to look after his patients even while the bolter fire and screams echoed through the corridors. I imagined he would’ve done the same while we were fighting those daemons desperately. Keeping calm and collected the whole damn time. I had a bad feeling that Helma’s earlier chastisement was just posturing to back up her authority and power. Then when I’d refused to let her boss me around, she’d tried to save face by smoking herself. Aheth was standing up to me, purely out of duty and care for his patients.

My attention turned to the assistant, whose name I still couldn’t remember and he too I couldn’t help respect as well, perhaps even more so. I knew Aheth had at least some experience in facing down terrifying, in human beings, but he, I was sure hadn’t but yet here he was. Sure he’d coward when Thol had aimed his gun at him, but I couldn’t blame him for that.

With a smile and a respectful nod, I closed my lho case, “of course, sorry.”

Instinctively, swiftly I stepped aside as Thol wheeled Karmen’s bed out of the room and the rest of us turned to follow, everyone except Aheth and the assistant and I turned back to him.

“Halsin,” said Aheth and it took me a second to realise he was addressing the assistant. “Go with them, look after Karmen Kons.”

“And you?” I asked my eyes narrowing, instantly guessing what he was up to.

“Staying here,” answered Aheth simply, as though it was the easiest decision in the ’verse. “There are still patients I need to look to but tell me, young assassin. What are we up against?”

I sighed, shuffling nervously and decided not to lie to a dead man, “Space Marines.”

Aheth nodded, his face almost serene despite this news, “thought so and will they spare my patients?”

Tears abruptly welled in my eyes, “no, no they will not.”

“Again, I’d thought so, can you just do me one favour?” said Aheth.

“Name it.”

“Can you give me a weapon?”

I blinked, that was the last thing I expected, but without any further word, I reached into my flak jacket, pulled my pistol from its shoulder holster and handed it to the old medicae. I fought back the sadness welling in my heart; I had carried that auto pistol since the war on Elbyra. My father had given it to me when I was a child, it was a simple thing, like billions upon billions of others manufactured across the galaxy. Nothing special, but it had never jammed on me, I very rarely had to strip it and clean it. I had forgotten this, for so long it was just a pistol to me with no sentimental value at all, it was my sword I’d always truly treasured, which was natural me being a swordsman. But giving Aheth my pistol felt like I was tearing off a limb.

Aheth took it, “thank you, if my patients are to die, I will die fighting for them.”

Then he tilted his head meaningfully and almost instantly I understood. It said, do not worry, your secret will die with me.

I nodded then and fighting back the welling tears, with the now openly weeping Halsin, turned and left.

We emerged back into the corridor; I half expected to be greeted by splattered, scattered corpses but found everyone alive and well. Helma glared at us in anger for the delay. A rage I couldn’t blame her for, but I ignored her. Then within a split second wave of the captain’s hand, we were instantly moving again.

I walked aside the stormtrooper pushing Karmen’s bed and had to fight the urge to constantly glance at her. Instead hesitantly electing to listen to the firing bolters and screams. I couldn’t believe the mercenaries were holding off the Space Marines for so long, how many were there, fighting? How many have died already? How many mercenaries were yet to die? But what I couldn’t wrap my head around was that they were fighting, still fighting against enemies they had no hope to defeat. They were mercenaries, they held no surge loyalty to Taryst and his organisation, especially after the Rogue Trader’s more recent acts. They had no real reason to sell their lives short.

As we walked a dark thought occurred to me, and I furrowed my brow, looking down upon the supine Karmen. She hadn’t been in communication with me for a long time, perhaps she was controlling their minds like puppets, as Etuarq had with Edracian as he had, perhaps controlled his own mercenary force back at Edracian’s mansion-fortress. I remembered that they’d the same psychic implants in their brains I once had, implants that allowed Karmen to delve into their minds easier than ordinary people. Implants that she had implanted. Did that allow her also to control them easier?

The thought made me sick, out of all the morally ambiguous actions taken during this time, this one stunk the worse. Assuming it was true, of course, but something within me knew it was.

This probably was what Taryst had been planning all along, too bad he didn’t live long enough to see it.

The sound of battle receded as we came closer and closer to the northern elevators and the sound of grinding teeth caused me to look sidelong at its source finding it was Helma, the lho I’d given her smoked and discarded a long time ago.

I was opening my mouth to say something, although I didn’t know what, as I approached the last corner, into the elevator lobby and the two leading stormtroopers exploded, their torsos reduced into bloody ruins and their legs were thrown against the wall with such force they were plastered there. Blood and ichor coated us I barely managed to close my eyes in time to keep from being blinded. Helma wasn’t fast enough as she screamed in agony and clutched at her face with clawing armoured fingers.

“Back!” yelled Roldar, the sergeant taking the lead. But it was for nothing as I saw a Space Marine for the first time and regrettably not the last time in my long, long life. It abruptly appeared around the corner, it’s heavy, running footfalls shaking my bones and innards. It’s bolter raised. It was only a fraction of a second before everything turned into a blur of screaming chaos, but for me and perhaps just me, it was enough to get a good look

I’d heard Space Marines were huge, but I never imagined they were even half this huge. Standing at over two metres tall even out of its armour, and as wide as I was tall. It’s light red, and gold armour was simpler and less adorned than Brutis’ was but that just made it all the more intimidating. The helm it wore was inhuman, unforgiving; its eyes glowed an almost undead red with an intensity that seemed to bore into my brain.

Despite the fear I felt, I was then moving, as the Space Marine was in the midst of pulling the trigger of its mind-bogglingly huge bolt gun. My power sword blazed into blue life and sliced straight through the bolter.

The Space Marine bellowed out through the grill of its helm but it wasn’t out of fright, or fear or rage, or even in surprise at my inhuman speed or of my possession of a power sword. I didn’t know what kind of sound the Space Marine uttered and even until this day I didn’t know even after meeting many of it’s kind and fighting alongside them on countless occasions.

The Space Marine reacted, far faster than anything that size had any right to react. Instantly smashing the remains of its bolter at me. I darted back, and it missed me by the barest of margins, the onrush of air that followed almost knocking me off my feet. With its free hand, a fist large enough to fit my head into and more, it threw a punch at my skull, a blow I barely weaved under but it seemed to see this coming as with the same arm, it swung its elbow toward my torso. I danced aside then the space marine thrust its bolter my way, I leaned out of its path then saw the opening and dashed forward, cutting my sword into its side with a roar. The sword’s power field cut through the ceramite with ease and drew a large, brief burst of blood, but I instantly knew it was far from a killing blow, I’d only succeeded in making the huge bastard angrier. With a horrible roar of curses, it spun out, forcing me to throw myself hard to the floor to prevent my body being pulped by its gigantic limbs.

Then the Space Marine raised it’s armoured boot, to crush my head.

The whine of Hell gunfire echoed, and the constant stream of red light swathed into the Space Marine’s side. It penetrated the armour with ease, sending it reeling and cursing savagely, but was far from dead.

Wordlessly, Thol stalked forward, quickly retrieved the fallen plasma gun from one of the dead Stormtroopers and vaporised the Space Marine’s skull with a single shot. I was in the t junction, and something caught my eye as Thol approached, looking like he was going to congratulate me or something. I suddenly kicked out my feet and was up smashing my shoulder hard into Thol and sending us careening clumsily back into cover a millisecond before bolter rounds tore into the wall where we once were.

I’d seen the messy remains of the Storm Troopers who’d guarded the elevator lobby and two more Space Marines emerging into view. One with a bolter the other with a power sword and bolt pistol.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” I screamed, Darrance was abruptly beside me, power sword held ready

With impressive speed, Thol was up and tilting around the corner, about to pull the plasma gun’s trigger, but Roldar pulled him back.

“You might damage the elevators!” he yelled over the cacophony.

“Go!” yelled Darrance, giving me a meaningful look. “Take the western elevators, Attelus and I will hold them off!”

I gaped, unable to appreciate, what was, perhaps, the first ever time Darrance had called something other than ‘apprentice’ as pain suddenly thundered through my chest and I looked to Karmen. That meant she’d be out of my sight! I’d be utterly unable to protect her!

Roldar seemed to see this instantly and said, “don’t worry, kid, we’ll protect your girlfriend!”

“You’re insane!” exclaimed Thol as he attempted to fire around the corner with his Hell gun and two other Stormtroopers joined him, but quickly found themselves pinned.

“Yeah,” said Darrance with a shrug. “and you should really thank your Emperor that we are! Now go! We will meet you on Vex’s floor!”

Thol nodded then hesitantly he and the other stormtroopers began to withdraw, along with everyone else. I couldn’t help watch Karmen being wheeled away forlornly.

“Focus, apprentice!” snarled Darrance, and I tore my attention away from her, just in time to see the Space Marines abruptly appear.

I had the one with the powersword, whom I assumed to be a sergeant. Darrance, the one with the bolter. Just my frigging luck.

Before I could think; the sergeant was cutting a downward vertical arc. I swiftly sidestepped then sliced out horizontally, an attack it barely managed to back-step in time, obviously taken off guard by my enhanced speed and agility. The hesitation didn’t last long as the sergeant’s huge boot kicked out. I weaved underneath and cut up at his exposed knee. But the Space Marine had withdrawn his foot far too fast and was cutting his power sword in a huge horizontal arc. I slid back, only just out of its path and sidestepped the Space Marine’s following thrust.

Then something odd occurred, the Space Marine laughed. Its laugh was somehow even more terrifying than it’s roaring and curses. It boomed down the corridor, like a bolter shot and made me flinch in fright, then for the first time, I heard a Space Marine speak.

“You are quick, tiny man,” he said, with amusement. “A challenge, almost. I never thought I would find a mortal who could even start to fight me mono a mono.”

I grinned through my gasps, “I’m not mortal,” I said.

The Space Marine tilted his huge helmeted head in what seemed to be curiosity then I was moving, cutting out at his thigh. The Space Marine’s power sword blurred and parried my attack with ease; the impact made pain shiver up my arms and sent me stumbling sideways. I barely managed to lean aside of his uppercutting gauntlet, then dart away from his slashing sword, slipping back out of range from another potential attack.

The Space Marine laughed again and pointed the tip of his sword at my head, “you! You are quite skilled! For being able to stand against me, you deserve the honour of knowing my name! I am veteran sergeant Letharc of the sixth company of the Desolation Inculpators! And I will slay you in the God-Emperor’s name! Traitor!”

I grinned again, dearly wanting to see how well Darrance was going against his opponent but didn’t dare take my attention from Letharc for even the barest fraction of a second.

I pointed my sword at his head and echoed his stance, “I am Attelus Kaltos, mercenary assassin now given purpose! And I am not a traitor; I’m the same as you, merely a pawn manipulated to be here!”

“I am no one’s pawn!” roared the Space Marine, his strange sanguine mood replaced suddenly by terrifying rage, and he hurtled at me like a huge, psychotic grox.

My eyes wide and teeth clenched in fear, I dived aside. The Space Marine rushed past, and his slipstream hit me in mid-air with the force of a tank, throwing me across the floor, bouncing for what felt like forever before finally coming to a stop. My whole body was alive with agony and stars briefly dominated my vision. If it wasn’t for my Wraithbone bone structure, I was sure I would’ve been far worse off.

The tumultuous footfalls of the Space Marine seemed to shake everything like the strongest Varanderian earthquake as he slowly approached me. Bellowing laughter again and his shadow darkened my vision. My back was to him, but I could see from his silhouette he was raising his foot for the finishing blow, and he said.

“You are quick for a mortal, but you are still like all of your kind. So very breakable.”

Before I even knew I was moving, I was on my feet and pivoting into a thrust, a thrust that impaled him through his breastplate almost to the hilt.

If he felt any pain at all, he didn’t show it, but his complete silence seemed to announce his shock louder than any cry or yell.

“It seems we have more in common than just being pawns!” I snarled, then with all my strength and a roar almost as loud and powerful as an Astartes. I turned, and with the sound of cracking ceramite and the spraying of blood, I pulled my crackling blade up through his chest then out the top of his skull. My back was to the Space Marine, but I heard and felt him crash into the floor with such force it seemed to shake the entire tower.

I had no time to even slightly consider the seemingly impossible achievement I had just managed before the sounds of Darrance’s struggle drew my attention.

He had lost his sword, and his right arm hung limp, bloody and broken. His face was a mask of grimacing desperation, as he constantly dodged and darted through the Space Marines horrifically fast-flying fists and kicks. I saw the Marine’s bolter laying nearby, almost cut in two.

Fighting against my pained limbs, and attempting to abate my incessant gasping. I charged at the Space Marine’s vast back. It was only about ten metres between the Marine and me, it took me less than a split second to make the distance and my footfalls, all but silent across the floor, but somehow he was in the midst of turning toward me as I lunged at him. So my sword stabbed straight through his faceplate instead of the back of his head.

Instantly I kicked out into the Marine’s gorget, allowing me to tug out my power sword and dropped to the floor as the Desolation Inculpator. I landed harder than predicted, my knees buckled from the impact and forced me into a crouch. I gasped once, twice then my attention rose to Darrance.

He gaped at me with eyes as wide as saucers while clutching at his arm; it was without a shadow of a doubt that I’d never seen Darrance in such a state before.

“How?” he managed.

“Luck,” I said with a shrug, as I slowly stood, my whole body shook with adrenaline and fear on a level I’d never felt before. Like I’d just drunk twenty cups of caffeine in as many seconds.

He continued to gape, his jaw working dumbly.

“Or the blessing of the Emperor!” I snarled sarcastically, losing my patience. “Get it together; we’ve gotta move.”

I smiled as I pushed past Darrance, it felt good to be the one chastising him for a change.

Darrance, seemed to find himself quite quickly and pulled an injector from one of his belt pouches and plugged it into his neck, injecting it with an audible hiss.

Painkillers or combat enhancers? Both more likely, either way, it was more than fair enough under the circumstances.

In silence, we moved back toward the northern elevators, and as we approached the t junction, I stopped at the corner and peeked around it.

“Clear!” I hissed through clenched teeth, and we slipped out, swords raised. Darrance was forced to wield his normally two-handed scimitar with one hand, but he still managed to carry it quite well.

I bit back a sigh, finding I was missing Elandria more than ever now. I would’ve given anything for her to be here than Darrance, her or Castella. It seemed due to our similar specialities Darrance, and I had been forced into an impromptu partnership. But the thing was I didn’t like him, and he didn’t like me. Also, he lacked the physical assets both Elandria, and Castella held in abundance.

I shook away the thought, sickened by it.

“Tell me how, apprentice,” snarled Darrance suddenly.

I rolled my eyes, “you saw how!” I whispered back. “Took him by surprise while he was trying to kill you!”

“No, I meant the other one,” he said. “I saw his remains...How?”

“Luck, okay?” I snapped. “Now keep quiet! They might…”

I wandered off in mid-sentence as abruptly another two Space Marines plodded into view, in blocking the elevators. Both had bolters; one held a huge auspex the other had a meltabomb and looked like he was about to use it.

For a split second, they stood looking at us, as if caught unawares, then their bolt guns were raised.

“Stairs!” I yelled and without hesitation, Darrance I split up. I darted up the left side stairs; he went up the right. Taking them two at a time, with an almost reckless abandon.

“After them!” I heard one roar and then came the thundering, shaking of running feet. I made it up the first flight a millisecond before bolt rounds exploded the wall where I was and started up the second.

The Space Marine’s curses echoed up the stairs after me and a split second after the stairs shook with his ascent. I found the third flight and quickly from the space of his footfalls calculated he was taking four steps at a time and would be upon me in another two flights. I was the quicker sprinter, but his legs were almost as long as I was tall, a huge advantage right now.

Upon reaching the peak of the fourth stairwell and a desperate plan instantaneously formed in my thoughts. With quick hands I unlocked the door with my key card, flung it open and slipped behind it, my back to the wall, holding it so hidden.

All of this took less than a second but was done only just before the Space Marine was on the turn. I held my breath, knowing he would hear my breathing, perhaps even smell my sweat. When he didn’t continue upwards, I knew he hadn’t fallen for it, so pushed the door closed and moved, flinging myself hard against the floor, out of sight, behind the next flight of stairs. The bolter rounds ripped the handrail and wall asunder in my wake.

“You are quick, little boy,” said the Space Marine as I heard his feet slowly started ascending. “Or girl, I can’t tell, I doubt many can. You are far quicker than a normal human, and you seem immune to my auspex. What are you? Mechanicum enhanced? Did that traitor Rogue Trader have you made? As a bodyguard, maybe? Or as an assassin? I would have given you the chance to surrender, but with that trick you just tried to pull, you must have thought I was stupid. I also smell the stench of a recently dispelled powerfield. You wield a power sword and that combined with your speed makes you a threat, even for an Astartes like me.”

I sniggered, “your two brothers found that out the hard way,” I gasped. “And for a Space Marine, you talk way too much.”

There was a long, weighted pause and the Space Marine’s feet stopped, then he laughed, it was the very last reaction I’d expected.

“You are trying to bait me,” he said, it was a bland statement, not a question. “I had recently lost the signatures of brother-sergeant Letharc and brother Pellrenth, did you kill them? Did you actually manage to kill them? An impressive feat, I must confess. Although I do suspect the reason you managed it, was they underestimated you. I will not make the same mistake.”

Then something heavy suddenly landed beside me, and I knew what it was without even looking. My arm instinctively shot out, my tiny hand barely able to wrap around it even slightly but my enhanced strength allowed me to keep my grip and throw it down the stairs with a grunt. I smiled as I heard the Space Marine yell out, then the frag grenade explode. I fought the urge to lunge down the stairs and try to plunge my sword into the Marine I didn’t know what condition he was in, so the risk wasn’t worth the reward. I leapt to my feet and started sprinting up the next flight of stairs. Despite his claim not to underestimate me, the Space Marine had managed to do just that.

I swiped open the next door and dashed inside just before more bolter shots bellowed after me. I ran into an office area, a vast expansive room filled with rows upon rows of cogitator desks. I hadn’t chosen this floor by accident. Instinct innately made me weave, dart side to side, through the fire aimed at my back. I vaulted and leapt over and around the countless obstacles in my way, never slowing, never hesitating as bolt rounds exploded and tore apart everything around indiscriminately. Ancient cogitators, each worth more thrones than I’d see in a lifetime, destroyed forever. It would’ve saddened the long-suppressed historical scholar in me if I wasn’t running for my life.

There was only one exit, one door set in the centre of the northernmost wall and seeing this caused me to curse. I veered right, knowing that would lead me toward the corridor leading toward the elevators. I needed to get to the 31st floor, needed to get there to convince Helma to bring Adelana and the others with us. I just hoped they’d taken my advice and gone to Vex’s office instead of being evacuated like everyone else.

My hand reached into one of the pouches on my belt and pulled out two krak grenades, a simple act made hard while in flight, and would’ve been impossible for almost anyone else. I risked a glance over my shoulder. Seeing that the Space Marine hadn’t followed me further into the room, electing to stand near the doorway and to shoot at me from there, as I’d hoped he would.

With a laugh, I discreetly primed both grenades then slid, pivoting on the balls of my shoes and threw one in a curving arc straight at the Space Marine. He reacted instantaneously, faster than the other Marines before, diving to the side as it detonated. I’d predicted this as well, so threw the second straight into his path. It exploded right next to him, and he roared in rage and pain.

Not daring to dwell on my achievement, I ran for the doors, pushed the unlock button and shoulder barged through. I turned right, a second before more bolter rounds shattered the glass doors after me. I sprinted on whispering curses constantly; I’d hoped the grenade would’ve killed him or slowed him down more, but alas.

Struggling to breathe, I slowed to a jog. I needed a rest; I needed to…

My thoughts were interrupted by the roar through the wall, I stopped and saw the Space Marine smash into the corridor a few metres ahead of me. His armour was blackened and cracked; the explosion had knocked off his helmet, showing me for the first time the blunt, flat, cheek boneless features of an Astartes. Half of his face was bloody and battered. If I’d continued sprinting, he would’ve crushed me into a pulp.

“You! Little! Bastard!” he growled, raising his bolter and aiming it at my skull.

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