I leaned aside of the shot and was about to dart forward, but a second round forced me to the floor. I rolled into a crouch and with the flat of my sword desperately knocked aside the next. Sending it careening and exploding a large hole in the wall, it sent horrid jolts up my arms causing me to cry out. I clenched my teeth, ignoring it and knocked away another and slowly began to advance. Dodging and ducking, deflecting and darting through shot after shot, but I was merely delaying the inevitable, I knew. The Marine laughed.
“You cannot keep this up forever!” he roared, having lost all sign of his earlier calm and calculated manner. “I will not let you close in! And I will avenge my brothers!”
Just need another metre! My mind screamed.
I took one more half a step and in my exhaustion miscalculated the next shot, it detonated far too close to the hilt, sending it flying from my grasp. Any other sword would’ve exploded into shards then, sending them slicing into me in the ultimate betrayal for a swordsman, but it was a mastercrafted Velrosian blade, so stayed in one piece.
My instinct screamed that there was only one way to close the gap and threw myself forwards, into a dive. An action that seemed to take the Marine off guard for less than a split second, he didn’t expect me to keep advancing without my sword, it was only a split second, but it was enough for me. Bolter shots thundered over me by mere millimetres, and I finished in a crouch. Ejected a throwing knife from my sleeve and sent it flying with a backhanded throw. I was only two metres away, and it moved so fast it almost instantaneously embedded in the Marine’s left eye socket. He cried out and reeled it would only last a nanosecond, but I was leaping, pulling out my last krak grenade, primed it then stuffed it into the Marine’s gaping maw.
I darted back as it went off and the Marine’s head was just suddenly gone. A krak grenade was designed to take out tanks; they exploded in a smaller concentrated radius so there was very little shrapnel, luckily for me or else I could’ve been torn apart by shards of his skull.
For a few seconds, the Marine’s corpse stood deathly still before abruptly collapsing against the wall and slid to the floor.
I stood, trying to catch my breath, gazing down at the body. I’d almost like this Space Marine. I almost regretted killing him. Then I laughed, I didn’t mean to, it just burst from my throat in an insane bark. That was the third of the inhuman Astartes dead at my hand! I have managed to achieve three times in one day not many others could claim in a lifetime! What other absurd things would I manage to do in my now limitless life?
My laughter slowly faded into a chuckle, now truly glad I hadn’t used that grenade on those mercenaries in Edracian’s fortress earlier. It was funny; somehow I knew that was that very same grenade, fate was a truly strange mistress, wasn’t it?
Shaking my head, I turned back and retrieved my sword, and although there was no blood on it, instinct made me whip it before sheathing it. I approached the dead Marine and bowed in the most profound respect, before setting off again at a brisk pace while fighting the roiling sickness in my stomach.
With the Marine dead, I now heard the battle still rumbling through the lower floors. The now way too familiar sound of bolter shots, accompanied by the immediate screams of agony and death. I could still hear las shots and solid projectile fire here and there, sometimes.
I peered around the corner, leading to the elevator lobby cautiously and held back a relieved sigh when found the coast was clear. Unlike on the other lower levels, this lobby only had one exit and entrance, yet another reason why I’d chosen this floor. I was glad so thrilled I’d taken the time to learn the layout of much of Taryst’s tower. I’d decided to use the southern elevators, guessing that Karmen would have her puppets guard that side the most due to it having the only lift to Taryst’s grotto.
I pushed the elevator call button then instantly slipped to left side wall, as I saw the elevator there was the one ascending, sword now activated and readied. They were significant, strong, sturdy things I knew they could carry two, maybe three Space Marines, so my caution was more than justified.
It only took a few seconds for the elevator to find this floor but it felt like a lifetime before it finally dinged, and the doors opened.
I had to fight the almost overwhelming urge to immediately just run in there; I kept waiting, watching. It wasn’t until the doors had almost slid completely closed that I moved, placing my foot between them, so they opened again. It was empty, much to my relief and stepped inside.
I pushed the button for the 31st floor, such an absurdly, stupidly simple act under the circumstances I couldn’t help but laugh.
The elevator surged into its ascent, and I slipped my shaking hands into the pockets of my flak jacket then tapped the tip of my shoe on the floor at an even faster rate than usual. I was still high on adrenaline, it made me twitchy and impatient, my breathing shallow while watching the changing numbers on the screen overhead.
It felt like my lungs could explode in any second and my thoughts whirled with anxiety. Had Helma and the others reached the 31st floor? Had they even made it to the elevators? If they had was Karmen still with them? Had a stray bolt round managed to hit her? We were risking much in this escape attempt, what was going to happen after we lifted off? How were we going to escape the Astartes ships and into the warp? So much was left to do, left to achieve.
I sighed and turned to look out the window, away from the ascending numbers. Omnartus travelled out before me, as far as I could see and the mountain range far further south. I remembered what seemed like a lifetime ago, looking out at the mountains, thinking of the flowers that had evolved to survive at high altitudes to avoid the pollution that had covered most of the surface of the world. I’d never thought until now that it was a good metaphor for me. I’d gained much since then, an almost indestructible bone structure, reflexes far beyond that of a normal human being but what I’d gained more than anything else, was wisdom.
The elevator found the 31st floor and there the view of the hive outside the window was abruptly engulfed in thick blackish brown of the pollution clouds.
As I turned and exited the elevator, knowing that was, perhaps, the last look I would ever get of Omnartus. Then abruptly I realised that it was most definitely the last look I would get of Omnartus, it was soon to be dead. Dead just because of a simple pict I took. There was no way we could stop the Space Marines from destroying it. No way in hell.
My heart sunk and horrid regret, fear and anger seemed to expand through my chest like cold, painful writhing tendrils.
“Why did it have to come to this?” I whispered to myself while walking into the corridors. “Why? Emperor, why?”
I felt tears welling in my eyes and let them flow freely.
What had I done to deserve this?
Despite being almost lost in loathing self-pity, I walked the corridors, instinct making me innately find the fastest way. When I’d reached the huge cogitator cavern, I saw six Storm Troopers, Selg, Hayden, Torris, Jelket and Roldar standing guard around the medicae assistant and Karmen’s bed, just outside Vex’s office. They all looked far more beaten and battered than when I last saw them, and I had a bad feeling those storm troopers included the ones Olinthre had earlier left to look after Vex. I hurried my pace, jogging toward Karmen to see if she was okay.
Without a word of greeting they let me through and I only just managed to notice their silent expressions of awe at seeing me still alive.
“How is she?” I asked, and it took me a second or so to recall his name again. “Halsin?”
“She is fine,” said Halsin his already enlarged eyes even larger behind his glasses. “I...I…”
“I, what?” I snapped and instantly regretted my tone, I was tired and oh so irritable. “I’m sorry.”
“I do not understand how you can still be fine,” he said.
I pursed my lips and shrugged, “got lucky, I suppose,” I said.
Hayden approached, patted me on the shoulder and said, “that and a frigging shit ton of skill, I bet. Do you know how Darrance is?”
I flinched, realising I hadn’t spared one thought for my erstwhile comrade, “I don’t know, we got split up in the chaos. It looks like you guys ran into trouble too.”
Hayden nodded, “found another Space Marine on the ground floor, tore its way through us like a whirlwind, killed six of the stormtroopers with us. Would’ve killed us all if Thol hadn’t purposely overloaded his plasma gun, the explosion vaporised him and mortally wounded the Marine. I finished it off with a point-blank shot of my long-las.
I nodded and sighed, I barely knew Thol, so his death didn’t affect me much, but the destruction of the Plasma gun irked me. With Darrance MIA and that gone it just put more pressure on me to be the damned hero. Now I’d seen the endurance of an Astartes first hand I doubted that a hot shot from Hayden’s long las would affect them much unless at close range.
“That’s six down, I suppose, I said.
Hayden’s brow furrowed in bemusement, about to ask me to elaborate I was sure, but then Helma, Arlathan, Verenth and five more stormtroopers emerged from the office, a sullen looking Vex in tow. I could hear weeping, and pitiful pleading and an ugly, middle-aged woman I instantly recognised as one of Adelana’s colleagues walked out after them.
“Please!” she cried as she tried to grab at Helma’s elbow. “Take us with you! Please!”
“Get away!” snarled Helma, snatching back her arm. “All non-combatants were meant to evacuate! You should have left with the others! Emperor only knows…”
The captain trailed off in her sentence and gaped as she saw me.
“You!” yelled the lady at me and behind her, I could see the kid, the gruff old man and lastly Adelana emerging from the office. Adelana’s smile made me weak at the knees. “We did as you told,” carried on the woman, who I’d momentarily forgotten was there let alone speaking to me you ‘Go to Vex’s office at the first sign of trouble,’ so here we are! Please help us!”
Tearing my attention away from Adelana I nodded and smiled the most reassuring smile I could muster at her, but for the life of me, I couldn’t frigging remember her name.
“We need to take them with us,” I said to Helma in my most commanding tone.
Helma’s eyes narrowed, “did that Space Marine smash your brain out of your head? Are you insane, or stupid? You yourself couldn’t tell for sure how big Taryst’s escape craft is! They might not be able to fit with the rest of us! Anyway, even if it does they’ll slow us down, it’s a no go, I...
She trailed off in her sentence and her features softened for a second and for that second she seemed, despite her huge scar, almost beautiful.
“I am sorry, Attelus but...”
+We are taking them with us!+ Karmen’s voice suddenly echoed through my thoughts, and everyone else’s it seemed as we all seemed to flinch in fright simultaneously.
“Is that you, the infamous Karmen Kons, I’ve heard so much about!” snarled Helma. “You finally deem us worthy enough to speak to us?”
+I have been occupied,+ she replied, hesitantly and I could tell she was exhausted. +I can tell you for a fact, captain, that Taryst’s ship does indeed have enough space for them and us. We are taking them with us!+
“But…!” tried Helma but Karmen interrupted her.
+There is no time to argue! There are very few mercenaries left now, and soon the Astartes will be here!+
Helma grimaced, looking like she’d try but she let out a huge, irritated groan before bellowing.
“Alright! Alright! Attelus, it’s because of you, they’re here, so they’re your damned responsibility! The witch is right! We’ve got to move!”
With that, she waved us onward, and we began toward the exit. I fell in step with Adelana.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I shrugged and pursed my lips, “I did nothing, it’s Karmen you should thank, not me,” I said, and I couldn’t help wonder why she did.
She shrugged back, “you still tried, so thank you.”
She hid it well, very well, actually but with all my years of training, I could still tell the poor girl was utterly terrified. I couldn’t help but be impressed and even a bit envious. She was better than me at hiding her emotions even after all that time I had spent as Glaitis’ apprentice. Already, I could see potential in her, great potential.
That might’ve been why Karmen had insisted they come with us.
“It was the very least I could do,” said, feeling my face flush almost walked into Hayden’s back as he and the others suddenly stopped in their tracks.
“Too late,” said Helma as five Space Marines, their bolters raised, abruptly fanned out into the cavernous room.
“How?” managed Roldar, a nanosecond before they opened fire.
With all five shots fired someone went down, Jelket’s right arm exploded, and the poor man couldn’t even scream as he was flung onto his back and instantly lost consciousness. Selg’s large chest suddenly had a huge hole I could’ve seen through if it wasn’t for the deluge of blood. One of the stormtroopers lost his head, literally. Another’s torso simply evaporated, and a third Storm Trooper’s hip and stomach were gone.
The rest of us leapt for the cover of the surrounding cogitators, I gripped Adelana by the arm and pulled her roughly after me. The old, gruff man being a combat veteran wasn’t far behind, but the middle-aged woman flung herself foolishly to the floor, but the boy didn’t even move. He just stood still, slack-jawed and stupefied, and I couldn’t blame him, in all honesty. Not even I could run fast enough to save him before a bolt round exploded his body from the hips upward into nothing but red mist.
Adelana cried out what I assumed to be the boy’s name, but I couldn’t even begin to hear her over the deafening cacophony which seemed to shake the entire structure to its core.
But the woman somehow, miraculously stayed unscathed as she coward through the chaos.
The survivors leaned out and fired back; there were countless lines of cogitators between the Marines and us. But they were shattered and smashed easily; they wouldn’t protect us for too much longer.
I cursed, kneeling and clutching at my sword. I was useless right now, there was no way I could dash across the room through that amount of bolter fire without being hit, and even if I did somehow manage that, then I’d be locked in close combat with five frigging Space Marines.
Fighting one at a time was bad enough, thank you!
I felt a shaking hand grab at my flak jacket’s sleeve, and I turned to find it was Adelana, her beautiful blue eyes filled with tears. It pained me to see her so upset, and she pointed at the woman who was still curled up in the middle of the thoroughfare, still somehow unharmed. I knew what Adelana wanted me to do, in all honesty, I didn’t care much for the woman. But with a roar, I still suicidally sprinted out of cover, grabbed the woman by the scruff and with all my remaining strength, hurled her behind the next line of cogitators. Despite her obvious obesity, I threw her with ease and even over the bolter fire, I heard a crunch and her piggish squeal in agony as the impact broke something. Making me wince in sympathy.
I darted back to join up with Adelana and the old man, feeling the fire strafing my wake.
As I made it, Adelana abruptly threw her arms around me in a tight embrace; her thanks murmured into my chest as the old man clasped my shoulder and I couldn’t help but think what Karmen thought of this.
“Karmen!” I roared. “Karmen! Why the hell didn’t you see them coming? You’ve gotta do something we’re trapped like rats and pinned down!” Please!”
+I am doing something!+ her voice growled in my head so strong it made me wince with pain. +I need to concentrate so leave me alone! Just watch your left!+
Her psychic voice conveyed more than just anger at my interruption, but also something else, shaking away the thought I looked left, past the cowering woman and the blank, black plastcrete wall beyond.
What the hell did she mean by that? Adelana let go of me as Roldar died, a bolt round blew half his torso into oblivion as he attempted to lean out to shoot his inherited Hellgun.
“Damn it!” I breathed. “Roldar!”
Another stormtrooper was torn apart a second after, Torris who took cover beside the poor bastard screamed as fragments of bone and carapace armour embedded in him. He fell to the floor, clutching at his face.
Then I saw something I never thought I’d ever see, Arlathan Karkin burst from cover with surprising speed, grabbed the unconscious Jelket by the gorget of his flak armour and pulled him into shelter. Halsin then ran up and began the utterly pointless attempt at stemming the blood.
I sighed and shook my head while scratching the back of my skull, Torris was surely a more savable cause, but he was two rows back, so they didn’t know he was injured at all.
“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” yelled Adelana, sounding admirably calm.
I opened my mouth, my first instinct to lie but as I met her gaze, it died in my throat.
My reply was instead a sad smile, and carefully, I peered around the corner to see the Space Marines. They hadn’t advanced at all, just stood out in the opening, shooting through the lines of cogitators, there were only a dozen rows left, we didn’t have much time.
A hand landed lightly on my shoulder, making me flinch in fright, and I turned to see it was the old man. He held pushed me aside and pulled out an autopistol tucked in his pants. Tears welled in my eyes as I instantly recognised it. It was Castella’s; she’d given it to him in the mailroom hours before.
I fought the urge to snatch the pistol from his hand as he raised it and fired. The gun was his now his, and I had no right to take it.
Besides, he’d be better at shooting it than me, I was sure.
The old man emptied the clip pistol’s clip and miraculously wasn’t torn apart in that ten-second time span.
With practised professionalism, he pulled back, ejected the empty clip and reloaded, then turned to me.
“Where is she?” he asked. “The nice, beautiful young woman who had given me this?”
I winced and hissed, my attention falling to the floor.
The man’s expression turned sympathetic as he instantly understood.
“I am sorry,” he grunted. “I hope she died well.”
I shrugged, my eyes still downcast, not sure if she did.
“Well!” he said as he popped out to shoot a few shots. “Have no fear! Looks as though we will be joining her soon! At the God-Emperor’s side!”
Again, I shrugged and shuffled my feet, knowing that I won’t be, not for long anyway, also because I knew that sentiment was complete and utter bullshit, to be absorbed by the warp was the only fate for our souls.
I wanted to say this, but held my tongue, knowing now wasn’t the time for such words.
I winced as the echoing destruction of the cogitators became even louder, it would be soon, very soon I would be losing even more friends.
+Clear the left side wall!+ said Karmen, +and be ready to move!+
“What?” I said less than second before an explosion suddenly shuddered the entire place, it was so strong that even the Space Marines hesitated in their fire. Another followed that it knocked the old man off his feet, and I stopped Adelana from falling with a quick hand on her shoulder.
+Someone hold on to me please!+ she cried, then there was a third explosion.
I saw a large part of the wall had become superheated and I realised what was happening a second before the fourth explosion finally blew a huge hole through in a rain of heavy, ground shaking debris. Instantly a flier screamed through the gap; the pintle mounted autocannon set in the ships open side spewing withering fire at the Space hovered low off the floor and waited.
+Get in!+ Karmen screamed.
It took me less than a second to recover my wits then I was pushing Adelana and the old man toward it.
“Go! Go!” I yelled and they needed no more prompting, they ran across the gap and together helped the injured woman to her feet.
I glanced out from the corner; the Space Marines had fallen back into the corridor, not even their armour could withstand autocannon fire. Yet still, they were trying to shoot back from behind their cover.
After seeing this, I sprinted out, straight toward Karmen, Jelket, Arlathan, Halsin and a remaining stormtrooper
“I’ll take Karmen!” I yelled, pushing past the stormtrooper to take her bed off him. “Arlathan, Halsin! Take Jelket! You! Torris is injured behind the last row; he needs your help!”
I didn’t wait for a reply, before I was moving again, almost recklessly pushing her toward the flier as bolt rounds exploded around me, she was strapped down so safe from falling off, but I could still trip and fall.
Eventually, I reached the flier, running to the other side, then with Adelana’s and the old man’s help, lifted her inside.
I turned in time to see Verenth, Vex and Helma climb inside, both of them didn’t bother to spare me a look, both looked beyond terrified. Verenth looked like he was on the verge of despair, Selg was dead, his friend. I didn’t know what to say.
I slipped past and looked around the edge of the flier, seeing to my satisfaction that they’d followed my orders. Arlathan and Halsin carried poor Jelket, who much to my shock, was somehow now semi-conscious. His head lolled about, his face a mask of shock and agony.
Following them was the stormtrooper struggling with Torris, the large ex-arbitrator’s arm over his shoulder, his face coated completely in blood. I looked down to the entrance, the Space Marines were pinned, but I doubted that they would be for much longer. I saw no sign of any
Without hesitation, I sprinted forward, making the roughly twenty-metre space in such a short time the stormtrooper didn’t notice me until I was slipping Torris’ left arm over my shoulders, forcing him to flinch in fright.
“Come on!” I roared, and together we ran toward the flier.
Just then, the frigging autocannon decided to run out of ammunition.
I reacted faster than even I knew, shoving the stormtrooper into cover. He cried out and fell to the floor as I slipped beside him.
With a roar, I lifted Torris onto my back; he was a good one hundred and thirty kilograms even out of his armour. It was a feat of strength I would’ve been utterly incapable of before my enhancement, but even now it was a struggle, my back and legs screamed in pain.
Roaring again, I ran on with all the speed I could muster, stepping side to side in a pathetic bid to avoid to the surely soon to come bolter fire, but I knew it was all for nothing. I heard Torris mutter something about leaving him behind.
But the bolter fire never came. Instead, there was a yell, a pained cry that made me look over my shoulder, what I saw made my eyes widen with surprise and almost stop in my tracks entirely.
Darrance was amongst the Space Marines, his power scimitar a blur of slashes, keeping them at bay. One of the big bastards was on the ground, both of his legs cut off at the knees, three of them were disarmed, their bolters cut in twain and discarded on the floor
The stormtrooper then caught up and helped me carry Torris the rest of the way. We didn’t bother to take him around the other side of the flier, together with help from Arlathan and Halsin we lifted Torris into the ship.
+Get in!+ Karmen roared in my mind, but I ignored her, turning back to watch Darrance in his desperate fight.
“No!” I said and started into a sprint, activating my power sword in a blaze of blue light.
+Attelus!+ she cried, but I ignored her, enough people had died this day! I didn’t like Darrance he was arrogant and at times downright cruel and incredibly condescending. A jerk who I would never even consider being friends with, but he was a comrade, we’d fought side by side on numerous occasions. He had willingly put his life on the line against the ornithopter only because I’d asked. He’d stood up for me when Etuarq had cruelly torn into me verbally.
I wasn’t going to let another comrade die after losing so many already, not even Darrance.
As I ran, Darrance was disarmed, one of the Space Marines smashing his sword from his grasp with a mere flick of his wrist, then he was in the midst of wrapping his huge paw around the stunned Darrance’s neck was when I converged on them.
All their attention was on my comrade, so they didn’t see me coming until my power sword sliced through the wrist of the Space Marine reaching to crush my comrade’s windpipe. I darted forward and cut apart another’s bolter.
“let’s go!” I roared, and we turned, sprinting and weaving as the last remaining bolter fired at our backs while the rest gave chase. Their huge feet were hitting the floor so hard it was a struggle for me to keep my footing as they shook everything.
“Karmen!” I yelled. “Get the flier going!”
She didn’t respond.
+You’re insane!+ she screamed, her psychic voice high pitched with panic and upset.
“Just...frigging...do...it!” I screamed, wanting to say, ‘I’m nearly there,’ but said nothing, knowing now wasn’t the time for my snark.
A second later the flier lifted and started toward the huge hole in the wall, hovering only about a metre off the floor.
With a feral snarl, I picked up the pace and glanced over my shoulder, Darrance was lagging a good three metres behind. He was barely keeping his distance from the pursuing Marines.
“Frig!” I snarled as I saw the nearest Marine’s gauntleted hand reaching to wrap around Darrance’s ankle.
The hotshot took the Marine straight in the face, it didn’t kill him but sent him sprawling backwards, head over heels, smashing hard into the Astartes running just behind.
Despite myself, I laughed and turned away raising my sword in thanks to Hayden a second before the flier flew through the hole.
I veered right as the distance lessened and saw the flier turn outside, so its side was facing the tower, Hayden and Arlathan waving us in. The gap was a good five metres wide; I was pretty confident I’d make it, even onto a rumbling constantly moving flier, just but Darrance.
It was a frigging long way down, thirty-one stories down to a very, very messy death.
Despite this I didn’t hesitate, throwing myself into oblivion toward the open. I screamed, my arms swinging, flailing around as if it’d make me go further somehow. I mustn’t have spent more than a second flying through the air, but it felt like a million frigging years. A million years, screaming before finally landing on the ledge of the passenger area of the flier with such strength it caused pain to echo up my legs and me to cry out.
I cried out, my hands spinning around as I began to overbalance and fall. Arlathan’s hand grabbed me by the collar of my flak jacket and pulled me back in.
Arlathan looked like he was about to say something but I ignored him and turned just in time to see Darrance jumping off after me.
Instantly, I knew he wasn’t going to make it, not by a long shot.
With a cry, I sheathed my sword, threw myself to the floor and reached out, down below the flier’s bottom side and my fingers barely wrapped around the wrist of Darrance’s reaching arm.
Darrance yelled out, and he swung to a stop as the flier began to pull away
“That is the second time I meant to die today!” he cried. “But it is the second time you’ve stopped me from doing so! Soon you might be even with me, apprentice!”
I laughed and began to pull him up, but there was a cry of dismay then something huge and heavy landed abruptly landed into the flier. Something so huge and heavy it caused the ship to tilt sideways a good thirty degrees violently. Before even I could react, I abruptly slid off the deck and flew into the air.
I screamed, and my hand shot out desperately, only just catching the ledge with my index finger and thumb. I screamed again, the wind and cold battered at me as I struggled to get a better grip while the combined weights of Darrance and me threatened to make me let go. The flier abruptly adjusts itself flat, only a split second after I got my grip, but I still couldn’t see what was going on inside.
A body flew from the flier. I knew it was dead because it didn’t scream and I managed to see brains and blood flood from its crushed skull. Blood which coated Darrance and me as it dropped by us. I couldn’t tell who it was; it fell too fast.
I hoped to hell it wasn’t Adelana.
“Karmen!” I screamed as the flier began to veer and my fingers started to slip. “Help me!”
Then on the left someone abruptly fell to the deck, their head over the edge, looking down at me with wide eyes. It was the old man; I still couldn’t remember his name.
“Help! Please!” I cried.
The old man didn’t reply, couldn’t reply as two huge, armoured fingers wrapped around his neck and squeezed.
The man’s head popped off with an almost absurd abruptness, then his corpse was tilted forward and off the edge, falling through the black-brown clouds out of sight.
Then the Marine appeared over us; its uncompromising red eyes gazed down unforgivingly, unrelentingly then began to reach out.
I cried out and closed my eyes, preparing myself for the pain and long fall after but instead, I felt the fingers wrap gently, almost daintily around my hand and suddenly I was hauled back onto the craft along with Darrance. The Marine lifted us with breathtaking ease.
Gasping for breath, I tried to comprehend what had just happened but I was quickly answered.
+I cannot hold it for much longer!+ Karmen’s voice screamed through my thoughts.
Either she had miscalculated or was using understatement because a split second later, he shook his head and was seeming to regain himself. Then began to advance on Darrance, drawing back his fist. I fumbled for my sword, but my arms, my fingers and upper body screamed with pain. I glance about, leaning on my left elbow to see the others were crowded in the furthest corner, holding on for dear life. Adelana was there, much to my relief, Arlathan, Verenth, Torris and the old woman, the one remaining stormtrooper. Helma and Halsin were laid still on the deck. Hayden’s back was sitting back against the wall beside Karmen’s bed and Jelket, his head hung limping lifelessly forward, and I winced as I saw his right shoulder was almost crushed into pulp.
Darrance scrambled back, trying to make space between him and the behemoth but his back quickly hit the edge of the entranceway the Marine, punching to crush Darrance’s slightly built body.
The hotshot round exploded deafeningly through the flier, hitting the Space Marine in the punching fist, causing him to stumble slightly. I turned to see Hayden; he had his smoking long las raised with one hand.
It was only a slight opening, but it was enough as Arlathan sprinted forward with a roar and the stormtrooper opened fire with his Hellgun, shooting the Marine in the face in an almost constant stream of las.
Arlathan drew a short sword from a scabbard on his belt, and it came to life in a blaze of light. I recognised it immediately as one of Glaitis’ power blades. I’d forgotten he’d taken it after her death and with one slash, cut it into the back of the Space Marine’s knee.
The Marine didn’t make a sound, no scream or anything but his leg gave out even still, and he dropped into a kneel.
Before Arlathan could finish him, the Space Marine swung out his hand and clipped the Magistratum detective’s chest. I winced with the sound of bones breaking, and he was sent flying against the wall, unconscious. He would’ve slipped out the door if Torris hadn’t run out and stopped him.
One of Hayden’s hot shots hit the Space Marine square in the face, breaking in the Marine’s faceplate and sent him crashing onto his back, growling, writhing.
Darrance was finally on his feet and running as I felt hands wrap under my arms and began dragging me across the floor. I looked over my shoulder to see it was Adelana and Vex.
I gave Adelana a smile which she returned and turned to watch as Darrance snatched up the fallen sword, activated it and plunged it down into the Marine’s throat, with all of his weight and momentum behind it.
The Marine’s blood coated the deck but he wasn’t dead as he tried to crush Darrance in his grasp, one last ditch to kill another of us before he bleeds out, but with a roar, Darrance tore the sword through his chin, then skull and lastly out the top of his helm in an explosion of ichor.
It was exactly how I’d killed the sergeant earlier.
Darrance abruptly fell to his knees as the rest of us just looked on, utterly stunned at what had just happened.
We’d escaped from the building, so now what?
+Someone close the doors,+ said Karmen, her tone was strained and pained, but also I could hear the anger in there. More than likely anger aimed at me for a myriad amount of different reasons.
+We are going to fly to the top of the tower,+ she said. +There is little oxygen there, and it is freezing, someone, please close the doors and get seated.+
Her tone could’ve been mistaken as condescending, but I could tell it was exhaustion mixed with impatience.
Torris and the Stormtrooper were the ones who finally found themselves enough to slide close the doors.
“What?” said Darrance as he approached the unconscious Arlathan and started to check his vital signs. “What do you plan on doing then? Shooting your way in again?”
Karmen’s weighted silence was enough to say that was precisely what she was planning.
Slowly, I climbed to my feet, helped by Adelana and Vex.
“There must be Space Marines up there already,” I said as we went to approach the seats.
+I have the void shield still activated,+ she said. +They cannot enter Taryst’s quarters if they are. I can deactivate it once we get there!+
I sighed and looked around, Helma was stirring, there was a huge, black bruise across her face and the Stormtrooper picked her up and placed her into a seat. Darrance was helping Halsin who was conscious now, but pale and pained it looked like his right arm and left shoulder were broken.
For a second I couldn’t help gape, how the hell hadn’t the Space Marine killed more of us? Then the sound of someone crying caused me to jump from my thoughts and turn to Adelana. She was weeping, her attractive features all scrunched up, I wouldn’t say it made her unattractive just a little less so than usual.
I didn’t know what to say or do; she sat right next to me, surely there was something I could do? I remembered when I’d wept when I’d first met Estella, she’d hugged me close, but I didn’t know if she’d appreciate that. Instead, the old woman staggered up to us and hugged poor Adelana close.
“It’s okay, honey, it’s okay,” she murmured while stroking Adelana’s long red hair and I had to stop myself from bursting out laughing. After all these years being under Glaitis tutelage, she’d taught me much, how to read people, how to manipulate them for your ends. But never did she ever teach me what to do for people when they were upset.
I felt stupid; I felt incredibly awkward.
“I...I’m sorry,” I managed, making Adelana’s red, puffy-eyed attention look at me, causing me to flinch. Did she somehow know I was indirectly responsible for this?
But my fears were allayed as she smiled, “it’s okay,” she said. “You didn’t kill them, but why? I don’t understand. Why are the Space Marines trying to kill us? We did nothing wrong! Aren’t they meant to be protecting us?”
I looked away and pulled out my pack of lhos, suddenly feeling like I needed one.
“You know, don’t you?” she asked, but there was no anger in her voice.
“I do,” I said while lighting the lho stick, clenched in my teeth. “It’s complicated.”
A thought made me suddenly smile, “or as a friend would’ve said, ‘it’s convoluted.’”
Darrance approached and sat next to Vex, “It is, young mamzel,” he said. “You are better off not knowing.”
“Its Taryst isn’t it!” said the old woman. “He was into some dodgy business, wasn’t he?”
My eyes widened, and I looked at her, I hadn’t heard ‘dodgy’ being used that way since...
“Ma’am, may I ask, you wouldn’t be from Elbyra? Or to be more precise, Velrosia?”
The woman nodded rigorously, “yeah! I am, was from Salthain, a town in the south. My husband and me left for Omnartus after the war, why did you ask?”
I smiled, “I recognised your use of ‘dodgy’ in that context. I’m also from Velrosia, Varander in fact. What a coincidence, huh?”
“Just a bit!” she exclaimed. “Now I think on it, your accent does seem familiar.”
I shook my head, funny how such a vast galaxy could somehow seem so small at times.
“You’re right,” I said. “It was Taryst who was responsible for this, all of this. He was us to ‘dodgy business.’ Although now isn’t the time for me to explain. I’ll tell you everything once we’ve escaped.”
“Really?” said Adelana, her eyes wide with disbelief.
I flinched under her gaze, knowing that I shouldn’t make such a promise.
“I will,” I said, despite my hesitation, they did deserve to know. If they made it out alive, they deserved to know the how and why Omnartus burned.
‘Omnartus burned,’ I was already referring to it in past tense, how easily that’d come to me.
Castella sure as hell wouldn’t have approved of that.
“You were close, weren’t you?” I asked Adelana.
She nodded, “they were more than just work colleagues, Attelus. Grayhelt was like another dad to me, and Velg was a true friend. They...I...I can’t believe they’re dead.”
So that was their names! I decided to make an effort to remember them, they were more innocents dead, because of me and soon, very soon there would be many more.
Many, many more.
I looked sidelong at Adelana, soon she’d have to deal with the trauma of not just losing the rest of her friends and family, but her whole world.
Perhaps Castella was right, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to save her after all.
+We will be at the top of the tower in thirty seconds,+ said Karmen sullenly. +Get ready, there are rebreathers under your seats. The climate display shows it’s minus twenty degrees outside, so be prepared for the cold.+
I switched on the internal heater inside my bodyglove, unbuckled my restraining harness and slipped off my flak jacket, handing it to Adelana.
“Put this on, you’ll sure as hell will need it,” I said.
She looked me up and down, her full lips parted slightly, “what about you?” she breathed hesitantly.
I was wearing a tight, sleeveless bodyglove with jeans. I must’ve looked pretty stupid giving her my warm, armoured jacket.
“Don’t worry about me,” I said with a smile. “Got heaters inside my bodyglove, I’ll be good.”
She nodded, looking nonplussed as she started to slip on my jacket.
I turned away and started to take out the rebreathers from underneath the seats, but still managed to catch a glimpse of Adelana and the old woman exchanging meaningful looks as she climbed to her feet.
I gave them a re-breather each and slipped mine on then helped them put on theirs. They were single visored, expensive pieces designed for combat., the oxygen tanks had straps so could be worn as a backpack.
+I am opening fire with the lascannon, now!+ snarled Karmen and instantly I heard the familiar sound of las cannon shots through the flier.
Darrance walked by; I could tell he was smirking at me even behind his rebreather.
“You have complained about your luck on too many occasions to count, apprentice,” he said, as he started to help Jelket off his seat with his good arm. “But look at me this day, I have broken my arm, had to run up almost thirty-one stories worth of stairs with a Space Marine chasing after me. I have lost my prized and mastercrafted power weapon and almost got pulped by an autocannon on an ornithopter. But you! You, get yet another girlfriend! When will it be poor Darrance’s turn, I wonder!”
I flinched and felt my face flush with embarrassment.
Then it was followed by a sudden urge to punch Darrance in the face.
I stormed across the deck and slipped up the slight staircase leading to the cockpit. Watching out the window as the pilot continuously blasted the roof of the corridor leading to Taryst’s quarters. It was a strange sight, one which I never thought I’d ever see. Yet here it was, I never thought I’d ever had to go toe to toe and kill several Space Marines either, but for some reason, this seemed the strangest thing of all.
“What are we doing, Karmen?” I said.
She didn’t reply.
I sighed, “if I look around the seat I’m going to see the pilot is blank-eyed, utterly under your sway, aren’t I?”
Again, no reply.
“Just like you did with the hundreds, no thousands of mercenaries under Taryst’s employ, huh? Sacrificing them to the Space Marine guns so we could escape, am I right?”
+Attelus!+ she cried finally. +Now is not the time for this!+
“No, I guess it isn’t,” I growled. “Just tell me this, Estella Erith. Was this part of Taryst’s plan, right from the start? If he didn’t have me killed would I have been amongst those slaved to your will, sacrificed so he could make his escape?”
Karmen sighed, +I would never have let that happen, Attelus. Why do you think I tried to have him recruit you properly?+
“I thought it was because I had, ‘potential,’” I said sarcastically. “And thank you for admitting it, Karmen! By the Emperor, he was truly a selfish arsehole. Have no idea what Jeurat saw in the bastard.”
+Just like you see ‘potential’ in the Adelana girl?+ Karmen’s voice snarled back. +I’ve seen the way you look at her, the way you talk to her! Do you think I’m blind, or stupid? The ends justifies the means, Attelus! If we’re able to escape to stop Etuarq from destroying more worlds their sacrifice will be worth it! Besides they were all going to die when the planet’s destroyed in Exterminatus!+
“You sound just like Faleaseen,” I gasped in exasperation.
+It’s done, Attelus! It is too late to argue about it! Let me ask you this, okay? How many people have you killed? Over the last day? Over the last seven months and the seven years of your career? They were just faces to you. Strangers, the men I just controlled, I knew them, all of them! Their every desire, their every secret, their dreams. Do you think I wanted to make them die like that? No! I have to live with that, Attelus! I have to live with that guilt. Please don’t make this harder than it is, please!+
I laughed bitterly, “you think you’ve got it bad, Karmen. You’ve got nothing on me! This whole world is going to die because of me! Billions of people, dead because I took one pict! At least when you die, you can forget your guilt and pain, but I will never get that.”
I didn’t reply as abruptly the wall and roof caved in under the sustained lascannon fire.
There were Space Marines were standing on the rubble, their bolter fire exploded and panged off the fliers bodywork and window.
+We will discuss this later! Now get to the passenger area and be ready! I’m about to land this sucker.+
I clenched my jaw, but still turned and slid down the handrails on my palms to the deck, landing with a loud clang!
Adelana looked at me with wide, confused eyes, looking like she was going ask me something but seemed to think better of it.
“I’ll tell you later,” I growled and walked past her.
She watched me as I did, looking like she was starting to regret getting involved with us and I couldn’t blame her, in all honesty.
The flier veered steeply to the right, and I joined with Darrance, the stormtrooper and Verenth, standing at the door. The only four of us the only ones still in any condition to fight and Darrance was a doubtful case at best.
“What’s your name?” Verenth asked the stormtrooper, hauling his inherited Hellgun and adjusting the gun’s pack on his back.
“Daylith,” answered the stormtrooper. “Trooper Daylith Vark.”
Verenth nodded, “good to meet you Vark I’m Gilret Verenth, good! Can’t stand seeing all these guys dying around me who I don’t even know their names or even their faces.”
Vark nodded, “I doubt we’ll make it any further, those frigging Space Marines. They aren’t human.”
I couldn’t help but smile, now that was the understatement of the millennia.
+Alright!+ came Karmen’s voice. +There were eight of the bastards, but I had killed four with the lascannon. It’s run out of energy, though. The rest of them have fallen back, their backs to the shield! You’re going to have to hold them off until everyone else is off the flier, somehow.+
“Karmen!” I sighed. “Really? Four of them? You’re frigging insane; you know that right?”
“She is a psyker,” said Darrance, sounding insufferably calm and cheery about it all. “They usually are.”
+I...I know I’m asking much of you…+
“Hell yes you are!” interrupted Verenth.
+Just hold them off!+ she snapped. +and this isn’t what I ask of you; this is what the circumstance asks of you. Succeed in this, and we live and if you don’t…+
She let that hang.
+Once everyone else has disembarked, I’ll take care of the rest, okay? Now open the door!+
Vark, his hand visibly shaking even with his thick, armoured gloves on, reached out and with one swift tug opened it. We hovered a few metres beside the strange sight of the rubble covered, red-carpeted corridor. A place I’d regularly been in for six months and hated every second of it, now it was destroyed, perhaps I should’ve been elated, but all I felt was dread.
Vark looked as though he was to jump, but I stopped him with an outreached hand.
“Darrance and I first,” I said. “We’ll draw their attention, allowing you and Verenth to get on there without being blown into bits, okay?”
The stormtrooper’s expression was hidden, but by how quick his nod was, I could tell he thought it was a damned good idea.
“Everyone!” I yelled over my shoulder and activated my sword in a blaze of blue. “Wish me luck!”
Without waiting for an answer, Darrance and I leapt.