AN : Well, here it is. The first short story of what I hope will be a long serie, though I will still give priority to my two main fics, Warband of the Forsaken Sons and the Roboutian Heresy. This is more of a ... side project, for detente and practice.
This story was based on reviewer Guilliman's request, for 'A group of guardsmen holding their position against the Alpha Legion'.
If you like it, see any problem with it, or have an idea for another short story, review ! (or, in the latter case, PM me).
I do not own the Warhammer 40000 universe or any of its characters. They belong to Games Workshop.
The blood of heroes and martyrs was flowing on the paved streets of Luteria, and no one would mourn them or sing prayers for them.
That, most of all, hurt Saul to his core. He had known he would die in service of the Emperor when he had been formally induced into the Imperial Guard twenty years ago. The men of the 247th Cadian regiment were doomed men, but their sacrifice would help keep the Imperium alive and be remembered for eternity. Or at least, that was how it should be, but the war on Damorec had not followed any rule so far. And since the heretics were winning, there was little hope that would change.
They had come to Damorec to answer the call for help of the governor. Fairly standard, if depressing, situation : the governor's own incompetence had ruined the local economy, driving the people to rebellion and then to heresy. After shooting the blasted fool, the Colonel had begun the slow process of purging the planet from the taint, one city at a time. Classic, grinding warfare, the kind of battles the Imperial Guard had been made for. Then the Traitor Marines came.
They had probably been on the planet from the beginning, cultivating dissent and blasphemy in the shadows. Information about them was scarce : they seemed to be everywhere, striking at every weak point, every target. Estimates of the Traitor Astartes' numbers went from a handful to the equivalent of an entire Chapter. When before the 247th had been slowly but steadily pushing the rebels back, a few days after the first Chaos Marine's sighting they were hard-pressed to hold the capital.
The soldiers had called for help, of course. The Colonel had put his pride aside and sent an astropathic message to whomever could hear the moment he had had confirmation of the Marines' presence. He had described the traitors' tactics and appearance in great detail, joining several picts of the sea-green, scaled armor of the Chaos Marines. The mere memory of what had happened then made Saul want to scream in anger. A single message, bearing the seal of the Holy Inquisition, sent by Lord Inquistor Azarkan Lyrov of the Ordo Malleus. It had been quite long and flowery, full of prayers and reminders of the Imperial Guard's duties. It was also a death sentence.
No help was in route. In truth, none would ever come. Damorec was considered lost, a new Perditia world in the galactic map, where no Imperial ship would ever sail. If the ship of the regiment, the Tear of Lament, was ever seen again in Imperial space, she would be destroyed without hesitation nor warning. The 274th was ordered to die against the heretics, all records of the regiment erased. This was what the Emperor demanded of them, Azarkan's message claimed. Knowledge of the Traitor Marines, who belonged to some group the Inquisition had called the Alpha Legion, was a poison to the soul. Their lies spread like a cancer through the ranks of those who fought against them, and to gather more forces would only give them more opportunities. Better for the Guards to die than to risk whatever scheme the fiends had planned to come to fruition.
Upon receiving this message, the Colonel had done his duty. He had ordered the Warp engines of the Tear overloaded, destroying the only way of the 247th to escape. Then, as the ship slowly drifted into the system's sun, he had shot himself. Now, forty-seven days after the death of the Tear of Lament, the time of the last stand had come.
Of an entire regiment and its support personnel, only two hundred souls remained. In the heart of the ruined palace of the governor, these dirty, hungry and betrayed men and women were preparing to die in vain. A third of them should have been in a medic bay, not clutching las-guns with almost empty power charges. But they would die with a weapon in their hands, Saul had decided. Even the thrice-cursed Inquisition could not take that last dignity from them. Saul had been a commissar before they had been abandoned. Though rank held no meaning now, in the light of the Inquisition's edict and the suicide of the Colonel, he had become de facto leader of the remaining Guardsmen.
'We will die for the Emperor,' he had told them amidst the ruins of Luteria, when the troops of the Alpha Legion and their minions had appeared on the horizon. 'And we will do it cursing the traitors with our last breath. And if a few of you curse Azarkan as well … I am quite sure He will forgive you.'
They had laughed at that – the first time Saul's words had ever made someone laugh, and the last time any of them had laughed. It had been more out of raw despair than any amusement, but that was still more than Saul had expected. Strangely, standing in the front of certain death after being abandoned by his masters, Saul was closer to the soldiers of the 247th than he had ever been in his life.
The chanting started again, and the Guardsmen raised their weapons toward the chokepoints they had established. For some stupid reason, the audience room of the palace could be reached by three great passages whose gates had been knocked down long ago. With suppressing squads and flying teams, Saul had been able to force the enemy to spend thousands of lives in the two weeks they had spent trapped here.
They came in droves, forcing their way up the corpses of their predecessors, just as they had each time the cursed chanting had started. Human cultists, driven insane by their blasphemous beliefs, charged the entranched troopers wielding nothing more than makeshift weapons and chanting the mad song of Chaos with dry lips and sore throats.
Dozens of them died in the first moments of their charge, but every death fulfilled its purpose : forcing the loyalists to expense their precious ammunition. Saul stood at the central gate, his chainsword in hand, ten of the most robust survivors next to him. Together they beat to death the few heretics who made it pass the laser fire, breaking their bones with whatever bludgeoning instrument they had picked up. The smell of death was almost enough to make the troopers pass out. The cultists rank of rot and corruption, and their flesh was ripe with hideous mutations that reflected their twisted souls.
Saul fought, and killed and killed, letting rightful anger fuel his tired body. He roared his hate at the traitors before starting to recite one of the Litanies of Unforgiveness, spending his precious breath so that his comrades would hold their ground.
'The heretics shall burn in the fire of His wrath !'
He punched a cultist in the face, before seizing his left hand and impaling his foe on his own weapon – a short blade that looked like it had once been a kitchen knife.
'The unclean shall be purged in the blaze of His fury !'
Saul pushed his chainsword through the guts of a rabid female wearing tattered robes, and activated the weapon for a fraction of second, burning a little more of its promethium's reserves. The heretic burst apart in a shower of gore and rancid flesh, giving even his crazed fellows pause.
'And the traitors,' finished Saul with a feral smile, 'shall die at the point of His sword !'
They lost twelve more men during that assault. Torn apart by one of the cultists who had made it past the chokepoints or blasted into oblivion by a suicide bomber, none of them had died in silence. Saul was giving a small service over their bodies – for those of them whose remains could still be gathered – when the voice boomed across the room. It came from the outside, screamed across the entire ruined city by overpowered vox-speakers. The voice of a demigod sounded, and Saul had to steady himself to not fall under the sheer volume of the terrible voice. Around him, he saw several of his men clutching their heads, blood trickling from their ears.
'Soldiers of the Imperial Guard,' said the voice. 'You have been betrayed. Your masters have abandoned you, just like they had abandoned the people of this world. You have been sacrificed in the name of ignorance.'
'We give you one last chance to live. Throw down your weapons, and come out of your hole. Do this, and you will be spared. Refuse, and it is I and my brothers who shall kill you. We grant you one hour to make your decision. Choose well, or face the might of Alpharius and his sons.'
The voice went silent. Saul looked around him, seeing dozens of eyes looking at him. He lifted his chainsword, and pointed it toward the middle gate.
'If anyone dares to take a step in or out of this room,' said the former commissar, 'I will kill them myself. We hold our ground, sons and daughters of Cadia. We hold our damned ground, and we will die for the Emperor rather than bow to these Warp-cursed traitors !'
The nodded grimly. No cheer. No roar of defiance. They would make their point to the heretics with deeds, not words.
The Alpha Legion charged one hour later. The first Guard to die passed to the other side of the veil a few seconds before the first shot was fired from the loyalist lines. His skull exploded under the impact of a long-range bolter rifle – a killing shot from a Legionary sniper hidden behind the rebels' barricades at the three corridors' ends. Another three died when a plasma cannon tore a path open through the pile of corpses in the left gallery, the heat melting their eyes in their sockets. Four Traitor Marines charged on each passage, moving faster than anything wearing that kind of armor ought to be capable of.
The Guardsmen opened fire together, their weapons at full power, spending their last ammunition in the hope of bringing down at least one of the Chaos Marines. The traitors were shooting back, their precision undiminished by their charge. Their warped, twisted bolters spat death at the servants of the Throne, tearing through flesh and flak armor with equal ease.
One of the Traitor Marines went down, his brain burst by a lucky shot that had pierced through his already cracked eye-lense. Another crashed on the ground when one of Saul's last bolts shattered his right knee. He kept advancing, crawling forward while providing covering fire for his brothers. That was all the damage the loyalists made before the Legionaries reached them, and the butchery began.
In the entire galaxy, there is no kind of living being more lethal than the Space Marines. Individuals may surpass them : Eldar blademasters, Ork Warbosses, Tyrannid hive-lords, even exceptional humans – they can defeat a grandchild of the Emperor in battle. But as a species unto their own, the Astartes are without equal. They are made for war the same way other races are made to survive : the entirety of their being is forged to that purpose.
Saul had known that. He had studied the Space Marines, to be ready if he ever fought at their side or if – or rather, given Cadia's location, when – he had to face the Traitor Legions himself. But he had never seen what a Chaos Marine was truly capable of before that day, when he clashed blades with a warrior of the Alpha Legion.
As a prospect commissar of a Cadian regiment, Saul had been trained by the best swordsmen the Schola could find. He had fought alongside the 247th on a dozen worlds, and dueled countless enemies during that time. But against an Astartes, all that training and experience amounted to precisely nothing.
The first blow crashed his chainsword in two. The second cut off his left hand before he could aim his bolt pistol with it. With nothing remaining but the hate in his heart, Saul hurled himself at the inhuman warrior. In the fraction of second before the backhanded blow of the giant hit him, the commissar had a glimpse of the monster. His armor was covered in green scales except for a few spots where a grey skin was exposed. His helmet was a terrifying sight, modified or mutated in the form of a daemon's open jaw, and its eye-lenses shone with a sickening yellow light. His right hand held a power sword whose blade was etched with blasphemous runes, and the bolter in his left had a cannon reforged into a snake spitting its venom. Saul saw all of this in the time it took the hand holding the gun to reach his torso.
He crashed on the ground, feeling bones breaking all across his body. His head swam and his vision blurred in pain. He thought he could hear his name being shouted, but all he could focus on were the heavy footsteps drawing ever closer to him. It felt as if time was slowing down, each fall of ceramite-clad boot a bell ringing to herald his doom.
When the giant finally entered his field of vision again, Saul managed to speak. He uttered a single word, the same question billions had had on their lips at the moment of their death in the war that had maimed a god and destroyed his dream ten thousand years ago.
For a moment, the giant paused. As if underwater, Saul heard the screams of his comrades as they died at the traitors' hands. He kept his gaze focused on the Chaos Marine towering above him, desperately fighting off the darkness that threatened to engulf him, ignoring the pain of his broken body and the weakness caused by the blood leaking from his left arm. He had to know the answer. He had to know …
'For the Emperor.'
He woke up in a bed, his many wounds bandaged, his broken bones set back and fixed in a dozen casts. Intravenous feeds were connected to his right arm, and a stump of artificial flesh ended his left wrist. The air smelled of old blood and chemicals – the smell of an hospital used to heal those wounded in war. All he could see was the ceiling of the room – the metal was clean and untouched by rust – and all he could hear was the myriad noises that were typical of life aboard a ship …
A ship. Blood of the Emperor, what was he doing on a ship ?! He should be dead ! Even if he had somehow survived the attack, there was no way any ship would have braved the Inquisition's will ! What was going on ? Where was he ?!
He tried to speak, to move, but despite the adrenaline flowing through him now as panic began to claim him, he was unable to make his muscles obey him. Something must have been monitoring his vitals, however, for an alarm chime began to rise from one of the machines he was connected to. He heard quick footsteps, and a man wearing the uniform of a medic of the Guard appeared to his right. Saul's eardrums had been healed from the damage dealt to them by the Alpha Legion's message, for he understood what the man said perfectly :
'Easy there, commissar. You are safe. Now that you are awake and there is no risk of you harming yourself by trashing in your sleep, I am going to lower the dosage of muscle inhibitors you have been injected with.'
The man quickly did something on the machine before turning back to Saul.
'Now, this will take some time for you to start feeling the effects, so in the meantime, I will answer the questions you are most probably asking yourself. You are aboard the Claws of Duty, with the 72th Narinite regiment. We received your call for help, though it was horribly garbled, and came to your aid. By the time we arrived, though, there wasn't a single signal coming from Damorec except from the balise of distress that led us to you in the Gorvernor's palace, surrounded by heretics' corpses. We found you and nineteen other survivors, unconscious and in grave danger to succumb to your wounds. We have already lost five of you, and you are the first one to awaken. It is … twenty-four days since we left Damorec behind to report to the command of the Sector about this.'
Saul managed to force his lips to move, his vocal cords to perform their function :
'But … the Inquisition's … message …. No help was coming … Perditia …'
The medic raised an eyebrow.
'Our astropathic channels with the rest of the Imperium have been quite clear recently, commissar. When we received your call for help, we relayed it to the rest of the Imperium, but we have heard no word of the Holy Ordos in a long time, my it last even longer yet.'
'No … no … the Alpha Legion … they said we had been abandonned … sacrificed … left to die and be forgotten …'
Compassion appeared on the medic's face as he recognised what he thought to be the signs of battle trauma and exposure to things that no man of faith should ever been made to see.
'I am afraid, my friend, that you have been deceived by some traitor's ruse. But don't worry. You are alive, and Damorec is no longer in … well, in anyone's hands, frankly. Whatever ploy they thought to use to break your will, it didn't work. Tell me, what is this « Alpha Legion » you spoke of ? ….'