Though elated with my victory, there was no time to celebrate. O'Lar'shi's death brought about a rush of memories of Commissar Waffans. It was strange that despite it having been a recent occurrence, his death felt as though it was a long time ago. Perhaps the feeling stemmed from how much had occurred over the past few weeks. Before coming to Magnus Viridis I had imagined warfare to have been a rather straightforward affair – arrive on planet, kill the enemies. Instead, I got barraged with treason, conspiracies, alien spies, and enemies becoming allies and vice-versa so frequently I almost had to keep notes on whom I was or wasn't allowed to kill. I wondered if all military campaigns were as complicated as this or if it was just something that gravitated towards Commissar Cain. If I had any delusion that my career would get easier or less complicated from here on, I was sorely mistaken.
With the Tau commander dead, I returned to my original objective of running like a scared girl. I was smart enough to know that the exploding battlesuit would send up a huge banner screaming 'fun time's over here,' which every greenskin within 10 city-blocks would gleefully respond to. It was going to get very crowded, very quickly and for the good of my health, I needed to be elsewhere. "Watz, I need a sitrep," I voxxed while heading for the door leading into the eastern building. Unfortunately, it appeared that the eastern building was where the bulk of the palace defenders had holed up and the door appeared to be locked down firmly.
"Oh just the usual commissar," Watz replied, "Orks on one side, Tau and traitors on the other, and any chance of subtlety being thrown out the window by Garrick's shouting."
"Well how else are you going to hear him over the gunfire?" I quipped as I took step back to examine the door barring my path. "I…uh, appear to be having some trouble finding a way inside."
"Use that krak grenade you're always carrying around."
"I might have already used it," I said with an exasperated sigh. I tried kicking the door a couple of times but while it wasn't a ten-inch slab of armaplas, the door would need a lot more force than I had at my disposal. That realization, of course, didn't stop me from giving it a couple more kicks just out of spite, stopping only because I was beginning to hurt my foot. I was so distracted by my predicament that I failed to notice that the Ork problem started to manifest itself. The only thing that saved me from being flatten like a heretic under a titan's foot was the Ork's reliable and irresistible urge to shout when charging a target, alerting me to the impending danger. I spun around just in time to see the hulking figure barreling towards me and instinctively I dove to the side, snapping a few shots from my laspistol in the process. One of the shots struck the Ork in the leg, causing him to lose balance and fly ass-over-tea kettle into the door, knocking it and the entire doorframe from the building. "Never mind Watz, somebody opened the door for me," I said before hurrying inside, making sure to give the helpful Ork a quick shot to the brain for his troubles.
Once inside, the sounds of gunfire began to become muffled. The war had not progressed into this building,yet. And I suspected that things would get much louder the further I went. Wherever Cain and the others were, it was still a long distance from me. The door eventually led me to whatever appeared to be the main atrium given by the number of paintings, antiques, and decorative plates that adorned the walls and cabinets. My eyes drifted skyward to the large, circular skylight that hung directly over me. If only I had a grappling hook or a jet pack I could have reached the rooftops in a matter of seconds. It was also higly unlikely that an Ork would inadvertently toss me up there. With the gunfire no longer loud enough to completely drown out the rest of the world, I was able to pick up the sound of footsteps rapidly growing in volume. Those few extra seconds were just enough for me to take cover behind a support pillar as a squad of palace troopers emerged from a doorway on the far side. They were all heavily armed with hellguns and carapace armour, which meant they were kasrkins, or at least the inheritors of their position (and considering Gavilant's military prowess and loyalty to his unit, he likely made sure they were just as skilled as the stormtroopers he had with him decades ago when he captured the world ).
"Form a perimeter lads, the Tau need this area secured," the sergeant ordered as men dispersed across the atrium, taking up firing positions to cover all the entrances. Even with the element of surprise, I would likely only be able to take down one or two before being overwhelmed by sheer volume of fire…but I couldn't give up when I was so close to freedom. I took a few quiet breaths to steady my nerves. There was nowhere to go but forward…I resigned myself to the fact that I might have no alternative other than to go down in a blaze of glory (or hellgun fire in this case).
"Wait, I hear something!" One of the kasrkins shouted, causing me to tense up. Had I already lost the element of surprise, which was the only thing standing between me and total failure? I readied my laspistols but just as I was about to charge into the firestorm one of the guards suddenly screamed out.
"Merciful Emperor!" a kasrkin shouted before turning his hellgun on one of his fellow troopers and gunning him down with a prolonged burst. Needless to say, this instantly sowed confusion amongst the stormtroopers, two of which turned their hellguns on the apparent traitor. They didn't fire at first, for obvious reasons of loyalty and confusion, but when the 'traitor' kasrkin turned to fire on them, the others didn't hesitate to gun the first one down.
"What the frak was that?" the sergeant shouted before a bolt of energy suddenly hit him. The kasrkins were still confused but I realized what was going on just as Kael leapt from the shadows, decapitating the nearest stormtrooper before the others even realized he was there. Some sort of psychic energy shield protected the Eldar from the firing hellguns as he leapt from target to target, dispatching each with precise, lethal strikes from his sword, each one hitting a weak point on the troopers carapace armour. In only a few seconds, he had almost effortlessly cut down the entire squad of stormtroopers .
Foolishly, I thought I could take him down using the same element of surprise but I should have realized the timely intervention was no coincidence. No sooner did I swing around the corner with my laspistols ready he had already closed the distance. Flashes of vibrant blue light flashed before my eyes as his sword danced within his hands, the first two strikes quickly knocking the laspistols from my hands. My attempt at trying to get within his reach and attack unarmed was equally unsuccessful, his free hand batting my punches aside before hitting me across the face with an open-palm strike. So not only was Kael beating me, he was humiliating me in the process. Unfortunately, that just made me angrier, which made me even sloppier and before I could tell what had happen I was leaning against the wall with what I could only assume to be multiple palm-shaped red marks across my face.
"You're just toying with me," I muttered bitterly.
"No…open-palm strikes are simply an effective means of inflicting increased pain while minimizing lasting bodily trauma. I figured you would appreciate being able to walk seeing as you're in a hurry. Now toying you would involve this," he explained before suddenly swinging the blade at me with an upward stroke. The tip just narrowly missed drawing blood but split open my dress shirt down to the skin.
"You son of a bitch," I sneered as I instinctively clutched my shirt shut. He merely laughed, turned, and ran off without another word. Very rarely in my career would I ever be so thoroughly humiliated and I was thankful that none of the others were present to witness it. Angered beyond sound judgment, I quickly grabbed my pistols and gave chase as Kael dashed up the nearby stairs. "I'm going kill you Eldar!" I shouted. He was fast, which was to be expected, but rage and wounded pride hastened my pace and I was able to keep sight of him as I chased him up stairs and through corridors. Though I wasn't paying much attention, I'm certain that we passed several very confused palace guards along the way. Unfortunately, after several minutes of fruitless pursuit, I finally ran out of breath and lost sight of the bastard. I cursed bitterly between heaving breaths as I staggered to a halt. It took a moment for me to realize that I had absolutely no clue where I was in the building so now I was tired and lost.
"Commissar!" A familiar voice shouted. Turning about, I saw Cain and the others jogging down the hall towards me. Cain looked the most surprised to see me…actually, he was the only one since everyone else had masks, helmets, or were just unflappable. "Abel, what in the warp happened to you?" he asked.
"And how'd you get here before us?" Watz added.
"Uh…Kael," I said, still panting heavily. Once again I had trouble believing that this fortuitous encounter was a mere coincidence but speculation was pointless at the time. There was no time to further explanations as Garrick shouted for us to keep moving before loosing another burst of heavy bolter fire down the corridor at a pack of Orks. We hurried along, Heilmit shouting out directions as he continued to consult his dataslate. His directions eventually led us up another slight of stairs and yet another sealed door.
"Open up you blasted thing," Heilmit cursed as he tried to get the control console to cooperate.
Cain, however, was running out of patience and motioned for everyone to get out of the way. "Jurgen – door," he ordered. Without hesitation, his malodorous aide took aim with the melta gun and proceeded to vaporize a large portion of the door. We all hurried through, save for Garrick who had to carefully squeeze his massive frame through the opening. Everybody was relieved to be greeted with the sight of the parked aquila lander waiting for us on the far side of the rooftop. The sprawling rooftop was rather bare save for the large, circular landing pad on the far side, a few communication antennae, and the large skylight, which consisted of a shallow glass dome with etchings of various Imperial symbols across it. I imagined it looked quite spectacular when viewed from inside and on a sunnier day…and without the all-pervasive threat of death by Orks.
"Watz, get that lander started up," I instructed needlessly as Watz was already past the skylight and halfway to the aircraft.
"I'll need a few minutes to get the engines warmed up," he advised us as he opened up the main hatch and headed inside. Why did everything important always take a few minutes? The rest of us were left to ensure that the Orks didn't ruin things at the last moment.
"At least there's only got one way onto the roof," Heilmit remarked. Comments like those should only be uttered out loud with extreme caution since only a second later did we hear of roaring rockets…except they weren't the airship's.
Garrick was first to recognize the threat, turning the heavy bolter skyward and shouting, "Incoming!" Unlike guardsmen, who use sensible means of assault such as fire and advance, grav-chute airdrops, Valkyrie dropship insertions, scaling walls, and frag and clear, Orks assault with tactics that are as crude as they are direct. A dozen or so Orks with giant rockets strapped onto their backs were flying up and over the railings, wailing ecstatically as they landed with shootas firing as wildly as their shouts. We all turned our guns skyward and I was strangely reminded of some of my old target practice routines back at the schola. My best friend Verity used to smuggle out dinnerware and we would take turns tossing plates out at the old ruins. Hitting dinner plates through the Kriegan haze was tricky but feasible so hitting giant, green Orks on a clear afternoon was a walk in the park. A few Orks veered off-target or fell back to the ground after being hit, some even detonated as their rocket packs proved to be as unreliable and dangerous as they looked. Inevitably, though, some of the Orks landed and charged in, almost completely forgetting the gun in their other hand.
Garrick and Cain were the first to ready for close combat, moving quick to intercept the oncoming Orks. Power-axe and chainsword worked in unison, cleaving and hacking their way through greenskins and keeping the other Orks focused on them. Garrick, being the largest of us, attracted the most attention, which was exactly the way he preferred it. After carving through two Orks, he seized the chainsword from a third (with the rest of the Ork's arm still clinging to it). Cain was living up to his reputation as a master swordsman as well and while he wasn't as brutal as the space marine, he was just as lethal. The strength of the Orks mattered little as he masterfully parried and dodged each Ork strike, slashing and driving his chainsword across joints and into vital points until the Ork crumpled before him in a useless heap of flesh. I popped a few Orks in the head as they tried to get around to Cain or Garrick's flank but the number of Orks eventually forced me into close-quarters combat as well. A hefty-sized Ork rushed at me, howling so loudly my bones shook and globs of saliva splattered against my face and coat. Ducking under his chainaxe's broad sweep, I quickly drew out my shock maul and delivered a quick jab into his gut, followed by a rising blow to the jaw that left the Ork in spastic seizures on the ground.
"Watz, what's taking so long?" I shouted as my maul knocked a runty Ork's teeth out.
"I haven't touched a flyer in a long time, my memories a little rusty," he replied. I wouldn't have been so concerned about how long he was taking if we didn't have a dozen Orks swarming us.
"If I get killed out here I'm having you transferred to a penal legion," I replied. My eyes were pulled skyward when I heard the roar of another Orks' rocket and saw the behemoth crashing onto the rooftop a few feet from me. The near miss and force of impact caused me to lose my balance but I managed to keep enough composure to snap off a few shots. Unfortunately, all I accomplished was knocking the weapons out so he merely tried to kill me with his bare hands. I brought my legs up to try and keep him at bay but his sheer weight alone would overpower me. The greenskin almost had me when Heilmit came to my rescue, skewering the Ork's brain with his bayonet and then blasting a hole through its skull for good measure. "Impeccable timing Spike," I thanked as he helped me back to my feet.
We were almost finished cleaning up the Orks when we heard a loud engine firing up. The sense of hope that flared up was quickly dashed when we realized it was another Ork…and not just any other Ork; but a damn big one. Its echoing war cry drowned out all the others as the massive xeno landed on to the rooftop. The Ork towered over us all, its rocket pack was bigger than me, and it carried a hammer that made everything in our arsenal look as menacing as pointed sticks. It snarled and roared, slamming its massive hammer against the ground with so much force that the skylight nearby cracked in response.
"Emperor's blood, it never ends!" I cursed.
"Only with their death or ours," Garrick responded as he charged the massive Ork nob. But the Ork's speed proved greater than he had anticipated and the gigantic hammer swung out, smashing into Garrick and sending him hurtling across the rooftop. He bounced and skidded across the surface and would have tumbled over the edge had he not managed to dig his gauntlets into the rooftop surface to bring himself to a halt just at the edge. Heilmit and I snapped off several shots at the nob but they barely even shook its attention away from Commissar Cain. Being smaller than our Astartes ally, Cain was able to avoid the Ork's hammer, diving towards the nob and rising back to his feet with an upward slash that raked across its thigh. The wound barely slowed the Ork down as it backhanded Cain to knock him several feet back. I rushed in to help my fellow commissar, knowing full well that even a full-powered blow from my shock maul would barely stun the creature but if I could prove to be a distraction then it might tip the odds in our favour. A full-charged blow against the Ork's leg caused it to seize up, giving Cain time to get back to his feet before the hammer came down and obliterated the spot where he was moments before.
Enraged at my interference, the Ork swung fist and hammer wildly at me but I was too close and too small a target so I was able to avoid its attacks. When the nob tried to bring its hammer down on me, I dove between its legs and swung my shock maul upwards to smash it right in the nether regions though I doubt its dangly-bits were any more sensitive than the rest of its brutish body. Garrick joined the fight again and we were able to surround the nob but that didn't provide us with much of an advantage since the Ork weighed more than all of us combined. Unfortunately, with the hammer's range we had difficulty capitalizing on our advantage. Garrick would try to close in, only to have to back off to avoid having another meet n' greet with the massive mallet; when that happened Cain or I would try to rush in and get a strikes in but would never manage more than light superficial hits before having to back off ourselves.
It seemed as though we would be stuck in a deadlock when Watz suddenly chimed in on the vox. "Keep your head down guys!" he warned before the aquila lander's nose-mounted multi-las came to life and opened fire on the nob. The Ork took the full force of the rapid-fire lasbolts square in the chest, pounding it relentlessly while it flailed in attempts to break free from the barrage. Finally, the beast roared out loud and fell to the ground with a massive thud.
"Great work there Watz," I congratulated.
Cain edged closer, chainsword at the ready, to make sure that the nob was not going to get back up. However, he noticed, as did the rest of us, the small jet of flame that was spewing from the body of the jet pack and growing in intensity. "Shit! It's going to-" Cain didn't get to finish that sentence before the fuel tank exploded in a gigantic fireball. We were standing far enough away that we didn't get blown off our feet but Cain was sent stumbling across the rooftop and he collided with me. Anybody familiar with the concepts of conservation of momentum knows that if a large, slow-moving object collides with a stationary and significantly smaller object, the lighter of the two objects will be subjected to a greater change of velocity. Thus, though Cain only staggered, when he bumped into me I was knocked over and he came to a halt. This wouldn't have been very note-worthy except for the fact that I had been standing right in front of the fore-mentioned cracked and weakened skylight.
Cain saw this coming and he tried to reach out to grab hold of me but the only thing he could reach fast enough was the front of my shirt…which had been sliced open earlier. His grip should have been able to hold the fabric but instead the parted cloths slipped through his fingers and gravity took over from there. When faced the realization of his death, O'Lar'shi accepted his fate and maintained the stern and stoic gaze of a soldier. I only managed an undignified 'frak!' before falling through the glass dome and plummeting some thirty feet to the atrium floor.
I gradually returned to my senses to Heilmit's frantic shouting through my comm-bead. "Abel! For the Emperor's sake please say something!" As senses awoken, I realized a number of things: firstly, I was still alive since I was in far too much pain to be otherwise; secondly, I was laying on top of something very lumpy and uncomfortable. When I finally managed to force my eyes open once more, I could see light pouring through the broken skylight and a blurred silhouette of Heilmit peering over the edge. "Don't worry, we're coming to get you!"
As I slipped in and out of consciousness, I realized that I wasn't alone in the atrium. A Tau soldier was standing over me, shouting something in his alien language. Whatever he was saying, he sounded panic-stricken, probably something to do with having a woman fall from the sky and almost land on your head. Panic boiled into anger but before the Tau elected do anything about his anger, our seven hundred pound ceramite-clad killing machine used the Tau to soften his own landing. The Tau made a surprisingly satisfying crunching sound as the space marine's boots went through his skull…and spine…and pelvis.
"Commissar Abel is still alive," Garrick reported as he cleared the atrium of the remaining Tau with a sweep from his boltgun. "Bring the aquila lander out back."
"What the frak did I land on?" I groaned. Garrick didn't answer at first, focusing instead on getting me back up. It was a good thing that he could fling me around with one arm if he so desired because my back was seizing from the pain as he hoisted me up. Despite my insistence on walking out, Garrick wouldn't listen and lifted me off my feet, supporting me against his chest with one arm (something that hadn't happened to me since I was an infant). The sudden movement shot more pain up my back but any movement was killing me.
"Just a Tau," he finally answered as he headed out the door I had originally used to enter the building.. Once outside, the roar of the aquila's engines revitalized hope and would've blown my hat off had I not kept a hand on it. The airship hovered high overhead, drifting over to a clearing before landing rather ungracefully by flattening a row of hedges. With bullets and lasbolts rattling against the hull, Watz didn't wait for Garrick and I to be safely aboard before lifting off again.
Cain and Heilmit helped me down to the chorus of numerous profanities, setting me down on a stretch of seats that I noticed was being shared by the heavy bolter. "Why do we still have that?" I remarked when I noticed it next to me.
"Are you kidding? I'm mounting that baby on the centaur when we get back," Heilmit said ecstatically before taking a seat. The shuttle lurched as Watz switched from hover to flight and we were all finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Given the state of the city, any vehicles leaving the city would not be seen as a threat to those focused on defending the city. Somewhere down below, the combined forces of the Cadian and Kriegan armoured regiments along with Kastaforian and Adumbrian infantry were beginning their assault on the capital city with orders to wipe out all resistance, xeno or otherwise. Major Currae himself, riding in the recovered Macharius battletank, led the assault. Most of the city was retaken in the first day, followed by almost a week of mopping up stubborn pockets of resistance. If the after-action reports were completely accurate, Currae and his crew destroyed no less than forty-two tanks and armoured vehicles in Aedans alone. There's still a statue of him in the center of Aedans, commemorating his 'liberation' of the city from the xenos and their traitorous cohorts. I found his memoirs detailing the events of Magnus Viridis slightly embellished his contribution to the campaign and barely made any reference at all to the efforts made by Cain or myself…or any of the other regiments aside from his 'heroic and stalwart Cadians.' In fact, I think I was only vaguely referenced once in his memoir as 'the pint-sized rookie commissar.' It just goes to show that not everybody took elevation to heroism with the same level of modesty and respect as Commissar Cain.
As for the Tau, when word of the Governor's death finally reached them, Colonel Kasteen and the 597th were already in position to meet their attack. While the Tau were concerned with the Orks, Kasteen had been subtly repositioning all of her gun emplacements so they were facing the Tau lines. Being hammered on two sides by humans and Orks, the Tau were overwhelmed and were routed in only a few hours. Unfortunately, the 597th were unable to give chase, as the folding Tau lines forced our troops into direct confrontation with the Orks, not that there were a lot of greenskins left by that point. According to the Cadians, the Tau fled like scared children back to the spaceport and began an immediate withdrawal back into orbit. Within a couple of days, the Tau had completely pulled out of the sector.
With the Tau gone and the traitor regiments either in ruins or full retreat, many considered the campaign to retake Magnus Viridis to be complete. Though the most difficult task of the campaign was complete, that didn't meant the fighting was over since the Lord-General (who was not among those who considered the campaign over) would not be content until the Orks were crushed and every last vestige of the traitor PDF regiments was captured. Thankfully, with the Tau having pulled out, the sector was safe enough to bring in reinforcements and fresh supplies, though regiments responsible for liberating Magnus Viridis would not be relieved for several months and would continue fighting Orks and traitor PDFs .
Some relief did come, however, but not in the form of Imperial Guards. Roughly a week after our 'raid' on Aedans, the Black Watch strike cruiser, Tempered Resolve, arrived in the system. The demise of an entire strike team made them swear vengeance against the Orks and traitors on the planet, drawing their assistance into purging the planet of their filth. Garrick returned to his company and was promoted to Brother-Sergeant for his valour. Though the Black Watch generally kept their operations limited to just their forces, Garrick made sure to extend an invitation to the 597th whenever he could. We had squads volunteering in droves to fight alongside the Black Watch marines to the point where Kasteen devised a lottery system just to be fair to the troops.
While there was still fighting to be done before we could consider our job finished, it was far less intense and a lot more straightforward than what we had endured thus far. I, for one, was relieved to leave the military thinking to the generals and colonels for a while and just focus on the simple tasks of maintaining troop morale and discipline. There was no need to run about gathering clues, investigating leads, or speculating through the night over a dozen cups of recaf.
There was still one thing left unresolved and I am certain you are wondering it yourself at this very moment – what of our Eldar instigator?
Now despite falling through a skylight and plummeting thirty feet, I came out of the ordeal in relatively good order. That is, if one can consider four cracked vertebrae, a broken sacrum, a dislocated shoulder, a fractured scapula, and a second-degree concussion to be 'relatively good order.' It was relatively good compared to the Tau I landed on, who was quite dead as a result of being smoked by a hundred and thirty pound meat sack. Cain pulled some strings with the Lord-General and got me placed under the care of his personal medicae staff, which meant the best around-the-clock medical care a person could get without being obscenely rich and an orderly who responded my call in no less than thirty-six seconds. I think Cain felt a little guilty about knocking me over the ledge.
I also got sponge baths from an orderly with eyes like sapphires and a smile that could make a girl think the Sanguinius himself was looking after you. Or at least that's how I remember my lengthy recovery. It's hard to say how accurate my memories of the events are considering the constant supply of painkillers the doctors gave me. Being shot in the back three times hurt like warp fire but at least the pain went away after a few days; breaking my back left it aching for months and there are still times when the pain comes back to remind me of the good old days.
While the doctors were able to patch me up fairly quickly, it would still be a few weeks before I get up to take a piss without cursing up a storm. The painkillers kept me in a tolerable mood, much to the delight of Watz and Heilmit who came by frequently to pass off dataslates and paperwork for me to kill time with. Even in a drug-induced haze, I was still competent to shuffle more dataslates for Cain and, as usual, it kept me busy when there was little else for me to do other than admire the view out the window from my bed.
It was about a week after our firefight through the Governor's palace that I awoke one morning to find an unexpected visitor from, if you hadn't guessed by now, our manipulative little Eldar. "'Hero of the Imperium, Commissar Cain, led a daring raid into the heart of the Governor's Palace in order to administer the Emperor's judgment upon the traitorous Governor,'" Kael said, reading from a dataslate as he sat across from my bed in an easy-chair. "'Though details are still coming in from the ruins of Aedans, survivors confirm that Commissar Cain that delivered the final blow, throwing the entire palace into disarray while Orks rampaged throughout the capital city.' The rest of the article isn't all that accurate but what can you expect from government-spat propaganda, hm? Still, congratulations are in order – you and your friends have reclaimed your world and you all played your parts wonderfully." My first instinct was to reach for the laspistol under my pillow but no sooner was it in my hand did I realize that it was a lighter than it should've been. "I already took care of that for you," Kael said as he held up a power cell. "I must say that was quite an impressive fight to freedom. I was half-worried that you weren't going to make it out of there at all."
"What do you want Eldar?" I sneered, half-tempted to shout for a guard even though I knew Kael wouldn't even be inconvenienced by it.
"Can't a person stop by to see how a friend is holding up?" he asked as though we were still on good terms with each other. "I'm relieved to see you are okay. If I had known you were going to fall through the skylight I would've put a mattress down below to brace your fall but the Tau Ethereal proved adequately suitable for the task."
"Ethereal?" I asked.
"Did nobody tell you?" he said with genuine confusion. He looked to the dataslate once again and read from it, "'Rumours persist that not only did Commissar Cain dispose of the heretical Governor but also assassinated the Ethereal Aun'Vre, who is a xeno that serves as a sort of political leader for the Tau. Witnesses report seeing an Astartes soldier and a commissar leaving the scene of where the Tau Ethereal was killed.' Apparently your plummeting backside broke not only the back of the Tau Ethereal but also that of the entire Tau military presence. It was a most surprising turn of events."
While it had been speculated that the Ork assault had resulted in the Ethereal's death and the Tau's sudden withdrawal, until then I hadn't the slightest reason to suspect that I had been directly involved in the matter. Apparently, our raiding party was the only one trying to escape the palace. "And I'm sure it was all a coincidence that he happened to be standing under the skylight at that moment," I said skeptically.
"While I might claim to read the skeins of fate and their convoluted paths, ultimately fate works on its own accord. I'm not that good m'dear." I wasn't wholly convinced of that but I decided against saying anything. There were a lot of questions that were nagging on my mind, questions that I had wanted to ask if I ever got the chance but now that the opportunity was there, I found myself reluctant to do so. I'm not sure if it was because I didn't want to risk making myself a threat to Kael…or because I didn't want to know what the answers might have been. Unfortunately, while words failed me, my thoughts didn't and Kael picked up on them. "You want to know why, don't you? Why all the tricks? Why all the games? Why you and your friends jumped through so many hoops for me? You don't need to be a psyker to know that's what you were thinking, it's written across your face. Can't blame you, really...that thirst for knowledge used to be a hallmark of your people. Orks never ask why, Chaos only asks what you want, and my people only ever ask how. That is something I like about you Abel…you're not afraid to ask why. In a galaxy where so many people are content just to accept things as they are, you seek the truth. And you're not afraid of anything that might stand in your way of it. Curiosity is a wondrous thing to have Abel, albeit a bit dangerous, but ultimately wondrous. With it…the universe opens itself to you. Never stop asking questions Abel, it will serve you well in the future."
"You still haven't told me why Kael," I reminded him.
"Oh right, the whys," he replied, sounding slightly embarrassed. "It should be pretty obvious to you. This planet belongs to the Eldar; we gave birth to it tens of thousands of years ago. Your people stole this planet from us and I intend to take it back. Of course, I had planned to simply wait for the Governor to die of old age and capitalize on the power instability that followed but the impending arrival of the Tau forced me to change my plans. The Tau are a useful tool but they're difficult to control. The only way I could get them to listen to me was to make it seem like I was giving them the planet. The Orks were simpler…attract them to the planet and let them do what they do best. With Orks and Tau besieging the planet, it was inevitable the Imperial Guards would be sent to retake the world. I had intended for all three of you to kill each other off…but amazingly, with a single shuffle of the cards, fate changed everything and an unexpected variable, a tiny but determined commissar, threw all my plans askew. For a moment I almost panicked – years of planning potentially ruined. You could not imagine how long I meditated in order to find a new path. It was actually kind of a thrill – the sudden chaos throwing everything out of alignment; using every ounce of will, strength, and speed to correct; fate itself practically challenging, pushing me to act harder and faster than ever before. Until your arrival Abel, I had almost forgotten what elation the witch path could bring. Unfortunately, all my meditations could not find me the path I desired, so instead I had to settle on the least destructive one…the one that would entwine my fate with yours. The Orks, left uncheck, would tear this planet apart until it was a muddy ball of filth and decay; the Tau would seek to develop this world into another grand city, destroying its natural beauty to put their own in its place; despite what I feel about your species, ensuring that this planet remained in the hands of the Imperium was the best outcome for it. Your people can at least appreciate its beauty and leave it relatively intact. If I need to wait another couple of centuries to take this world back, then I can live with that. Fate has closed a door for me but it has opened many new ones."
While his explanation seemed to put everything into one neat and tidy package, it left me with a nagging thought. At first I thought it might have simply been my inability to fully comprehend the Eldar. Why would an Eldar invest so much for the sake of one planet? And if it was so important, where were the rest of the Eldar? Why wasn't there an army ready to take the planet back by force? And even though he had time on his side, the life he was living on the planet suggested nothing of a man plotting to overthrow an entire planet's government. Finally, a thought crossed my mind, "This isn't about the planet…this is about her."
Kael fell strangely silent for a moment and I think, for a brief instant, I had actually taken him completely by surprise. He rose from his seat and walked over to the window, gazing to the rising sun in the distance. The horizon was painted in vibrant reds and purples, something I hadn't noticed despite the weeks and long days I had spent on the planet. The sunrise only lasted a few minutes on Magnus Viridis and this brevity only intensified its natural beauty. "Let me tell you a story Ariel…a story of a young Eldar from Alaitoc. He didn't care wars or fates or politics, he just wanted to make art and music. He would spend days in the grand spires just watching the world drift past him, dreaming of melodies your mind could not begin to fathom and would make your very soul dance. But his favourite place to find his muse was a maiden world called Mae-la ai'Isha where he could get lost in its vast jungles for months on end, accompanied only by his dreams. But like any good story, one day he met a girl. Her name was Naeyala and she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in the galaxy. He was an artist and she was a warrior…they were from different worlds but that didn't stop him from trying to impress her. So he joined an Aspect Shrine and became a servant of the Bloody-Handed God. The pair fell in love. She showed him the art of death and he showed her the art of life. They were inseparable…he would take her Mae-la ai'Isha and they would disappear into the jungles together, alone only with their passions and their dreams. But one day he got wounded in battle and she realized that she couldn't stand the thought of him dying. She made him swear never to walk the path of the warrior again. He still wanted to help her, though, so he chose the witch path and became a seer. And like any important story then came the tragedy and he lost the one thing in the galaxy that mattered to him, first in mind and then in body. The seer succumbed to his rage but with it he became a powerful force to be reckoned with. His desire became obsession…a quest for redemption. But before his obsession could consume him entirely, his people transgressed him and he awoke from his rage. He realized that the reason she swore him off the path of the warrior wasn't because she was afraid he would be killed…but because she feared he would meet the same fate as her – that he would become lost to his obsession. Lost and confused…he left everything behind and went to the one place in the galaxy where he felt at peace..."
It was hard to fathom that somebody would go to such lengths to preserve a memory, to protect a memento that just happened to be a whole planet. But that might have just been something about the xeno mind that a human simply couldn't grasp. Then again, I had also never been in love and if it made people do crazy things, I couldn't imagine what it could do to a mind as complex as an Eldar's. "What did they do?"
"Somebody I had long trusted took her from me," he said, anger replacing the sorrow in his voice. "And for that there is no absolution."
"Why are you telling me all this?"
"Well Miss Abel, like it or not, our fates have become entwined and our only choice is to see where the path takes us. It will be difficult I have no doubt but sometimes the most arduous path is the only path that leads to salvation." The sunrise was finished, the sky now a crystal blue, and Kael headed for the door. "Take care Ariel Abel, we shall be crossing paths again in the near future."
"Wait," I called out just as he was about to leave. Oddly enough, he stopped though he had no reason to do so. I suspect it was partly due to that appreciation of my curiosity he mentioned because there was still a question on my mind. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry about what happened to her."
"Sympathy from a human…you are full of surprises."
"I don't suppose you could tell me who you are; who you really are."
"Some days I don't even know that myself but my name is Kyriese." He glanced back to me and smirked slightly, "Never stop asking questions Ariel…and never forget who you are. It will keep you alive."
With that, Kael (technically Kyriese but I never could never stop calling him Kael) departed, slipping out of the medicae facility as easily as he had walked in. It was a testament to his abilities that he could stroll through our facilities with impunity. This was emphasized by the fact that Watz came in moments later completely oblivious to the fact that he had walked past the Eldar in the halls. I have never told anyone about that visit, I wasn't sure how people react to me having a casual conversation with the enemy. Less trusting people might have assumed I was in cahoots with the Eldar and I didn't trust my reputation to protect me even amongst the Valhallans. I had a lot of time to sit and think about everything that Kael had said and ponder the greater implications. As much as I wanted to dismiss what he said as the deceptive ramblings of the Eldar but my instincts told me that we would be crossing paths soon. In the end, I wasn't sure what was fact or what was fiction anymore. Lies, truths, and preconceptions blended together until it was one homogenous mass of words being thrown around for self-gain.
What I did know, though, was that I had managed to make it through my first deployment to the front lines. I came to this planet full of uncertainties and anxieties. I wondered if I had what was needed to survive on the brutal, unforgiving battlefield. Now I knew…and my world changed forever…
Final notes from the author:
I think now is as suitable a time as any to draw this chapter of my life to a close. Though there were other memorable moments on Magnus Viridis, those are stories I will save for another time. Like the Cain Archives, I'm sure this will shake up some of the impressions my colleagues had of me. But I'm past the point of caring or apologizing for what I've done.
The other Inquisitors can kiss my arse.
Final Notes from the (real) author:
I always find it hard to believe when I reach the end of a story. It always feels like yesterday that I started typing out the first words and now I have to put the final touches. I hope you all have enjoyed reading this as much as I have writing it. I want to thank my fans for having made this my most successful fiction to date. Keep an eye out a Cain & Abel short to be released some time in mid to late May. Also, be sure to join our heroes in the second installment, Cain & Abel: The Hounds of Erebus, which I hope to have the first chapters ready some time in June.