The Hounds of Erebus

-Ariel Abel

"I have seen the fearsome powers of the Warp tear the heavens asunder; I have seen xeno weaponry wreath worlds in flame; and I have seen the endless hordes of terror and chaos incarnate. But through it all my faith has never faltered for I walk in the Emperor's light and no darkness shall ever touch me."

-Abd-al-Aziz Hakim; 'The Fortitude of Faith'


A common adage amongst the officers and commissars of the Imperial Guard is 'pray for the best, prepare for the worst.' It was one of the many messages the heavy-handed hammer of the Schola Progenum pounded into my brain during my years as a cadet along with 'the Emperor protects the faithful.' Personally, I have always found body armour, refractor shields, and psychic wards to be a far more reliable means of protection than relying on divine intervention. The Emperor was occupied with far more pressing matters than keeping a xeno or heretic from liberating my soul from its earthly bonds. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how one looks at it, during my long career serving the Emperor, being prepared for the worse saved my life on countless occasions. Far more often than I care to count. Preparation served me well during my years on Armageddon, kept me alive during the 13th Black Crusade, and delivered me a resounding victory on the tomb world of Tiras Secundis (the details of which I intend to take to my grave rather than recount. Just mentioning it here will likely give me nightmares).

No man taught me more the true value of being prepared better than Commissar Ciaphas Cain when I served alongside him during my relatively brief stint with the Valhallan 597th Ice Warriors. Cain seemed to have an innate ability to cause any situation he is in to escalate from near-disaster to all-out catastrophe. Fortunately for those around him (namely me), he had an equally innate ability to pull victory from the most dire of situations. It is, perhaps, the only reason I had managed to survive my years spent serving with him. That is until I mastered my own knack for laughing in the proverbial face of Chaos.

When I was deployed to the planet Erebus, I was still very much a young, inexperienced commissar. Though I had somehow managed to make it through my first few campaigns relatively intact, there was still a great deal of undesirable ugliness in the galaxy and I had yet to become familiar with it (a situation I would unfortunately rectify as the decades passed by). Erebus introduced me to a whole level of danger that I had never before heard of or encountered. Not to mention a level of pain I would thankfully never come across again. Before Erebus, I had been threatened with the prospect of being vaporized, incinerated, shot, diced, devoured, emulsified, exploded, and even ritually sacrificed. However, I had yet to be fully introduced to the wondrous world of spiritual deaths. The death of the flesh was one thing, albeit a very big thing, but the death of the soul was a whole new level of terror. An experience that one rarely gets the opportunity to truly savour, more than once. But, you say, what about your encounter with the daemon on the Blessed Bounty? While that victory allowed me be catapulted to heroine-in-the-making status it doesn't count as a perfect bulls-eye as it only nearly caused my soul to be dragged into the warp. And because it didn't score a perfect 10 out of 10 on the Truly Terrifying, Near-Death Experience scale the galaxy decided that I needed a refresher course. Granted, death still had me on speed-dial during my ordeal on Erebus but for a brief moment I found myself teetering on the edge of damnation…contemplating an unthinkable act and actually believing it was a good idea. Such a moment, in reflection, is a very sobering experience and it is one that I still look back on with a heavy heart and a heavier drink.

The planet of Erebus was a stark contrast to any of the previous worlds I had been deployed on. Magnus Viridis was a paradise world both in the literal and figurative sense, and Acitcratna, while at times cold enough to freeze your spit before it hit the ground, was a quaint, tranquil little planet in its own right…at least when we weren't getting shot at by heretics. Both were noted for vibrant ecosystems that had been left relatively untouched by the Imperium. Erebus, on the other hand, was a small forge world whose ecosystem had been torn up to make room for more smelters, foundries and factories. The only living things on the planet were the people and even then most of the people were either servitors or tech-priests, making the 'human' population mostly mechanical. Now I have nothing against the Adeptus Mechanicus or its people – one of my oldest friends is a tech-priest after all – but they're horrible conversationalists. It makes it difficult to pass the time when you're stuck loitering around scores of them for days on end.

But that was the prospect I and the rest of the Valhallan 597th were looking at when we were redirected to Erebus. Our regiment had originally been slated to return to a staging station in order to recoup our losses from the previous campaigns and prepare for the next hellhole that needed its compliment of the Emperor's wrath. But the infinite wisdom of the Munitorium (and some idiot who probably had no idea what a Valhallan was) decided that our regiment would be put to better use watching over some Mechanicus project. Forge worlds were, generally speaking, are stinking hot. Desert planets, while hot, at least offer the amusement created when some noobie is caught cracking a 'but it's a dry heat' joke where upon they are immediately crash-tackled by the six nearest soldiers and buried up to their neck in the sand. Forge worlds offered no such comic relief. The hot, humid atmosphere was guaranteed to bake the Valhallans and the chemical-laced atmosphere meant breathing through a gas mask whenever you were outdoors. As a Kriegan, a forge world was little more than home on a hot summer's day so I was one of the few people on the shuttle ride to the planet's surface that wasn't thinking about firebombing the Munitorium's headquarters. My two aides and fellow Kriegans, Corporal Fredriks Watz and Trooper Yarit 'Spike' Heilmit, were in equally good spirits but for most soldiers of the Death Korps of Krieg, few things ever sullied their mood other than heresy or somebody dumping smelling salts into their gas masks. Despite the fact that their transfer to the Valhallan 597th should have technically only been a temporary affair, the chaotic nature of the campaign and Magnus Viridis, not to mention the death of the Kriegan command structure, ensured that no one ever bothered asking for them back. Neither of my aides were very interested in heading back to the Death Korp either – likely something to do with how the women they were now serving alongside viewed them as a sort of exotic addition to their ranks.

On the shuttle ride down to the planet, I had the fortune to be able to grab the seat next to the Valhallan's executive officer, Major Broklaw. Our relationship was…complicated to put it mildly but we knew the boundaries and we were doing a good job of keeping on our respective sides of that line. I imagine it was as tough on him as it was on me but our unwavering commitment to our duties made it easier to keep things on a friendly-but-still-professional level…most of the time at least. Some circumstances made it harder than others to keep our sentiments from showing. However, I was informed afterward that we did a far worse job hiding our feelings from the rest of the regiment than we thought. Truth be told, we didn't fool anybody except for maybe Jurgen. Still, even focused on our duties, his company made the shuttle ride the most pleasant part of our deployment to Erebus. Unfortunately, at the time I had no idea it would be a perpetual downhill slide from then onwards. Had I known, I would have done something more enjoyable than reading over a briefing slate with the XO.

Like any dutiful XO, Broklaw was perusing the briefing slate so that Colonel Kasteen wouldn't need to be bored with all the mundane details of the planet and its landscape (both geographical and political). His light grey eyes remained transfixed on the dataslate in his hand while mine had a tendency to drift over to the man whose shoulder I was leaning over to read said dataslate. Again, some moments were harder to maintain total discipline. That was especially true for me during the earlier years of our relationship when I was still very young and occasionally at the mercy of my hormones.

"This Erebus sounds likes a wonderfully cheerful place," I commented after reading a few paragraphs in which the words 'civil war' popped up several times. "Strange that, for a change, we're being sent in after the war is over rather than just before it begins."

"I'm not complaining," Broklaw replied. "This is definitely not the kind of planet I would have wanted to be stuck fighting a prolonged campaign on." According to the dataslate, Erebus was as typical as forge worlds go – every last square foot of land was a building or roadway of some sort; manufacturing facilities stretched far and wide; and there was more technology crammed into a street corner than most planets had on whole continents. The streets were so narrow and packed there would have been no room to navigate heavy armour, which meant the civil war had been a long, bloody affair involving building-by-building fighting. It took almost a decade to clear out the rebels and most of that was a war of attrition until the Imperium managed to get heavy bombers to the planet. Once the bombers were planet-side, the Imperial Navy hit them like the Emperor's mailed fist. The Tech-priests weren't happy about the end result but reclaiming half of a forge world was better than losing it all.

"Anything about what they rebelled over?" I asked since I was not able to read as fast as Broklaw.

"Some sort of schism in the ruling Tech-priests," he answered with a hint of indifference. Why people rebelled was hardly his concern. The only thing that ever mattered to him was how he was going to put an end to it. "But you know how those guys can be – they get into arguments over numbers. I saw some get into a brawl when somebody said the answer wasn't forty-two."

Tech-priests were a bizarre but unfortunately necessary part of the Imperium. Talking to one was often as productive as talking to a food dispenser but they held the secrets of all the technology that the Imperium needed to function. Keeping the Adeptus Mechanicus happy was as vital as the air we breath, which wouldn't be so bad if they had similar needs as the rest of the galaxy. But while normal men would usually be content with wealth, women, power, or pieces of art, the tech-priests only craved knowledge and technology. If I ever caught a tech-priest gawking at me, it was because he was literally checking out my guns. And when the Adeptus Mechanicus wants something, they usually do not care who they have to knock aside in order to get. As Cain once mentioned to me, despite all their genius, they often lack even a rudimentary degree of common sense.

Now whatever caused Erebus to be torn asunder was a mystery to us at the time and we didn't give it much thought since the civil war was over. Unfortunately, although the fighting had stopped that didn't necessary mean the problems were solved. The Valhallan 597th were among several regiments being sent in to serve the dual-function of guard duty and clean-up crew. Since most of the Mechanicus' own tech-guard regiments were destroyed in the resulting civil war, that meant the forge world was extremely vulnerable and the Imperium wasn't going to risk having a valuable forge world getting picked off by a roaming Chaos or Ork warband. However, Erebus was so far off the paths through the Warp that the chances of a warband stumbling upon it were marginal at best.

"Looks like we're baby-sitting while the tech-priests clean up the mess," Broklaw said with a sigh of resignation. "According to their estimates, we could be watching over this orbit junk yard for almost as long as they spent blowing it apart."

"Great, so we're going to be stuck for weeks on end doling over patrol and progress reports in cramped little industrial quarters," I replied with similar enthusiasm. Broklaw and I exchanged glances for a second and we must have come to the same conclusion about the potential pitfalls of those plans as we both quickly averted our eyes and quickly went back to the briefing slate. I focused my attention on a series of paragraphs that boringly droned on (though a 'boring briefing slate' is a redundancy in itself) about how the tech-priests were sifting through the collapsed ruins of all their old manufactoriums, trying to recover what working technology they could. Unfortunately, from the sounds of it, a decade was the estimate of some Administratum scribe that had never seen a hole in the ground, let alone an excavation site. If Segmentum Command forgot about our regiment, we could all retire, grow old, and die on Erebus before the tech-priests finished their work. It was a prospect that appeared to be as fun as an in-depth field report on the varying qualities and quantities of sand. The enthusiasm from the other troops was equally abysmal and could be best described as catatonic. I wouldn't have minded colonial duty on a planet like Magnus Viridis but Erebus was a metal box fuming with toxic gases. Just staring at the maps on the briefing slate made me feel a little claustrophobic.

"Maybe we'll get lucky and something interesting will happen," Broklaw commented.

If only life were that simple…

While the Valhallans were dreading the prospect of watching tech-priests and servitors clear away ferrocrete and broken metal, my spirits were not as dampened. True, I did not like the idea of being bored out of my skull either but the environment of a forge world was not too unlike that of Krieg. Before we were allowed to exit the transport shuttle, everybody inside had to don their gasmasks – a state in which I and my aides were more than comfortable with. For us Kriegans, gasmasks were like a second skin and we thought no different of it than a Valhallan would to wearing a heavy coat. The toxic atmosphere of Erebus presented as a dull brownish haze that glowed orange when sunlight was able to leak through the heavy layers.

As we stepped off the shuttle, Broklaw made an off-handed comment about how the orange miasma that greeted us reminded him of a poison gas attack that he experienced back when he was still a junior officer. I replied that a gas attack would probably be preferable to the air on Erebus, since at least a gas attack would eventually end and disperse. The only way to escape the toxic air on a forge world was to go inside and hope the air filters were working. Again, this was something that as a Kriegan I was perfectly accustomed to as Krieg had a toxic atmosphere of its own thanks to a civil war, which ended with a nuclear winter.

As soldiers and chimeras streamed past me, I gazed out to the starport surrounding us. Unlike my previous deployments, which were to relatively small Imperial worlds, Erebus was a major traffic hub in the sector due to its manufacturing facilities. The total developed landscape of Magnus Viridis could fit inside the main star port of Erebus. It had landing pads that could land transports large enough to ship an entire Titan legion to war. Thanks to the civil war, the star port was relatively quiet, which meant all the regiments being deployed could off-load all at roughly the same time, creating a small metropolis of Imperial guardsmen within the star port. The Valhallan 597th was being sent to the southern territory of Styx, which was one of the hardest hit regions in the dying days of the civil war. Almost eighty percent of the facilities there had been destroyed so the tech-priests had its largest concentration of servitors and heavy equipment stationed there. I doubt it was a mere coincidence that the regiment containing the famed Hero of the Imperium was being sent to the most important sector of the planet.

"If it weren't so muggy, I'd say this feels just like home," my aide Heilmit commented when he appeared at my side. He was likely, one of the least depressed soldiers in the regiment, given his upbeat outlook on life (and his casual indifference towards death). He was likely looking forward to the opportunity to spend his off-hours courting a certain young sergeant who was responsible for the loss of my eye.

Watz, on the other hand, was indifferent as I had expected. It might have been boring but it meant people weren't going to be trying to kill him, which was always a plus in his books. He said nothing at first and merely stayed a few steps behind his friend. "Is the centaur unloaded?" I asked as I turned to the corporal.

"Ready and loaded commissar," Watz replied as he motioned for me to follow along. Like my aides, their vehicle had unofficially been added to the Valhallan regiment. I suspect it was written off as destroyed along with the many others that were scrapped when the heavy armour regiment was decimated by a Tau ambush. The centaur is a reliable little vehicle; it didn't possess the level of armour or firepower as a chimera (or even a full roof) but it was faster and far more manoeuvrable. I preferred those features in a vehicle over than a few extra inches of armour plating. The rest of the regiment was already loading into their respective chimeras in preparation for our journey south to our new field headquarters where Kasteen and Cain had already taken up residence. Cain, in his typical fashion, was on the first set of transports down to the planet. As there were no battles to rush off to, I bet he did that just so he could get first dibs on the best accommodations…not that a forge world offered much in that category. The ruling tech-priests would claim things such as spacious accommodations to be an unnecessary accoutrement and a waste of valuable floorspace. It probably took planet-wide rioting for the tech-priests to realize that the working citizens needed more than a closet's worth of space to live in. If I wanted any hope of getting a decent billet I would have to reach field headquarters before the rest of the convoy – enter my speedy little centaur.

"See you at headquarters Broklaw," I shouted while waving to his chimera. I don't know if he was looking out the window when my centaur passed by but his centaur did break from the convoy and accelerate. It never caught up but it was still amusing to see.

In fact, the drive out of the star port was another one of the few enjoyable moments I had on Erebus. Since almost the entire planet's surface consisted of forests of spires and mountain ranges of factories, the star port and its wide, open air space provided the only place on the ground one could admire…or at least what little view there was. The rising sun made the normally brown haze of the air a more vibrant shade of orange, adding much needed colour to an otherwise drab-looking landscape. In the distance, through the haze of the pollution, I could see thousands of silhouettes of the countless smoke stacks that pierced into the sky like quills on the back of a threatened razorhog. They belched out a constant stream of toxic miasma, though it was about as discernable as a faucet leaking into an ocean. Overhead, masses of heavier pollutants coalesced into poisonous clouds rode upon the air currents, ensuring that even when thousands of feet high, you still couldn't escape the noxious stranglehold that enveloped the world. It was a reminder of what I had always disliked about the Adeptus Mechanicus – their singular focus, their obsession with their quest for knowledge turned worlds like Magnus Viridis into pits of hell such as Erebus. When I was a child I heard stories of Krieg's beauty - its shining cities, towering mountains, lush forest, and vast oceans. The war that took it all away was nothing short of tragic and every Kriegan, though viewing the outcome as a necessity for remaining loyal to the Emperor, mourned the death of our homeworld.

The Adeptus Mechanicus ploughed over worlds without so much as a second thought and would shatter Krieg into dust if they thought the core had a piece of technology they desired. They remove all sense of morality and ethical code from the universe, replacing it with their brand of logic and dogma that make little sense to the rest of humanity. Add on all the instances where I ended up to my tits in trouble because of their antics and I've got a galaxy of reasons to hate them. However, I could fill a tome with about people I hate, so enough digressing.

As we traveled into the city, the coloured hues of the sky faded as towering manufactoriums walled us in, funnelling our convoy through artificial valleys of rubble and steel. What citizenry we saw did not look too enthusiastic about our presence but it was difficult to tell since most people some kind of breather mask. I could not blame them since the last Imperial Guards they saw ended up turning their homes into smoking craters. Telling them that it was in the Emperor's name rarely provides any comfort after a bunch of guardsmen have stormed your house, taken all your food, kicked your dog, stole your pants, made sweet love to your daughter, and then bombed the place into the ground (usually, but not always, in that order). A Kriegan might but if Kriegans had inhabited Erebus they would've blown up their own homes well before the Imperial Guard arrived. Most of the citizens simply watched us in silence as we passed by before turning their attention back to whatever pile of rubble they were trying to clear away.

"What a cheerful bunch of people," Watz commented sarcastically. "Remind me to take a stroll through these streets the next time I'm too cheerful."

"I'm sure they'll be happier when they realize we're not here to blow up what little shit they still possess," I replied.

"But we like blowing shit up," Heilmit said, sounding almost disappointed.

"Must be a guy thing," I muttered.

"Making craters with high explosives enhances our lives; gives it meaning," Watz explained.

"And improves our manliness," his friend added.

I laughed and sighed, shaking my head slowly as I leaned against the centaur's heavy bolter. Normally centaurs were equipped with heavy stubbers but after losing it on Magnus Viridis, Watz managed to get it replaced with a heavy bolter he had salvaged from the fighting. The extra firepower was much appreciated, though I had yet an opportunity to pulp some xenos or heretics with it. Few things were as frustrating as having a new gun and no one to use it on.

As we drew closer to our theatre of operation, the southern territory known as Styx, the amount of rubble and broken ruins we had to circumnavigate increased exponentially. The briefing slate did not do justice to the level of destruction, a fact emphasized when our centaur nearly fell into a crater wide enough to trip over a warhound titan. We had to use the makeshift bridge some enginseers had whipped together in order to continue on our way. Bombed-out buildings, craters, and mountains of rockrete slabs soon became the norm as we travelled deeper into Styx. The brown chemical haze was slightly lighter in that territory, likely due to a lack of manufacturing and the air currents keeping pollutants up north. It made things a little easier to see from a distance, which proved useful when trouble did eventually start coming our way. At the time, though, it merely meant that I didn't have to worry about Watz accidentally running somebody over. Even though things were calm, that didn't stop me from keeping my head on a swivel. The handful of street luminators that still functioned created numerous, odd-shaped shadows amongst the rubble that played tricks on my eyes when mixed with the chemical haze. Just because the civil war was over that didn't mean every pocket of resistance had been flushed out. Even without the rubble, the bombing emptied the entire territory of most of its civilian population, leaving miles upon miles of undercity tunnels ripe for the picking.

"What are you looking at Commissar Abel?" Heilmit spoke up. He had noticed that I had been staring in one direction for a while.

I thought I had seen somebody skulking in the shadows but after a while, and watching a small feral animal dash out from behind the rockrete, I had concluded that I had been mistaken once again. "Just an animal," I answered. Of course, then the thought hit me – there shouldn't be any animals on a forge world. The atmosphere alone should make it intolerable for animal, especially a feral one. Unfortunately, before I could investigate the issue any further whatever it was that had caught my eye was now gone. I wasn't in the mood to go chasing what was likely a mechanical aide.

"Maybe you should sit down and get some rest Commissar," Heilmit suggested as he climbed out of sit. "You've been up all day. I'll take watch."

"I think you're right," I nodded in agreement. "I stay up any longer and I'm probably going to start seeing Eldar in every shadow." My aide's offer was well timed so I sank into my seat, pulled my hat down, and quickly fell asleep to the lullabies of my slow, rhythmic breathing.

When I awoke to the gentle nudging of my aide's lasgun butt, the centaur had already arrived at the new Valhallan field headquarters. Somehow, through all the bombing runs, a warehouse that encompassed roughly three city blocks had managed to survive in fairly good order. The actual building originally took up five city blocks but it was deemed a bad idea to put sensitive mechanical and electronic systems in an area that had no roof. From what I had read in the briefing slate, Erebus was not a planet you wanted to be caught outside in the rain without an umbrella (which, unfortunately, was frequent). Any rainfall was guaranteed to be more chemical than water, prompting me to keep my hair pinned up more tightly than usual.

I told my two aides to go and find me a nice place to set up shop and then find themselves a comfortable room as well. The speed in which the two headed off on their assigned task spoke volume of how much they enjoyed the little perks of being a commissar's aide. While the rest of the troopers were shacked up wherever we could find space, Watz and Heilmit usually got a comfortable double-room to call home. It wasn't much but a few extra square feet of floorspace and a wall between you and the person you're living with could make all the difference to people whose world barely knew the concept of 'personal space.' Watz often remarked that he needed the personal space to avoid terrifying the women in the regiment when he took his gas mask off. I think he was just sensitive about his facial scaring.

"Good afternoon Penlan," I said with a curt salute to the sergeant when I stepped off my centaur.

"Afternoon Commissar," she replied, returning my salute in kind. "Uhh, how did you know it was me?" Not surprisingly, she was a little confused how I could so easily recognize her despite the gasmask she wore.

"Sergeant's stripes for starters," I pointed out as I tapped her collar. "Plus I'm a Kriegan, we grow up identifying people using traits other than facial features – how you walk, how you carry your gun…and how Heilmit behind me has been watching you from the moment you stepped into view." It was a necessary attribute when you lived on a world with a lot of clones and gas masks. Watz and Heilmit were experts at recognizing people by gait and stance even after a few minutes. Meanwhile, my slightly rustier skills took a few days before it could kick in. I still get surprised when people confused my aides because to me the differences are so obvious even a blind Ork should be able to tell them apart. Watz, for starters, was taller than his friend and he walked with the straight, confident stride that came from his many years of experience; his movements were always slow and calm but precise and with purpose. It gave him the charismatic appeal of a boulder but it suited his role in life. Heilmit, on the other, was more like a young pup…energetic and excited. He moved more erratically, shifting his focus from point to point with the speed of an ADD child on stims. Though he had an attention span that needed a cogitator to measure, it was great for multitasking and lateral thinking (though sometimes he would laterally think himself over a cliff).

"Oh, right…of course," Penlan replied. Even with the mask on I could tell she was embarrassed…probably flustering in that way that brought out the burn scar on her cheek. I always thought it was kind of adorable but I found cuteness in the weirdest places. I once described a Scillalian sea slug as being cute and those things look like somebody's bowels turned inside out. But in my defence, it was trying to suck Heilmit's brain out at the time so the hilarity might have played a factor.

"Have you seen the Colonel or Commissar Cain?" I asked.

"They should be in the Colonel's new office," Penlan answered as she directed me to the doorway leading into the warehouse. "It's located in the foreman's office on the sixth floor." After she gave me a set of directions that made navigating a labyrinth seem simple, I headed on my way to find either one of my objectives. Chances were I would find Kasteen long before Cain but one could always hope. The interior of the warehouse was still a work-in-progress as soldiers and servitors cleared away refuse and rubble to open up hallways and corridors. The entire east wing of the warehouse was the aforementioned area deemed too unstable and 'full of holes' to be useable. I would point out the lack of a third-through-seventh floor would be more problematic than a few holes in the walls and ceiling but who cared about my opinion when it came to structural engineering? I hauled along a tote bag filled with my usual assortment of office equipment as my plan was to stake out my office while I was in the area. Eventually, after asking for directions from some troopers, I managed to find my way to Kasteen's office. The workers had done an excellent job of turning the foreman's former abode into one fit for a regimental commander – her wide, brass-and-wood desk was positioned to give her a clear view of anybody walking in, while allowing her access to the window overlooking the warehouse floor (now turned operations center) with a simple pivot in her chair. The redheaded colonel was handling her work on a dataslate since the tech-priests were still hooking up her personal lectern but the moment she heard me entering the dataslate hit the table.

"If you're looking for Cain, he's wandering around somewhere," she said after the usual meet-and-salute.

"I'm sure he'll find me when he has work to be done," I said jokingly. "So any word yet on our official standing orders?"

"Still the same – sit tight, keep an eye out for heretics, and make sure the tech-priests can do their work in peace." Kasteen sounded as unenthused as everyone else I had talked to but that didn't come as a surprise either. It was no mystery to anybody that Kasteen wasn't a fan of tech-priests. I'm not exactly sure of the reason but I suspect it had something to do with their physical appearances. Maybe there was just something about a guy with hoses and wires where his face should be that bugged her. "Whatever they're digging up here, it must be pretty important for Segmentum Command to be deploying so many regiments to watch over this place."

"Well Erebus does provide almost a third of the supplies to the surrounding sectors so it's probably important to get this planet up and running again," I said with an indifferent shrug. The Adeptus Mechanicus got away with a lot of crazy requests when dealing with the Administratum. The fact the Administratum bends over backwards to keep the tech-priests happy might have something to do with it. "Or maybe the Magos lost his favourite watch…you know how these tech-priests can be. If it so much as ticks they want to get their little robotic mitts on it regardless of the time or costs." Unfortunately, I might have forgotten that I was surrounded by the several tech-priests who were working on setting up Kasteen office and they all immediately stopped and stared when they overhead my little remark. The several pairs of biotic eyes glaring at me felt like a thousand sun lamps. I was filled with an overwhelming urge to get out of the room in a hurry just in case one of the tech-priests could actually burn things with their gaze. "Hey, that guy over there is defacing a dataslate," I shouted and pointed at the window behind Kasteen's desk. Strangely enough, they actually did glance over for a moment and I took that opportunity to bolt out the door.

Normally I don't run from a fight but I wasn't going to shoot a bunch of tech-priests and they would probably enjoy being hit with my shock maul. If anything, I denied them their prize…namely me. So that counted as a victory, right?

Since Kasteen had nothing to provide other than a room full of irritated tech-priests, I figured it was a good a time as any to stake out my new office. There was no shortage of options available to me but the number of good options was in seriously short supply. If I wanted to make my office out of a broom closet I would have been set in an instant, but I wanted something with a bit more legroom and preferably a window of some sort. True there wasn't anything to have a nice view of but I always wanted a room with a window…it was the principle that mattered. For a brief moment I wondered where Cain had pitched up his office but then I realized it was probably somewhere off in a corner where he would be assured of privacy. Normally I would scorn a commissar for making his office so hard to reach but when you were a Hero of the Imperium like Cain, everybody walked through your door when they had an opportunity. Putting his office off the beaten path was likely the only way he could get some work done in peace. I didn't mind keeping my office up front and easily accessible and not just because it was recommended; people only bugged me when they were looking for Cain or when Jurgen was passing off some work to help lighten Cain's load.

After an hour or so of passing through random halls and nearly stumbling into the unstable East wing and its lack of a fifth floor, I managed to find a nice little room on the third floor. It appeared to once belong to some sort of scribe or archivist because there were old crates of rolls and dataslates lying all over the room. I felt a little bad about moving all the stuff around and tossing the scripture rolls and dataslates into whatever boxes I could. Administratum adepts were very picky about their workspaces, especially archivists and stenographers since they obsessed over their system of cataloguing. However, not only was the former occupant of the room likely long dead ,never to return, but I had sufficient authority stored up in my middle finger to kick out any scribe or archivist foolish enough to try and re-claim this space. Still, as a sign of my generous and thoughtful nature, I left the boxes in the corner of the room…just in case somebody came by looking for them. The office was sizeable – it had enough room for several desks, likely so the former occupant could run several projects at once, and it even had a little window in the corner that let in some of the daylight. Unfortunately, it was also as dusty as an under-city so I spent a few hours with a rag, cleaning off everything. The office was going to be a work-in-progress but it wasn't as though I was going to be kept busy with a lot else. Daily reports and discipline filings would likely make up the bulk of my workload. On a planet like Erebus, where boredom would set in before the first patrols were even over, discipline problems were going to be frequent as troopers tried to find different and unique means to keep themselves amused. At least there wasn't anything valuable lying around for them to blow up so I won't be apologizing to the locals very often.

For the uninitiated, let me explain something about troopers and silly-bugger situations they get into that eventually lead to a commissar's disciplinary report. Now you might think that trouble starts when troopers with too much time on their hands, get together and some mother's pride and joy says "Wouldn't it be cool if we (insert stupid idea here). While it may appear that this was the sequence of events that led Trooper Dumbass to fire a rocket at the statue of the local hero while drunk, the truth is quite different. In fact the trooper had hatched this brilliant idea months ago; long before he arrived on said planet. Young troopers with access and contemptible familiarity with explosive weaponry is extremely fertile grounds for 'brilliant ideas.' The statue and the drunken state of mind were just bonus points to be used later when regaling his story to his friends or drinking buddies. What our little budding genius lacked was opportunity. The opportunity to put his plan into motion. And when a regiment has no enemy to fight and goes to garrison, opportunities flourish like weeds in an unkept garden. That's why when troops are in garrison, every spare moment is filled with training, drills, cleaning, inspections, exercises and extra duties. We're not trying to prepare or better the troops, we're trying to kill opportunity.

So after several long and tiring hours, I finally had a room that sort of resembled a commissar's office. I had pushed all the unnecessary desks to the back corner and repositioned the largest of them into the centre of the room. The desk was a bit on the large side and made me seem even smaller when I sat behind it but it had the undeniable benefit of being the only desk that had a flat, undamaged surface. In a pinch I could probably roll up my coat and use it as a bed. And since I had tired myself out rearranging office furniture, I decided to pop off my gasmask, set my head down, and try to get a bit of rest before venturing out to try and find Cain once again.

That idea, evaporated a few hours later when the man I had planned to seek out came and found me instead. I was stirred awake by a poke to the noggin followed by a rhetorical, 'Hard at work I see,' from my fellow commissar. I was a little startled at first, quickly righting myself and readjusting my cap. Cain chuckled slightly at my hasty reaction and probably cause I was flustered from embarrassment. I knew Cain wouldn't hassle me over catching me napping but that didn't stop it from being embarrassing.

"Just…finished organizing the new office," I answered, which was half-true at least.

"Quaint little set-up you have here," he replied as he took a brief look around. "Could use with a liquor cabinet or a recaf dispenser. Maybe your aides can scrounge something up from around the base." No doubt Heilmit would be able to swipe something from the motorpool or the mess hall; he had little shame when it came to procuring items regardless of possession laws. I learned quickly not to ask where his offerings came from. "Interesting little accessory you got there," Cain then commented as he motioned to the side of my head. "I wasn't aware you could find something like that on a forge world."

"Accessory?" I replied with marked confusion. I felt around where he had pointed to and felt something tucked along my ear. It was a flower; a small purple and blue flower with a star-like petal arrangement. It took a second for my waking brain to recognize a Verten Glory, a flower indigenous to Magnus Viridis. "Oh no…"