Chapter 5: Hold the Line

In its second hour, the bombardment gradually faded, a sign of the battle coming.

Lieutenant Carnigan sat in the slowly drying mud of his trench, inspecting the platoon's three hours' work. Two heavy bolters sat twenty yards back, trained over the hastily reinforced parapet wall. A pair of mortars had taken up residence in Koll's squad's bunker, emperor bless the late sergeant. "Well, I really don't want to lie," Carnigan began. Corporal Tantin, Private Ellirn, and several others out of eyesight burst out laughing, breaking the tension. "Shoot straight and don't bolt, we'll make it through this" Carnigan said, taking a seat in a helpful 'v' formed by two shattered wooden boards.

"How bad is it?" Tantin asked. He risked a glance across no man's land, where an unnatural fog obscured the enemy's preparations.

Carnigan recalled Wolfe's warning about the titans. "Oh, you have no idea."

….

Private Sawyer was startled as the tripod abruptly collapsed and his multilaser dropped off the parapet. He cursed and picked it up. One of the two men he'd found wandering the back trenches, Private Mortigane, examined the tripod. "Mud jamming the bolt" he said, spitting and rubbing with his coat. He snapped it into place and they remounted the four barreled weapon. They were twenty yards back and aiming two hundred fifty ahead. Sawyer swiveled the multilaser in a thirty degree arc. "Everything within here dies" he said. Mortigane nodded.

"Unless they have tanks of course" Private Nerrin said, returning from the last supply drop with a pair of hefty power cells, which he dropped on the table beside them. Sawyer grimaced.

"That's what the rocket men are for" he gestured at a squad armed with the heavy single-shot launchers the Kragar were forced to use because their limited industries couldn't produce melta missiles, among other things.

"True" Nerring drew his lasgun and dropped beside them.

Wolfe watched as a pair of soldiers mounted the Kragarian battle-flag on an improvised pole over his bunker at the high point of the ridgeline. It unfurled and flapped in the cold wind: the silver tome and lasgun over a navy background with red stars to represent each planet in the KRagar system. On a white strip at the bottom was inscribed their motto; "know thine enemy." As long as that flag holds, we haven't lost yet Wolfe thought. He surveyed the army spread out before him and his small staff. They were shaken and cold and soaked, but still strong.

"Everyone holding up well?" Koll asked. He got nods all around, and then went in to change himself. The tank jolted abruptly. "What was that?"

"Marauder wreckage, don't worry we're still a couple miles from the battlefield" Vinncens said.

"I will stop worrying when we start shooting" Koll responded. He quickly pulled on the fresh uniform from his bag, relishing its relative dryness. As he shoved the soaking and ripped one in, something dropped out with a loud clink. He picked it up: the regimental badge, chiding himself, he pinned it on and returned to the packed cabin.

"You know this tank needs?" Vinncens said.

"What?"

"A radio box, so we can play music while frying heretics. Think about it." Allis slapped her open palm to her forehead.

"Actually, that's a good idea, what music do you have in mind?" Koll replied. Fury began muttering about noise marines.

"Well, our anthem would sound good with something blowing up in the background, then there's that one song air command likes to drop napalm to, the pre-heresy one." He thought for a minute.

"Something with a V," Curze said. Koll nodded, thinking about it. They heard a drumroll of concussions, and several hydra batteries began chattering.

"If we survive this, I suppose Viado could rig something up" Koll said. The tank column entered the trench lines. "Alright, here's how we'll do it. Curze, you're the best shot, take the main gun, Allis go with him. Can Donnel shoot?" Donnel stood up lopsidedly and nodded. "Good, take the pintel bolter. Gerring, get the missile launchers, and Krane, you're on engine detail, Shoeggoth make sure nobody boards us from the rear." The group broke up. Krane began fiddling with the knobs and the engine's volume increased.

"Just like my dad's cargo lifter" he muttered.

Gerring hopped into the tiny missile nacelle and examined the controls in the dim half-light. There was a joystick to aim, and a pair of digital sights inscribed with one of the cursed languages. He put them away, no need where they were going-and pressed buttons until he found the launcher and the activation switch. The missile pod hummed to life. "This is so going to be the first thing they shoot" he muttered, ever cheerful.

Curze clambered into the turret where the breach of the volcano cannon hummed faintly and examined the controls while Allis joined him. "I can't read these" he said.

"Have you ever been in a tank before?" Allis asked. He gave her a thumbs-up, the space too cramped to nod. "Then wouldn't the controls be relatively the same?"

This is a laser tank, you want me to overload the generator and boil us?" He examined the controls. "This is the power lever, I think" he tested a lever next to a glowing readout. Allis grabbed his hand.

"Power lever would be on the right, only Teriphus and Kragar pattern tanks have everything on the left" she said. He nodded and grabbed the lever on the other side, cautiously pushing it down. The main gun's lights faded and its faint humming died. He pushed it two-thirds of the way up, causing the weapon to glow red. The trigger lever was on his right, with a heretic's hand still fused to it. He cut it off and threw it down the hatch. "We're good then."

Donnel climbed into the exposed bolter mount, careful to keep his head below the edge of the tank. He tried to shrug off that feeling of uselessness and vulnerability he'd had for the past hours, to little success. His good arm settled on the trigger, his bad awkwardly held the gun barrel.

They came to a halt with the convoy. Koll watched as legions of heretics formed up into loose brigades around the slow, sure glowing blue rubric marins and bloodstained berserkers. The cultists were different: clad in uniform with better weaponry and armor, while they moved with a coordinated fluidity, forming up into squads and platoons. The ground shook, and a pair of colossal legs stomped past his field of view. Vinncens gaze up through the sensor readouts. "Oh Frack, they have a titan." A second, larger pair of legs blocked out the entire screen.

"Two, we'll hit those first." Koll noted, trying to remain unfazed. The army began to move off. Suddenly, an ungodly blue monstrosity with pointed ears and six arms stepped in front of them, the water vaporizing wherever it stepped. It opened its mouth and out poured a grating howl that swelled eardrums to bursting point. He grabbed his ears and winced.

"I think he wants us to advance" Fury shouted over it. Vinncens pushed down on the accelerator, and the shadowsword glided forward, picking up speed as it moved over the ridge that they had been dying for just a few hours ago. Cannonfire became audible. "Frack, they've already started" Fury noted.

….

Wolfe stood at the bunker parapet, watching the mass of heresy forming up six hundred yards distant through field binoculars. "Prepare" he whispered over the vox. Normally his aide would be there to bellow them out, more for tradition and morale than anything else. "PREPARE FOR BATTLE!" he ordered in a hoarse shout. Lasguns came up and tank hatches shut. Infantry finished shoring u the gaps made by the warp bombardment. A shout rose up from the opposing line, and the solid mass of the archenemy's forces advanced. Calls of "steady men," and "give them hell" echoed up and down the line. "Are the Valkyrie's ready?" Wolfe asked.

"They're orbiting the battlefield" Amin assured him. Wolfe watched the mass of converted Imperial citizenry and tanks charging towards him without batting an eye.

The first wave is always the weak and the numerous, a punching bag for us to waste our munitions on. "Call in the airstrikes, flatten them."

The Valkyrie's appeared in the sky: a thin black line against the white clouds. Wolfe watched them dive on the advancing tide of blue and red. Several hydra batteries opened up, and he saw small bursts of flame and several began to free fall. Morrison did his best to target the guns, pumping shells from his commandeered vanquisher Anvil. He personally disintegrated two into clouds of shrapnel that cut the nearest troops apart, a standard Russ, Fury of the Emperor hit a third. The demolishers Wolverine and Fighting Johm scored, silencing the remaining AA fire. The Valkyries dropped in and leveled off, unleashing a deluge of missiles. The archenemy's charge broke. Tanks fractured, infantry disintegrated and melted. The Rubric Marine at the head of the charge blocked half a dozen missiles with glowing warp portals only for a Valkyrie, in its death throes with both engines ablaze to plow into it, fusing both together in molten wreckage. A cheer went up from the Fifteenth. As the next charge met a similar fate, the cheering only grew louder. Then the Baneblades appeared through the smoke and steam. Werner saw the single metal behemoth before him and began issuing orders to bring the tanks around. Surring almost panicked as one came into view directly in front of him. Avard began calling for airstrikes as he spotted one at the center of the charging archenemy formation. Wolfe began planning as two rumbled towards him. Regular tanks fanned out around them, then the ordinary footsoldiers. A dozen Corrupted Marines and Daemons of both Khorne and Tzeentch spearheaded the assault. It was a frightening force that stretched to the horizon and was just 500 meters distant, against which his beloved regiment seemed a thin blue and red line in comparison. The lead baneblade took the first shot. A bunker vanished in a cloud of rubble and blood from the two squads inside ejected skywards. Wolfe didn't give an inch at the imposing force. "Artillery engage" he ordered.

The first salvo screamed in. For a moment great gaps in the archenemy's advance opened as his infantry and armor died by the dozen, splattered across the sodden ground and into the air by earthshaker rounds and ordinary artillery. Wolfe spotted the airborne torso of a bloodletter crash down upon half a dozen cultists wearing re-dyed civilian garb. Then the next wave moved up and those holes vanished. At 400 meters Morrison ordered his vehicles to pick the largest enemies first, assigning individual vanquisher and annihalator squads to take on the booming baneblades. Leman Russ's began to duel their corrupted brethren as exterminators and demolishers fired at will into the approaching mass of infantry. The trenches lit up with impacts of gargantuan size. His first shot struck the closest tank halfway up its sloping forward armor, removing a demolisher cannon sponson. The two vanquishers maneuvering with his; Unbreakable, and Steel Hammer put shells through its left tread mount and flank to little affect. The Baneblade's return shot slammed between them and removed Steel hammer and an unlucky Chimera from existence, rocking the surviving vehicles with enough force to slam Morrisson's head into the back of the cramped turret cupola. He wiped away the tears welling up in his eyes and sighted almost directly down its main gun barrel.

"Get the Marauders in the air, slow orbit. I want the second Valkyrie flight to engage immediately and reload first flight with inferno missiles" Three hundred meters. Needle las rifles and sniper cannons opened fire next, singling out officers and tank commanders for penitence. At Two hundred fifty heavy weapons on both sides opened up, crisscrossing the closing gap with bolter fire and rockets. Sawyer squeezed the trigger of the multilaser and watched a near solid line of lasbolts chew into the infantry.

"Khornate Berserker on the right, fifty yards" Private Nerrin warned him. He shifted his aim and watched the marine slowly grind to a halt and collapse.

Morrison's third shot found the Baneblade's treads, ripping the mounting apart and stopping the tank dead in its tracks. However, at the same time Unbreakable's engine block was ripped open by the concussion of a near miss, sending it to a stop with smoke pouring from the rear. The man on the heavy stubber kept shooting. Morrison's fourth shot removed the gunner from existence and a pair of lucky basilisk shells took the entire turret, reducing the Baneblade to a slowly burning hulk that served only to break up the formation of the oncoming infantry. He allowed himself a moment of satisfaction, then ordered his drive to head north and engage the next tank, which had carved out a large chunk of the lines despite annihalator laserfire slowly chewing it a part.

At one-hundred fifty meters the infantry opened fire with a high pitched whine of lasrifles mixed in with their battle-cries. The advance slowed as each yard now was gained over a dozen bodies. "I want a thousand dead by the time they're running!" Carnigan exhorted his men on as he emptied his grenade launched into a beast of Khorne outrunning the rest of its army. It took three bombs and the rifles of Corporal Daggin's five men to bring it to its knees and prolonged lasfire to finish it. By that time the rest of the army had overrun the corpse. The heretics were being cut down by the thousands, but it just wasn't enough. They closed to a hundred yards. "Get ready to fall back to the second line, we can't afford a melee!"

Surring's line had nearly collapsed, shelled by tanks and wavering under the impending hammerblow when the first Marauders roared in overhead, heedless of renewed cannon fire rising up to meet them.

Carnigan heard their engines overhead and paused from ordering the platoon to withdraw through a trench dug by the baneblade's gun and glanced up in time to see the first rockets stave in the formation. The Baneblade bearing down on them absorbed five missiles, two bombs, and four artillery shells before detonating in a hundred meter high fireball. Burning wreckage and oil rained down, wreaking havoc. "Hold, the tide is about to break!" he ordered, then took his own advice and resumed firing. Surring meanwhile sighed with relief.

A vox call went up on all frequencies, and two battalions of armor and almost a thousand men arrived from the various Kragar regiments. Leading them was reserve Captain Karrin Earyn, destined for the nineteenth but reassigned. The new troops filled out the trenches a bit, giving Wolfe a bit of confidence.

Uexhall, corrupted Eldar watched his assault crumble under aerial attacks. In a few places they breached the trenches, only to get thrown back by a wave of men swamping over them. He sighed, and telepathically ordered the survivors to withdraw. Two Baneblades and maybe a third of the original force returned. Both tanks were crippled by defiant cannonfire and Uexhall's anger grew as he spotted his beloved changelings and imps dragging themselves weakly back, cut apart by lasfire and explosives. "Prepare the third wave" he ordered. The two titans reared up. Twelve Baneblades gathered around them along with untold numbers of Daemons and armor, of which many were possessed by daemonic spirits. Khornate marine ground their chainaxes together and roared while the infantry-battle hardenened troops and not the local soft heretics-struck up a war chant. Uexhall considered leading them personally, but remembered the number of armies whose commanders had turned tail and fled after their leader was cut down by a well-placed las round to the head. Vanquisher round more likely, the Kragars had a reputation as tank snipers. He watched the titan move off, wading through the hail of fire the corpse-god worshippers put up. Now where was that shadowsword? It wasn't necessary, but its range would ensure that there wouldn't be any survivors. He spotted the tank trundling along amid the latest armored column to come from his warp portal. Good, he shouted at it to adva

Wolfe spotted the titans moving on the auspex before they left the fog cloaking the archenemy's lines, and ordered everything they had left to engage. Artillery flattened tanks and infantry, but deflected harmlessly off their void shields. The Very ground beneath them shook. Sawyer's extra power cells were knocked off the parapet and men slipped and fell.

"Vanquishers and annihilators, target the titans, everything else cover them" Morrison ordered. He opened fire. Unbreakable, jury-rigged by one of Viado's servitors, joined in along with maybe a dozen other tanks, the rest drawn off by the Baneblades hammering down upon their flanks. With a full complement of vehicles they could do it, but simply too many had been lost, even with the reinforcements. Nonetheless they stood and die like proper guardsmen.

Strauss took the impact of the Warhound titan's first salvo as he exhorted his men on from the roof of the trench, the shockwave as the ten foot artillery shell detonated slamming him back into the next parapet. By the time the stars retreated from around his throbbing head his men were beginning to bolt. "Hold the line" he called pulling himself to his feet. One soldier tried to scramble up over the trench wall, but he grabbed the man by the seat of his pants and threw him back into the mud. A second further down was cut in half by a bolter round. "We have been ordered to hold, now start shooting" he ordered. Sixty-eight men opened up around him. The two heavy weaponry teams swung their fifty caliber weapons around and mowed down the nearest line of heretics. Half a dozen men vanished in a blue fireball cast by a rubric marine, and two more were ignited, screaming by a flamer teleporting on top of them. Strauss brought his weapon up and put twenty rounds into the beast, detonating its methane tanks into a fireball that leapt overhead. "Riddle that rubric marine private Treyflin" he ordered. A line of tracers settled on the marine as it cast fireballs and enchanted bolter rounds at them, the gunner squeezing the trigger with white-knuckled hands. The behemoth kept going, the bullets vanishing before it in a series of red flares. A rocket; fired from fiftieth platoon fifty yards down soared its defenses and ripped an arm off in a shower of blue gore. The cannon rounds began to hit home.

An exterminator tank rumbled forward, maneuvering its numerous bolter and rocket sponsons to rip apart the entire front. The warhound stopped, aimed, and fired. The glowing blue plasma beam connected with the tank, vaporizing it in a flash of light. Several squads were incinerated. Two heretical PDF tanks rumbled up to exploit the gap. Strauss' rocket gunner hit the first. "Good job Catin" he called, patting the man on one shoulder. The second took two rounds from a Leman Russ and slewed to a halt a hundred yards short. The line wavered, but managed to hold firm.

That is, until the Titans stomped through their lines, crushing whole platoons underfoot and raking up and down the trenches. Strauss pulled his men back as the warhound approached, abandoning the front line of trenches. "Head for the second line, the artillery will cover for you" Avard barked over the crushing rumble of the titan. They ran. Strauss made sure the soldiers got away. He turned to Treyflin, now on his third marine. "Last ones here, let's go."

Treyflin shook his head and loaded another belt. "I'm not letting them get through" he responded. A pair of cultists, wading through the mud under his line of fire leapt up. Strauss gunned them down, blowing their bodies off the parapet. Without anyone else save the dying with them, every autocannon seemed to be pointing their way. Strauss knew there was no point arguing with a Kragar determined to sacrifice himself.

"It's been an honor private." He turned to clamber up the crude board ladder to the communications trench.

The Warhound crashed through the lines a hundred yards to their left, flailing glowing beams of plasma through the retreating troops. Strauss glanced up. "Oh Fu-" The Warhound's left arm shot out and fired. Strauss and Treyflin were literally vaporized by the volcano cannon's laser beam as it gouged a hundred-yard gap through the barbed wire, enabling the heretics to spill in and swarm up the sides.

In the face of the Reaver Titan advancing directly at him, Wolfe ordered the regiment to pull back. There was one more line of defenses crewed by a couple hundred reserves, the artillery, and the medical tents. After that there was simply nothing between them and the heart of the beachhead. Another flight of Valkyries swooped in to cover them. Flack guns mounted on the Reaver's shoulders opened up, swatting the craft out of the skies in trails of black smoke and flame.

To his credit, and that of the troops under his command, they did not completely break even as the titan stomped down and began to fire and the swarm of heretics broke through.

Curis stood amid the packed field hospital surveying his work. "The regiment is falling back, prepare to run!" a voice shouted over the public vox a tech-adept had set up outside. His blood ran like ice.

"You heard them" he called angrily to his orderlies, "Get as many as as you can onto the supply trucks, we shall not let death have them just yet."

…..

Uexhall, corrupted Eldar and Daemon prince allowed himself a chuckle as his beloved titans advanced. Oh how glorious the day would be, Tzet, and maybe even Tzeentch itself would reward him for this; maybe even some of those nice Imperial souls could be tempted to chaos before they were wiped out. Whoever was in command of the defenses certainly was worthy of a rank in his army. "My children advance, the day is ours!" he called. Around him, daemon and cultist alike broke into a twisted song of victory.

…..

"Here that?" Curze said as the twisted cacophony filtered in through the tank's three yards of armor plating. Allis strained to listen, and then nodded. "They're singing, they think they've already won." He manipulated the scope until it settled squarely on the rampaging warhound's back.

"Curze, fire on my command" Koll ordered.

"Lets see how they sing when we're done with them" Curze replied. He took aim,. The titan's void shields were visibly flickering as the Earthshakers hammered it. Even if they somehow took it out, the Reaver would get among them and end the battle right there. "I have a clear shot" he called.

"Good." Koll took a deep breath. "In the service of the emperor" he and Fury said.

"For the Emperor" Allis, Donnel, Krane, Vinncens, Curze, Rane, and Shoeggoth replied.

"Fire." Curze rammed the firing mechanism. For an instant, the world outside the turret vanished as an apocalyptic blast, like none seen by him before fired from the turret with a scream that ripped the faithful from the tainted, taking the form of a red beam of the Emperor's Fury that linked the two war machines in its incendiary destruction. The Warhound's shields simply died under the righteous onslaught, its armor was rent asunder into glowing chunks, its power core fractured and melted, its lights dying. Every eye, cursed or loyal, turned to the scene. The Warhound froze and seemed to sag a little as though at peace, finally, its chest a glowing mass of molten metal running in rivulets down its body, scorching off the warp growth wherever it touched. Then it collapsed forward in a catastrophic plunge, smashing several hundred heretics underneath its thousand-ton carcass. For a moment there was stillness as both sides tried to figure out what had just happened. As reality gradually drifted back to him, Curze noticed the singing had stopped. "Fire everything, full speed ahead" Koll ordered. Gerring's fusillade of rocket powered annihilation cut them a wide path through the horde, Donnel and Shoeggoth slaughtered those on their flanks. As the tank accelerated, two heretics armed with bolter pistols and knives leapt over Shoeggoth's line of fire and into the vehicle. They emerged in a spray of blood and a shower of body parts arcing high into the air a moment later. The first tank round slammed into them, the standard 116 millimeter AT-80 shell unable to penetrate but knocking everyone inside for a loop. The second took a few inches of armor off the tread covers. A Baneblade traversed its main gun around and fired, the shell blasting out a twenty-foot wide crater just feet from them.

"Forty seconds to firing charge" Curze reported.

Wolfe watched the Behemoth tank trundling towards them, fired upon by everything the heretics had. "All support units, cover that Shadowsword, it's on our side" he ordered. A volley of napalm rockets cleared the scrabbling infantry off one side. Two basilisk shells hammered out an iron bottomed crater from the hulls of tanks. One baneblade was pelted with missiles until it ignited; the other had to fend off the furious assault of a Morrison and everything he had left. There was nothing they could do about the Reaver however. As its shoulder turrets and missile launchers continued to pound the retreating regiment, it swiveled around and took aim.

The first shot from its artillery cannon removed armor and hull alike, exposing one of the heaving treads to open air and cutting off from the rest of the tank. The plasma cannon on the other arm came up. "We need that laser right now" Fury called as the tank's engine coughed but kept going.

Curze nodded. "Overcharge please Krane. "You see that dial next to you? Turn it halfway down" he instructed. Allis nodded and did so. He grabbed the power lever and cranked it all the way up, at the same, time Krane shunted several million volts from the reactor to the main gun. "Ready!" The plasma cannon was settling into position as he dropped the crosshairs on it and measured the range to five-hundred meters.

"Fire!" Fury bawled. Their shot came an instant earlier. The beam of light connected with the Reaver's left shoulder. Its shields died and a good chunk of its body vanished, blown off or outright melted. Power core intact, its other arm fired. Curze had an instant to push a startled Allis halfway down the hatch before a titanic beam of glowing plasma removed most of the turret and chassis, turning their vehicle into a smoldering wreck.

….

With one titan down and the other a haphazardly stumbling mess, the heretics began to falter. The Marauders and Valkyries returned. IT took in the end two hundred-fifty shells from thirty tanks and basilisks, forty missiles, two direct bomb hits, and a trio of Valkyries with the brand new augur missiles shooting it in the back tow bring it down, but the reaver finally detonated in a spectacular orb of plasma that removed a few thousand heretics and two of the three Valkyries from both materium and immaterium. Uexhall went ballistic as his army collapsed, but was forced to jon them in flight as the marauders made their way rearward first. "All officers, report status" Wolfe instructed over the vox.

"Holding strong and eager to finish the job" Werner said.

"We'll be fine" Surring's shaken voice replied.

"Let's put the wounded beast down!" Avard belted. Wolfe turned to Amin, who nodded.

"Fifteenth Kragar, advance, drive the enemy from his positions!" A blue-red tide streamed out of the trenches and across the field of corpses. Something akin to a line formed, bayonets glittering in the sun. The Kragarian fifteenth advanced, and held…

"Is anyone still breathing out there?" Fury asked as he dragged Koll's scorched corpse and Vinncenn's unconscious form away from the smoking cockpit and the still red hot metal that had scorched Rane and Krane to skeletons. No response but a faint thud as Donnel's corpse fell from the pintel. Outside the steady blaze of lasguns had drowned out the shrieks of rage of the cultists trying to get in, the first half dozen of which had lost their heads to his bolter pistol. Fury stumbled, and his fractured right arm jolted painfully against the metal wall. "Anyone?"

"Here" Allis said, clutching the bottom of the ladder. "Curze is dead." Something jolted the tank, and they heard the scrape of tearing metal.

"Anyone still breathing out there?" Avard demanded as he stepped inside.

"Yeah" Fury responded. Avard stooped as he entered the main cabin, saluted, and withdrew so the medics could swarm in. Fury waved orderlies Gullins and Sertin off him. "Just splint this damn arm and I'll keep going, It's not even bleeding out, screw off" he said, getting to his feet. Two troopers: Private Herotin and Corporal Alliry, carried Vincenns out. Gullins dropped to his knees by Kol's side.

"He's dead, nothing we can do" he said as Fury helped Allis get down.

Koll twitched. Some kind of dry, dying moan rose from his lips. "I've been through worse" he whispered, and then passed out as the two orderlies went to work. Fury and Allis stepped outside and watched the regiment stream past, some calling out to them as they went.

"We won" Allis said, exhausted.

"Only the battle, private, we still have a planet to purge" Fury responded. "Now lets go tell the colonel we're still breathing." They joined the regiment and made their way towards a Chimera with the battle-flag waving from it.

….

Epilogue:

Abeline Aeres stared longingly through the grate cover at the ruined streets of her home city. She withdrew hurriedly as a pair of cultists, faces mangled by cybernetics, walked by talking quietly. She peeked out again when she remembered they couldn't see her. She searched their horrific faces for a resemblance to anyone she had known. The female one had a necklace with a broken glass pendant. Hailes? She recalled her old friend. Before she could decide something grabbed her from behind and threw her to the stone floor of the old warehouse.

"Out of my way girl" Inquisitor Malleus Sorfin growled stepping up to look out.

"W-why didn't you just ask?" Abeline said, pulling herself up shakily and clutching at her now-skinned shins and forearms. Several new bloodstains appeared on the wool skirt she'd been wearing for the past week.

"I did, you should have picked it up, psykers don't need to speak" Malleus growled.

"I didn't hear, I don't want to" she responded timidly, sitting down against a dust covered pillar and hugging her knees to her chest.

"Why not?"

"They're the reason those monsters came, aren't they? It's my fault everybody's been corrupted, hasn't it?" They met eyes, her watery blue ones, his black slits laced with vision augmentics.

"No, that's your brother's fault for not listening to me when I told him the voice he kept hearing would eat his mind if he listened to it" Malleus growled. "Now, how do you pick up on a psychic signal?" Abeline tried to sense his liitle prod, feel the warp around her-then memories of everyone she loved and cared for trying to tear her apart with her bare hands flashed through her and she jolted back. A massive scream tore through her mind, sending her reeling to the floor. She hit the unforgiving ground and curled up, clutching her hands as tears began to flow and the world outside crushed in on her. "You have a power, use it or I'll burn you with the rest of the heretics" Malleus said to her, walking away and shaking his head. "We'll be leaving for the sewers out in fifteen minutes, get yourself ready." From her prone position, Abeline stared at the little bars of sunlight cast by the window on upon the floor, too weak to crawl over to it.

"Help me somebody" she whispered.