Author's Disclaimer: I do not own Warhammer 40,000. All rights and reservations go to Games Workshop. Enjoy the story.
"It is said that no Ork can comprehend anything higher than a child's mentality. This has proven to be a big issue, as childhood ignorance and selfishness combined with the superhuman strength and massive size of an Ork is dangerous - and potent as well. Many an unwary Space Marine and Guardsman has fallen from underestimating the strength and capability of these beasts - and many will fall in the future from not heeding these warnings: Do not mess with Orks. They are an enemy as vast as the Tyranids and as resilient as the Necrons. They are the green tide." - Scholar Jonas Tallison, Schola-Librarium Texts IX - XXI
Warboss "Humie Killa" Grotstompa was not pleased.
The blood-red metallic sheen of his gob shone brightly under the alien sun as he swatted his head back and forth, directing the boyz now part of his massive Warband. Many of the boyz were Freebooterz and pirates, having been run off of nearby Kanadorian worlds by the constant efforts of the Kanadorian Enforcers. A few were feral Orks still around from a previous WAAGHH! that had failed - the Ork Warboss, Choppa 'Ead, having been defeated and executed by the 1st Kanadorian Enforcers a few hundred years ago.
But Grotstompa was different in a single regard: he was intelligent. And not just by Ork standards, either. This was an Ork who, while still as bloodthirsty and thuggish as his bedfellows, was also capable of proper speech (though he preferred dealing in Orky tongue, he would speak more politely to those he saw as potential allies and minions) and - most important of all - was clever. He saw a bargain to be made when Farseer Ria and the Eldar of Ni-Shan emerged from their webways and offered to assist him in assaulting valuable targets in exchange for his help with slowing the advance of the Imperial Guard.
The Eldar would gain time to look for their soul stone, and Grotstompa got lots of battles to be fought and blood to be spilled. All in all, the deal worked out just fine. Except for one thing:
It couldn't last forever.
Grotstompa may have been different, but he was still an Ork. Fighting was in his blood, killing in his veins. Once the Eldar saw no more use for them, he'd be left without a war to fight - and his WAAGHH! would collapse. Determined to ensure that his Warband would not disintegrate, he began a series of assaults across Kanadorias I, aimed at key Imperial manufacturing plants, to try and capture a working manufactory so he could assemble a fleet to raid other planets in the system. So far, his efforts had been met with relative success - he'd already captured a spaceport near the frozen lakes in the south which would supply the fuel and some of the parts necessary to both fuel his ground machines as well as to propel his ships into orbit... Except that he had no ships: which is where the manufactoriums came in. But Farseer Ria had been stopping him from capturing the nearby manufactorium of Antioch, and he was quickly becoming impatient with her scheming.
He felt a hand brush upon his bruised, battered, green skin and turned to see Ria, her form barely visible due to the cloak she was deploying. None of the boyz knew about Grotstompa's arrangement with her, and he wasn't exactly anxious to give out such information now.
"You promised me a sustainable Warband," his voice was gnarled and Orky, but he attempted to speak Low Gothic with as much strength as he could muster, "You lied."
"I cannot allow you to destroy these worlds," she said softly, a mere buzzing in his green ears, "They may belong to the mon-keigh, but they are near Eldar Craftworlds. We need them as a buffer zone."
"What about me and my plans?" he stomped his Power Klaw on the ground for emphasis, "I's supposed to be killing humies, and you're making me wait. Don't make me regret working with you, pointy-ear."
"Eh, boss?" one of Grotstompa's lieutenants, Smasha, walked over, his dakka deffgun groaning as he shifted back and forth, "Who's yahs talkin' to?"
"None o' your business!" Grotstompa reverted to Ork tongue and turned, obscuring Smasha's view of the Farseer's outline, "Now gets movin' and get your boyz ready! I's wants dat humie mek shop by the end of da day! Do yah get dat, git?"
"Oi, uh, yeah," Smasha backed away from the agitated Warboss, "I got it, boss. Take da mek shop, yeah."
As Smasha scrambled off to assemble his boyz, Grotstompa turned back to Farseer Ria, "I cannot wait for you to finish your searching. The boyz are getting restless, and I'll have to attack soon. So either get me some ships so I can raid some other system after you're gone, or I'll call up all my boyz and attack the manufactories at Antioch. Either way, I'm getting rid of those stupid humies."
Farseer Ria merely glared before slipping away, Grotstompa barely registering she was gone before he turned back to his Warband preparations...
"You know, it just occurred to me," Bones leaned on one of the Chimeras as the men began their daily routine, "Since the men have met you and such, doesn't that mean the Cultists know we're here - since they're tainted and such?"
"Already taken care of," Yathool replied coolly, eying the other guardsmen with suspicion as they stretched, consumed their morning rations, and got themselves ready for the long trek ahead, "The Orks are ensuring that the Chaos Sorcerer leading them is cut off from the main cultist force, so he will pose little threat to our plans until we're forced to confront him - that will be something else entirely, mon-keigh."
Bones grimaced at the use of the "mon-keigh" insult (he had no idea what it meant, but was sure it was akin to something low, perhaps an insect or monkey). Brushing it off, he asked, "So you've been in contact with the Orks, then?"
"We've been pointing them at valuable targets - trying to slow down your soldiers to prevent ourselves from being found," Yathool dusted off some falling snow from his shoulder and observed with some amusement as one of the guardsmen blushed and turned away when a Howling Banshee caught him gawking at her.
"So you're responsible for the recent raids," Bones confirmed his suspicions, eying his plasma gun on the ground nearby. Yathool looked over at him, the tension building in the air, before Bones smirked, "I suppose you could've pointed them at worse targets, so it's not all bad."
"We intended to slow your advance, not cripple your defenses," Yathool nodded at Tara as she drew her blade and practiced several fanciful maneuvers, earning the eye of Bones as Zaddion did his usual morning inspection, "I suspect you find her form pleasing, mon-keigh."
"Uh..." Bones turned towards him, his mind scrambling for an excuse. Finding none, and sensing that Yathool wouldn't have bought one anyways, he merely deflected the question, "Commissar Zaddion, are the men ready to go?"
"Mhmmmm..." Zaddion waved his hand at him as he checked over the supplies on-board one of the Chimeras. Bones nodded at him and walked over, grabbing another ration pack and some recaf for his morning meal. As he ate silently, Tara continued her swordsmanship and Yathool, growing bored, drew his shuriken rifle and calibrated the sights. The camp was filled with the sounds of cracking, chewing, and rumbling as the men ate, packed the supplies up, and did pushups and sit-ups in preparation for the long trek to the Eldar camp. Soon enough, everything was in place - but there was a slight hitch.
Slight being an understatement.
"How badly is it damaged?" Quintus asked, peering into the dark recesses of the Leman Russ, vainly trying to recall his above-average (read: little more than cocktail-level) knowledge of repair and mechanics. He prayed that he'd be able to repair the tank as well as a Techpriest - hell, he'd settle for at least getting it running half-decently, machine-spirits be damned.
"Looks like a few of the targeting cogitators are shot," Private Williams, the tank's main commander, observed, "A lot of wires are missing - looks like someone just started tearing things out randomly... Strange thing is there ain't a scratch on her outer hull. It's just the insides that are all screwed up. Emperor help us."
"I dunno about the cogitators, but I think I can fix the chewed-up wiring," Quintus grabbed at his side for a flashlight, and Gebbet promptly handed him one, "Let's take a look..."
Yathool merely noted with distaste at how slow progress was going, "You'd think that Zaddion would have had contingency plans to account for these kind of issues. I suppose even the more intelligent mon-keigh have logic failures occasionally."
"Looks like this was a stealth op," Bones turned to Zaddion, "I'm thinking cultists."
Zaddion made no move to acknowledge him.
Bones began rebuking his own arguments, "No, cultists aren't that quiet... And anyways I was here for most of the night so they couldn't have snuck in without cloaks. And cultists don't have cloaks... Although, I was shot and out for a few hours so..."
As he continued debating with himself, Zaddion pulled out a small dataslate and browsed the archives - his own personal journal, recorded from his days in the Schola all the way up to his planning of the squad's renegade maneuvers. Opening a new entry, he began typing absentmindedly:
Date... Not sure actually. Leman Russ broke down. Bones thinks it's some Chaos troops pulling a fast one on us. I'm not so sure: Chaos isn't that stealthy. I was up, so I knew who was in-camp so the only way for someone to mess with that tank was to either be cloaked or a master at deception.
Which, now that I think of it, pertains mainly to Eldar tactics. I'll keep a mental note to watch them closely - wouldn't want to mistake wolves for lambs. Don't trust Yathool - something wrong with him. Tara is standoffish, but honest. Farseer Ria... Have not communicated much beyond initial contact when Bones was shot and dragged away from camp. Will have to write down further analysis later.
Dreams have been getting worse lately. Arrived at this Emperor-forsaken rock four days ago, and the nightmares were just tugs on the mind. Now, almost all dreams involve some form of torture, killing, or turn to madness... Will have to keep a close eye on the men as well and dispatch them at the first sign of heresy. Best for all of those involved if I catch it early. My own dreams are rather troubling, but they're not unbearable... For now, at least, I can suppress them. Hopefully we get out of the shadow of Yggdrasil by the end of the day so the men can get some well-deserved rest. I
Zaddion dropped the dataslate and whipped his head up as a bolter round whizzed past his cheek. Realizing an ambush was imminent, he snatched up his discarded dataslate, pocketing it in his thick trench coat, and ducked for cover as he drew his own bolt pistol. Before he even had time to think, he had already begun calmly dispatching orders.
"Cultists," his mind noted, scanning the environment with his mechanical eye, "Take cover, three meter spread. Make every shot count. The Emperor is watching you."
The men dove to the ground and some slammed themselves into the sides of the vehicles, gritting their teeth as they tried to block out the sound of bolter rounds whistling past their frail bodies, barely scraping their flak vests. They all readied their guns and peeked out from behind their chosen cover, returning fire as the skirmish escalated.
Bones slipped behind a nearby rock as his helmet was shot off by a bolter round. His eyes widened as he felt his head suddenly lighten, and he ducked instinctively as the cultist sprayed wildly in his general direction. Hearing the clicking of an empty magazine, he quickly snapped himself up and raised his plasma gun, the cultist's eyes widening in surprise. Bang!
The cultist's body contorted as the superheated plasma melted into his chest, disintegrating his lungs and heart. He slipped back, and was dead before he even hit the ground, his body still smoking and glowing from the impact. Another cultist stepped over him, ignoring his ally, and raised his flamethrower.
"Blood for the Blood God!" he grinned madly as he pulled on the flamer's trigger, spewing promethium at the vehicles. Several men screamed as flames passed harmlessly around them, their bodies shielded from the deadly heat by the stalwart Chimeras. Bones raised his plasma gun and took aim once more.
The cultist saw him fire out of the corner of his eye before exploding in a panoply of both blue plasma and orange and red promethium. The shrapnel of his fuel tanks spewed in several directions, acting as an impromptu hand grenade which shredded several unlucky cultists still firing at the vehicles. Their bodies hit the floor with a resounding Crunch! as the mixture of hot metal and the cold ground fractured their frail bones.
Zaddion popped out from cover and took aim with his bolt pistol, the heads of several more cultists disappearing in a red haze of chunks and blood. Clicking repeatedly until he realized the magazine was empty, he snapped the bolt pistol back to his side and drew his power sword from his red sash, raising it up as he let out a primal growl. He leapt over the Chimera, the residual heat from the flamethrower licking his boots, and charged at a nearby cultist.
"Skulls for the-" the cultist drew his own pathetic-looking combat knife. Zaddion swatted it away with one stroke, knocking the cultist to the ground, "Skull Throne!"
"Quiet, heretic," he rammed the sword into the cultist's throat, and soon the lips of the Chaos worshipper flowed a rich crimson, making gurgling noises. Another bolter round struck Zaddion in the shoulder, and he groaned, falling back. Squinting, he grabbed for his shoulder before realizing the round had struck his metal chevrons, harmlessly falling away from him. A second round, however, embedded itself in his leg, and he looked up to see a cultist groping for another magazine as he ejected the smoking clip from his bolt pistol.
"Where is your God-Emperor now?" the cultist asked, reloading the bolt pistol, laughing all the while. Suddenly, his expression changed to one of intense pain as he looked down, seeing one of his legs bleeding profusely. Confused, his eyes traced the source of the bleeding until he saw Zaddion's sword pointing at his groin area.
"Sweet dreams," Zaddion grinned back, ramming the sword into his genitals. The cultist yelped before letting out a blood-curdling scream as he began bleeding out, Zaddion pushing himself back to avoid the blood that was flying everywhere. As the man fell back, Zaddion dragged himself back to the Chimera, propping himself up to get a better vantage point of the battlefield. He began mechanically ordering his men once more:
"Advance. Move two by two, and keep in cover. Focus on cultists with special weapons," he paused, "Someone hand me a clip!"
Xanthis tossed him two spare bolt clips, and he nodded gratefully as he snapped one into his pistol. As the men jumped over the Chimeras, moving forward at the dwindling lines of cultists, Zaddion took steady aim and, one by one, took down each individual cultist with a shot to the head. Soon, only one remained. Zaddion limped over to him, as the cultist trembled, his voice wavering.
"Y-you will n-not win," he seemed to grin in delusion, "The Blood God w-will be satisfied! Hah!"
He was stopped by a resounding shot to the temple, and his head exploded into several chunks as the bolter round exploded within his cranium. Zaddion looked at the blood on his arm with distaste, before turning back to his men.
"As you were," he said awkwardly, groaning as he limped back to the camp, the men continuing on with their work, though a few looked at him with hints of fear and admiration.
"Your zeal and combat ability is admirable," Yathool noted, "But you are very unskilled for a warrior, especially one of your stature."
"I didn't see you offering any help," Zaddion replied, aggravated by Yathool's comment and his bleeding leg. He applied a tourniquet to clot the wound as he searched the supplies for some pliers to dig out the shrapnel.
"We had to observe your combat ability, to see if you would be of any use to the Craftworld," Tara replied pragmatically, "Surely you understand that we are not doing this for your benefit alone. The Ni-Shan must have something to gain from assisting you..."
"And?" Bones walked over, his smoking plasma gun in hand, "What is your judgment?"
"You and your men are good combatants, if not efficient ones," Tara said, "The Craftworld will benefit from your help - and you from ours."
Zaddion sighed as he found some pliers, taking off his wet cap and rubbing his glistening head, before searching for some alcohol to numb the pain. Bones took out several small bottles of gun oil and brushes and went off to maintain his new favorite weapon. Quintus walked over and quickly grabbed a box of mechanical supplies, dragging it over to the Leman Russ to begin his impromptu repairs. Occasionally, a stray cuss could be heard from the innards of the Russ as Quintus burned or cut himself on the many wires he was trying to repair.
"Can one of you help me?" Zaddion looked over at the Eldar Banshees and Yathool, who were all maintaining their equipment and looking on at the humans with a haughty air of superiority, "I need someone to hold my leg still while I pull out the bolter fragments."
One of the Banshees spoke up, "I... That is, we, were ordered to only assist in times of dire need. You are obviously still okay, as you are still responding to external stimuli. We cannot assist you."
Zaddion merely looked on incredulously, and when he realized she had been serious he snorted and motioned for Gebbet to hold down his leg as he began the painstaking process of removing the embedded shards from his leg.
Gebbet merely shook his head at the Eldar and did as Zaddion instructed, looking on grimly as blood poured out profusely, the commissar seemingly dazed as he slowly picked away at the bits of metal that had ravaged his leg. Tara looked uncomfortable, though the emotion was lost through the neutrality of her helmet, and for that she was thankful she had chosen to wear it. Yathool was barely interested in the scene before him, and instead was busy relaying the morning's events to a rather tired and frustrated Farseer.
"Farseer Ria," he said, "It would be wise to calm yourself. Take control of the situation - not the other way around."
"I am merely tired of the Orks," she replied warily, her emotions barely registering over the crackle of the vox, "Grotstompa is becoming increasingly hard to control, and I fear what will happen when we lose our grip over him entirely... Without him, even with the renegade mon-keighs, I doubt we will be able to hold off the Imperials for long... Unless..."
Yathool listened intently.
Ria sighed, "We have to eliminate the Lord-General. If we can manipulate the mon-keigh's hierarchy to put Zaddion in charge, we may be able to abandon the Ork Warband and focus solely on assisting the humans. At least then there would be a smaller margin for error."
"With all due respect, Farseer Ria," Yathool replied, "The Lord-General is well-protected. We cannot risk destroying the very allies - no matter how primitive and thuggish they may be - we are using to help us."
"I heard that," Bones glared at him, but Yathool continued his conversation without so much as glancing his direction.
"How strong is the Warband?" the ranger asked.
"I..." Yathool sensed hesitance in Ria's voice, "I am not sure. They captured one of the planetary space ports, and they're moving towards an under-defended manufactorium for parts and weaponry to fuel their campaign. If my estimates are correct... I hope they are not... The Orks will begin assaulting the manufactories in three, maybe four, weeks. As it is, the Imperial Guard are doing an admirable job of slowing down the advancing forces, but they are taking heavy casualties and we cannot expect them to last forever."
"I see..." Yathool murmured, "How many weeks away is this from our current location?"
"Around two weeks - assuming the cultists in the area don't slow you down," she said, Yathool perking up at hearing this, "But even if you do get there before them, you won't be able to marshal a sufficient defense: the Imperial Guardsmen there are loyal to the Lord-General, and I doubt they would be willing to work with us. Our only option is to-"
"Destroy the manufactorium," the Ranger finished.
"Unfortunately, yes," Ria continued, "But destroying it means crippling the mon-keigh's defenses, and that would just lead to the Orks overrunning the planet. As it is, though, I see no alternatives - we must destroy the plant without the humans catching wind it was us. Otherwise, they may be less than cooperative."
Yathool realized he had been speaking to her over the vox, and not telepathically like he should have, and his head peered up at the guardsmen in the camp, scanning for any signs that any of them had overheard him. Luckily enough, Bones was helping Quintus repair the Leman Russ, Zaddion was conversing with Gebbet as he continued pulling numerous shards out of his leg, and the rest of the men were either conversing among themselves or checking the supplies and weaponry for defects.
"How do we get the renegade mon-keigh's to cooperate?" the ranger's voice was hushed, near silent, "They will obviously not agree to destroying one of their own factories."
"We don't know that..." Ria began, "Continue en-route to our base. I'll try and explain the plan to their commissar. Hopefully he will be more willing to cooperate than most of the other humans. If recent events are any indication, he'll agree to destroy the factory if we can convince him that it will help further both our cause and his. Farseer Ria out."
"Goodbye," Yathool finished, fingering his vox-piece next to his ear. He walked over to the tank to see how repairs were going.
"If I had known the mon-keighs would've taken this long to repair the tank," he thought smugly, "I would've damaged it a little less. This is getting to be less amusing and more aggravating... Still, have to judge how well they adapt so we know their limits when a real problem arises..."
"Try starting it now," Quintus waved at Bones, who was sitting in the turret. Bones nodded and popped his head back inside, shifting several gears and cranking the motor. The tank sputtered, nearly coming alive, before dying as smoke rose from the frontal armor where Quintus had popped open one of the seals to repair the damage. Quintus groaned and popped his head back into the thick smoke, coughing as he tried to find the source of the electronics shorting. Groping at various hot wires, he hissed as his already bruised and battered hands were subjected to yet more punishment, but continued relentlessly testing and retesting various combinations, with no success.
"Forget fixing the engine," Zaddion got up, his outer commissar uniform now wrapped in bandages around the spot where his leg had been shot, "We'll just drag her along using the Chimeras. Can you at least fix the cogitators?"
"That's more electronic work than mechanical," Quintus replied, "Sorry, sir. Can we function alright without them?"
"We can," the tank commander replied, "But we'll need to manually sight any targets we want to fire at, so don't expect her to run at 100 percent. Plus, the peripheral turrets are automatic, so they'll be offline as well - only the main gun."
Zaddion sighed, rubbing his bald head as he fanned himself with his cap, "Bones, any ideas?"
"None that are feasible, sir," he said, "Williams, if we can rewire the tank's flank turrets to manual triggers, do you think we'd be able to use them like autoguns or heavy bolters?"
"Maybe," Williams pondered the idea, adjusting his tank commander cap quietly as he sat on the turret, "We could, but we'd have to modify the tank to hold turrets for the gunners to sit in - even if we did have the time, which we don't, we don't have the supplies necessary."
Sensing his chance to intervene, Yathool cut in, "Farseer Ria wishes to discuss with us a plan concerning some of the manufactoriums near Antioch."
"What of them?" Bones' curiosity piqued.
"The Orks will be attacking them soon," Yathool began, and Zaddion's lips curved into a grim frown as the ranger continued, "So to counter them we'll need to move to our base within a few days. From there, we can coordinate a strike plan to kill off the Warband once and for all. In addition, we may find the parts and the help needed to repair your... what did you call it? Leman Russ tank."
"Sounds alright to me," Bones looked towards Zaddion, who merely shrugged, "Alright then. Quintus, have some men hitch the tank to the Chimeras, and do it ASAP. Let's get this show on the road."
As the latches and chains of the Chimeras were snapped onto the waiting tank, Zaddion merely shook his head and eyed Yathool wearily. He'd have to keep a closer eye on that Ranger from now on.
"You seem disturbed, Commissar," Tara noted, "Perhaps it would be wise to share your experiences and receive input."
"Nothing's amiss," Zaddion dismissed her with a wave of his hand, but she persisted, darting in and out of his vision as she danced around him. He made no motion to stop her and merely continued, "It's just... Never mind. Go bother Bones, I'm sure he's enjoying the view from here."
At mention of his name, Bones turned away and pretended to be working hard on some dataslate, much to Tara's amusement. Abandoning the lost cause that was Commissar Stern, she glided over to Bones and began dancing around him. The lieutenant merely gritted his teeth, doing his best to ignore her. Needless to say, he was not as well-trained in mind warfare as Zaddion was.
"Do you mind?" he asked irritably, pocketing the data slate with a grunt before walking over and checking the supplies on-board the Chimeras for the 50th time, "I have better things to do than watch you pirouette and spin all day long."
Tara feigned a hurt voice, "I thought you'd be enjoying the gracefulness of a dance," her voice changed to a smug tone, "Or are you primitive mon-keighs really as barbaric as our kind portrays to our children?"
Perhaps it was the dancing, brushing her tantalizingly close against him, or perhaps it was her incessant use of the word "mon-keigh", but something deep in Mordeci Wrax cracked as soon as the words left her lips. He turned towards her, a sneer on her face. The expression quickly disappeared as his fist impacted her left cheek.
No words were exchanged, merely a quick intake of breath as she suddenly cloaked before him, his mind barely registering her absence as he fell off-balance and his fist impacted the side of the Chimera. Flinching back as his bones cracked, he felt her behind him as she drew her sword, raising it to his throat as he fell back onto her.
"Do not tempt me, mon-keigh," a razor-edge entered her voice, "I will not hesitate to kill you at the earliest convenience."
Bones merely chortled, swatting away the sword with his broken hand. Tara let go, her mind reeling as she realized that he was unafraid. Though shocked, she paused only for a moment before retaliating, ramming into him and crushing his body against the Chimera in front of him. His aggravated back injury shot waves of pain flying across his spine as he screamed. His chest began heaving as the air left his lungs, and his vision began going in waves...
"Enough!" Zaddion shot off a bolt round, the shell impacting Tara at her side and tearing a huge hole in her armor. As she stumbled back, groaning, Bones fell down on top of her and both of them panted quietly, too weak to continue their bitter fight. Commissar Stern walked over to them, shaking his head as he held his pistol up, the barrel still smoking from the expended round.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," he snorted at them, wagging his finger, "Acting like little children."
He looked over at the other men, who had paused when the fight had began, "Two of you get over here. Put them inside the Leman Russ, and make sure they don't make a mess of each other. Go."
The men returned to their jobs, and Quintus and Gebbet jogged over and dragged the duo back to the tank, the environment around them a frenzy as men continued the preparations for travelling. Quintus grabbed a medikit and he and Gebbet administered to the two as best they could. Tara had little damage herself, merely grazes thanks to the protection her Howling Banshee armor had afforded her. Bones himself was not as lucky, sustaining several broken bones and knuckles, and several nasty-looking bruises in his chest. His breathing was shallow, but otherwise he was fine.
A few hours later, the pair awoke, taking in their surroundings with confusion as they felt the rumbling of the tank treads beneath and around them. Realizing they had been moving for a while, they looked toward each other before scoffing in contempt.
"To think," Tara spat at him, "Out of all the possible idiot mon-keighs in this little rebellion, I get stuck sitting with you."
Bones scoffed before coughing up a storm as his weakened chest found itself unable to sustain speech. Resigning himself to merely being insulted, his anger defused after his earlier outburst, he merely stared at her with hollow eyes and blinked.
"Well?" her voice suddenly felt small as she shifted uncomfortably, his eyes tracing her every move, "Not going to say anything?"
A quiet heave came and went as Bones struggled to regain control over his breathing.
Tara merely gestured and turned away, trying to get Bones' impassivity off her mind.
Perhaps I have broken him, she thought, at first with a sense of glee, and then remorse, All the while I mocked him, and now he falls silent... What could he be thinking?
Bones, as if reading her mind, opened his lips and whispered almost inaudibly, "I don't hate you."
"Hmmm... What?" Tara perked up, her eyebrows giving away her confusion, "You... don't hate me?"
Bones shook his head, "Anger got the better of me... I apologize."
He reached his broken hand out feebly in a gesture of friendship, and Tara gripped it carefully, shaking it back and forth. The exchange was awkward, to say the least, but it was friendlier than most they'd had over the past two days. Bones replaced his broken hand, carefully caressing it with his good fingers as he shifted his back uncomfortably. Everywhere ached, and the slightest movement, even from the rumblings of the tank, brought upon him more pain. He simply remained silent, clenching his jaw every once in a while to keep himself from grunting or whimpering out.
Tara got up, steadying herself, before moving to sit next to him.
"Have you ever fought anyone else?" she asked, genuinely curious.
"Orks," he muttered up, gritting his teeth in between, "Chaos. Mostly Eldar, though."
Tara gave him a small smile and gently leaned on his shoulder, inciting even more pain as the weight of her head bore down on his spine. He grimaced, and Tara suddenly shot her head back up, muttering quiet apologies in an alien tongue. He merely shook his head and grinned. She cautiously placed her head down once more, this time receiving no resistance from Bones, and sighed quietly. Though the two would continue to have a rather abrasive relationship in the weeks to come, at least they could get along without having episodes the likes of which probably were part of the cause of Zaddion's increasing facial wrinkles.
Outside, the guardsmen were granted a reprieve from the torturous march in the form of the Chimeras. Having reached flat ground, Zaddion gave the group permission to ride around in the transports instead of walking, allowing them to rest their tired heads as well as cover double the distance they travelled going up the mountain the previous day. The Eldar strike force sat alongside the guardsmen, silently watching and judging them. Though many of the veterans were weary of the Xenos presence in the vehicles, no matter ally nor enemy, some of the fresher faces saw opportunities for connection and possible friendship with their Eldar compatriots.
Those new guardsmen came to learn that the Eldar did not appreciate their offers of friendship. In fact, such offers were often met with angry threats backed by spears and power swords. The greenhorns quickly stopped making such offers, and the veterans merely chuckled all the while at the foolishness they saw before them. Regardless of this fact, the Eldar continued giving positive comments where they were due, and while this was rare, Zaddion and his men felt a little more at-ease with the Howling Banshees as the day went by.
The same could not be said for Zaddion and Ranger Yathool.
As night fell, the ragtag group found themselves in the middle of a prime ambush spot. Though Yathool seemed uneasy and requested - nay, demanded - the group continue onward to a safer location, Zaddion refused and (against his better judgment) ordered his men to pitch camp in the middle of the valley.
The huge crater they were sheltering in had softened through years of erosion and become a natural-looking valley with varied wildlife and plant species. A huge road, unused since the Imperial Guard's first assimilation of the planet a few millennia ago, cut through the crater, providing access from east to west in what used to be a vital supply route before the manufactoriums to the south were constructed, eliminating the necessity of transporting troops and equipment from the main bases in the west to the eastern seaboard.
Though the roads had seen little use since then, the guard towers and various abandoned husks that used to be filled with bustling activity remained, hollow testaments to the Imperium's heyday on the planet. The crater, shielded from outside sound and vision by the huge mountain ring surrounding the inner valley, was the perfect kill zone for anyone savvy enough to set up an ambush.
And unfortunately for Zaddion, Chaos may have been corrupted, but they still retained their wisdom from their years as Guardsmen.
"Sir... what's that noise?" Gebbet looked around, spooked by the rustling and creaking that was coming from a nearby abandoned guard tower. He raised his las rifle wearily and motioned for several men to stack up nearby.
He was on the ground before he could even scream out anything.
"AMBUSH!" Gebbet quivered on the ground as hot plasma seared its way into his left shoulder, "AMBUSH!"
The camp suddenly came alive as men dropped all their supplies, going for their weapons left in the Chimeras. Several were shot down in a fury of bolter fire as several Chaos Marines revealed themselves from within the ruins. Zaddion raised his bolt pistol, managing to down one before another took his place, the Marine's voice booming.
"You have been honored by the Blood God," the Chaos Marine seemed to care not for the carnage erupting around him, continuing to speak, "It is an honor that you shall be sacrificed so that he may rid this world of those wretched Imperial and Eldar scum. Prepare for your sacrifice!"
Author's Note: Chapter 3 is done. A bit longer than I intended but otherwise up to speed. More Ork action in the future, and of course the resolution to the little Chaos ambush that's just begun. My research paper due dates are catching up with me, so expect updates to have longer intervals between them. I'll try to compensate by making chapters a bit longer, but for now expect a little less. Sorry about that.
As for story arcs, the Eldar Exigency arc is set to go for another three or four chapters. After that, we'll see where the plot takes us.
As always, happy reading! Oh, and please leave reviews!