Chapter 1 The Beginning
In the 41st millennium mankind is besieged on all sides by the treacherous heretic, the blight of xenos clawing at our very door, as well as the terrifying daemons from the cursed warp. It is the darkest time in human history with the most oppressive government imaginable and crimes legendary. Yet all these measures are necessary for one very reason, survival. For in the 41st millennium that is all you can strive for.
The only hope for humanity comes from the God Emperor of Mankind upon his golden throne on holy Terra. There he has sat for over ten thousand years. His divine light powers the astronomicon and gives a chance of survival for humanity. For he is what binds us, guides us, and unites us. Without him, humanity would surely fall to the threats from both out and from within. To go against the Imperium is to go against him and there is no greater heresy or crime imaginable.
Through his continued sacrifice and love mankind has endured countless horrors that would have otherwise destroyed us. He endures constant pain and battles for his very soul and very sanity, even in the state he is in he endures. To give any less of ourselves is a crime to him and the rest of humanity.
Though there are those who go against him and his holy Imperium. Those who believe that they know better and have a petty grievance against those who carry out his will. They fail to remember, to know what he has done for them and continues to do for them. These planets that go against the Emperor are heretics and have turned their backs on humanity.
These planets that rebel do not stay out of the fold for long and are soon brought back under the Emperors light and divine protection by his angels the space marines, or his holy hammer the Imperial Guard. One such planet that went against him was Krieg.
Krieg was once a lush world teeming with farms and beautiful blue skies. The waters were clean and fresh as well as the citizenry pious and loyal. It was a paradise for imperial citizens, a model world. Then one day it all changed.
There was discontent, some petty grievance or other and the people no longer wanted to be apart of the Emperors Imperium. These malcontents and heretics had support of the planetary governor, his cabinet, and the top military and civil leaders of Krieg. They quickly overthrew many of the hives and installed their own government.
At this time the Imperium was unable to offer aid to the loyal citizens of Krieg and they seemed destined to fall from grace. But there was hope, a regimental commander named Colonel Jurgen. He was in charge of the forces in the capital hive and offered the first real resistance in the Emperors name. He started in by putting a bolt round in the Governors head.
He waged a war and his men fought with a ferocity second to none in the Imperium. Unable to advance with his minimal forces, he turned the capital hive into a fortress. Miles of trenches were dug and miles more of barbed wire and tank obstacles were placed. Mines were sewn anywhere where the traitors could advance and hardened bunkers built. Jurgen and his men were loyal to the Emperor and they were willing to go to any length to show it. Their determination only overshadowed by the shame they felt at having their planet turn against the God Emperor.
The fighting was brutal and millions died on the battlefields and as collateral. Despite the righteous fury and purity of the cause, the loyal Kriegers were losing. With no reinforcements in sight and the situation worsening everyday, Jurgen made a decision that would forever damn Krieg to a half existence. It would exist, but only in the barest sense of the word, like how a corpse still has a name if you can remember it. If Krieg couldn't exist as a loyal planet it wouldn't exist at all. For in the governors personal files and documents was the planets access codes. Everything from food shipment schedules to flight plans. It contained anything and everything of Krieg that had importance, from portfolios of up and coming political rivals to the location of secret manufactorums which would be used to supply the traitor army once they had won their independence. There was also the military codes. The launch codes.
Thirteen hundred nuclear spears with which to throw at will, some dating back a thousand years or more. With the flick of a key, Jurgen launched the planets entire nuclear arsenal at itself. Like the birthing of a thousand new stars in brilliant displays of power and destruction, Krieg was forever more changed, devastated by nuclear fire and the screaming winds of death that swept over the planet like the four riders of the Apocalypse from ancient Terra. Sweeping aside and reforming landscape and lives in an instant.
The decision was made by men with grim expressions who voted on the fate of a world. They voted anonymously, each casting their ballot for the fate of their planet. They all stood to lose something, whether it was family, friends, land, titles, or at the base of it all their home. Twenty two ballots were cast with Jurgen abstaining from the vote. The decision was unanimous as it was predictable, the fate of Krieg would be decided by Imperial hand, not traitor. Twenty two men decided the fate of a world in a dimly lit bunker on an unseasonal cold and rainy night. Twenty two men decided that Krieg would burn.
Billions died from the combination of nuclear fire, radiation and the ensuing nuclear winter translated roughly as, the never ending night, for it seemed that it never would. Many died in the initial blast, but the majority died from exposure and the harsh climate that followed. Many were simply passive observers that held no hate for Imperium, but were simply too frightened to act out against the rebel forces. The bones of those who died in the deserted hives have long since dried iron hard or gone to dust, leaving only whispers and echoes where once it thrummed with life.
However from the ashes of these fallen cites and devastated world rose the Death Korps of Krieg. The most loyal and devout of Krieg, they formed the backbone of the loyal forces. Forced to wear combat haz mat suits, they endured conditions that would have broken normal men and women. Where others would have given up they pressed on, as indomitable and unstoppable as a supernova. In a world where any and every wound was fatal, whether from the exposure to radiation, the toxins in the air or enemy fire, they had to be.
With the harsh condition of the new world, the old Krieg hives became uninhabitable, so new hives were built underneath them. The hardened bunkers became living quarters and more were dug and built. Endless miles of tunnels, corridors, and chambers were excavated and made livable. With the constant threat of exposure and harsh conditions people began to live in their suits, only removing them in the safest and most private of circumstances.
The civil war was long and bloody, but eventually Jurgens Death Korps were victorious, after five hundred years of warfare. Jurgen died before his dream of liberating Krieg could be realized, but the death Korps pressed on to victory. Krieg had been saved from heresy, but forever maimed by the battles fought on her surface. She was a sickly planet with a toxic atmosphere like a dying mans breath and land unfit for vermin. The people of Krieg knew that this was the Emperors way of punishing them and they felt unimaginable shame at their betrayal.
No more was Krieg a paradise world, a world of the arts and natural beauty, but an ugly world of death, disease, and shame. They would no longer focus on themselves and leisure, they would repent by giving all they could to the Imperium. This however presented a problem.
Krieg no longer had fertile lands with which to feed the more loyal citizens of the Imperium. They no longer had the land to offer living space to pious off worlders, for their land was grey and lifeless like a morticians clients. With no other resource to give, Krieg gave the one thing that they did have, themselves.
Nearly every male Krieger is put into the Death Korps of Krieg, with most families having a minimum of eight children. The children of Krieg are taught from birth that they owe the Imperium everything and anything they can possibly give to make up for their sins. They are taught that the only way they can atone is by giving their lives and taking as many of the Emperors enemies with them as possible before they die, and only then will they be forgiven, for in death and only in death can they atone. The sins of the father weigh heavily upon the shoulders of the sons of Krieg.
Even in a servile society like that of Krieg, their are still the rulers. With Jurgen were twenty two noble families who gave everything they had to keep the planet loyal. Their descendants are the ruling class of Krieg with the Governor elected from one of the families. Still in Krieg, no one in the Korps starts out as an officer. No one starts out in any position of authority on Krieg. It is earned through service and loyalty a lesson learned at the cost of their planet.
In the Korps you are expected to die in glorious combat to atone. To live is to deny your atonement and prolong your shame. Still you are not allowed to simply throw your life away, merely stay and fight until the last. Follow every order and always take the hardest enemy so the more pure of Imperial citizens may live to fight again and revel in the Emperors light. In the Korps, no member is over seventy years of age, not even the generals. Indeed most regimental commanders are only in their thirties. To be promoted is a mark of shame, to survive, a mark of cowardice. To survive service in the Death Korps is to deny atonement, forgiveness, release.
Ever since Krieg reestablished contact with the Imperium, they have been the shock troops, the leading edge of the hammer blow always making the crack or holding the line. Never wavering, always steadfast. Krieg is known as one of the hardest and most loyal forces in the Imperium. The most pious, the most devout, the most fearless. This however is a misconception. They are just the most eager to die.
In Krieg a boy is born to one of the twenty two noble families, the Von Shreiders. One of the most influential and prominent families in Krieg, they have had twelve children and nine have already atoned. Only two sons and a daughter remain. They are to stay and carry on the legacy of the Shreiders and continue the dynasty. However, fate may have irrevocably intertwined them with the fate of the Imperium. For in the far future, there is only war. Any other pursuit is folly.
A hard blow to the stomach and a follow up elbow throws Erich Von Shreider to the ground. He hits the training mat hard and instantly gets back to his feet, throwing everything he can muster at his opponent. For a moment the only sound it the swinging of scything limbs and flesh hitting flesh. His opponent blocks his strikes effortlessly, almost disinterested and hits him with a kick that throws him back two metres winding him, and taking him out of the fight.
Erich lays on the mat breathing hard and gasping, pain rippling through his eight year old body. With a light patter of feet his opponent walks to his side and looks down as if disappointed at his performance in the unfair fight.
"You're dead," he says dispassionately. "If this is the best you can manage you will bring nothing but shame and disgrace to our already fallen name. Tomorrow we will add an extra hour onto unarmed training and yet another to physical endurance." Erich merely continued breathing and let out a low whine of pain. His father let out a noise of disgust.
"You must learn to live with the pain Erich, you must overcome it to survive, to be anything in this life you must be better than all others, you must be stronger. For now you are a disgrace to this family and our duty. You're blessed brothers have already given their lives, they were strong yet they still fell. Are you?"
"I will be father, I won't fail you." promised Erich as he struggled to rise. His father regarded him with his steel grey eyes, the same as Erichs. The prominent cheekbones, dark brown hair and impressive height all traits of the family line. Erichs father was none other than Hans Von Shreider, Lord General of the Death Korps and blade master of Krieg. The thirty eighth patriarch of the Von Shreider family and veteran of more than a thousand battles. His martial prowess was legendary and supposedly unmatched by any mortal man, even said to be superior to some of the legendary space marines.
Though some said it was just bias of drunk nobles who saw him spar in tourneys, either way he was an extremely skilled fighter.
"See that you do," said Hans leaving the mat and being attended to by a silver haired butler as he was dressed. He donned his customary enviro suit and gas mask, as well as a jet black armoured greatcoat before departing. The butler couldn't have been more than thirty and his silver hair wasn't natural. No one knows when the tradition started, but at some point in time the Von Shreiders had started a tradition of having their servant hair colour genetically changed to a bright silver sheen. Whether for aesthetic or some long forgotten ceremonial purpose it is done to every servant bonded to the family.
The servant was not a native of Krieg with his dark skin and eyes. He gave Erich a look of disgust before departing the room leaving Erich by himself. As if being in the same room as him made his skin crawl and made him feel unclean with a burning need to distance himself from the young lord.
It seemed that no one could stand to be in Erichs presence and even the relationship with his siblings seemed strained. Well the ones who were still living at least, and that number seemed to be diminishing all the time. The only ones who seemed to be able to stand his presence was his mother, his father,
and his caretaker.
His mother loved him unconditionally and always showered him with affection. Whether it was because she was desperate to hang onto the last of her children or because he was the youngest was as of yet unclear. Only that she showed more affection than was deemed proper by a mother of Krieg to her son.
His father had taken it upon himself to train Erich in all the Martial arts from the hand, to the sword, to the rifle. As well as training him extensively in table manners and the universal way to properly behave when meeting other people of standing across the Imperium. As a noble and a member of the Von Shreider family he was demanded to be stalwart and polite no matter the circumstance. He was a representative of the family and his actions reflected on the whole family line, being eight or not, his family was of high importance and always needed to look its best.
Even though his father was of high position, he was not of high standing. Although people understood the need to ensure the line of succession continued, some still believed that he should have died long ago on some nameless battlefield. Hans Von Shreider was fifty six years old and with juvenant treatments, that might as well of been twenty. He was still as strong as an aurouch and quick as a las beam, it was said that it was beautiful when he did sword drill or fought with the family power sword Gottandammerung, it was truly beautiful. It would dance, singing through the air whistling its deadly arc as a blue light tracked the swords path, like the flame follows the fast moving torch. The sword dated back to a time when the Emperor walked amongst men, and its very name meant twilight of the gods. An oddly fitting name, since it was probably forged around the time that the Emperor ascended to the golden throne.
His caretaker was another off worlder by the name of Elisha. She had only been with the family for two years after a rogue trader had sold her to the Von Shreiders. She had been sixteen at the time and had been sold by her family to try and help pay off gambling debts. Elisha was from a world that wasn't quite a hive world, but had several large megalopolis cities. She had been bought with the express purpose of being Erichs caretaker after the previous had refused to even look at him anymore despite the threats or consequences. Erich had already gone through four caretakers in six years, for they could not seem to stand his presence beyond delivering his meals.
She had taken to Erich which surprised the family, as all previous caretakers had absolutely hated him and refused to be around him. This however, had brought her scorn from the rest of the household staff. The ridicule had started when she openly challenged them and called them down whenever they did a subtle insult or were blatantly disrespectful to the young lord. He was too young to understand the disrespect and hateful looks, but she could and she refused to stand for it.
Her food was delivered spoiled, she was mocked, sometimes openly, and she was more often than not isolated from the rest of the staff. Through it all though, she had remained steadfast in her devotion to the young Krieg nobility. It had gotten her Erichs undying devotion to her though. With so few people to care about, Erich was absolutely loyal to those who cared for him and he for them. Or at least as loyal as an eight year old can be.
Erich managed to get to his feet and just as he was regaining his balance, Elisha came from the side doorway where she had been watching the match. Erich tried to put on a show of not being hurt, but wasn't entirely successful. If Elisha noticed his discomfort or pain, she chose not to comment on it.
"Lord Erich, you did wonderful in your sparring match against your father," exclaimed Elisha as she crossed the short distance in the dull plascrete room. "I'm so proud of you." Erich puffed out his chest like a pleased rooster to the point where it seemed his loose fitting sparring clothing would rip apart.
Elisha was a pretty girl of average height, hazel eyes, and the trademark silver hair of a Shreider servant. She was for the most part cheerful and eternally attentive to the young lord or Krieg, showering him with affection that would have been considered excessive to anyone else on Krieg. Elisha was Erichs only real friend.
"I did what was expected of me," responded Erich as he rubbed the burnished silver bracelet that he was required to wear at all times, and trying not to show how pleased he was at the compliment. He wasn't told the exact reason why he needed to wear it, just that it was important
"You did," consented Elisha. "But I think that you've earned a little treat, don't you?" she said it offhandedly like it wasn't important, but had to suppress a smile as Erich perked up immediately. He really did like his candy.
"But I did poorly in my match, father wouldn't approve," said Erich eyeing the front pocket of Elishas maid outfit that held the promised candy. It was a black dress with a white apron on the front. She had white stockings that and small black dress shoes that was customary for all maids of the Von Shreider family and her hair nearly reached her buttocks and was held together with a loose blue ribbon down her back. She wore a frilly white undershirt under her dress. Her maid outfit was also capable of being environmentally sealed at any time. A mask hung down the front, in case of a containment breach in the Von Shreider manor.
"Well if we don't tell him he won't know, will he?" said Elisha a ghost of a smile upon her lips as she moved the candy around in her pocket so they clinked against each other. "It can just be our little secret, what do you say?" Erich was indecisive, but the thought of the ice berry candy in Elishas pocket was too much to pass up.
"Well I guess if father doesn't know, then he won't mind." said Erich his mind completely focused on the candy. Elisha produced a few ice berry candies and Erich greedily grabbed and ate them, the light blue candies becoming nothing but a memory. To act this way in front of anyone else would have been an embarrassment to his family, but with alone with Elisha it didn't matter. He held out his hand for more, but Elisha wagged a finger in front of his face.
"No, you'll spoil your supper," chastised Elisha putting the remaining candy away into the front pocket of her apron.
"No I won't," countered Erich trying to reach for more candy. Elisha swatted his hand away lightly.
"Yes you will, and then I'll get in trouble for giving you candy and then you'll get in trouble for taking it." Erich crossed his arms sullenly across his chest and pouted.
"Erich don't be like this, you know that having too much candy is bad for you anyways." Erich remained quiet and sullen.
"Come on Erich, it's time for supper now anyways and I know that you like roast pheasant. Chef Herndel has really outdone himself this time and I'm sure that you'll like it."
"What else is there going to be?" asked Erich still sullen.
"Well there's going to be fresh hydro beans, nutro vegetables, and potatoes with gravy. Doesn't that sound good?" said Elisha in a cheerful voice. "I know that I would be excited to have something like that, aren't you?"
"Can you eat with us tonight?" asked Erich hopefully. "I'm sure mother and father wouldn't mind if I asked politely." Elisha let out a sad smile.
"That's really sweet Erich, but you know that I'm not allowed to eat with the family, I have to eat with the other servants. We have our own meal to eat, and I wouldn't want to disappoint the other servants and not eat with them."
"But I want you to eat with us," complained Erich tugging on her dress. "Why can't you eat with us?"
"Well if I don't eat with the other servants, they'll miss me and get sad. I don't want them to get sad, because then I'd get sad too. You don't want me to be sad do you Erich?" asked Elisha looking down at Erich like a scholam teacher trying to get a disobedient student to admit their wrong doing.
"No," said Erich defeatedly.
"Then shall we go to supper lord Erich? We don't want it to be cold or your mother and father will be most upset with us." Erich wordlessly followed after Elisha as she led the way out of the training room and down corridors to the mess hall after he had donned his own environmental suit. The dark lenses and iconic sloped mask of Krieg upon his face. Elisha kept hers off.
They walked down the hallways only accompanied by the soft patter of their feet on the long red carpet that seemed to stretch down the middle of every hallway infinitely. On the outsides of the carpets was more dark grey plascrete. Even a family as rich as the Von Shreiders could scarce afford to have more than a few carpets or wood panelled flooring as it all had to be shipped in from off world since most all resources went to maintaining the Death Korps.
They passed several groups of house guards on their patrols of the Von Shreider estate. Their Matte black hell guns matched their dark carapace armour and greatcoats. They said a simple, "my lord," as they marched by in perfect step, guns held in ready grips in their hands. With the impassable gas masks, it was impossible to tell where they were looking behind those tinted eye pieces. Every house guard of the Von Shreiders was an active duty grenadier on loan from the Korps. They were the elite of the Korps and some of the best soldiers in the Imperium. They were men who had pledged their lives to the Emperor and had yet to die in his service.
As they neared the dining hall, Erich hesitantly reached out and took Elishas hand as they walked down the hallway as if he was doing something wrong and was afraid of being punished for it. She gripped his hand smiling down at him and began swinging their arms as they walked. This was another action that was discouraged amongst Kriegers, even amongst family. To show affection in such a way was to allow laxity and weakness into their lives. To give to yourself and not give all you could to the Imperium was looked down upon. Sometimes Erich was glad that Elisha was an off worlder.
They rounded a corner in a hallway that was lined with portraits of the former patriarchs and matriarchs of the Von Shreider family. To a man or woman, they all had stern expressions on their face and appeared to be in either very conservative dress or military uniform. The walls actually had a covering of wood in these hallways, which in itself marked its significance. There was gold etched in all the walls of the manor and rare gems, but to see wood spoke wealth above wealth in a world of metal and stone.
They were greeted by none other than Helena Von Shreider as they turned towards the dining hall as well as her personal hand maidens. There were four behind her, heads bowed and ready to do any task that she requested and tend to her every whim. Elisha stopped swinging Erichs arm and quickly let go of his hand and curtsied in a servile manner.
"My lady," she said bowing her head in the proper gesture of respect. Helena Von Shreider was the one and only wife of Hans Von Shreider which in itself was rare on Krieg where polygamy was a common practice since the demands of Krieg were so heavy on her sons. Helena was a woman with dark black hair and deep blue eyes. Even in her forties she looked stunning, long legs, full lips, and ample busom. Juvenant treatments helped too and kept her permanently looking like she was in her early thirties. She was wearing an earth brown silk evening dress that shimmered as it caught the light, and seemed to dance as she moved. She did not have a mask on which spoke of how secure she felt, and she seemed
to be glaring at Elisha, but it was hard to tell.
"Caretaker, I believe that I can take my son to dinner from here," said Helena in an aristocratic and moderated tone, displaying her highborn upbringing. She stood ramrod straight, and looked regal in her simple evening dress. "You have more than done your duty for the day."
"I'll take my leave then my lady, have a wonderful evening," Elisha curtsied again and turned to leave.
"Do you not have work to do that requires your attention caretaker? "
"No my lady, I have finished my tasks for the day."
"Well from what I hear, the kitchen staff could use help in cleaning. If you would go assist them, it would be most appreciated." Elisha curtsied a little more stiffly and held it just a fraction longer than was customary, doing it just a little too proper.
"At once your ladyship," said Elisha finishing her curtsy.
"Goodbye Elisha," said Erich waving goodbye.
"Caretaker," corrected Helena. She gave Elisha a cold look. "You may go to your duties now caretaker, and I will talk to you later on matters relating to your conduct." Helen turned on her heel and her handmaidens brought Erich with them, and fell into step behind Helena. Elisha watched them depart down the long hallway and enter through two great wooden double doors to the dining room. The doors were more for aesthetic than actual safety. In the event of an emergency a blast door would slam shut and protect the occupants inside. Just flaunting their wealth, thought Elisha hurrying toward the kitchen.
Elisha was mad. She was mad, because it was supposed to be her time off, her time to relax and unwind from the day. She was mad that she had, had to lie to Erich and say that her food would be just as good when it was little more than a tasteless watery gruel. The other servants would be sad if she didn't eat with them. Was that what she had told him? That was a bold faced lie, the other servants could care less about her and constantly made fun of her for serving the young 'freak lord' as they called Erich.
Then again, maybe it was better that she eat with them, she didn't feel like taking anymore ridicule on top of what came from serving the youngest Shreider.
Sure you got an uneasy feeling around him, but it was the same with all the other Kriegers. When you could hardly ever see their faces and they were so serious all the time and harsh it was natural to be uneasy around them. Even after two years, she still wasn't even nearly at ease around them. She was from Paladonia and it wasn't exactly a paradise world, but at least you could walk outside without choking to death on toxic air or die of radiation poisoning. Elisha tightened her fist in anger and quickened her pace.
What in Thrones name was Helena's problem anyways? Was she mad that she had actually shown some affection to her son and treated him like a kid instead of an object? How many of their kids had they lost anyways?
Nine? She had only been around for the last two deaths, but they hadn't even reacted at all. It was like they had been told that they were going to be late for a dinner party. These people were just cold to, well, everything. They didn't care if they lived, died, or anything in between. So their ancestors had rebelled. So what? Paladonia had rebelled three thousand years ago and all that caused was the inquisition to watch them more closely for a couple hundred years. Elisha sighed in frustration, now she had to get chewed out by the baroness. That wasn't going to be fun at all.
It wasn't even like she could just quit if she wanted. They owned her, literally owned her. They called her servant or caretaker, but in all reality she was a slave, just slightly better fed and clothed. Even if she could quit where would she go? She didn't have the money to get off world and if she did get freed, she would still have to live on Krieg. Elisha shuddered slightly at the thought.
Even as bad as it was at the Von Shreider Manor, it was still much safer and cleaner than the other habs in which people lived. They were underground like everything else in Krieg and much more prone to breaches or constantly cold with low light. She would have to live in her suit constantly like everyone else, hide behind a gas mask and black tinted lenses, always fearful of a toxic death. She didn't want that, she couldn't live like that.
Elisha idly twirled her hair as she walked. That was another thing they had taken from her, another piece of her identity. She had, had golden hair the colour of new grain, and now it was a metallic sheen like everything else around her. Not only that, but the gene treatment was aggressively dominant in traits so if she ever had kids there was a high probability of them having the same colour of hair as she did now. Forever marked as a Von Shreider servant. It wasn't just her they had bought, they even owned her unborn children. That thought made Elisha despair that even her children would be slaves, owned just like her.
Elisha struck the wall in her anger. "Stupid bitch, frakking highborn vat birthed whore!" Elisha covered her mouth with her hand and looked around. She hadn't meant to say it that loud, not to mention the string of profanities she had uttered. If anyone overheard what she had said about the baroness, saying that she was born in a cloning tank of all things. She shuddered at the repercussions, she didn't want to be a servitor.
Elisha did a mental shake and let go of her stress as much as she could. Dwelling on things that she couldn't change would just drive her crazy or as dour and depressed as everyone else here. She had to stay positive, the Emperor would provide, he always had.
Elisha finally found the kitchen and walked in. There were under-chefs, bus boys, and all sorts of kitchen staff milling around and doing their duties with quiet efficiency, with only low voiced questions asked once and a while from behind the Krieg masks that they all wore. These were all Krieg born and bred here, and the head chef Herndel gave her a quiet nod of acknowledgement before returning to preparing the desert. Herndel actually had a name and not a designation, which denoted him as being a Krieger of the civil sector and unbound to any family or organization. The smell of the food in the kitchen, real food made her stomach growl lowly. No one seemed to notice though and if they did they chose not to comment. The smell was enough to drive her crazy and make her mouth water. The longer she stayed in the kitchen the more she wanted to just stuff her face and damn the consequences.
Maybe that was why the kitchen staff wore their masks in here, so that they couldn't smell the food that they weren't allowed to have. Probably not though, Kriegers would die of thirst at a spring if ordered not to drink.
Elisha spent the next two hours doing any and all duties she could in the kitchen. From gathering ingredients from the store room to washing dishes. The kitchen was hot and cramped, causing her to sweat and improvise with the hair nets to have them cover her hair entirely. Sometimes it was cumbersome having so much hair, but it was the one thing that she could call hers and no one elses. Her work clothes were not made for the kitchen either, and everyone else was wearing lighter clothing or something that could cool itself like a bodyglove could. If lady Helena wanted to punish her by making her uncomfortable, then she should have just made her eat at dinner with her. That would be punishment enough if not for the excellent food.
Then again it might just be worth it for the food. That and Erich would be immensely happy that she was eating with them. Though they would never let a 'servant' eat with them. It would be scandalous in the extreme. Nobles, so obsessed with image thought Elisha ruefully.
Elisha cast a forlorn look at the food being taken out to the table. Maybe she could get Erich to sneak her some of his food sometime. Not a lot of course, just a taste. Enough to satisfy her hunger for good food. No, she didn't want him to get in trouble for her, and doing something like that could have her cast out of the family which would be one of the worst punishments of all. Or some other bizarre punishment, that she couldn't even think of. Also if she had some of the real food, she would just want more of what she couldn't have. Elisha huffed to herself, damned if she did and damned if she didn't.
Elisha only broke one plate during her work, but it had caused everyone to look and stare at her. It made her feel like she was under a microscope, like they were watching her every move and everything she said or did. Every word, every gesture, every errant twitch of her muscles. They would stare at her with those Emperor damned masks. They didn't say anything, didn't chastise her, didn't yell, didn't even groan. They would just eventually go back to work, with the oppressive silence becoming uncomfortable as well. The kitchen was far too hot for someone wearing what she was and she had felt faint several times, sweat running down her brow, swaying lightly on her feet. No one objected when she had sat down, breathing ragged and drinking from a cleaned cup. But Emperor did it feel like they disapproved.
By the time she was done, she was sweaty, tired, irritable, and had to get up in six hours. She left the kitchen and felt relief as she entered the cool corridor, the lights dimmed to simulate night. She was too tired to think, too tired to move, too tired to sleep. But she put one foot in front of the other and trudged down the hallway with leaden feet.
Only half aware of where she was going, she almost ran into one of the house guards the size of a small space marine. She fell back half a step and was too tired to even care.
"Excuse me," said Elisha wearily trying to step around the guard only for him to move and block her path again with his bulk.
"Caretaker Alpha six?" questioned the guard using her 'official' designation. He was wearing the dark armoured greatcoat and carapace armour of the house guard and his hellgun was slung over his shoulder. He looked down at her from his tinted black eyeglass pieces. His mask the colour of dull brass just like every other one she had ever seen worn of Krieg.
"Yes that's me," said Elisha annoyed at being called her designation and not her name. That was the one thing that she refused to let them take from her, she would always remember who she was.
"I have a message from her ladyship the baroness, I need to see your identification card." Elisha pulled out her ID card from an inner pocket of her dress, and handed it to the guard who put it into a hand held cogitator that whirred for a moment before beeping happily in recognition. Kriegers, always wanting to make exactly sure that they had the right person before doing anything.
"What is the message?" asked Elisha holding her right hand in her left in front of herself. She got her answer as the guard drove his fist hard into her solar plexus.
She felt the air leave her lungs as spittle flew from her mouth and she fell to the ground in a fetal position trying to recover her breath and protect herself from any other assault as well as trying to handle the pain coursing through her body. Elisha closed her eyes and awaited the ensuing beating that was sure to follow. The guard just stared down apathetically at her.
"The baroness wishes to inform you not to go outside your duties with Lord Erich. If you continue to do so, there will be a punishment for any future infraction. Have a good sleep Caretaker Alpha six." The guard tossed down her ID card and marched away to whatever task he was supposed to do next. Elisha managed to regain her breath and eventually sit up, nursing her hurt torso. Sometimes she absolutely hated working here. No, working was the wrong word. She hated being owned by this place. She hated the frakking baroness.
After getting to her feet, Elisha managed to begin walking to her room again nursing her sore torso, wanting nothing else then to just sleep and put the day to an end.
She walked down the hallway clutching around her solar plexus and made it to her room. She felt at ease in her little room that she had to herself. It was scarcely bigger than a prison cell, but it was hers. She let her hair down and changed into an old but comfortable white nightie. It still hurt where she had been hit, but it was fading. It was already forming an ugly bruise, but it was just a dull throb now. Alone at last the stress and tension of the day seemed to ooze out of her and she finally relaxed in the privacy of her room. Her feet felt great after taking off her shoes and she got into her single bed and had almost drifted off to sleep when there was a knock at her door.
With a groan she got up and opened the door. In the doorway were two house guards standing imposingly, filling the entire doorway and Elisha felt an intense wave of fear come over her. Had the baroness not had her fill of revenge on her? Had she sent these two here to rape her to take whatever dignity she had left? Elisha took a step backwards and prayed to the emperor for mercy and hoped he was listening.
"Caretaker Alpha six?" asked the one to her left in the same tone that all Krieg guardsman adopted. One of detachment and utter discipline. Elishas stomach hit the bottom of her feet.
"Y-yes," she croaked out shifting her eyes between the dark harbingers in the doorway. "How may be of assistance?"
"The Baroness Lady Helena has informed us that you are to provide the night guard shift with meals and caff. You are to report to the security centre by 2300hrs for your tasking. That is all." Seemingly on cue the two house guards turned and marched away in perfect timing. Elisha felt a sense of hopelessness come over her and she sat down on her bed and buried her face in her hands. Why was this happening to her? She felt like crying, but she didn't have the energy. She brought her knees up to her chest and stared at the wall. She had to get ready for her extra, extra duties, but for now she didn't want to move or do anything. Just sitting seemed like the best thing in the world to do right now.
There was another knock at the door, and it sounded to Elisha like the ringing of the bells of doom in Paladonian legend. She stared at the door and slowly walked over and opened the door expecting another form of punishment, but instead there was little Erich and the same feeling of unease that she felt when he was ever around. The feeling that he was just 'wrong' in some way that she had to get away from as fast as she could. Probably because if she messed up when being with him, she would get punished like she was being now.
He was standing in the doorway as if unsure if he should be here, because it was after his bedtime and technically he was breaking the rules by being here, which on Krieg was akin to murder.
"Lord Erich, what are you doing here? You know very well that it is past your bedtime," said Elisha trying to put on a cheerful demeanour only somewhat succeeding.
"Well I know that it is improper for me to be out of my bed at a time like this, and to visit a lady in her room uninvited, but I wanted to bring you something." Erich did the tiniest of movements betraying his nervousness.
"Well can I see what you brought me Lord Erich?" said Elisha keeping the pleasant demeanour. She didn't want to upset Erich, because of her problems, even if in a way he had caused them no matter how indirectly.
Erich hesitantly reached into the pocket of his miniature greatcoat and pulled out a handkerchief tied around a bundle and presented it to her. He was wearing his mask, so she couldn't tell what his expression was, but it seemed as if he was waiting for her approval. Even if he hadn't had his mask on, most Kriegers are schooled to control and hide their emotions so it wouldn't have mattered much anyways.
Elisha took the small bundle and opened it up and nearly dropped it in surprise. It was some of the roast pheasant from supper and Emperor it was still warm. Her mouth watered at the smell.
"I know you could not eat dinner with us, but I thought that you could have what we did and it would be like you were there." said Erich trying to be formal, but his adolescent voice making it impossible. Elisha couldn't believe it. He had snuck out food just for her. Erich Von Shreider, a noble of Krieg one of the most uptight and stern societies in the Imperium had broken the rules. He could have gotten in serious trouble especially for being out this late, but he had taken the risk. Elisha felt herself begin to cry. All the pent up emotion of the day finally finding a release point.
"Did I, did I do something wrong?" asked Erich. "I meant no offence, I just wanted to ummm make you happy." He shuffled from foot to foot. "I'm sorry, please don't be mad." Elisha wiped a few tears away.
"No, no, I'm just so happy it made me cry." said Elisha as she rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand, clearing her face of the offending tears. Odd how such a simple act could make her cry.
"That doesn't make any sense," said Erich in a monotone voice. "Human beings only cry in times of extreme stress, or loss."
"I know, but it will when you're older and thank you." Elisha reached forwards and took off Erichs mask. He stiffened for a moment, but allowed her to take it off. For a Krieger to allow someone to take off their mask implied complete trust between them and the person. In a world where the air was toxic, the mask was almost as much part of them as their own beating heart. They had to feel completely safe before they would even consider taking it off. Eager to atone they may be, but no one wanted to die choking on poisonous gases. The mask came off, and was replaced by Erichs Steel coloured eyes and pale aristocratic features. Elisha leaned forward and gave him a small kiss on the forehead to which he blushed profusely. A Krieger he may be, but he was still a child.
"Thank you my little Erich," said Elisha giving him a hug which he awkwardly returned as if unsure what to do. As if he was merely copying her action and not understanding it. "Have a good sleep, and I'll see you tomorrow."
"I will see you at 0600 caretak- Elisha, He corrected himself. He got the faintest of smiles in return.
"I do love you Erich, I hope you know that," said Elisha solemnly. For once Erichs stone hard set of features broke into a childlike look of utter confusion and he stared curiously for a moment before donning his mask and departing.
After Erich left, Elisha ate the meat he had brought her. Real meat, and Emperor was it good. The taste, the texture, it was worlds better than anything she had eaten since she had arrived here two years ago. After she finished and discarded any evidence of the food that she had eaten. Elisha went to the small shrine in her room and knelt down in front of it. She only said two words that were between her and the Emperor.
"Thank you." The Emperor acted in strange ways, but if he could he would help you. Even if he helped you under the name of Erich Von Shreider.
Over the next four years, the Von Shreider family carried on as it always had, except that no more death notices arrived. They didn't have enough children to continue sending them into the Korps. Lord Baron Von Shreider would leave for duty, sometimes for months at a time and return with a new campaign ribbon or trophy. He would come home silently like he had only left for the day and the original daily routine would continue. While he was away however, Her Ladyship Baroness Von Shreider was put in charge and would see to all matters of the house, education of her children and the financial matters of the Von Shreider estate.
On Krieg it is usually the eldest male who is placed in charge of a family, but it is not uncommon for the head of the family to be the eldest female. Indeed it is usually so on account of the life expectancy of the average Krieg male. The general practice of educating the young nobility of the Imperium more often than not falls to the Sister Soritas, or more commonly known as the sisters of battle. This was done for the purpose of inspiring loyalty from an early age in Imperial aristocrats and try to make them more pious. Another purpose was for them to act as a safeguard against corrupt nobles or those who would turn to the ruinous powers in hopes that they could kill the noble immediately after discovery, hopefully preventing a calamity.
When Hans Von Shreider was in his hall, the lessons would carry on as usual, taught by Sister Freya of the Coming Dawn Convent. It was a smaller convent which was part spiritual guide, part scholam instructor, and part warrior. A holy bolter was never far from Freya's reach, though she usually taught in russet robes with gold fleur de leis on the front. She was a woman in her late twenties, and one of the most devout people Erich had ever met. She was Erichs personal teacher and tutor. However, when Baron Von Shreider was away, extra lessons were taught after hours by a more elderly man under the supervision of Baroness Von Shreider. These lessons were far from Imperial dogma, and into the territory of what some might call... heretical.
"Now today's lesson is on the xeno species called the Eldar. Lord Erich, do you know what the Eldar are?" asked Metzger Frick, Erich's more elderly teacher. He looked like he was in his seventies without juvenant, but with it, it was impossible to say how old he really was. Like most people with wealth in the Imperium it was frustratingly hard to divine their true age without a well paid team of Adeptus Arbite investigators. Even then you were unlikely to find anything very useful.
He wore a dark brown robe, his bald head was wrinkled and his face pockmarked like Kriegs very surface. Smile, laughter, and age lines crisscrossed his face with patches of liver spots breaking the pale backdrop of his face. Despite his age, his voice was still vibrant and strong, ringing with a rich baritone that flowed like lacquered honey. His voice was moderated and he used it as well as any weapon with the skill of a master, having it rise and fall to give emphasis to points or to bring suspense in a lesson. Right now, he was using it to full effect and enthralling Erich with the lesson.
"They are a species of alien that look very similar to humans, and for that they are all the greater offence against the Emperor and the Imperium." answered Erich as he had been taught by Sister Freya.
Frick nodded his head sagely as if his answer was correct, but only part of the answer.
"That is true, but there is much more to them than their blasphemies. There is so much very more to them that you need to understand."
"But I thought that to understand the xeno was to lead to heresy?" questioned Erich confused at the conflicting messages from his two teachers.
"It is the path, but only for those who are not shown the way and stray too far from the Emperor. They are an abomination, but if we want to remove their ilk, we must understand where they are weak so we know where to strike. It is like taking on a Prickle Rat. They are covered in sharp spines and to attack their back would cause you grievous harm even if you did manage to kill it. But if you go after its soft stomach, it is much easier for you to kill. Does this make sense to you?"
"I think so," began Erich. "You're saying that we have to know enough about our enemy to know their weaknesses so our strikes can be more effective and not wasted effort."
"Exactly my lord, exactly. To know your foe is half the battle, the rest is simply defeating him."
"Can we get on with the lesson, and not waste time prattling on about Prickle Rats?" said Baroness Helena from the back of the study where Erich was being taught. The bookshelves were made of wood and lined with row upon row of books of history, philosophy, military stratagems, and Ecclesiarch writings.
The room smelled of old parchment and radiated a feeling of quiet contemplation and learning. A great wooden desk sat near the end of the study and was flanked by two great brass lamps with glow globes which showered a soft white light onto the desk and surrounding area. The family crest was wrought in polished silver below a solid gold and intricately carved Aquilla. It was a peaceful and warm feeling place, perfect for an evening of quiet reading or simple solitude. It was a rich library and was Baron Von Shreiders personal office. Plush chairs were spaced at odd intervals throughout the library accompanied by a small table and reading lamp. The majority of the room was in a low light, except for the area being used to teach.
"Of course my lady, I was merely trying to show the similarities between the two and importance of the lesson." said Frick as he bowed his head.
"I believe you've made your point, now please continue." said Helena impatiently, obviously wanting the important parts of the lesson to be discussed.
"At once my baroness." Frick turned back to Erich. "What else do you know about the Eldar?"
"They have pointy ears," ventured Erich to which Frick laughed.
"Indeed they do, beyond physical characteristics though, do you know who they are? Are they smart, dumb, Fast, slow? Are they advanced or neanderthal in their technology?" Pressed Frick.
"Well, I know they are a space faring race, and I know that they are much faster than the average human. So I guess they have some intelligence and they are agile." said Erich feeling uneasy discussing xenos in his fathers place of solitude, his inner sanctum.
"Indeed, indeed they are," answered Frick excitedly. "What else do you know about them?"
"Well they're tall, and beyond that I know nothing but their treachery." finished Erich. Frick sighed as if disappointed at the extent of Erichs knowledge on the subject.
"Lord Erich, do you know what a psyker is?" Frick said in little more than a whisper, causing Erich to strain to listen to every word intently. Without waiting for Erich to respond Frick continued. "Every Eldar to a greater or lesser degree is able to use the warp, or is psychic to some extent."
"Heresy," spat out Erich in pious rage. To be a psyker was a crime against the Emperor and to be cursed with the touch of the warp. Since birth every member of the Imperium is taught to hate hand revile psykers for their unnatural abilities.
"Indeed it is," said Frick. "That is part of what makes them so vile. They have based everything off of their psychic abilities from weapons to their everyday lives. In fact, when they die, they store their souls in psychic constructs."
"What are these constructs?" asked Erich modulating his tone, but burning with righteous fury. Though a small part at the back of his mind had perked up at this news. A part of himself that wanted to learn everything he possibly could about these enigmatic Eldar. It was a infinitesimally small part of him though, and easily repressed.
"Well they are call-."
"I believe that we can skip that portion of the lesson," cut in Helena. "Just stick with how they live and fight."
"But my lady, this is a vital part of Eldar society. To skip this part of the lesson is to deny the most important fact about the Eldar to be known. The very reason why they act as they do. The very basis of their life. I might as well say they are just xenos and be done with it." Protested Frick.
"It is irrelevant in the grand scheme of the teaching," said Helena brushing off his protests like dust from an old coat.
"But my lady!" said Frick aghast, colour rising in his cheeks and raising his voice to one of firm opposition.
"Are you questioning my judgement scholam instructor Frick?" asked Helena, with ice in her voice. It was clear without saying anything that any further argument would not be tolerated and would be punished severely.
"No my lady, I forgot my place."
"Very well, continue with the lesson. I am not housing you merely to prattle on with your idle chatter."
"As you wish my lady," answered Frick subdued.
The rest of the lesson continued on without hindrance, the time on the chronometer ticking by unchecked as the lesson carried on into areas that could have everyone in the manse killed to keep the secrets by the inquisition. In fact some of the Material covered was only supposed to exist sequestered in the most secure vaults of the inquisition.
Erich was told of the fall, the birth of a dark god, and how the Eldar's hedonistic ways were what had led to their own demise. He learned that the Eldar could potentially live for thousands of years. Longer than any mortal had the right to live. Only the Emperor was eternal, only he should last forever.
Erich learned of craftworlds, gigantic planet sized space stations that housed billions of Eldar and could travel as fast as any ship. He learned how the Eldar used bonesingers and wraithbone to construct everything that they needed. That in combat they were stunningly fast and skilled. He learned enough to be called a heretic. The knowledge he was learning was guarded jealously by many and was thought that the Imperial citizen should not know. Erich knew though, and he wanted to learn more.
Frick was in full flow of the lesson explaining the old Eldar gods, when Baroness Helena cut him off, mid tirade. He stopped with his arms outstretched and a surprised look on his face, like he couldn't believe the lesson had been ended so abruptly.
"I believe that is enough for today Mr. Frick, It is time for Erich to practice his swordplay for the day and I know his father would be most displeased if he missed his practice."
"But there is so much more to learn," Frick almost pleaded. "The history, the culture, the grandeur of what once was."
"And there is always tomorrow, be thankful that you are still teaching, much less for a noble house of such standing like mine."
"Of course baroness, sometimes I forget myself when passing on knowledge. I promise you that it won't happen again," said Frick his aged face morphing into an apologetic look with yet more wrinkles.
"See that it doesn't." Helena said harshly, her face set in a look of distaste at the old mans disobedience. Her features softened as she turned to Erich. "Erich, please proceed to your next lesson, I will be along shortly." She spoke in a gentle voice seldom heard by any, even those inside her family.
"Of course mother," said Erich obediently rising to go. His chair scraped on the thin waxed mahogany flooring underneath his feet as if to announce his departure.
"I know that you will exceed all expectations dear," said Helena as Erich gathered his things. "After all, you are my son," she said showing more affection than would seem necessary by Krieg standards, indeed this would seem as almost coddling. Erich seemed to stand a little taller at the praise, as if he had just had an instantaneous growth spurt.
"You will not be disappointed mother, I guarantee it." Promised Erich with a gentlemanly bow, eager to prove that he was turning into a fine gentleman in all regards. He hurried off the the fencing arena, quickly grabbing his things. He walked quietly through the halls, and past a wall that displayed captured weapons and standards. Some were of traitorous human flags who had turned their back on the Emperor, while others yet were from strange and vile xeno species. Their standards ripped and torn in places obviously taken in battle from hands unable to hold onto them any longer. Erich stopped and inspected a crude banner more closely.
It was made of unpurified iron and over four metres in height. An ogrish face painted in white dominated the centre, crudely painted over the material. Orks. He had learned of them like every other citizen of the Imperium, but more in depth per say. Frick was a very good and enthusiastic teacher of all thing having to do outside of the Imperium. He had learned the truth of them and the misleading answers or outright lies told to the rest of the Imperium.
For example it was taught that if you shouted at orks they would run away screaming in terror. The truth was actually the exact opposite, orks liked screaming and yelling and would more than likely make them attack you all the more thinking that you wanted to fight. Orks lived to fight and could not be reasoned with. It was like trying to reason with a gatorbane. You could talk all you wished, but in the end it would still tear you apart.
It was, because of the savagery of creatures like the orks that the guard was necessary. Xenos were creatures unable to coexist with humanity for their vile treachery knew no bounds and if humanity lowered its guard for even a moment, they would be torn asunder by the evil of the galaxy that were xenos.
The Von Shreider Manor is an absolutely massive estate encompassing a total of eight kilometres cubed of space. It housed nearly a small city and at any given time a regiment of the Death Korps was present in the lower levels. The hallways twisted and wound their way through the confusing catacombs of the Shreider manor and many visiting nobles had been hopelessly lost and hysterical by the time a calm Korpsman or house servant found them and returned them to the festivities in the main hall. After making them presentable to preserve their dignity of course. Erich however, had been born and raised in the confusing underground tunnels of Krieg and had developed an innate sense of direction that all Kriegers develop, so it was child's play to take a shortcut through a side passage to cut time off of his journey to the training room.
Erich exited silently out of a side passage and hurried down a marbelled hallway, his footsteps muffled by the heavy red carpet that cut a narrow strip down the hallway and despite the rigorous cleaning always seemed slightly dirty. Being underground, everything in the Von Shreider manor would soon have a light coating of dust or dirt on it in a matter of hours. The cleaning staff, were forever dusting and sweeping.
He heard a light giggle and some subdued talking around the corner on the way to the training room, so he went to investigate the source of the noise, curious as to who was making it.
He saw Elisha and Freya talking in low tones down a side hallway and Elisha would occasionally giggle to something that Freya said. This was unusual, usually Elisha was already at the training room waiting for him. Also Freya was usually praying in one of the templums scattered throughout the Von Shreider manse or giving a service herself. As to what they were doing in a side passageway in the evening was beyond him.
Erich got his answer as Freya gingerly cupped Elisha's jaw as if fearful of rejection and kissed her. Rather than being surprised, Elisha returned it in kind, wrapping her arms around Freya and deepening it, moaning softly.
"Caretaker," called out Erich to Elisha down the hallway.
Elisha jumped like a startled rabbit and tore away quickly from Freya looking down the hallway with wide eyes and her hair flaring at the sudden rapid movement of her head. She stood stiff as a board for a moment before seeing that it was Erich and she relaxed.
"Lord Erich, you startled me just then. Is it time for your fencing classes already?" questioned Elisha looking at her wrist chronometer quickly and blushing red, she gave a nervous laugh. "You sound more and more like your father everyday."
"Yes it is, I was just on my way there now, but seeing as you are here could you accompany me to the training room? Mother would be most displeased if I arrived before you did." said Erich walking towards Elisha. In the past four years he had grown a good deal and now stood level with Elisha in height, while the only part of Elisha that had grown was her hair which now descended past her buttocks.
"Yes I believe I will, goodbye Sister Freya Emperor guide you," said Elisha ushering Erich away towards the training room.
"Emperor go with you too Caretaker Elisha," returned Freya. She seemed to hesitate for a second before speaking again. "Caretaker, the silver," Freya paused for a moment as if unsure whether to continue. "Does it extend the entire way down?" Elisha gave a coy smile over her shoulder.
"Why sister Freya, if you would grace me with your presence tonight I will show you the complete extent of the silver," said Elisha drawing out the word silver and smiling showing her white teeth.
"Very well, I will see you later tonight then caretaker." said Freya seeming flushed for a moment.
"I look forward to it sister." With that Elisha hurried Erich away so that he would not be late. As they were travelling down yet another hallway, regular stone this time Erich decided to ask about the encounter he had walked in on.
"Elisha, why were you kissing sister Freya? I thought that the sororitas were chaste." Elisha picked up the end of her hair and played with it while she answered.
"Well this is a little too mature for someone of your age, but no sororitas are not chaste, they just don't go looking for partners. Also most people don't spend enough time around them to discover the fact that they aren't or get to know them so most people just assume that they are." said Elisha trying to put an end to the conversation.
"But fraternization of that kind is forbidden between the staff of the Shreider Estate. Not only that, but she is a girl. Two standard years ago, I saw you with sergeant gamma of the house guard. Why the discrepancy?" Elisha fingered her hair as she tried to find a way to explain the situation
"Well Erich, most people like the opposite gender, like your mother and father. They are a man and a woman and they like each other right?"
"That is correct."
"Well there are also some people who like people of the same gender, and it is perfectly normal for there to be people like that. Me, well I ummm, oh how do I say this? I like both, so yes I was with sergeant Schmidt, but now I am with Sister Freya. I like both equally well and to me it doesn't seem strange to be with either of them, as long as I love them. Does this make sense at all to you?"
"I think I understand it, it is just preference correct? Like whether you like using a las rifle or a sword more. There is nothing wrong with either weapon, you just use what is more natural to you." said Erich putting it in terms he could understand more easily. Elisha nodded in approval.
"That is exactly right Erich, I'm glad you understand this and don't think it's wrong or goes against the natural order of things like some people I've met."
"As long as people are loyal to the Emperor trifle things like that matter not," intoned Erich. Elisha patted him on the head in approval.
"That's right, and I think I have a little treat for you for being such an open minded young man," said Elisha pulling out a few blue ice berry candies and clinking them together in her hand.
"But I am not supposed to eat sweets before physical training, it is looked down upon. Mother has made it most clear to me that I am not allowed to." said Erich sounding much too firm for one of his age. "It would not be proper," he said with finality.
"Well then I guess I will just have to eat them myself," said Elisha bringing the candy to her mouth and eyeing Erich expectantly. She held it in front of her face, mouth open like she was just waiting to pop the candy in. She didn't have to wait long, in a very ungentlemanly fashion, Erich grabbed the candies and slipped them under his mask, chewing hurriedly. Elisha suppressed a smile at his childish act, despite his seemingly cold demeanour.
"I still have to tell mother about your infraction though, for it goes against the rules and I cannot allow that." Elisha's face fell at the announcement. If she was ever caught breaking that rule, there would be a severe punishment, and she wasn't exactly the Baronesses favourite.
"Would an ice berry candy fix that?" asked Elisha producing another handful of candy and shaking them in her hand. Despite them being Erichs favourite candy, he refused to budge.
"No, I have been told to report it, and I will." said Erich flatly, his Krieg upbringing showing itself in full force. His need to follow the rules bordering on obsessive that all Kriegers possessed in their psyche.
"Could you keep it a secret just for me though? Just between the two of us." asked Elisha playing to her favoured spot with Erich. It had helped her get out of a lot of trouble in the past, by having Erich cover for her. Who had given him that candy? Why he had found it just lying around in a storeroom. Why had Elisha gone into town for the day without telling anyone and bought new clothes? Well lord Erich had wanted to go for a walk in the hive and had consented to his caretaker buying new clothes to look her best at formal occasions where even the servants were expected to be in acceptable finery and not the servants uniform.
Why was she not with Erich to take him to his lessons in the morning?(Elisha's chronometer had broken and she had overslept by several hours, which had almost made her have a heart attack when she realized the time.) Why her presence had distracted him so he had sent her away for a short time. Elisha could get away with anything short of murder as long as Erich would cover for her. There was perks to being the favourite of an heir to one of the noblest and richest families on Krieg.
"But, I have been told that I need to tell mother of any infractions no matter who by," Erich defended weakly. It was the same every time, he would site the reasons why he had to do his duty then he would crumble in face of Elisha's pleas.
"Please?" prodded Elisha. "It would mean a lot to me if you didn't say anything, and I would be very grateful."
"Well I," continued Erich unsure of what to do, torn between his need to follow the rules and help one of the people he truly cared about and cared about him.
"Please my little Erich," said Elisha sweetly, pulling out all the stops and taking his hands in hers. That did it in an instant, cracking Erich's Krieg upbringing like cheap glass.
"Well I suppose that one infraction more or less won't make much of a difference and it would just conflict with your duties causing more harm than good. I do not want you to get in trouble for this, so I will not tell mother of this, you have my word," promised Erich. Elisha knew that she was in the clear now. If a Krieger gave you his word, it was better than a signed document. Years of teaching that truth is the most important, right next to faith in the Emperor meant that if a Krieger gave his or her word on something they would sooner die than go against it, no matter what difficulties that would entail. They would follow it till the end or were released from their bond.
"Thank you Erich, that means a lot to me."
"It was nothing, I simply making your duties easier to perform. Just don't do it again," chastised Erich trying to sound official, but floundering.
"Oh don't worry Erich, you won't catch me doing anything like this again," promised Elissa Mischievously.
"I'm glad to hear it," said Erich completely oblivious as to the intended meaning of Elissa's words.
"So Erich do you have a little sweetheart that you fancy?" prodded Elisha.
"Wh-what? No! I-it is improper, mother would, I would, I am not supposed to!" sputtered Erich at the unexpected question. "I am to have a bride chosen when I am the proper age, and strengthen the bonds between the Shreiders and another noble family."
"Oh really? Well what about that cute little stable girl I always see you looking at whenever you have your riding lessons?"
"Serena simply helps me get my horse saddled and groomed, nothing more."
"Oh so this Serena has a name does she?" said Elisha laughter on her lips. "I just hope that you don't sneak off with her sometime, that would be quite the scandal don't you think? I wonder what your mother would have to say about all of this?" Elisha put a finger to her chin thoughtfully.
"No, no, no, don't tell mother. She would be quite angry that I fancy a servant," pleaded Erich.
"Oh, so you do like her don't you young master Erich," said Elisha holding in her laughter at his anxiety about his mother finding out about his crush. He needn't worry though, she wouldn't tell the baroness that the Emperor was off the throne if she could help it.
"Well I, yes I do," said Erich eyes downcast. "Are you going to tell mother?"
"Well you kept quiet for me, so I will keep quiet for you. On one condition though."
Elisha held out a handful of candy.
"That you take another iceberry candy and I won't take no for an answer."
They continued down the hallway lit by bright white lumo globes, and followed the path down to the training room. They entered through large double doors made of adamantium and the family crest emblazoned on the door frame, carved from the very metal it rode. It was that of a roaring dragon with its tail wrapped around an Aquilla. It was symbolic in the way that the Von Shreiders would defend the Imperium with their very lives if necessary. They would challenge all of the Emperors foes and be as ferocious and indomitable as the dragon on their crest. It was a sacred duty that all Shreiders had to live up to.
The doors parted and they were admitted by two house guards with hellguns and matte black carapace armour. The doors swung inwards silently on well oiled hinges and admitted them into the family training room.
It had a high vaulted ceiling that disappeared into blackness, with Gothic style arches rising into the abyss and columns holding up the roof. Litanies of faith, fortitude, and strength were carved into the columns, spiralling up the sides of the pillars, reaching as high as the invisible ceiling. Murals hung around the room showing famous, deceased members of the Von Shreider family. There were space marines, generals, admirals, courageous soldiers who were the pivot on which a campaign was won. Daemon slayers, witch hunters, and so many more whose deeds were catalogued in the family archive and had earned them redemption through service.
Elisha went and stood off to the side as Erich donned his fencing apparel and withdrew a monomolecular sword, spinning it expertly and switching it effortlessly between his ambidextrous hands. He did figure eights, parries, slashes, lunges, and stabs with an easy grace. His warmup was fluid and flawless, light years ahead of where he should be at his age. Erich had taken after his father in the way of the blade and was a prodigy with the sword, seeming to learn any move easily and use them with near inhuman grace and dexterity. Erich was fast approaching the point where the only one who would be able to train him would be his father, the blade master of Krieg himself.
Not only that, but he was hitting his growth spurts and it wouldn't be long before he could put a lot more power behind his blows, he could already look her in the eye and it unnerved her slightly. When he had been eight, Elisha hadn't believed him when he had said she couldn't actually physically punish him, even if she wanted to. She had held his arms to show him that she was indeed strong enough, only to be forced to the ground an arm behind her back in a painful lock.
She had refused to talk to him for a day after that and he had never done it again. To be honest it had made her slightly fearful to know that even so young, he could kill her if he ever so chose to. A child shouldn't be able to do that. Erich was fast approaching adulthood though, on Krieg you became a full fledged adult at the age of fifteen and one live member of a family had to serve in the Korps.
She didn't want Erich to go into the Korps, it was worse than a death sentence. Krieg regiments routinely requested to be given the toughest and most difficult assignments on the deadliest worlds. Taking on foes that Imperial Command had deemed too hazardous for assault without severe loss of life. He was strong and skilled, of that she had no doubt, but on the battlefield all it took was one stray shot. Only one.
Even as she worried for Erich, she worried for her own future, with Erich approaching fast approaching adulthood she would soon be useless to the baroness. She was only kept on so the baroness didn't have to raise her son herself and once he was fifteen, Elisha wouldn't be necessary anymore. The baroness hated her, and there was no one who really wanted her to stay, having made so many enemies in her time here.
She looked at Erich again, finishing his warmup. Maybe there was someone who wanted to have her stay. Erich was starting to use his title and power more frequently, understanding the subtle insults and gibes a little better. Now the other servants couldn't mock him openly without punishment. If they did it to Elisha, it was some of the few times that she had seen him get angry. He had threatened butler 56 with lobotomy if he so much as heard him make an unkind remark to her again. Needless to say no one picked on her anymore, but she could feel resentment sitting just below the surface sometimes.
She cared for him like her own son, and if anyone wanted her to stay it was him.
She watched him swing the razor edged sword through the air slashing an imaginary enemy here, beheading another there.
Elisha wondered why it was necessary for such a young boy to have to learn how to kill from such a young age. Hadn't they lost enough children? Elisha watched as Erich entered the arena with his instructor who was also armed with a monomolecular sword. No dull swords in these practices, it was all real. There was no illusion of combat, for on Krieg they didn't believe mock combat was worth anything. The Death Korps had the highest rate of training accidents in any guard regiment of the Imperium. Save of course for the 'accidents' that befell the commissars of the Catachan regiments.
Erich stood at the other end of one of the many small fencing circles and faced his instructor, sword drawn and shimmering in the dim light of the sparing room. They faced each other, studying the others stance and As if by unspoken consent the two combatants rushed towards each other the swords screamed shrilly through the air towards each other.
The sword fell and Gottandammerung cleaved through another heretical soldier on Perexis V. It cleaved the traitor in half cutting through flak armour, las rifle, flesh and bone as if it was no more than air. Blood hissed and spat as it was turned to steam by the passing swing of Gottandammerung. The heretic fell in two, but before the to halves had even his the ground, Gottandammerung had already claimed four more, with graceful strokes and ripostes. Eagerly ending the lives of the heretics
A traitor guardsman ran at Lord General Hans Von Shreider bayonet raised and foul obscenities issuing from his mouth against the Imperium. For his trouble, a bolt round from Deliverance removed his head from his shoulders in a gory spray or bone, blood and brain matter. He hit the ground with a dull thud mere feet from the Lord General of Krieg. Atop a pile of burning rubble, Hans Von Shreider was surrounded by dead heretics. The sky was choked black and red by the breath of war, the booming of heavy guns filled the distance like an approaching storm. He appeared to all as an herald of the end times. In master artificer crafted carapace armour of black and grey with a golden snarling dragon emblazoned on the front. His Generals helmet lined with gold braid and Crimson, a black plume running the length of it like the helmet of some dark lord and golden epaulettes with crimson lining on his shoulders. Grinning silver skulls of the famed Krieg grenadiers adorned his lapels as well as a voluminous greatcoat opened fully adorned his shoulders billowing in the wind. His mask hiding his features and turning him into a true weapon of the Emperor. Faceless, nameless, and merciless. The motto of the Death Korps personified.
Another section of traitors attacked the lord general, ten in all. It was an unfair fight and the odds laughable. They should have brought more men. With three long loping strides, Hans leapt into their midst, Gottandammerung swinging. Two were killed in the first stroke, and another with a follow through stab as he twirled through them. They fell in pieces, smoking where Gottandammerung had ended them. Deliverance barked twice as he spun exploding the torsos of another two traitors in a gory display of blood and viscera. In under two seconds, half the section had died. One traitor opened fire, missing as Hans dodged, the blood red shots missing by a hairsbreadth. He gutted the surprised traitor guardsman from stomach to shoulder in an elegant upward slash, then ended two more lives as they struggled to draw a bead on the blade master in their midst.
One of the remaining traitors tried to drive her bayonet through Hans back, but a powerful backwards kick flung her backwards and out of the way for a moment. The last traitor died firing his lasgun, but was unable to hit the Lord General. For his failure, he was run through with the ancient power sword ending his life in a flawless thrust. He withdrew Gottandammerung, and spun it in his hand as the traitor fell dead. It was more a habit than anything else to spin his sword, it didn't serve any real value, but a light display as the trail of spent energy followed in Gottandammerungs wake. The cocking of a stub pistol was all the warning that Hans got of the impending danger.
With a loud bang, a projective was launched at lethal speeds towards him. Hans brought Gottandammerung around in a downwards horizontal slash as he turned, neatly bisecting the bullet and deflecting it. The horrified traitor stared disbelievingly as she loosed five more shots in quick succession that were either batted aside like annoying gnats or avoided entirely by impossibly quick movements. A series of clicks followed as the stub revolver clicked empty, held in a white knuckled grip by the terrified traitor. Hans slowly walked through the gravel, boots crunching, his power sword almost seeming contemplative as it hissed through the air as if deciding whether or not to claim another victim. Deliverance, the shiny black bolt pistol with gold Gothic inscriptions traversing the length of the barrel, was held loosely at his side, waiting patiently to be used.
"Stay back daemon!" cried out the traitor scrambling back across the debris and making a horrified noise as she placed her hand in the still warm innards of her dead comrade. "The Emperor protects against creatures like you!"
"The Emperor?" questioned Hans in an almost curious tone as if he couldn't believe a heretic would dare to venerate the Emperor. "The Emperor has sent us to act as his will to smite those who have turned against him and his Imperium. You are a traitor and a heretic, your words no longer hold weight in this life, and now I will do you the honour of ending it." He brought his own sidearm up.
Deliverance barked once loudly, drowning out the protests of the traitor and redeeming her in death. Hans looked at the assembled dead men and women around him, traitors all. But then again was he much different?
The Imperium was very clear on what to do with those with psychic talent or who could affect the warp in any way. The adminastratum or Ecclesiarchy were to be notified immediately and then the black ships would take them away, taking them in and turning them into astropaths, sanctioned psykers, or some other safe use for them. To shelter them was heresy, an act against him on the holy throne. It was duty, that forced parents to give their children up for service, but it was love that made Hans Von Shreider, Lord General of Krieg and thirty eighth patriarch of one of the noblest and oldest families keep his. Erich wasn't a psyker, not exactly.
Whether it was the death of most of his children, or his long life Hans just couldn't bare to lose another one of his children. Early in his career he would have called the blackships immediately, but getting older, he had begun to question the need for so much death, so much sacrifice. Could they not serve the Emperor better by living? Fighting and staying alive, instead of dying in pointless last stands? Restoring their world to its former glory. It was not beyond Imperial ability, just costly and too time consuming to be thought worth the effort for most planets. Hans loved the Imperium and the Emperor with every fibre of his being, but he could not lose another child.
Most people think Kriegers to be cold and emotionless, and while to an extent they are they still feel all the emotions of regular human beings. They just keep them hidden behind a mask, both literal and figurative. They discourage them, but they still exist. Hans had worked with the inquisition before and knew just how much they prized psykers. Many inquisitors were indeed psychically skilled themselves. There was one thing that they valued more though. Something that Ordo Malleous especially would literally kill to get their hands on. An untouchable.
They were extremely rare, but they existed. Their very presence nullified the warp and made all the witches and daemons in the Imperium as helpless as newborn babes without their powers. They turned the mightiest of sorcerers into fools waving their arms futilely. However this came at a cost to the untouchable themselves. Untouchables are reviled by the rest of humanity. People cannot stand to be in their presence, and everything they do irritates people beyond what it would normally be. Most died, killed by a deep seated hatred that even the perpetrator of the crime could not quite understand much less explain other than they just hadn't liked the person. It was possible to live with, like, and even love an untouchable, but it was oh so very hard. For sheltering his untouchable son, Hans was a traitor.
He didn't view himself as a traitor though. He was a devout Emperor fearing man, he had served long in his name killing his enemies, and nine of his children had died to defend his Imperium. Surely the Emperor would forgive him this one indiscretion. Surely he would understand his desire to keep the rest of his children alive to live as happy a life as they could.
He could not actually manipulate the warp, so it wasn't like he was putting anyone in danger by keeping him. The one problem being though just as psykers are measured in terms of power by being put in classes, so too were untouchables. His son, was an equivalent of an alpha plus. If he removed the bracelet which contained his untouchable qualities, psychic activity for five miles around would cease to operate. No matter the strength of the user.
Hans looked out upon the city that high command had ordered him to take for turning against the Imperial fold and declaring independence. The fact that they still worshipped the Emperor their one redeeming quality.
The hive of Aegis was aflame and the tall hive spires having lost the top hundred floors of their construction. Black armoured Kriegers advanced through the city, supported by the rumbling of Leman Russ main battle tanks, and Medusa siege mortars. The reason as to why the hive world of Perexis V had rebelled was irrelevant, the only thing that mattered was that they would pay for their heresy. No matter how they sought to plead for forgiveness for their treachery, it wall fall on deaf ears for the sons of Krieg would not listen.
There were other guard regiments attacking too. Trupour mechanized, Paladonian dragoons, and heavy knights on horseback. Armed with monomolecular swords, chainswords, explosive lances, and las carbines they acted as fast attack and were devastating to enemy infantry. Archillian motorized foot, which was currently fighting for control of the skyway bridges that connected the hive spires, and the slow grinding force that was Krieg, providing the heavy booming of guns with their siege artillery and main force behind the advance.
A wave of Vulture gunships passed overhead heading further into the hive. Hans became alert with the sound of heavy boots crunching debris behind him, a company of Krieg Grenadiers making it to their General. With a quiet nod of acknowledgement they pushed further into the hive, rallying guardsman of different regiments to their assault until they had a force to be reckoned with and the Lord General leading. The streets were strewn with rubble and slapped together barricades that had already fallen, the bodies of the defenders and attackers alike strewn around a position that no longer mattered. Only the colours of their uniforms being able to distinguish between the two.
The air was thick was dust and the stench of death that mixed with the smells of the burst sewage veins and unwashed bodies. It made some of the men from other regiments gag, while the Kriegers were fine behind their masks. The worst that the desolation and polluted air could do to them was make them homesick.
The broken hive spires rose like rotten trees in a diseased forest, casting strange shadows and uneven light, causing the men to see things at the edge of their vision and jump at shadows. The men were understandably nervous, they had met no further resistance and they were advancing through what should have been the heartland of the enemy.
They eventually found them, just not in the way that they had expected to, they were already dead. Ripped apart by bolter fire and chainsword, the traitorous soldiers were strewn around their positions as if tossed about at random. The guardsmen took up positions in the square where the dead traitors were, looking for information as to who killed them. The square was filled with all manner of debris, and a light layer of smoke held sway over the area.
A cracked fountain of Saint Kleer pouring water out of a jug onto the outstretched hands of the faithful was broken and crumbled. Arms still outstretched missing both the hands and the jug, the faithful destroyed by a mixture of bolter fire and lasgun. The symbolism was almost ironic.
They checked over the broken and tattered bodies of the traitors, clad in torn flak armour and las guns clutched in death-grips or shattered along with their bodies. Not all were dead though, sharp lasgun reports pinpointed survivors.
"Captain," said Hans just loud enough to be heard. He was resting his hand on the pommel of Gottandammerung as he said it. It was a fine sword, the blade a little over a metre long and slightly curved. The handle was mother of pearl white and made from some sort of material that never wore out and allowed you to keep a sure grip while still having great flexibility with it. Winding gold filigree made its way up the handle, snaking around it in intricate loops. The captain of the Krieg Grenadiers ran up to him at a moderate trot and stopped a respectful distance away.
"Your will my lord," he greeted standing at parade ground attention.
"I need you to bring me a survivor if at all possible, I need to determine the identity of these traitors adversaries. If they are allies we need not worry, if they are not, we must be vigilant."
To a normal Imperial citizen, having someone talk to you face to face while staring into an emotionless mask would be very disconcerting. To a man born and raised on Krieg it was actually quite settling. A little taste of their irradiated home.
"At once my lord," replied the captain obediently rushing off and shouting orders for the guardsmen to cease fire. The las fire stopped as if some one had thrown a switch and shut off the power to their guns. Hans watched emotionless as survivors were drug towards him in front of the statue of the saint. He wasn't going to move towards them and a little symbolism would be good for them. Standing at six and a half feet tall, Hans was a very imposing figure in his armour, especially the Death Korps armour.
Six survivors were drug towards him all with various wounds and in different stages of dying. Four men and two women made up the survivors of the slaughter in the square, a seventh had been taken as well, but he hadn't survived his wounds or the trip to the fountain. A red trail marked his passage from beginning to end. He surveyed the traitors before him. It was as diverse as it was bloody.
An old grizzled sergeant with a self cauterized arm where it had been sheared at the shoulder leaving him pail and shaky but defiant. It looked as if he had either used his lasgun or a piece of red hot metal to do the job.
A young recruit who looked like this was his first action with blood caked around a head wound and dozens of smaller shrapnel wounds peppered his body and absolutely terrified. A middle aged man fading in and out of consciousness from a wound to the chest and he would occasionally choke up blood. A loud report from Deliverance ended his life and his suffering. It caused the others to jump, but none dared curse him for fear of being his next victim. Of the five survivors, the remaining three looked the most promising in terms of breaking or leverage for breaking another. Perhaps the young man if they were lovers. A young girl barely out of her teens seemed to be the least wounded of all with a broken leg, but still seemed in extreme pain and completely terrified just like the young man to her left.. A matronly woman swathed with bandages and a medicae patch on her arm tended to her. Hans could have had her restrained and stopped, but there was no reason to.
Let them think that they were safe. If he let them get treated than obviously he wanted them alive, the first death was just to inspire fear. He was going to die anyways and that was why he had chosen him. They would believe what they needed to for their spirits to keep up. The last member of the survivors appeared to be an officer. He had discarded any rank insignia, but had forgotten one simple little thing that most people never thought of. His boots. They were of finer quality than standard issue flak combat boots and looked much more comfortable, possibly even custom made. Best to start with the enlisted first though, so he would know what would happen if he refused to cooperate. If he cared for his soldiers enough he would break and tell them what they needed to know. If he cared nothing for them, but valued his own life he would speak to save his own skin.
He walked around them slowly, his grenadiers forming a cordon around the survivors, hellguns at the ready, waiting for a signal to open fire.
Hans wasn't a professional interrogator, but he was a leader of men and having dealt with regiments needing more care, he understood that violence wasn't always the way to get what you wanted. You wanted to try a panoply of different tactics to get the best results. He started with the old sergeant, the hardest one to break.
"Sergeant, what is your name?"
"Frak off you masked freak," spat out the sergeant defiantly. "I ain't telling you grox shit." He was shaky with pain, but defiant. A pity really.
"That is no way to speak to an officer sergeant, are you just being defiant or is the extent of the discipline on this planet?" The sergeant just grunted.
Hans crouched down so that his mask was level with his face. He spoke in a low tone that none of the others would overhear.
"I have no doubt that you hate me and would be perfectly willing to die just to spit in my face, but are willing to let your troopers die? If you don't tell me what I want to know, I am perfectly content to make you watch as I interrogate them each in turn and I won't be nearly as nice to them."
"You sick bastard." hissed the sergeant. "I wouldn't tell you how to wipe your own ass unless you would do it with a bayonet." Hans just stared at him for a moment, the sergeants face reflected back at him in the lenses of the mask.
"Very well," said Hans at length rising to his full height. The sergeant gave him a suppressed look of triumph as thought that he made the Lord General give ground. The look disappeared with the medicaes head.
It showered the young woman next to her and her auburn hair became sticky with blood and gore. Her eyes became wide and her breathing became ragged. The others jumped at the loud report from Deliverance.
Hans lowered himself to eye level with the young woman and she stared at him as if not seeing him. The events of the day being too much for her. Another pampered middle hiver trying to play war hero and realizing too late that it wasn't nearly as heroic as she thought it was.
"What is your name miss?" asked Hans gently.
"Clara, my name is Clara," she responded as if in a daze.
"Clara, that's a nice name," continued Hans. "Now Clara I have some questions that I need answered, do you think that You could do that for me?"
"I don't remember my serial number, I just got it and there's just too many numbers to remember, but my rank is private. I was told that was all I'm supposed to tell you, I'm sorry," she finished almost apologetically. Hans let out what could almost be interpreted as a disapproving sigh.
"Now therein lies the problem. If you don't tell me what I want to know, things will get very unpleasant for you very quickly. I don't want to have things get that way, so I'm hoping that you'll tell me what I need to know or I will have to get unpleasant." He gave her broken leg a light squeeze which elicited a light cry of pain from her.
"Do you see how things will get unpleasant if you don't answer my questions?" Clara gave a quick birdlike nod. "Good, now my first question is who were you fighting against that destroyed your unit? Can you tell me?" Clara gave another quick nod. "
"Trooper, don't you dare tell him anything! You took the same oath as me to overthrow the Imperium, don't you dare throw it away just because the going gets a little tough. Show some Frakking Perexian backbone for Emperor's sake." It was the Sergeant from before who had spoken up, trying to resist even in the state he was in. Pity that he hadn't just kept his mouth shut.
"I didn't tell you to talk," said Hans not even turning his head to look at the offending sergeant.
"I don't need your frakking permission to talk you imperial bastard!" snarled the sergeant. At the tiniest of gestures from Hans a grenadier stepped up and struck the sergeant in the head with the butt of his rifle which sent him sprawling to the ground, blood seeping from a new wound on his head. The grenadier trained the rifle on the back of his head in case he moved or insulted the Lord General again.
"Now Clara, can you tell me who you were fighting against now?"
"It was angels sir."
"What do you mean by angels? Can you clarify that at all for me?"
"They came from the sky, bringing fire and death with them. They wore armour black as night with white as if to mock us. When we shot them they didn't fall, didn't cry out in pain, they just kept coming. They were giants and their eyes glowed, by the emperor they glowed bright even in the dark they glowed. We regrouped in the courtyard today with what was left of our battalion and tried to fight them, but it wasn't enough. We didn't even fell a single one of them."
Clara continued her story as if in a trance, relating a tale as it was played back to her in her damaged mind.
"How many were there Clara?"
"There were thousands of them, they darkened the land with their numbers."
"Thank you for telling me this Clara, you have helped the Imperium a great deal."
"Im sorry sir."
"For turning on the Emperor, I didn't mean to."
"Don't Worry Clara, atonement is always available for the faithful."
"Thank you sir." Hans didn't answer back as he walked away.
"Captain," called out Hans. One of the Paladonian dragoon captains began to canter up Hans on his steed when he realized it was the Krieg grenadier captain that he wanted. He brought his horse up short and flushed slightly at his mistake.
"My lord," answered the Grenadier a short distance from Hans.
"Kill them, all of them."
"At once my lord." A series or sharp las cracks rang out as the rest of the survivors were killed. It almost seemed someone had forcefully shoved them to the ground as the las rounds impacted them.
"Yes my lord?"
"Send a message back to head quarters. There are Adeptus Astartes on this planet of an unknown chapter. Tell them to check in system for an Astartes strike cruiser, as well as cross reference for chapters that use black and white as their chapter colours. They are of around company strength and progressing through sector sigma, theta, eight and have passed through our present location no more than forty minutes ago.
Tell them to keep our position locked for local or orbital bombardment should the need arise."
"Yes my lord, should I requisition more heavy weapons for us?"
"No, we will be meeting up with the 84th Krieg armoured in a moment, that should more than suffice as well as the Archillian 879th motorized.
"My lord if I may, are we really going to have to fight against the Emperors chosen?"
"Captain any Imperial citizen who wears the Uniform of his service is his chosen, as for fighting them, we shall see when we meet them. Now relay the message and prepare to move out."
"On your word Lord."
Hans surveyed his the battlefield again with new eyes. It was obvious now that it was space marines who had done this. The bolter fire was too precise, the lack of casualties too suspicious. He had a feeling that the space marine chapter were the Black Templars, but he couldn't be sure. That boded ill if it was the Templars though. If they were here it meant that xenos were here. Dangerous xenos. Perhaps a gene stealer cult had taken hold?
He had rooted them out before, though it took several years in which time he had lost Adolf his child who was extravagantly gifted at playing the piano. Dead on Crucible in a delaying action against the great enemy. Perhaps he was even now entertaining the Emperor with his pieces waiting until the final battle in which he would put down the arts and pick up his rifle for service in his name yet again. Not all of his children were meant to have been soldiers, some could have gained sector wide fame, but now they were gone. Now he was an old man musing when he should really be paying more attention to the task at hand.
They moved down through the broken streets between habs and bombed out businesses. They were now accompanied by the rumbling of heavy tanks and the deep thrum of heavy truck engines. Mostly Heracles half tracks, but there was more than a few chimeras from the Archillian 897th. The first real resistance came as they came around a bend in the street. Heavy stubbers and autocannons rained fire down on them. The lead infantry were cut down, Krieg, Archillian, and Palladonian blood running through the streets. A fusillade of auto rifles cut in, throwing solid slug rounds their way. The weapons fire lit up the windows where they were hiding though.
The tanks simply rolled around the corner shrugging off any hits and rotated their turrets to the incoming ineffectual fire which seemed to intensify as if they threw enough fire at the metal behemoths they would simply explode. The battle cannons lobbed high explosive shells into the buildings causing masonry mixed with body parts to fly into the streets cutting off the return fire as the heavy bolters swept from window to window as the cannons reloaded.
Some rebels ran from the houses, only to be cut down at another intersection from another advancing arm of Hans personal advance.
This had ceased to be warfare, it was merely cleanup and some clandestine space marines were infinitely more interesting than a rabble of rebelling citizens playing guard dress up.
The trail wasn't exactly hard to follow, all Hans had to do was follow the bodies. There were many, many rebels dead from bolter fire and even what appeared to be a chimera ripped open by claws, the occupants inside ripped apart repainting the inside in a gory decor. If you looked close enough you could see evidence of space marines, boot prints in the ferracrete, chainsword marks in the ground from a particularly brutal execution or any matter of other form of space marine combat.
The trail eventually lead to a museum displaying geological marvels from the outlying moons and uninhabitable worlds of the system. The Gallery Perexis Imperialis. A high reaching gothic structure that was even yet still dwarfed by the crumbling hive spires.
"Colonel Drei," said Hans speaking into a vox set. "Take your forces and secure the perimeter of the building. Deploy your heavy weapons teams as you see fit, I don't want anyone surprising us once we're inside."
"Of course Lord General, My men and women of the Archillian 897th will teach those dogs to fear Imperial guns properly. Do you want any prisoners?"
"We have enough prisoners, if anyone attacks dispose of them as you would any enemy of the Imperium."
"Of course Lord, no one shall get through our lines. The sons and daughters of Achilles V don't give ground easily."
"You shouldn't give ground at all colonel, now get moving," snapped Hans brusquely. With a muffled affirmative, Colones Drei cut communications and the rumble of trucks shepherded by Krieg tanks completely surrounded the museum on all sides. It was amazing what a seven thousand man blockade could look like. Five thousand in the Archillian ranks and another two in the Krieg armoured. Hans had over a hundred grenadiers ready to storm the building with him, as well as another two hundred dismounted Paladonian dragoons with las carbines and either chainsword or monomolecular.
The steps were littered with fallen rebels, strewn about where they had fallen. They met the first casualty of the Black Templars now confirmed though. A tactical marine who had taken a long las round through the optics of his helmet. He was collapsed at the top, his gene seed already removed. Statues of Imperial heroes stood vigil over him and murals of Imperial victories a backdrop to his death. A good place to die by all accounts, but if the body was still here, then that meant the rest of the company would be nearby. They only question was would they be accommodating or hostile?
The great doors leading into the museum were opened and the first squad probed inside, hellguns of the grenadiers searching all the corners. They moved fluidly through the entrance area and took defensive positions covering the entrances into into the central plaza. With a quick key of his helmet vox, the lead grenadier signalled all clear. The grendadiers stormed in with the dragoons, while Hans calmly walked in, his soldiers streaking past him on either side. A platoon of dragoons was left outside to secure the entrance to the museum.
"Lieutenant Theta eight dash two, take your platoon through the east wing. Lieutenant Beta zero four, take the west wing. Lieutenant Schaffers, take your platoon with Lieutenant Theta, Lieutenant Prayr, take yours with Lieutenant Beta. Captain Landers hold the plaza, the rest of you are with me."
Hans gave the orders quickly and efficiently, his skill at command honed over the years to a razor keen. He hadn't gotten Lord General by virtue of surviving, but it had helped if he was honest with himself.
The plaza was decorated with the skeletons of fearsome beasts native to Perexis V towering several stories, but long since extinct. Portraits and old holo picts immortalizing the men who had discovered these ancient creatures. Some fossils were scattered around in display cases, which surprisingly had very little damage.
From the looks of things, the rebels had pulled further into the museum at the sight of the space marines, and foregoing the open areas of the plaza to try and ambush them in the winding hallways of the exhibits.
"Sir are we really going to fight against space marines? I mean aren't they the Emperor's best, the ones who protect humanity? If I may be so bold it almost seems a sin to draw arms against them." It was a young Paladonian Dragoon who had addressed him, his tall plumed helmet looking precariously perched on top of his head, and the deep blue plume seeming lackluster.
"Guardsmen, we are the Emperors hammer, we are his will. If someone raises a hand against us they are going against him on the golden throne. As for the Emperors best, it is easy to be good when you are genetically augmented and are given the finest weapons and armour in the Imperium. Take heart and know that we will meet any threat with the fury of the Emperor, his will be done through us.
As for fighting them, it shouldn't come to that. Just keep your weapon ready and remember you training."
"Yes sir, but will we stand a chance?"
Hans turned his head to the trooper who was nearly a full head shorter than him, and much scrawnier.
"Sometimes, all that is required of us is that we do stand."
"Of course si- lord, umm Lord General."
Hans sent the dragoon on his way before he dug himself a trench, then took lead of his forces, numbering just under two hundred men. Most senior officers would think it ridiculous that a Lord General would be on the front lines with such a small cadre of soldiers around him, not to mention doing a combat operation. However Hans wasn't much for sitting behind a desk the whole of the campaign, plus it inspired troops to see such a high ranking officer fighting shoulder to shoulder with them.
The Paladonians spurs jingled on their riding boots as they proceeded through the museum, but aside from a few glares from the grenadiers, nothing of ill fortune befell them. There were bodies of course, but all were of traitors. Seeing them set Hans on edge, though his guardsmen just assumed the space marines had done it, Hans knew better.
The wounds were too, clean for lack of a better word. The ranged weapon wounds were far too small for bolters which would have just exploded the bodies of the traitors, also the sword wounds. Far to clean cut, no chainsword could have made such a precise, non shredded wound. Not only that, but these soldiers looked like they had been taken by surprise. In the process of setting up an auto cannon when their fate had befallen them.
"Space marines didn't do this Lord," said the grenadier captain to Hans in a low tone to avoid being overheard by the rest of the guardsmen.
"I know, and I fear I know who did this," said Hans rising from the corpse whose wounds he had been inspecting.
"Xenos my lord?"
"Eldar captain, tell the men to stay alert there are more than just traitors and an out of place space marine chapter to look out for."
"Yes my lord, we shall purge them once given the opportunity. The Emperor protects."
"The Emperor protects," repeated Hans.
They stepped over the dead traitors and proceeded past innumerable smashed display cases and riddled hallways full of pockmarks form las rifles, auto, bolter, and xenos weapons fire. Hans drew Gottandammerung and Deliverance in anticipation of the coming fight. With a hiss crack accompanied by the smell of ozone, Gottandammerung woke up, preparing for yet another fight. It wrapped itself in Electric fire like an expensive coat flaunting it to all those around it. Such a prissy sword.
They came to another exhibit with doors blown off the hinges. They entered cautiously, grenadiers leading the way, moving in combat crouches, but then they stopped and stared. Hans stared too, who wouldn't?
There was a case at the top of marble steps, like those of a throne room, inside of which a stone glowed as if possessed by an internal light. Casting dancing lights in its case. That wasn't what caught his attention though, that wasn't what had made him stop and stare. What had made Krieg grenadiers stop and stare. It was marines, a full squad resplendent in their power armour of white and black, with a thick cross on the pauldrons. Ten of the emperors finest, all dead.
"Oh throne, what did this?" voiced a shocked dragoon, las carbine held loosely in his grip.
"Who could kill so many astartes?" said another awestruck dragoon.
"Was it daemons?" dared a third dragoon. A loud bolt shot was his answer, from the pistol of their commissar.
"Speak no heresy sons of Paladonia! Weep for the fallen angels of the Emperors wrath, but do so later when it is proper to mourn them. For now, steel yourselves for the task at hand and show these wretches whoever has committed this vile act that we will not stand for this! Search the room for the heathens and end them." With a cheer the dragoons rushed into the room, quickly filling out all sides and turning over bodies, securing it. The grenadiers stayed close to the Lord General waiting for his orders and his alone.
"Stay close and watch the shadows," cautioned Hans moving into the room his grenadiers forming a protective buffer around him. He made straight for one of the fallen marines kneeling to inspect the wounds. The marine had a clean hole through the helmet at a higher elevation almost as if the round had... come from above. Hans saw the barest reflection of movement in the marines optics from above.
Hans threw himself back as a xeno rifle fired barely missing him, but took some of the plume off of his helmet.
"They're above us in the rafters!" called out Hans as a flurry of shots came down from long rifles taking guardsmen in perfect headshots as they struggled to find cover from an enemy above them. A hail of las shots flew into the rafters, streams of blood red streaks providing a deadly light show as the guardsmen returned fire.
A couple of very tall xenos in long cloaks fell, smoking wounds in their bodies, but more continued to pour fire at them from above claiming more guardsmen. Hans dodged another shot from a xeno the round intended to end his life tearing a gouge out of the stone at his feet. He brought Deliverance around and fired three bolt rounds in quick succession at the muzzle flashes. He was rewarded by a bloody rain of body parts falling to hit wetly on the marble floor. Before the guardsmen could capitalize on their superior firepower, dark shapes dropped from the rafters and began tearing into the guardsmen with a whirr of chainblades. Striking Scorpions.
They quickly became locked in combat with the Paladonian dragoons, the dangerous aspect warriors going against swordsmen trained by the revered troop masters or the famed horse regiments where sword and stirrup were inseparable from themselves. Even still, three dragoons was an even match for one of the xenos, ducking and weaving, killing blows only just deflected by another dragoon. Their light blue uniforms weaving in and out as their plumes danced to a sick rhythm of death. A dragoon was felled as he lunged by a mandiblaster, and his compatriot died severing the mandiblaster, run through by the chainsword, his blue uniform staining dark with his blood.
The last dragoon was then locked in a vicious duel for life or death, but it was only one amongst many and Hans had to keep moving to survive.
He felled a striking scorpion with a bolt to the back of the head as it was eviscerating a grenadier, the blade leaving a bloody trail down his torso. Another striking scorpion tried to lock blades with him, but Gottandammerung seemed almost insulted as it cleaved through the xeno chainsword that the eldar had thought such a pitiful weapon could stand against it was ridiculous. Hans continued with the follow through cleaving the eldar in half. It tried to twist out of the and flow away like mercury, but Hans was too fast for that. Two smoking pieces of xeno fell at his feet.
A grenadier was firing a plasma gun into the rafters, taking down great sections of architecture claiming more than one xeno with great efficiency. With a flash of light, a blade protruded grotesquely from his chest, the plasma gun falling from his nerveless hands. The eldar looking almost hunchbacked with some sort of crescent shaped pack on its back looping around its back at the shoulders. With another flash of light it disappeared again. Warp spiders.
More of them began to teleport randomly around the battlefield causing confusion, causing troopers to fire blindly in some cases. Deliverance found one as it attempted to claim the life of a young dragoon duelling with a striking scorpion. The battlefield was in chaos.
Voices were raised in battle cries and pain, weapons fire barked or chattered each dealing death in a multitude. Las beams crossed passed with monomolecular discs in deadly trajectories, each looking for flesh to sink into.
There was a flash of light behind Hans as well as the sharp smell of ozone which came in through his mask which he realized now had a hole in it. Hans moved just in time, a wrist mounted blade punching through his armoured greatcoat like it was made of paper. The eldar was taken by surprise in just punching through a coat was taken off balance. Hans dropped Deliverance, grabbing the eldars arm pulled him further forwards off balance, reversing his grip on Gottandammerung he drove it backwards, spearing through the eldar and severing the spine. It fell in a crumpled heap on the ground.
The volley of sniper fire was still claiming many guardsmen and had to be put to a stop. Here another guardsmen fell, a bloody hole in his forehead. There the commissar fell, words of encouragement choked short by a shot through the throat. Hans spied the plasma gun still by the fallen grenadier, it would do. Hans took off running scooping up Deliverance as he ran dodging the many duels in his way as well as disciplined fire from his grenadiers picking off eldar. They were still in tactical formation fighting as a unit like they had been taught, it made him proud.
Hans reached the plasma gun and hefted it. It was a powerful weapon though dangerous, but even it wouldn't be able to fell the enemies in one fell swoop. Not by shooting at least. With a mighty heave, Hans tossed the gun into the air towards the upper rafters. Just when it was about to make its descent back down, Hans but a bolt round through it, and it exploded brilliantly with unreal temperatures tearing the upper levels apart.
Burning bodies and architecture fell down, felled by the detonation. If the battle kept up this way, victory would be theirs, the eldars numbers few to begin with were dwindling rapidly.
Al'Haleith moved with her sisters of the howling banshee aspect, dyed blood red hair and bone white armour their uniform. They moved with what humans would call catlike grace, but that wouldn't be an accurate comparison, they were better. They had been dispatched to this filthy mon-keigh planet to retrieve the soul stone of farseer Gelith long thought lost, but discovered by the primitive archaeological teams.
It had been easy to infiltrate the planet and even easier still to evade the embattled mon-keighs fighting each other.
They were under the command of farseer Barrandas and although they had encountered the space marines, they would soon have their prize then they could leave this miserable ball of dirt.
They entered the chamber containing the soulstone and let loose their psychic battle cry, as they charged into the fray.
The monkeighs weak minds unable to cope with the power of the blast, clutched at their heads in some cases dropping their weapons. Screaming in pain or rage, pulling at their hair trying to drive out the psychic pain. In a matter of moments, Al'Haleith had already slain five of the barbaric looking mon-keigh in coarsely made blue clothing, their brutish faces a horrendous mockery of eldar beauty.
With sure easy strokes she ended their lives moving like quiksilver between them.
She went after a black armoured human amazingly fighting against the power of the battle cry and bringing up his rifle, a grotesque mask of dull brass on its face. Still better to look at then their barbaric features though.
She dodged from side to side avoiding the concentrated beams of light and took the mon-keighs arm along with his rifle in a downwards slash. She turned to finish off the dying mon-keigh, only to be tackled to the ground by the one armed mon-keigh, a crude knife in its hand attempting to drive it through her neck heedless of its missing arm as it continued to fight.
With her sword arm pinned she fought to keep the stonger brute at bay, but the knife slowly descended down along with ruby red droplets of blood the continued to pulse out of its stump of an arm with every beat of its crude heart. Dark lenses stared into her face as unforgiving as her own warmask. Al'Haleith pulled her shuriken pistol out of its holster and fired once, twice, three times into the chest of the mon-keigh. The knife dropped with a clatter and the body above her went limp.
She quickly pushed it off of her and threw herself to her feet in a ready crouch, only having to leap out of the way as a spatter of weaponized light hit where she had been crouching throwing up chunks of molten rock and marble.
Al'Haleith jumped through the air executing a flip landing behind the dark armoured mon-keigh shooting at her. With a quick swing of her blade she beheaded him. A cry of surprise caught her attention and she looked to her sister Malaru to find her blade stuck in the chest of another dark armoured mon-keigh, but that same mon-keigh gripping her arm and holding her in place.
Al'Haleith watched in horror as the barbarian drew his other arm across his chest arming the simple grenades, then drawing Malaru into a lovers embrace as she desperately fought to get free. The explosion bathed them both in a fiery light, silhouetting them before completely destroying them.
Al'Haleith couldn't believe it, why wasn't Barrandas warning them in the battle of potentially fatal moves? What was he doing, she hadn't heard him since he had told them to go and assist in the retrieval of the spirit stone. She felt the rage of Khaine reach a breaking point in her and she charged in screaming like a berserker, carving mon-keigh apart left and right.
She knocked down another mon-keigh in a blue uniform and brought her sword down intending to cleave its skull in half, only for her blade to be stopped short by a powersword. It was a mon-keigh powersword, but this one was not crudely made and it practically thrummed with power.
Her sword was batted up, and she had to stop a follow attack intending to behead her then, than another at the chest, then again a downward slash, all of them just a blur.
She leapt back to get a better look at her opponent. He was tall for a mon-keigh and very broad, but also quick. A helmet like that of a dire avenger was on his head, but everything about him screamed of rank among these filthy barbarians. That, and the psychic death screams of over half a dozen eldar clung to him like tar each demanding vengeance for their death, and the sword. It reeked of death, not just new, but old as well, very old.
The Monkeigh adopted a low stance, sword held back then charged attacking in a high attack. Al'Haleith side stepped flowing like liquid intending to stab him in the back, but had to put up a hasty guard as he had already turned attacking viciously. He was fast, too fast.
How is this possible? Thought Al'Haleith worriedly. Mon-keigh aren't this fast.
A particularly brutal slash batted her sword out of the way and before she could bring it back, a kick caught her in the side of the head, breaking the locks on her helmet sending her sprawling.
Al'Haleith saw stars as she gazed upwards without her helmets optics she saw a flash of blue fall and on reflex she rolled, but felt a stinging pain on her cheek. Before she could move again or rise to her feet, a heavy boot slammed down on her chest, pinning her to the ground. She gazed up at the mon-keigh who had defeated her so easily, so effortlessly.
For once in her long life of battle, Al'Haleith felt fear of death in herself at this faceless mon-keigh standing like a king above her. She saw the powersword rise and knew this was her end. A flash of white behind the mon-keigh caught her attention. One of her sisters coming to her aid.
The powersword of the howling banshee flashed in towards the mon-keigh commander. Maybe sensing the danger he twisted out of the way, but the blade still found blood nicking the ribs, tearing a small strip out of his armour. Before the howling banshee could turn to capitalize on her victory, his hand shot out like a snakes head grabbing her arm, then bringing his sword down in a diagonal slash cleaving her in half.
Another banshee defeated by blades by a clumsy monkeigh. How? How was this happening? The others had fallen their clumsy swings easy to deflect, but this one didn't even move like them, he moved much more fluidly, much more quickly.
A shrill battle cry rose from the remaining banshees and they all converged upon the monkeigh commander, six aspect warriors and their exarch.
Under the assault of the howling banshees, the commander retreated up the steps towards the spirit stone, blocking and moving with the skill of any eldar warrior. The blades were simply a blur moving twisting, stabling, hacking, slashing, parrying, and spinning yet somehow the mon-keigh was holding them back, but being forced back up the steps. His powersword meeting them stroke for stroke a lesser species he might have been, but clearly a master of the blade.
Al'Haleiths heart almost burst with joy when she saw a blade slip above his guard towards his head, but at the last possible moment he threw his head back avoiding the swinging blade, but losing his mask in the process. Pale features with prominent steel grey eyes revealed themselves set in a look of grim concentration as he danced the deadly dance of blades. Further and further they ascended up the steps each move vital, each stroke potentially lethal. Then came the casualties.
An overeager banshee attempted a finishing move coming in low attempting to eviscerate him, but she left her guard open for a fraction of a second. That was all he needed to plunge his ancient sword through her heart snuffing out the life of another one of her sisters. She fell back out of the press and the rest of the aspect warriors renewed their assault, striking faster and faster the fury of Khaine overtaking them.
Then they started to draw blood.
A nick here, a light cut there, they began to take down the mon-keigh a piece at a time.
A low twirling slash from the exarchs mirrorblades linked together finally dealt a serious wound to the monkeigh as it cut a gash from hip to shoulder releasing a gout of blood just as he reached the precipice of the raised exhibit. He staggered back, blood staining the marble at his feet, the last of his soldiers long since dead, his only audience the rest of the aspect warriors awaiting his demise for the death of so many of their own. Another banshee rushed in to finish the wounded mon-keigh, his blade held too far out for him to bring it back in time, but he didn't use his sword.
Energy crackled around his gauntleted hand in dangerous arcs as the howling banshee came close, he struck out with a lightning fast punch shattering the banshees helmet, then the face underneath it. The dead banshee was tossed back knocking some of her sisters back as they retreated a few steps preparing to finish the mon-keigh, his blood staining the gold depiction of a dragon on his breastplate to a bright red shine. The commanders gauntlet had been a powerfist in disguise. His shoulders were heaving as he caught his breath as well as dealing with his wounds, Al'Haleith was about to join her sisters when the mon-keigh locked eyes with her, freezing her in place.
The cold grey eyes stealing the strength from her limbs almost like it had the power to steal her soul from her body. The banshees were about to finish him when he spoke, in eldar tongue.
"You...you think you have won don't you?" he said bringing himself up to his full height. It was guttural and harsh butchering the light flowing speech it was supposed to be, but he was still speaking to them in their language, it was just too strange for words.
"But the truth is that you've already lost you just don't know it yet. Seven thousand loyal Imperial troops surround this very building eager for vengeance against you." He spun his sword in his hand bringing it into a horizontal guard across his chest going past his face, the energy of the sword casting his features in a ghostly blue light.
"I may die today, but someone will take my place someone stronger than I could ever hope to be. So come, see how a son of Krieg dies it will be the last time you ever do so." He thrust the sword behind him and charged the banshees.
Just before their swords clashed, a harsh explosion filled the air throwing eldar bodies into the air.
"Forward brothers! Cleanse these filthy xenos and remove their stain from this world. FOR THE EMPEROR!"
Bolter fire from a dozen space marines struck down eldar as they tried to return fire or close to take the fight to them. The heavy armour of the space marines shrugging off any return fire as the sword brothers continued their assault.
"Make them pay for trying to taint the minds of our battle brothers. FORWARD!" Another full squad of battle brothers charged in chainswords and power weapons at the ready. The eldar had no choice but to withdraw at the arrival of the space marines.
"Al'Haleith watched another of her fleeing sisters take a bolt round to the back as humanities greatest warriors came into the fray. There was no saving her, maybe they could retrieve their soul stones at a later time. Maybe they could retrieve them all. As she ran, she saw more eldar die as they attempted to flee the room, a striking scorpion cleaved in half by a vicious looking chainsword, and a warp spider chased down by several streams of bolt fire in a gory explosion.
A bolt round exploded by her feet causing her to stumble, but she could still run faster than any human, including a space marine. She quickly fled the chamber as well as the rest of her kin, the floor covered in a light coating of blood from eldar and human alike. There were many more dead humans than eldar, but each dead eldar was irreplaceable.
It filled her with rage and a cold sense of loss that they had failed, lost so much only to have failed. She cast a look back, and she saw the monkeigh commander standing tall on top of the rise the rising heat from the fire causing his coat to billow slightly. He was just staring at them as they left with those cold grey eyes that never once showed fear.
After today, she didn't feel Khaines anger burning hot in her veins anymore. Her path on that of the warrior was done. She didn't want to ever meet that man again. Her lightfooted steps took her far away from the sounds of gunfire and the steel eyed man.
Hans fell to one knee deactivating Gottandammerung before it sank to the hilt in the marble staircase. He put one arm across his chest then leaning heavily on his blade rose to his feet. In the melee he had lost Deliverance somewhere on the ground floor, but he could find that later. His chest felt it was going to open like a giant mouth and judging from his wounds that was entirely possible.
Incredibly heavy footsteps signalled the arrival of one of the Black Templars. Hans turned to face him, still unsteady on his feet.
The black templar looked around the battlefield, picking out those killed by a powersword or smaller calibre bolt rounds also noting the trail of dead howling banshees leading to the precipice of the rise.
"You fought very well for a mortal guardsmen, what is your rank?"
"I am Lord General 01 of the Emperors Vaunted Death Korps of Krieg. I merely fought to the best of my ability for him on high," responded Hans using his Korps identification.
"Not many space marines could have killed so many eldar in a single fight, or taken on so many single handedly let alone a mortal do it. How is it that you were overlooked in screening processes?"
"I never applied, my father died when I reached adulthood so I joined the guard and took over as the head of my family."
"Well it is a shame that we didn't have your arm in our ranks as a sword brother, is there another in your family who is skilled enough to be considered an initiate?"
Hans thought quickly of Erich and his prodigal skill with a blade.
"No I am afraid not, all of my skilled sons have died serving the Emperor. There is no one else who could be of use to you," said Hans knowing full well that if space marines chose to they could forcibly recruit skilled healthy children to their ranks. Erich wouldn't last long until he was discovered as an untouchable in the Black Templar ranks, better that he stay hidden on Krieg away from prying eyes. The cold embrace of Krieg would keep him safe.
"I believe I have been rude to you general, you have given me your name but I have not given you mine. I am sword brother Kratos of the Black Templars. I am sorry for the death of your men, I am afraid that the xenos have slain all of your men within this structure. We tried to assist, but I am sorry to say that the mutant witch they had with them had us trapped in a delusional reality that we only were just recently able to escape. I am sorry for the failure on our part."
"They died doing the Emperors will, I could have asked nothing more of them. I myself was not far from joining them when you intervened. For that I thank you. It should be I who am apologizing to you though, if we had been faster we may have been able to prevent your battle brothers deaths, even at the cost of our own lives. I know how valuable a space marine is."
Something like grief came over the space marines face as he looked over the ten dead space marines.
"They were only recently promoted Neophytes, we should have sent a sword brother with them, but they were so eager to prove themselves that I allowed them to go off on their own. This is my failure, one that I will have to atone for on my own."
"We each have sins that we must one day face big or small our sins must still be repaid in full. As a son of Krieg I understand this all too well," said Hans as blood dribbled down the front of his armour to the floor.
"Do you require an apothecary? Brother Sanktus is very skilled at healing wounds such as that." Hans nodded stiffly.
"That would be appreciated, I thank you for your kindness brother Kratos."
"Oh it's not kindness," said Kratos breaking into a grin. "Your men outside are in a most disagreeable mood and they refuse to talk to us at all. In fact brother Draken lost his arm to the main cannon of one of your tanks and has been screaming bloody murder ever since, so we need you to tell them to stand down before he charges off and takes that tank cannon as a replacement." Hans chuckled, before falling into a coughing fit hacking up a clout of blood.
"Brother Kratos, I believe I may that apothecary sooner rather than later."
"Right this way general," said Kratos gesturing.
"Oh and brother Kratos."
"It's lord," said Hans using Gottandammerung as a walking cane miffing the sword a bit, but willing to help its master get healed so it could get back into the fray.
"Very good master Erich, now play that piece again so we can learn it completely." Erich was in the music hall of the Von Shreider estate, practising on the Grand Terran Piano. One of the most expensive and well made pieces of musical hardware in the whole of the Imperium. Erich began playing 'Life in death,' a haunting piece that spoke of dying in the service of Emperor so as to bring new life to the Imperium. Allowing humanity to survive through sacrifice and the sorrow of those over the fallen, but the joy they brought to the rest of mankind through their courage.
His music teacher was a potbellied man who always wore fine clothes and had a habit for both giving praise and striking your hands with a conductors wand when you made a mistake.
Erichs long fingers danced over the keyboard as he played the piece, filling the hall with a haunting yet beautiful melody. His teacher professor Klein of the Imperial music academy bobbed his wand to the rhythm of the music humming the tune to himself as if he was conducting a band of hundreds to a crowd of tens of thousand instead of a single noble, his caretaker, and two house guards standing at rigid attention by the door unmoving.
He finished, drawing out the last low note to the proper length ending the song as he was supposed to. The hall was silent as the last note died away, then a loud clapping as Elisha applauded the fourteen year old Krieger on his performance.
"Bravo! Bravo master Erich," Elisha cheered enthusiastically. If looks could kill, the one that Klein shot her would have had her hit with a full battery of earth shakers.
"I will thank you caretaker not to interrupt my students when they are performing their pieces, thereby sabotaging their musical education. Do I make myself clear or do I have to inform the baroness of this act?"
"You have made yourself perfectly clear professor Klein," apologized Elisha head bowed and subdued.
"Very good then, I will leave the lord in your care as I prepare for tonight's ceremony. It is a very special occasion and he must be ready, I trust that you can look after him as your final night as his caretaker yes?"
"Yes I will perform my duties," replied Elisha sharply reminded that Erich was turning fifteen tonight and technically she would be out of a job on the stroke of midnight thus making her unnecessary. She would have to lay low for a while and hope that she didn't find herself outside without a enviro suit courtesy of the baroness.
"Goodbye lord, and remember great artists are made-"
"Through hard work and diligence not idle play. I know Professor I haven't forgotten," finished Hans. A look of annoyance spread across Kleins face, but it disappeared just as quickly.
"Do study hard lord, I will see you later tonight." Klein left the music hall flanked by the house guards.
"Well I for one, think that you did extremely well Erich and I love listening to you play the piano."
"I could play for you sometime if you would like, after tonight I will be a full fledged adult able to dictate my own schedule. Would you like me to play for you sometime?"
"I would love to hear you play, but I won't be able to spend as much time with you after tonight. I won't be your caretaker anymore and I'll probably be sent off to another part of the manor to work," said Elisha. Probably the lowest levels where the prickle rats could be found if the baroness had her way, thought Elisha bitterly.
"I could have you reassigned, have you stay with me anyways even if your not my caretaker. I have no need of an army of servants to do every task for me, just you to stay by my side."
"Lord Erich, what are you suggesting?" asked Elisha wary of the direction that he conversation was taking.
"You know that after tonight I will most probably be paired with some noble woman whom I have in all probability never met before and I don't want to be alone like that."
"Erich I'm sure if you need someone to talk to you can simply send for me. I'll only be in another part of the manor and if you need to have a friend with you I will always be around."
"Elisha you aren't listening to me," said Erich a more urgent tone taking hold in his voice. "I'm not saying that I am scared to be wedded to someone I've never met before, it's more important than that."
"Erich, what are you talking about?"
"Elisha, after tonight I will be an adult and able to make any choice for myself that I wish, one that my family cannot go against no matter what I choose. I don't care what they want for me or who they want for me, because Elisha I want you."
"Wh-what?" asked Elisha thunderstruck.
"I know that it will be quite the scandal and be talked about by the other nobles, but I don't care about any of that. You're the only woman who has ever been able to stand my company no matter how I have presented my self or how hospitable I have been. I know that I can only be happy with you so I am asking you Elisha when I ascend to adulthood will you accept my proposal and become baroness Elisha Von Shreider?"
Elisha was still reeling from the information that her brain was still trying to process. Had she just been offered to become part of one of the richest and most powerful families in all of segmentum Tempestus? That the boy whom she had cared for since he was six was asking for her hand in marriage and all she had to do for a life of luxury and a man who was clearly in love with her was say yes? No more slavery, no more wrathful baroness able to punish her whenever she felt like it, no life of servitude for her children. All She had to do was say yes and her life and those of her children would forever be looked after in the lap of luxury. She looked up into those hopeful steel coloured eyes and gave her answer.
"I said no Erich, I'm sorry but I just can't do this."
"But why? I could give you everything you've ever wanted, I need you Elsiha, I lo-"
"Don't say it Erich, don't."
"But why? Have I done something wrong. Is it how I dress? How I stand? I'll change it, I'll do whatever it takes."
"If you don't like Krieg, we'll move. Back to Palladonia if you like I have more than enough funds to set us up comfortably and we own several shipping businesses there that I could take over."
"If you dislike my mother you never have to see her again, I won't contact her. Anything you want I can give you."
"Erich!" said Elisha more forcefully. He fell silent as Elisha raised her voice as she so seldom did.
"I need you to listen to what I have to say, can you do that for me?"
"Erich, you're a sweet young man, but I can't be what you want me to be."
"Is it because you don't care for me?"
"It is because I care for you that I can't accept your proposal," said Elisha slightly stung at his accusation. "I care for you so much that I want you to be happy in your life, but I don't feel the same for you as you do for me and that would just make us both unhappy in the long run. So please don't feel hurt that I'm refusing you in this." Erich remained silent, but Elisha could see the hope drain out of his eyes. Elisha took Erichs hands in hers and stared him in the eyes.
"You're a very sweet man Erich and I know that any woman would care for you as you care for me so long as you treat them like you've treated me and show them how kind you really are."
"So you're saying that I could have any woman I wanted as long as I am myself?" asked Erich in a level voice.
"Yes Erich I know that they would just adore you," said Elisha hoping that she could make this a little less painful for him.
"Any woman," Erich repeated almost to himself. "So as long as I am myself women will flock to me? Not hide their faces behind their fans and talk in low voices about me? They won't move to the other table when I sit next to them? Won't look at me in disgust when I smile at them? Won't throw away my presents and gifts that I give to them hoping to woo them? They won't refuse me saying how great I am but can't be with them?"
"Erich that's not fair."
"No Elisha whats not fair is that absolutely no one will spend time around me unless under pain of death!" said Erich his voice rising in volume. "You think I never noticed how I have always been alone, how my playmates when I was a child cried when they were near me? How I never made any friends with any of the other nobles I duelled with or trained with? I am well aware of how being myself has done for me and you know what? It has done worse than nothing it has made me an outcast. I understand that I must atone for my sins, but I never thought I would have to do it alone."
"But you won't be alone, you'll be married."
"To a noblewoman who only wants my wealth and power and the protection it brings them, just like everyone else who spends time with me."
"Erich you can't mean-"
"Yes I mean you!" spat out Erich vehemently. "Always looking to me to keep your secrets, keep you safe from my mothers wrath or the other servants. You have used me to keep you safe here, used my love, the friendship that I thought we had. You were my friend, my only companion and you used me!"
Elisha felt hot tears break free and start to fall.
"Erich please it was never like that, this isn't like you I know you."
"Oh? Do You now? You know what makes me tick how I feel about things? Or just what you've told me to think? Are these tears because your so happy your sad too or are the-" A hard slap left a red hand print across Erichs face and turned his head to the side.
"Listen you bastard! I do love you yes, because I raised you since you were six. I care for you like you are my own son, that's why I can't be with you, you're like my son and I won't marry my own child! I can't love you like that because I don't see Erich the man when I look at you I see Erich the little boy who would always try and sneak sweets before supper and hold my hand when no one was looking. So if you want my answer, there it is you stupid son of a bitch!" Elisha tried to slap him again, but had her hand caught in an admantanium grip and Erichs head slowly turned so he was looking down at her again. A cold rage like she had never seen before in his eyes was directed not at another servant, not at an enemy, at her and it made her feel very small.
"You struck me," said Erich in a deadly quiet voice.
"Erich you're hurting me," said Elisha trying to pull her hand free from the grip, but not even managing to shift his arm.
"I could have you made into a servitor for that you know. You are owned by the Von Shreider family and by extension me."
"Erich please you're scaring me, this isn't you please stop this, please," pleaded Elisha for the first time in her life mortally terrified of Erich. "I know you're upset and hurt and angry, but this isn't how to deal with it."
"Don't you DARE tell me how to deal with this!" Elisha flinched back as he practically yelled in her face. I'll deal with this anyway I please and I am sick of waiting for things to come to me and being nice. Sick of it! Sick of seeing people I care about shrink back from me! If I want something I will take it and that includes you too."
"Erich listen to yourself please stop this," said Elisha sobbing.
"No I am speaking now!" said Erich gesturing forcibly in Elishas face.
"Don't hit me please." said Elisha completely breaking down.
Those last words seemed to bring Erich out of his emotional rage and think rationally again. He saw himself towering over the woman who had cared for him all his life reduced to tears and absolutely terrified of him. He let go of her hand and watched her slink to the ground and cover herself in a curtain of her long hair shutting herself out from the world and him.
"I...I never meant to... I am... I would never hit you," stammered out Erich.
"Go away," said Elisha in a tear soaked voice safe in her protective veil of hair.
"I didn't mean it, those things I said."
"I SAID GO!" shouted Elisha glaring at him with already reddening eyes. "LEAVE!"
Erich stumbled back as if struck, then donned his mask a moment later and walked away, any other thoughts or feelings that were coursing through him swallowed up by his Krieg mask. He left the music room filled with enough exotic instruments to be able to pay for a manor in their own right. Two house guards stood at the ready, their hellguns safeties off. Being now over six feet tall, Erich could look even the largest of them directly in the eye, and they looked to him for orders. They would do anything he told them to. Anything at all.
"When caretaker alpha six comes out of the music hall, escort her back to her room. Keep all requests for her to work away from her and bring her refreshments from the kitchen. Not the gruel meant for the servants, the pastries meant for the guests." The grenadiers looked at him like he had just sprouted several tentacles and another arm. Well that wasn't entirely accurate, if he had done that they would have gunned him down with a maximum of lethality.
"Also watch her and make sure that she doesn't...hurt herself while she's in there. At 1800 hours she is to come get me from my room and take me to the ceremonies. Escort her to my quarters as well. Also, don't let my mother see her." That request almost made even their strict discipline of the Death Korps question him, but in the end their strict discipline won out.
"Yes my lord, and if she does attempt to hurt herself?"
"Restrain her, but do not harm her."
"Your will be done my lord." The two house guards filed into the music hall now Elisha's unofficial caretakers.
Erich walked down the hallways to prepare, the only sound accompanying him was his boots clacking on the hard marble floor underneath his feet.
Hans was in his study staring at the faintly glowing spirit stone on his desk. He didn't know how he had gotten it, he hadn't taken it from the display case, the las proof glass hadn't even been broken and yet he had later found the stone in his pocket much to his surprise. Not even right after the battle either, but later while on the troopship heading back to Krieg only two systems away. He had wanted to turn it in, but he had been in orbit over Krieg when he had found it.
That meant that his family would have to have been questioned as well and while that wasn't much of a problem since that they didn't know anything about it, they would be questioned the inquisitors, psychically. Now Hans wasn't a dumb man, he knew what would happen when they found Erich to be an untouchable. He would be taken, and repercussions would fall like hail on his family and its name.
Who knows what the inquisition would actually do once they found out. Hans had an idea, but he couldn't be sure.
Hans leaned back in his chair and turned it so he could stare at the intricately carved golden aquilla and his family crest, the same crest that had been burned into his arm and would be done to Erich, to mark his as a full grown Shreider tonight. Hans didn't want him in the Imperial guard, couldn't stand the thought of him dying before his twentieth birthday before he had even a chance to have children of his own.
That was one of the reasons that Hans only took assignments that were within a few weeks of Krieg, he didn't want to leave the boy alone, especially with his mother. She was always open and as caring as any Krieg woman Hans had ever known and he had loved her. Still loved her, but like any noble with too much time and money on her hands she got bored. Not only that, but she seemed to have become more reclusive as of late. Always followed around by a couple of those handmaidens of hers. How she had come to disdain the mask she had grown up in, the mask that he wore now. The mask that their children wore.
Anna was off being schooled a segmentum away at Hydraphur naval academy to take over the SDF fleet around Krieg one day, and she was due back either this year or the next. She was a bright young woman, having inherited the distinctive Shreider features she was indeed a striking young woman bound for greatness like all of his children. His children. Hans opened his desk and took out his photo album, and looked at his children. So many lost over the years, so much lost potential. He missed them all dearly. Their faces looked accusingly up at him.
He shouldn't be feeling like this, shouldn't be dwelling on this. A true Krieger would not dwell as he was now, but here he was mourning his lost children alone in his study, like some criminal looking at contraband. He shut the book after one last look at his departed children.
When had he stopped being a good Krieger? After his first? No he had accepted that as part of serving the Emperor. His fourth? Maybe, but that still seemed a little soon. He sighed wearily, for once feeling old. He still looked and felt like a young man, except for the large amount of memories and baggage that he carried around with him wherever he went. So many memories, how did inquisitor manage to live for hundreds in not a thousand years and not go insane?
His other son Able, well the boy wasn't a warrior. All he did was sit in his gallery all day and paint. His work was good, brilliant even. He was smart too, oh so smart. But if he died Able would be forced to join the Korps unless Erich took his place.
Erich, like him in so many ways. He was handsome even if he didn't know it, skilled as a warrior, skilled in the arts, on horseback, a perfect son a model image of him in every way. A son every and any father could want, yet he could hardly stand to be next to him. He loved him and dearly, but there was that space, always that space between them. He was an untouchable, one who disrupted the warp in which every living person was a part of. Which meant that even as he repelled the warp he repelled other living people as well.
"My lord, your presence is requested by the baroness." Hans jumped out of his chair, drawing deliverance from his hip holster and aimed it squarely at the unassuming handmaiden standing politely of his desk, periwinkle blue eyes stared back at him, a small smile on her face despite the fact he was pointing a bolt pistol at her. Where had she come form?
He hadn't heard her come into his study, and he was a trained soldier with decades of experience, there was no way she should have been able to sneak up on him like that. No way at all.
"My lord is there a problem?" she asked all too innocently.
"No," said Hans lowering his bolt pistol back down to his side and holstering it. "No problem at all."
"Very well then I will take you to the Baroness now, please follow me."
"I will come after I have readied myself, tell the baroness that I will be along shortly."
"I'm sorry,but I cannot allow that the baroness was most clear in her instructions you are to come immediately."
"You cannot allow that? I am Grand Lord Baron Hans Von Shreider Lord General or all Krieg ground forces and 38th Patriarch of the Shreider family. If I deem it necessary for the baroness to wait she will wait and I won't have some puffed up little servant girl fresh from the vats tell me otherwise. Do I make myself clear servant?" said Hans advancing on the girl and towering over her with his height and size.
For once she looked unsure and even a little fearful that she had stepped over a line her mistress couldn't protect her from.
"Of course my lord, I meant no disrespect I will inform the baroness immediately. Good-day." She curtsied and left the study quickly. Hans couldn't believe it. How was Helena thinking that she could order him around in his own home? Not an option? What was that, he had always treated her like an equal, always. The power was going to her head and he had to put a stop to it. Tonight after the ceremonies he would confront her about it and put a stop to it. He would take a more strategic role here on Krieg and help coordinate the movement of troops and strategies instead of leading them. It was far past time where he settled down and spent time with his remaining children and hung up Gottandammerung for a while. Until the next Shreider had use of it.
Hans walked over to his desk and locked the spirit stone in the top drawer. That was another thing he had to take care of at some point. Hide it where the inquisition wouldn't find it. Hans grabbed his greatcoat and left his office, heading to change into his formal attire for his sons ascension into adulthood.
Erich was buttoning up his cufflinks on his suit jacket when Elisha showed up at his room with her mask on escorted by the two grenadiers he had sent to watch over her.
"My lord," she said in a monotonous voice. "I am here to take you to your ceremony please follow me." Erich donned his formal white dinner gloves and followed her out with the two house guards falling in close step behind them.
"Elisha I am sorry, please I was angry when I said those things I didn't mean them." Elisha remained quiet at his side as they walked down the hallway. "Please answer me, do something anything."
"I wouldn't want to do anything that could displease you lord, I wouldn't want to be turned into a servitor for doing something that you didn't like." Erich turned to the guards escorting them down the hallway.
"Leave us." They departed wordlessly walking ahead of them in perfect step their heavy boots sounding their departure.
"Well lord we are alone now, are you going to do with me as you will? As you said I am owned by you so if you choose to take me against the nearest wall, that is more than in your right. Do you wish for me do doff my clothes or would you prefer to do that to me instead?"
"Elisha don't talk like that, you aren't talking like yourself."
"Aren't I? Do you know how I think? How I tick? What makes me, me?"
"Please don't be like this."
"Be like what? I am your servant I am doing nothing but telling you what you can do. Have I offended you? If I have by all means punish me as you will." Erich didn't answer, all he did was stand very still.
"If you are done talking my lord then we must really be on our way, you mustn't be late for your own ceremony."
Erich moved with the speed that all his rigorous hours of training and life on Krieg had bred him for. He was on Elisha in an instant.
Elisha braced for the worst, but instead on an assault or being taken against her will, she was pulled into a tight embrace against the young Krieger.
"Please Elisha you are all I have, even if I can't have you I can't lose you. If I could take back all those terrible things I said I would but I can't. I just want things to be back like there were when you cared about me and I for you. I don't want to be alone."
"Erich, are you crying?"
"Erich look at me." Cold lenses met Elishas eyes as she took off her mask. "No I mean really look at me not through the mask, but at me. Erich took off his mask to reveal a tear streaked face.
"I never stopped caring for you, and you hurt me yes. You made me angry at you yes, but I never stopped loving you. I will never leave you alone, you will always have me by your side I will always be with you."
"Do you promise?"
"I give you my word." Erich broke into the faintest of smiles.
"Then I have an oath to make to you Elisha. I swear that I will fight any foe that intends to do you harm. I will strike them down like I would any enemy of the Emperor. I will fight till the flesh is ripped from my body and my soul leaves its mortal shell. If at any time I fail in this oath I will not rest until the perpetrators are made to pay. This I swear on my honour as a Krieger and as your friend."
"That is a lengthy oath."
"I meant every word of it."
"Well then come my little Erich, tonight you become a man." For the last time Erich held her hand as a child as they walked down the halls of the Von Shreider manor.
The ceremony was unusually boisterous for Krieg, but with the high amount of off world lords come to curry favour with the heads of the Von Shreider line, but only able to make small talk for the briefest of moments with the young lord who was to one day become head of the Von Shreider family. For the most part he was secluded to the head table in the ornate dining hall as the nobles ranging from rogue traders who needed a lord generals blessing to take salvage off of embattled worlds, ecclesiarchial bishops with their Sororitas bodyguards who wished to try and sway the young lord to giving more support in the holy crusades that absolutely needed to be waged. To old friends who had served with his father for years and wanted to wish his son the best of luck.
Hours passed by in a blur of brightly coloured clothing, fine food and even finer drink. A light haze of iho smoke covered the banquet hall, much to the distaste of the sororitas who stood at their bishops sides. Statues adorned every conceivable nook and cranny of the room. They were of saints, adeptus trades and past famous Shreiders and dominating all in a three story statue was the Emperor himself at the far side of the room looking over all those before him. There was an empty space next to him, only the faintest traces that another large statue had once stood beside him, rumours that it had once been of Horus abounded, but no evidence was ever given to support it.
Throughout the whole of it though, was Elisha, sitting by Erichs side, not in servants clothes, but the finest clothes that Erich had bought for her in his ill conceived attempt to woo her. It was shimmer silk, woven by the finest artisans worlds away and it was a silver to match her hair, and it caught the light like a million diamonds. No one outside of the Shreider estate knew she was a servant and many assumed that she was a visiting noble of some minor merchant that the young lord had taken a fancy to. Those not to inebriated by drink noticed that her hair was the same colour as those of the other servants but in the interest of not offending the young lord, they refrained from asking any leading questions.
The lights dimmed at one point, and it was time for the ceremony to begin. The Lord Baron himself would be the one to administer the rites personally.
"Friends, honoured guests, and comrades I have fought together with on countless battlefields welcome to a very special occasion. Today is the day that my son becomes a man. This is a very important day in his life as it marks the beginning of his journey as a full fledged member of the Von Shreider family. There will be a great deal of privileges bestowed upon him, but also a great deal of responsibility placed on his shoulders as well. He will be tested in ways that none of us can imagine and face obstacles that will seem impossible to overcome. He will be forced to make choices that will not only test him martially, but test him at the core of his faith. I cannot see the challenges ahead of him, but if he's anything like his father it shouldn't be a problem."
There was some muffled laughter at the joke, but it quieted down quickly enough for him to continue with out too much of a pause.
"Back when I came of age, to those who can remember it." more laughter followed. "I was given a gift, a companion with which without I would have fallen long ago." Hans drew Gottandammerung and spun it expertly doing a series of sword techniques that was quite beautiful to watch in the dimmed light as if he was drawing intricate designs around himself. There was loud applause and cheering at this from the assembled nobles. Hans stopped the display and held the sword at a position of salute.
"Now I cannot give him Gottandammerung as it is my sword, but I can give him one of his own." A servant carrying a long polished wooden case in his arms came in. "Fresh from the forges of Mars, made by the fabricator general himself, a blade worthy of a Von Shreider. As of yet it is nameless, but one day I hope it will have served my son well enough to have earned a name. Erich if you could come up front please."
"Good luck," said Elisha just loud enough for Erich to hear. He walked up to his father with as much poise as he could muster and how he had been taught to walk by madame Fernette, but he still felt like he was doing it wrong. He walked up up to his father who was in his full uniform, armour and all.
"With this sword do you swear to uphold the honour of the emperor and protect his Imperium to the best of your abilities?"
"Do you swear to fight with honour and dignity, presenting yourself as a respectable member or Imperial society and an example of all those who meet you?"
"Do you swear to defend the weak, the sick, the helpless, the innocent of this Imperium until your dying breath so Emperor help you?"
"Do you swear to hunt the xeno, the witch, the mutant, and the heretic wherever you may meet them?"
"With every ounce of strength I do." The sororitas nodded in approval of this statement.
"Then by the power passed down to me from Jurgen himself I name you Erich Von Shreider minor baron of the Von Shreider family. You may claim your sword."
The servant opened up the box and displayed a beautifully crafted sword with a golden coloured guard, but a jet black sheath and handle. The handle inlaid with while gold wrapping around it. Erich took the sword and secured it to his belt. Another servant came out of a side passageway this time carrying a cherry red poker with the Von Shreider crest glowing brightly on it.
"Roll up your sleeve Erich." Erich rolled up his sleeve to his shoulder exposing his pale arm.
"With this I mark you forever as a full member of the Von Shreider family" Hans pressed the red hot brand into his sons bicep just below the shoulder and with a hiss and the smell of burning flesh, Hans withdrew the poker to reveal the Shreider crest branded on his sons arm. Erich refused to cry out in pain and had even managed with great difficulty to keep his face from showing pain beneath his mask. "Rise and be recognized my son."
After that the party went to dancing and more drink was brought out musicians playing classic Imperial songs got the party going in full swing. Erich was forced to dance with several noble girls, some pretty, some not. They were as eager to get away from him as he was from them though, but even still it was some time before he was allowed to stop dancing and take a break. He looked for Elisha, but he just couldn't find her no matter how hard he searched. He eventually slipped out of the festivities looking for her.
Elisha was actually back in her servants clothes, the baroness stripping her of her position as caretaker as soon as Erich received his brand marking him as an adult. Her dress had been taken from her and no doubt disposed of, which was a shame because she had really liked that dress. If the Baroness thought she could continue to bully her though she had another thing coming. With Erich sworn to defend her and her sworn to stay by his side she wouldn't be able to do even a tenth of the nasty things she probably wanted to do to her.
She was carrying a pot of tea and cups on a silver tray that the baroness just had to have apparently the drinks being served at the festivities not nearly good enough for her tastes. She was passing though a common room with a fireplace and high bookshelves in it when she stopped for a little break, leaning against the wall and adjusting her dress to fit more comfortably. She saw one of the many silver haired butlers walking across the far end on the room like he had a rod shoved up his rectum. Once again comfortable, she stood upright careful of the tea and prepared to go on her way again when she saw something odd.
It was like a liquid shadow fell from the roof behind the butler. She stared curiously as the shadow seemed to stalk the butler just behind him. Elisha thought she was seeing things, so she shut her eyes tight then opened them again hoping to dispel any imaginary visions she might be seeing, but the shadow was still there. Then it reached out and killed the butler. A hand stifling his screams as a flash of steel came across his throat and he fell in the low light of the common room. Elisha dropped the tea set.
The expensive cups and pots shattered on the hard stone flooring, spilling hot tea all over the floor. Elisha didn't even notice as she stared at the shadow, it noticed her. How couldn't it? It began to move towards her and she felt her heart hammer in her chest as if it would burst out and start running before she did. Before she could turn and run, she caught a glimpse of her foe.
It was humanoid in appearance, but far too tall and graceful to be human. It wore a dark green armour and a wicked yet elegant looking knife in its hand as it approached.
"Xeno," Elisha half whispered it like a prayer as she felt a wave of terror she hadn't dreamed imaginable come over her. It could clearly see her and she could clearly see it. For every step it advanced, she took one back too scared to do anything else. It wasn't long before she backed into the cold etched stone wall behind her. Out of room. It stopped a short ways from her and pulled out a sword that crackled with energy. A power weapon. It rushed towards her and she screamed, throwing up her arms to shield herself.
With a clang of swords she opened her eyes. A pulsing blue powersword was holding the xenos blade at bay a hairsbreadth from her face. She looked to the owner of the blade. Erich.
Even with his mask on she could feel the grim look of determination that he had on underneath it. For the briefest of seconds he and the xeno stared at each other before pushing apart and then rushing together just as quickly. Elisha watched as the swords moved like blurs, blue pieces of dancing fire twisting and darting around each other.
Elisha had watched Erich spar before, but this was different. While she had seen him spar to hurt his opponent before, this was more than that. In this he was trying to kill his opponent and his opponent trying to do the same to him.
The xeno jumped over a horizontal slash and attempted to behead Erich as it landed behind him, only to be blocked at the last instant, then Erich twirling away like a ballroom dancer as the xeno tried to skewer him on his blade. More blows were exchanged, with fluid footwork that looked like they were dancing around each other moving in perfect harmony acting and reacting to the others moves. Elisha wasn't sure how to read xeno body language, but if she had to guess she would have to say that it was surprised that Erich was able to keep up with it and keep fighting.
With a bold lunge, Erich managed to stab the xeno through its forearm, but it left him open, wide open. The xeno countered with a quick slash that took Erich across the chest, just above the stomach. It looked deep. Erich staggered back as blood splattered on the floor and his formal clothes began to darken. The xeno prepared to finish Erich off while he was wounded and unable to defend himself.
"Come on Erich I believe in you, you can do this!" called out Elisha to Erich as the xeno lunged. He seemed to find some inner reserve of strength and met the xenos lunge with one of his own and they passed each other in the air, power blades swinging. They landed each facing away from each other and held that pose for what seemed like and impossibly long time. Then the xeno fell, in two. Erich fell too, leaning heavily on his power sword as it dug into the ground before he could deactivate it.
"Eli..Elisha. I swore I would keep you... keep you safe... even if the flesh... was stripped...from...my very...bones." Erich fell to the ground fully, the power sword clattering to the ground beside him A dark pool began to spread out from the young lord and Elisha rushed over, tearing a strip from her dress and tying it over the wound across his chest and stomach. It staunched the flow of blood, but only just enough. She sheathed his sword and picked him up, mindful of his wounds.
He was heavy and he was dead weight, having lost consciousness from the grievous wound. She carried him down the empty halls looking for help, but finding none. Fearful of calling out, but knowing that it was the only way to save Erichs life she took the chance.
"Help! I need help! Someone has tried to murder the barons son!" She continued calling out, until she saw sister Freya emerge from a small communion chapel in her full rose pink power armour.
"What is this? What's going on?" demanded Freya as she emerged from her small chapel. Her eyes fell on the bleeding lord slung over Elishas shoulders. "What happened to the lord?"
"Xenos! They're inside the manner they killed Humphrey and tried to kill me. Erich killed it, but it hurt him bad. We have to get him help and quickly!"
"Alright give him to me, we have to warn the others," commanded Freya taking Erich from Elisha and slinging him easily over her power armoured shoulders. Freya trained to detect even the tiniest movements and be on guard for attack noticed a shadow slinking closer towards them just out of reach of the lumo globes shining dimly this late at night. "Out of the way!" she commanded shouldering her holy bolter and unleashing a fusillade of shots at the xeno which twisted and danced out of the way of the holy shells. The entire time they were falling back down the corridor.
When the bolt clip ran dry she switched clips with easy efficiency and continued firing. One cannot fire a weapon in the Von Shreider manor for long without consequence though, and soon the pounding of heavy boots made itself known as four house guards rounded the corner behind them and advanced firing their new hotshot las guns on fully automatic. They were a new weapon in the Von Shreiders arsenal and not all the guards had one yet, but these ones did. The xeno was fast but even it couldn't outrun light. It was shredded by the concentrated fire of the grenadiers and the sororitas.
"The perimeter has been breached, sound the alarm!" called sister Freya running while carrying an unconscious Erich with her. On of the grenadiers raised a hand to the vox comm in his helmet then lowered it a moment later.
"Signals are being jammed, I can't get through to anyone."
"Then we make it to the hall and warn the Lord General," said Freya. The grenadiers eye optics glowed a faint red as they switched on their preysight, dispelling the dark as easily as flicking on a light switch.
The house guards admitted them without even a moments questioning as they saw the wounded lord being carried being carried by a fully armoured battle sister. They burst into the dining hall and all merriment immediately ceased.
"Xenos!" called Freya at the top of her lungs. "They are here and have already tried to claim the young barons life on his ascension to adulthood. To Arms! We must defend ourselves!" The Lord General quickly ran over to them.
"He killed a xeno that was going to kill me," said Elisha quietly beside him. Hans gave her the quickest of looks before turning back to his son.
"Get the 408th up from the lower levels now!" ordered Hans to a nearby grenadier. "Rouse the house guard, get the guests to safety, get my family to safety now!" He turned to another grenadier with a rank insignia.
"Captain 26, bring your men with me I need to retrieve something now!"
"At once my lord," responded the grenadier obediently, a troop of grenadiers rushing after the Lord General as he left the dining hall and rushed out. The House Guard began ushering people to safety, when the lights went out. Emergency lighting came on, alarm klaxons blared and it was pandemonium.
"Hans ran down the hallways greatcoat billowing out behind him as he ran, flashing red lights illuminated other house guard preparing to hold hallways and setting up defensive positions. He ran past them all, his personal guard of grenadiers following hot on his heels.
Hans burst into his study and went straight for his desk. Forgoing using the key he swung Gottandammerung down and cleaved a section of his desk off and ripped out the drawers looking. The soul stone was gone. The one thing that could end this battle before it started was gone. He tightened his hand around his sword just as the first sharp cracks of las gun fire made sounded in the surrounding hallways.
Elisha helped carry Erich down the hallways as beams of las fire and returning monomolecuar disks streaked back and forth with the occasional violent explosion of a grenade. They were heading to the high speed tram station that would spirit them away to safety. A press of meidcae orderlies and grenadiers were helping escort Erich to the tram station. Freya having been separated from her in the massive confusion and was now going through another route with the baroness to the tram station.
Every hallway they passed was alight with weapons fire and vicious combat. Five thousand Death Korps troopers were making their way up, but until they got their, it was up to the house guard to defend them and they were buying them the time they needed to escape with their blood.
"How much farther is it?" demanded Elisha as they pushed Erich along on a grav stretcher.
"Not far, just a few more junctions and we're there," answered a grenadier seemingly unbothered by all the death and destruction around them.
They had to skirt several bodies of xenos who had made it past the lines and the grenadiers who had died making sure that they didn't stay there. The smell of blood, iron, cold stone, sweat, and death was in the air along with weapons discharges and it was an intoxicating bouquet of smells that left Elisha feeling sick.
They finally made it to the tram station, but their way was blocked by a large blast door emblazoned with the Von Shreider family crest. A grenadier ran up and began inputting the code that would open the doors and bring them to safety. The other grenadiers formed a protective circle around the door, their preysight watching the dark corriders as if it was daylight, detecting the body heat of any who attempted to come down the hallways.
A group rushed around the corner and they almost opened fire, only to realize that it was the lord general and his personal troupe of grenadiers. He rushed to Erichs side and gazed at the life support monitors.
"How is he?"
"Well lord if we get him to a well staffed medicae facility shortly he might just make it." With a whoosh, the large blast doors opened and they rushed in, the grenadiers keeping them covered until the last of them were inside. Just before they shut the doors, the baroness and a wounded handmaiden came through and the door slammed shut behind them.
"Where is sister Freya?" asked Hans.
"I regret to say that the xenos took her just as they took the rest of my handmaidens." Blood dripped down the arm of the remaining handmaiden as she clutched her hurt arm with her good one. Elisha let out a wail of pure grief.
"Get to the tram, hurry it will need time to warm up the machine spirits are old and need time to be roused." Erich was the first on, pushed on by the medicae staff followed by Elisha the baroness, an assortment of other servants who had come with their group and nobles as well as a couple of houseguards. The rest were coming along with Hans when the firing on the other side of the blast door seemed to lessen considerably and then something slammed into the door, as if a body had been thrown into it. Hans looked at the door, before looking back to his family. His other son Able also amongst the group present.
"Yes my lord?"
"Make sure my family gets to safety, I will hold back whatever is coming along with the rest of the houseguard. Take another four men and guard my family with your very lives."
"But my lord, I could stay and man the defence while you escape it would make more sense to-"
"Don't argue with me, just go!"
"Yes my lord, no harm shall come to your family I swear it."
"Helena my love, watch over our children. Don't let any more of them die to this unforgiving galaxy."
"Don't worry, I will take good care of our children. Be strong my love, Emperor be with you."
"And you my darling."
Hans and upwards of fifty grenadiers with a mixture of hotshot and Hellguns took up position in front of the of the thick blast door weapons aimed directly at it, waiting for the enemy to come storming through.
"Whatever comes through that door, just remember that you are sons of Krieg and that we shall fear no enemy for we are those who atone."
"Through death," chorused back the grenadiers.
"Every battlefield we tread."
"The path to release."
"Every enemy we fell."
"An offering to the Emperor."
"Every drop of blood we shed."
"The price we pay," finished the grenadiers finishing the age old pre-battle rite. Gottandammerung seemed to stir as if it could sense a new foe, one as old as it was, if not older. Deliverance was aimed rock steady at the door, ready to end any xeno with a well placed shot. Fingers tightened around triggers and for a second the world seemed to stand still, before it exploded.
The heavy blast door blew inwards and streams of supercharged las shots lanced through the smaller doorway, felling many eldar in the opening volley and keeping them out. Deliverance barked its defiance sending bolt after bolt into the mass of xenos. This wasn't their tactics though, something must be driving them to the point of recklessness to do a full frontal attack like this. Grenadiers fell too though, by shuriken fire, monofilament wires or even blades as they braved the storm of las fire climbing over their own dead. A blur moved among the grenadier killing many even as they lobbed grenades into the press of bodies in the doorway.
Hans locked blades with the xeno and got the briefest look at it before he was put into the most gruelling duel of his life. Jain Zar, the phoenix lord of the howling banshees.
She threw a spinning blade at him which he fired Deliverance at managing to knock it off course from his head, but instead it carved a bloody trail through his shoulder, then she was upon him. He had never moved so fast, never had an enemy move so fast. He blocked more on instinct and raw training rather than actual duelling skills. He couldn't believe it, they danced around each other, each of his blows avoided with the tiniest of gestures while he barely managed to block hers and in many cases taking wounds. Several grenadiers attempted to gun her down only to be eviscerated themselves.
Just a few moments, just a few moments more Hans told himself like a mantra throwing himself into the fight like a berserker throwing everything he had into the duel, every ounce of training, strength and skill he had accumulated and that had earned him the title blade master of Krieg. He was like a novice before her, but he did not receive the wound till after the tram left. With a cheerful beep, the trams machine spirits signalled they were ready and the tram left at dangerous speeds accelerating out of the station in a matter of milliseconds.
Hans fell heavily to his knees, his wounds finally taking their toll and his grenadiers dead or dying. His armour and cloak in tatters, bleeding freely from too numerous of wounds to count and yet he smiled, his mask long since lost in the melee.
"I've won Jain Zar, even though I will die, I have won. My family is safe and soon 5000 of the emperors finest will see to your end." He smiled with bloodstained teeth as he spoke in her language. How does it feel to lose?"
"Fool you have doomed us all," and then the sword fell. The plumed helmet of a Lord General of Krieg rolled across the loading station and Gottandammerung fell clanging mournfully for its master as it flickered out on the hard ground.
It was on that night, That Lord Baron Hans Von Shreider Lord General of all Krieg ground forces and the thirty eighth patriarch of the Von Shreider family died. With a smile on his face.
AN: Well I think that was pretty good, and I know that Erich got a little touch feely, but he was spoiled for a good nine years by an offworld nanny and being the youngest meaning he got the most lee-way. Any help or constructive criticism would be appreicated as I could improve for next time. This is easily twice as long as any other chapter I've ever written. Anything you guys want to tell me or let me know, feel free. Also this is just the beginning, the reason Why Erich does what he does, so expect a lot more, if irregularly updated.