Secret War: Upon Blood Sands

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Chapter 30

#31 Post by Adrassil »

The gun line was dying, both literally and figuratively. Ammunition was growing scarce. Tathe didn't know the exact number of men who still had ammo and who didn't. Tathe was a commissar, not a colonel or general; logistics weren't his responsibility until he'd taken over the contingent and had to learn much first hand. He'd just ordered those that did keep back to cover the flamers with precision fire. Tathe, his makeshift command squad and the many soldiers without ammo and bayonets fixed followed the flamers. Two flamer troopers had died, trooper Bulok who'd been decapitated by a daemon's blade and who was then avenged by Dellenger and trooper Sulvik, who'd been gutted by a bayonet thrust from a former Velrosian comrade. Five still advanced at the fore, but many Resurrected and daemons still managed to get through, many having fallen to Tathe's blade despite the wall of fire.

Adreen had taken a bad cut across the thigh and Dellenger a chainsword tear on his left shoulder and taken a glancing blow across the side of his head from the butt of a las rifle. Blood streaming down his face.

Although he was now coated with blood, Tathe and the rest of his command squad had yet to be injured. Still, he couldn't help curse and wonder where their leader: Attelus Kaltos and his girlfriend, had gone; this was the time he needed that melee monster the most when ammunition was running dry, and his men were dying like flies. He'd gotten Karmen Kons to look for them, but she couldn't. Tathe had to guess it was to do with the arrival and extraction of their Guncutter about an hour ago.

Reports flooding from the flanks told that they were falling behind and taking horrendous casualties. Tathe knew this was going to happen; the men and women fighting on the flanks knew it was going to happen. But that didn't even begin to allay the pain in Tathe's heart.

Tathe's bolt pistol shot blew a charging Marangerian trooper's skull into red mist; he knew the trooper's name but had shoved it back into the recesses of his mind, then he shot a cultist through the guts. A snarling daemon shoved both corpses as it burst through, moving with inhuman speed; it lunged at Tathe.

Tathe didn't even blink as he emptied his pistol's clip into the thing's oversized skull through the roof of its oversized mouth. The daemon's momentary distraction allowed three cultists to charge in. One was stabbed through the neck by Dellenger, who was too distracted by taking down Tathe to see it coming.

Tathe knelt beneath the sweeping chainsword of one while cutting through the knee of the other. Tathe turned the cut's backswing into a parry to intercept the chainsword headed for his head. Tathe then twisted his sword into a vertical up slash, which sliced through the cultist's groin.

The shriek the cultist let out was so loud it almost eclipsed the roar of the fire and the buzzing of las guns. Tathe had long ago decided to deal blows that took some time to die from. It'd delay them from coming back, and it proved cathartic to his more sadistic sensibilities.

But he found himself incapable of doing it to guardsmen, no matter how hard he tried to.

"How far away now?" Tathe yelled to Dellenger as he cut through the chest of a charging Sovrithian.

"Five more blocks," said Dellenger, while sliding aside a wild bash from a cultist, then stabbed the cultist through the ribs. "Not far, sir."

Tathe clenched his teeth that didn't seem 'not far' to him, and that was just until they converged on the strange hole which descended into the middle of the city, and Emperor only knew what lived down there.

A scream drew Tathe's attention just in time to see trooper Heunstein being stabbed through the chest by a Velrosian scout trooper.

Heunstein fell, clutching at his horrible wound. With a roar, Tathe dashed for the scout trooper, powersword slashing for the scout's skull. The scout had left with Adreen's squad to scout ahead only a few hours ago. He'd been fighting on the front line and was one of the best, up with Adreen and Dellenger. Tathe had had no idea he'd been killed, despite the fact they'd advanced only a few metres from each other.

The scout saw the sword slicing for his throat, but even he couldn't react fast enough to dodge. A clang echoed as another powersword sheered off Tathe's, sending shivers up Tathe's arms and the cut-off course.

Tathe slipped back, just out the way from a thrust and looked to his attacker and couldn't help let his jaw drop.

It was Valketh. The captain's eyes were glazed with psychotic anger, the same murderous look he'd treated Serghar's agent only hours ago. Tathe would've never imagined he would ever be on the wrong end of that glare.

Then Valketh launched at Tathe, sword cutting for his wrist.

Adelana stood in the recreation room, watching Sarkeath swirl and twirl below; somehow, the blood sands weren't visible from orbit; here, it seemed like a normal desert world with brownish sand. There was a better term to describe the colour, one she'd learned from her father, but she'd forgotten it. He'd known every name for every colour in this galaxy. It was just one of the many things she'd forgotten, replacing it with more knowledge on how to kill, how to manipulate and read others. She recalled what Hayden said about her becoming like Attelus. She'd snarled him down, but now she was beginning to see his point.

She'd enjoyed it a bit too much, setting up the trap for Serghar and his minions.

She was beginning to enjoy the killing. What was she becoming? They chased Etuarq in the name of justice, but were they really? It was becoming more and more obvious that them chasing him was exactly what Etuarq wanted and-


Adelana couldn't help jumping and spin to see Attelus, his shirtless torso bandaged as he entered the doorway. He was somehow paler than normal, and the purple bags beneath his eyes darker.

"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to give you a fright, Adelana."

Adelana nodded; she knew he didn't mean it, even injured. He moved in instinctive silence.

He was just as silent as he moved to stand beside Adelana and gazed down at Sarkeath with her.

"You alright?" he said.

Tears welled in her gaze, and she looked at him. Faster than thought, he met her eyes, and it caused her to turn away.

"I-I'm fine," she said. "I should be the one who asks that."

"I'll live," he said. "Thanks for saving my ass, Adelana. I'm alright now. We need to get down there."

He turned and started away.

"I don't think we should," she forced herself to say.

He stopped, his broad back facing her.


"I-I know that sounds insane, but please hear me out, Attelus."

He turned to face her, his glare so intense she couldn't help but flinch.

"I don't understand how that couldn't be anything but insane, Adelana," he said.

"I uhh, uhm."

"But I'll hear you out, and this better be good, frigging really good."

"I-it's what he wants," Adelana spluttered out.

Attelus' eyes narrowed. "Who?"

Adelana couldn't help roll her eyes. "Etuarq! Your father. Your father even said he needed you alive to get that sword. If you go down there, you're playing right into their hands."

Attelus pursed his lips and shrugged. "But I already said that we might need it so we can kill Etuarq."

"But...she...told us that Etuarq doesn't know how to make a perpetual, Attelus. So we don't need the sword."

Attelus flinched slightly, and his attention fell to the floor before glaring back to her. "Yes, but what if she's lying, Adelana. What if he's able to turn himself into a perpetual, just not others?"

"Yes, that might well be true, but you do remember that it's a daemon blade, right?" said Adelana. "I'm no expert on those things, but don't they tend to corrupt the wielder? You know, make them into chaos worshipping psychos?"

"Well, what do you want me to do?" said Attelus. "Wait, safe up here while our friends die down there?"

Adelana faulted at that.

Attelus sighed. "It's too late now for us to turn back, Adelana. I have to get that sword; we'll just have to deal with the consequences of it when it comes up."

He turned to start away again.

"I think we've made a huge mistake," said Adelana, stopping him yet again. "We should've just left Etuarq alone; we should've just let inquisitor Tybalt chase him or another part of inquisitor Enandra's organisation. To me, to you, this is too personal. We say we do this to stop him, for justice. But really, it's out for revenge. It's just an excuse for you, for us to kill more people, and if we don't stop, it'll end in the death of another world."

Attelus sighed and slouched his shoulders. "It's already happened even without our involvement, Adelana. Don't you remember one of the reasons why we've travelled all the way here? We're going to the surface, and that's that. Even if all your speculations are true, we can't just leave the Velrosians, our friends, okay? We're in too deep in every which way, anyway. We've better get prepped-"

"Attelus," said Adelana, trying to keep the desperation from her voice for her last-ditch attempt. "If you take that sword, I'm leaving. I've been thinking about transferring since before we shipped out, and if you take that sword, I will. I mean it. Avenging Omnartus be damned."

She wanted to add, 'if it meant losing you,' but couldn't get the courage to say it.

His shoulders shook the briefest of shakes; the movement reminded Adelana of the Elandria-thing's earlier reaction to Attelus' pleas.

"If that's-If that's what you feel you must do, Adelana," he said.

There was a long, awkward pause that was cut by a heartbreakingly un-enthused laugh from Attelus.

"That's if we don't die on our way there," he said before disappearing into the shadows.
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Chapter 31

#32 Post by Adrassil »

Karmen was overwhelmed by exhaustion; the servos of her power armour were what kept making her take step after step forward. Advancing in front of her were Vark and Verenth; they'd both run out of ammo, so Vark fought with a bayonet attached to his hell gun, while Verenth had 'borrowed' a las gun with a bayonet. Verenth was surprisingly effective, not on the level of Dellenger, who'd mastered the form, but he held his own. The thought of Dellenger made her fight the urge to glance at the scout, who was almost hypnotising in his preternatural grace and skill. He was also exceedingly handsome, but of course, he didn't even spare her a glance; she'd be offended if she didn't know the scout was completely clueless on the matters of human interaction. That and he was fighting three cultists at once, despite his numerous injuries.

But the real battle was between Tathe and the Marangerian in a captain's uniform. Both exchanged power sword swings almost faster than her eye could follow. She couldn't help but be impressed at the Marangerian's skill.

The loss of her kineshield allowed for numerous casualties to be wrought from the guns of the guardsmen Resurrected. The guilt gnawed at her; in her earlier days as Estella Erith, she too had idolised the Velrosians, so now to see them die like flies around her without her being able to do anything hurt her more than she could say.

More good people she'd failed.

Not just that, but her bolter had run dry, and she couldn't fight at the front either; she had to regain her strength for the very last push. When they finally descend into the city's depths.

So here she was, useless, yet again.

A Galak Heim trooper advancing beside her fell; he flew off his feet and landed on the sand, writhing, screaming. Karmen hadn't even seen what hit him. Two troopers broke from the gun line, one a Marangerian, the other from Despasia and picked up the man and turned to take him to the medicae truck as the soldiers behind them parted with admirable discipline. Karmen couldn't help but let a smile cross her lip; all these men and women all from different cultures were like family. From countries that had warred and hated each other for millennia before the coming of the Imperium came were now fighting side by side, blind to the hate-fuelled tremulous past and the colour of each other's skin.

This was unity; this was the god-Emperor's vision. The pride of finally fighting alongside her heroes flooded into her, but along with it came regret. Regret because she knew this would be the first and only time. The Elbyran contingent was dead. Dead the second they stepped out of their makeshift fortress and began for the tower. Not just that, but this suicidal mission was made on Attelus' and Karmen's volition. More souls were sacrificed in the god-Emperor's name—more deaths to hang onto her conscience.

She shook away the thought; it wasn't about her or her conscience. This was about the Elbyran; this was their battle, their glory, their sacrifice. The long-suppressed soldier within her bubbled back.

Another one of the flame troopers died. Her head exploded in a welter of blood and brains. She collapsed and began to spin toward the Elbyran.

Karmen, only in the last millisecond, managed to raise her hand and send the flame trooper spinning forwards again.

"Someone, stop her," Karmen roared through clenched teeth. "I can't...hold it for long."

Both Verenth and Vark moved to comply, fighting with a sudden burst of ferocity which somehow broke through their almost palpable exhaustion. Karmen couldn't watch their advance as much as he dearly wished to, too entrenched in concentration. She cursed Attelus' name through gritted teeth, wondering yet again where that idiot went.

"Karmen?" said a voice over her vox unit, a voice she recognised as Verenth's. "You can let go of the body, Vark's getting on her flamer."

With a gasp, she let the flame trooper's corpse fall. It sickened Karmen to see the poor woman's body disappear beneath the feet of the advancing Elbyrans, but what else could they do? She had a very good idea how many soldiers were left, but she refused to name the number, not even in her thoughts, not until she had to.

She watched Vark as he clumsily swayed the flames from side to side as Verenth laid in again and again with his lasgun. Karmen looked to see Tathe or Tathe's blur while he now fought the Marangerian captain, the Velrosian scout and a cultist at once. All the while, he still somehow managed to keep stepping forwards.

Karmen's thoughts were interrupted by a rain of las shots which splattered off her power armour, the kinetic force caused her to writhe, but the two soldiers on her flanks weren't protected by power armour, so they writhed and screamed as they were cut down.

"Shit," said Hayden over the vox, ever the epitome of calm. "Enemies in the building, two down on the left, fifth story. Any suppression fire sent their way would be appreciated, please.

By now, the Elbyrans had grown to trust Hayden and his auspex and instincts beyond question, and instantly a small number of shots flew where Hayden had indicated.

"Do we have any missile launcher ammo left?" said Hayden.

The reply was swift from a captain named Sevon of the Despasians, who was in charge of the supplies. "No, sir, throne agent, we have run out of both missiles and missile launchers, if you catch my drift."

"I understand," said Hayden. "Let me take care of this. Stop the pinning fire in ten seconds and make room for me on the right flank."

As he was saying this, Hayden was fanning right, watching the building through his long las' scope.

It was almost exactly ten seconds later that the pinning fire stopped, and then Hayden opened fire. Six shots in rapid succession.

"Targets neutralised," he said. "But I am on my last three shots."

Karmen turned as something caught the corner of her gaze; she just managed to see Tathe managing to disembowel the cultist before losing his sword; it was smashed from his grasp by the Marangerian captain. The scout then skated in, thrusting for Tathe's chest with his bayonet.

But before Karmen could even raise her hand, let alone cry out, sergeant Adreen's shoulder barged the scout off balance when the bayonet tip was only a millimetre from Tathe's chest.

Then she was decapitated by the Marangerian officer.

Tathe's anguished scream somehow managed to rise above the roar of war, and then he was on his feet, sword back in his hands and charging for the officer with wild abandon. Tears shone in his eyes.

Karmen knew he was running to his death, having last all discipline and skill in his rage and grief. Dellenger and Delathasi were moving to intercept Tathe, but Karmen knew they wouldn't fight their way through in time; but Tathe was just about to run past Karmen.

So Karmen reached out with her power armoured hand and grabbed him by the storm coat and, with a tug, tore him off his feet and crashed his back against the sand.

Dellenger and Delathasi were then on the scout and the captain, respectively, launching into a blurry melee.

Then Tathe was on his feet; his rage etched face turned on Karmen.

"Why did you do that, witch!" he screamed, raising his crackling powersword; Karmen flinched, knowing it could slice through her armour with ease.

"Answer me," he yelled, but he wasn't interested in her answer as he had already begun to slash.

He didn't even make it halfway before two troopers grabbed him and hauled him back.

"Let go of me," Tathe said, struggling.

Karmen nodded her thanks to the pair of troopers, one a Galak Heiman, the other a Velrosian.

+You were going to get yourself killed, commissar,+ she sent. +Get a hold of yourself, commissar.+

"Frig you," he said.

+This world, this tainted world, is influencing you. You need to control it, you are in command, and many will die other than her if you do not.+

Tathe didn't reply; he just sneered and struggled more.

Karmen nodded to herself. +We'll all die if you don't, die without reaching your objective and join the Resurrected. Every step and death and especially the death of scout-sergeant Adreen will be pointless. Get your head together now."

The commissar looked down in what may have been a shame.

Karmen turned away, and it was then the Elbyrans finally advanced into the final cross-section before they would delve into the depths of the city.

Karmen was finally forced to admit the number of survivors. They'd left with just under one thousand men; now, they were down to about two hundred and fifty. This would be the do or die part.

She inhaled deep and reached into the warp, and erected another kineshield against the withering, flanking fire. But heart-achingly, many Elbyran troops were killed, slain at the blades of the daemons and cultists as they burst from the side streets in a rushing tide.

No, Karmen corrected, not killed, slaughtered. Many of the Elbyrans being too exhausted to put up much of a fight. It was a miracle they'd lasted this long, a true testament to their skill and limitless discipline. But their morale, their stamina wasn't.

A cultist managed to push past the two remaining flamers and charged Karmen, swinging down an old axe.

Karmen blocked the blow with a forearm and then punched the cultist through his face.

She was wrong; tathe keeping his head wouldn't make any difference; this was the end. Frustration boiled through her; to come so close for it all to be for nothing was...was...

Karmen cursed Attelus' name for what felt like the umpteenth time, even though not even he could halt many of the deaths, but if he were here, the love of Tathe's life would likely still be alive.

Verenth and Vark, his flamer having run out of promethium, fought back to back, laying in their bayonets and las gun butts. Helma cut down cultist after cultist with her sword as a Velrosian sergeant stood at her side, his chain sword whining and tearing and whirling with flying blood. Delathasi and Dellenger still fought the scout and the captain. Even Hayden was forced into close combat, his long las swinging and smashing with.

How they hadn't fallen yet was amazing, but it was just a matter of time.

A matter of inevitability.

The las fire smashed through the Resurrected's south flank, an accurate, disciplined deluge. Even many a daemon fell beneath the focused fire.

The enemy baulked and turned to address their new attackers, and the Elbyrans hesitated; their confusion on who their savours were, was almost palpable.

A second later, Karmen's exhaustion addled mind managed to comprehend, and a scream of triumph burst from her throat.

"The Sovrithans!" Karmen yelled. "The Sovrithans are here!"

Jelket led from the front with captain Dantian and his command squad. He fired his Hellgun at the hip; he cut down Resurrected after Resurrected. The enemy wilted underneath the Sovrithan gun line, like waves pulling back from a beach after smashing against it. This was their plan, to distract the enemy with the Elbyran's push so the Sovrithans could circle the city and flank them.

It'd worked surprisingly well, the Elbyrans somehow managing to push so far and so fast that the enemy attention was forced to be completely fixated on them. The bias of their commander would have surely attributed to that fixation, as the commissar had predicted.

Jelket didn't know how many of the Elbyrans were left; he just hoped there'd be enough to push into the depths and that his comrades and friends were still alive.

"For the Emperor," Jelket yelled. "For Sovrith. For the ordos."
My short story Of An Asur living in the land of Bretonnia:


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Chapter 32

#33 Post by Adrassil »

The enemy seemed to pour over the lip of the incline in a never-ending tide in a desperate bid to keep the Sovrithians and The Elbyrans from meeting. The Elbyrans were locked in melee, still pushing forward despite the odds. At the same time, Jelket and the Sovrithians laid down a constant hail of las shots to somewhat stem them.

Jelket fired from the hip, racking his hell-fire through the Resurrected it was impossible to miss. Many Resurrected tried to turn to address the Sovrithians but were slaughtered. In any other battle, this flanking manoeuvre would've been devastating, maybe leading to a decisive victory.

Here it was just so two forces could meet, one resupply the other, then join into a combined, desperate advance toward an objective they had no idea would even make any difference.

Despite this, Jelket's heart sung, he'd left the guard to escape this stuff, but now he'd never felt more alive. He was never the best at anything, but here he was, saving the butts of the others, assuming they're alive, of course.

He could see the enemy's sporadic fire smack off an invisible wall over the Elbyran front line, so Karmen at least was still alive.

The next half an hour was the most intense battle Jelket had ever taken part in, hundreds, maybe thousands of Resurrected and dozens of daemons. Jelket couldn't imagine how hard it must've been for the Elbyrans for these past few hours.

Once the Sovrithians pushed into the intersection, giving the Elbyrans a break from the front line, they stopped their advance. I didn't take Jelket long to find Hayden, Karmen, Torris, Helma, Verenth, Delthasi and Vark all were dead-eyed, beyond exhausted, and barely acknowledged Jelket. It was the same with every single other Elbyran around as the Sovrithians moved by to take over the rear guard. Many entered the buildings around to secure them.

"It's good to see all of you made it," said Jelket, then his relief was overtaken with concern as he noticed something. "Where's Attelus and Adelana? Halsin?"

"We don't know," said a voice, but it wasn't any of them that answered Jelket, and he turned to find a bloody, beaten commissar approaching, using his beautiful single-edged power sword as a walking stick. "We believe they are in orbit as your ship lifted off about an hour back. And the young medicae is in one of the trucks tending the wounded."

Jelket nodded, his concern somewhat stifled, and he couldn't help but wonder why Attelus and Adelana had abandoned the Elbyrans.

Dantian stepped forward. "You are commissar Tathe?"

"I am," said Tathe.

Jelket fought the awe welling in him. So this was the famous commissar Delan Tathe? He seemed to ooze charisma and leadership beyond humanly possible, even with the exhaustion and what the other thing? Jelket couldn't put a finger on it.

"We have brought the resupply you wanted," said Dantian, straight to business as usual. "I will be honest, commissar, I was tempted to leave you and your men for dead."

Tathe shrugged. "I would understand that...if you did, and I must thank you for not leaving us for dead." Tathe's tone was stilted, robotic. "I have sacrificed too many good men and women in this; I just hope it's not for nothing."

"I pray that it isn't commissar," said Dantian. "But I am afraid that we'll lose many once we begin down that hill."

"I know, captain," said Tathe, and while he didn't roll his eyes, his voice seemed to scream he wanted to. "We're about to descend into hell. Are you and your men prepared?"

Dantian bristled. "By the god-Emperor we are. We'll fight one hundred times harder than you did, and we will show the enemy the deaths they more than deserve."

Tathe grinned. "Please, don't take my question personally, captain. I was merely asking, and it gladdens me to see you so fired up."

"I am a captain of the imperial guard, commissar," said Dantian. "And while my regiment isn't as well known or said to be as elite as yours, we will prove that reputation means little to action. When will you and your men be ready to advance?"

The commissar pursed his lips. "I know this must seem to be much, captain, but we need fifteen minutes. Many of my men are dehydrated, and we all need food. If we have any less time, we'll be little use to you."

Dantian raised an eyebrow and looked Tathe up and down. "We'll give you half an hour."

Tathe took a shocked step back. "I-I that's too much, captain."

"I have over one thousand men, commissar," said Dantian. "Even with that number, I doubt it will be enough down there, so I really don't want your men to slow us down, and I want to prove to you just how good we are, understand?"

"Understood," said Tathe.

Dantian nodded and peeled away, his finger to his microbead as he began to call out orders.

Jelket looked at Tathe as the commissar collapsed onto his arse. "I saw what you did there, sir."

"What's your name?" said Tathe.

"Trooper Jelket, sir."

Tathe glared up at Jelket, his head tilted forwards. "Trooper Jelket...shut up."

Jelket stood for a few seconds, trying to decide how to react to the commissar's rudeness.

Jelket shrugged. "Fair enough," he said, then turned away and walked up to Hayden. The bid sniper laid on his back, his attention to the sky.

He sat down next to Hayden and handed him his water canister. "I'm glad you made it, big guy."

"I'm glad I did too," said Hayden, his voice as lifeless as Tathe's. "I've never had to do anything like that before, and I frigging hope I never have to again."

"Never thought I'd hear such words from you," said Jelket. "And I hate to say it; we've still got a long way to go."

"I know, I know," Hayden growled. "And that frigger abandoned us."


"Attelus," said Hayden as he took the canister and unscrewed the lid. "He flew up into the damned atmosphere leaving us to bleed and struggle down here."

Jelket couldn't make a reply; he'd never heard Hayden so bitter and angry before.

"I...I'm sure the kid had his reasons-"

"This mission right from the start has been a screw-up, Jelket. He's just made mistake after mistake, after frigging mistake."

Jelket began thinking about that, but Hayden interrupted him. "He's twenty-eight, one of the youngest of us. It was a huge mistake of the Inquisitor to put him in charge."

"I don't know. If Attelus weren't in charge, we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for his connection to the Eldar. But, yeah, he's made a few mistakes."

"Just a few, you're a master of frigging understatement, Jelket. Don't you have somewhere to go? Fight alongside the Sovrithians."

"Maybe I should," said Jelket after a pause. "But they aren't my comrades, my friends. I'd rather spend as much time with you guys as I can before we all might die, and they don't need me."

Hayden laughed. "You're so frigging sentimental, and of course Attelus isn't here for that-"

"Get over it," said Jelket, snatching back his canister. "I'm going to talk to someone who's not all bitter and twisted right now; I'm not in the mood for this."

Jelket stood and started toward Torris, who sat with his back against the wall, his head hung forward, a water canister almost falling from his hand.

"Marcel?" said Jelket kneeling in front of him. "You alright?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm alright. I'll live, for now. It's good to have ya back, Jel."

"Good to be back, despite some of us being..."

Jelket trailed off, unsure what to say about it.

"Hayden? Yeah, I heard it. I understand where he's coming from, but it isn't worth getting so pissed about. I was like that, remember?"

Jelket just smiled and nodded while his thoughts screamed yes.

"Anyway, the good commissar forgot to mention Attelus got a call over the vox from Vark saying one of the flanks needed help. It turned out that Vark hadn't sent the communication and Adelana went after him."

"Of course she did," said Jelket. "So he then got in over his head, and either he or Adelana got injured, so they had to call Darrance to save their arses."

"That's what I think, too."

Jelket grinned. "Either that or they're up there finally screwing."

"Doubt that," said Torris.

"Why's that? Is Attelus gay?"

"Nah," said Torris with a low laugh. "Although that's an understandable question, he's just got a shit ton of baggage."

Jelket laughed. "Yeah, being indirectly responsible for the death of a whole planet would be a lot of baggage."

"Nah, it goes deeper; it's from before then..."

Torris trailed off before saying more.

"You aren't going to say more?"

"Don't think he'd appreciate that, Jel. Now please, bud, I've gotta rest."

"Yeah, alright," said Jelket as he stood up and looked over his allies. Most had thrown themselves on the sand where they stood, but Karmen and Vark sat together against the wall on the opposite side of the street, engaged in conversation.

Jelket sighed and sat down, he wanted to talk with his friends, but they needed their rest more than he needed to catch up.

Half an hour wasn't enough, but it was the best they could get.

"Jelket," said a voice, and he turned and found Helma approaching.

"Hey, captain," he said and started taking a swig of water.

She sighed and sat down next to him. "I don't want to die, Jel."

Jelket almost spat out his water. "W-what?"

"Don't get me wrong; I'm not afraid to die. I've faced that already; I just don't want to become one of them," she said. "They say 'only in death does duty end' but not on this Emperor forsaken world. Here if you die, you become an immortal chaos worshipper."

Jelket shuddered and said, "I-I really hope that doesn't happen to either of us. Why does everyone come to me to talk about their shit?"

Helma smiled. "Because you're a good person, Jelket, you're better than you think you are, despite all those weird conspiracies you believe in."

"I still think Marius Hax is involved in this."

"And maybe he is, Jelket, but we don't know that, do we? Anyway..."

She stood and patted him on the shoulder. "Keep up the good work, Jelket, but excuse me, I need a snooze at the very least."

She turned and started away.

"Hey Helma," said Jelket, making her stop. "If we somehow manage to get through this, how about we get a drink sometime?"

Helma looked over her shoulder at him, and a smile crossed her face. "Yeah, sounds like a good idea."

Jelket smiled back.

"Are we ready?" Attelus said, just slipping on his fresh new bodyglove while walking into the common room. "We haven't much time left."

Adelana stood up from her seat. "I've been ready for a while now, Attelus. Been waiting for you."

"Well, sorry, Adelana, I just had a blade stabbed through my guts and-"

"Yes, I saw that," said another voice, a deep voice that reverberated through the entire Guncutter. Attelus turned to face the shadow, his powersword drawn and flaring into life, but he stopped in mid slash.

"Kalakor," he said.

The Raven Guard towered over him, and although Attelus couldn't see any pupils in his black eyes, he knew he looked down at him.

"You may be inquisition, but that is lord Kalakor to you."

"How the hell did you get in here?" said Attelus.

The Raven Guard's reply was narrowing his gaze.

Attelus sighed and slouched. "How the hell did you get in here, lord?"

Kalakor's huge shoulders shrugged. "I am Raven Guard; if I wish it, I can get anywhere."

Attelus' guessed that the huge Astartes managed to slip aboard when Darrance had picked them up.

"I didn't know that Raven Guard Space Marines were so arrogant," said Adelana, and Attelus couldn't help smile at her brass...ovaries?

"So, lord," said Attelus. "Why are you here? For a rematch?"

As he said this, he slipped back a step and readied his sword.

Kalakor raised an eyebrow. "No, I won decisively. Why would I want a rematch?"

"Well, I'd like one," Attelus muttered; now he had his powersword, things might be different.

"We must wait," said Kalakor. "The Elbyran and Sovrithians have rendezvoused."

Attelus straightened. "They have?"

Kalakor smiled. "Yes, unlike you, I have bothered to communicate with the surface."

Attelus frowned and exchanged a look over his shoulder at Adelana, who was frowning too.

"Well, I'd just been stabbed through the stomach and-"

"Stop making excuses," said Kalakor. "You took responsibility for getting yourself and your group captured; this is not any different."

Attelus dropped his gaze to the floor; the Space Marine was right, frig it.

"Why must we wait, then?" said Adelana.

"They are soon going to push into the depths of the city; I do not know what they are to encounter. If we attack at the right-"

"We can open up a gap for them to reach the tower," said Attelus.

"But you will unnecessarily put this ship in danger," said Darrance as he stepped out of the cockpit. "I've already flown down far too often, now. We still need the Guncutter."

"Do I seem to care?" said Kalakor. "I can assure you; I do not."

"Of course, you don't," said Darrance.

Then a realisation hit Attelus; it made him grip the hilt of his sword so hard he was afraid it might break.

"How many will die before we go down there?" said Attelus. "We might lose one of us, I-"

"That does not matter, little girl. They are in service of the Emperor; it is their duty to sell their lives for the Emperor. Only in death does duty end."

"That's easy for you to say," said Attelus. "You don't know them; you haven't fought with them."

"I do not, and it seems you know them too well, throne agent of the ordo Hereticus. You are allowing your foolish sentiment to override your logic. This is the reality of being a leader; you must be ready to sacrifice your underlings if needs must. This might be that time. I had to do it with my brothers to defeat that greater daemon, but do you know the difference between that and this?"

"What?" said Attelus through clenched teeth.

"Their deaths were guaranteed," said Kalakor. "Your allies' deaths aren't; man up, little girl and take my advice. I have been at this for much longer than you have, so take my damned advice."

"Yeah, but your brothers weren't going to become mindless chaos worshippers," said Attelus.

"That does not matter; only what matters is victory."

Attelus couldn't reply; he could barely keep from hyperventilating; his hands shook now.

"But they're my friends."

"I see you have made the cardinal mistake of leadership, getting too close to your underlings," said Kalakor. "Your inexperience is showing. You do not have to do as I say; I will not stop you if you go to the surface now but let me tell you, you may regret it."

Kalakor smiled. "And you are only human, despite your enhancement."

"I hate to say it, apprentice," said Darrance. "But the Space Marine has a point. We're all expendable, even you."

Attelus closed his eyes and forced himself to calm.

"Adelana, what do you think?" Attelus said.

"I-I," she said.

"Do not place the burden upon her," said Kalakor. "This is your decision and yours alone."

Attelus opened his eyes.
My short story Of An Asur living in the land of Bretonnia:


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