BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:06 am

= XXIX =
Legends



THE MARINES HUSTLED across the rockcrete courtyard of Kharthan fortress, lugging their weapons and equipment, as well as heavy bolters and crates of ammunition. On the far side from their temporary barracks, the shadowhawk’s engines coughed into start-up. Squads of Planetary Defence Force troops stood and gaped.

Before they reached the gunship, Markius and Athena were intercepted by Governor Karim and General Saifi, marching out from the mansion. A company of olive-uniformed soldiers trailed them, their shadows long in the setting rays of the scorching Beta sun.

‘Captain Markius?’ rumbled Karim. ‘What are you doing?’

Markius scowled, knowing news of their movements had been quickly relayed to the traitorous governor.

‘We are about to deploy,’ said Markius, stopping and facing them. ‘We have intelligence of an imminent xenos attack.’

‘An attack, here on Coplin?’ said Saifi.

‘No,’ said Markius, ‘a ship, passing through the Vistro Corridor.’

‘I was not aware of any scheduled flight in the Corridor,’ said Karim.

‘It is not registered – a twist ship,’ said Markius, improvising. ‘But our intelligence is certain.’

‘I… I see,’ said the governor, glancing at Saifi. ‘Then… good hunting.’

‘Unless you have an alternative target,’ said Athena, glaring at them. ‘Do you have any information we should know about?’

‘You already have our records,’ Karim waved a hand and puffed up his medal-festooned chest. ‘We have nothing more to tell you.’

Saifi said nothing, his pinpoint eyes darting.

Markius sighed. That had been a generous last chance Athena had gifted them. He said, ‘Then this may well be our last mission here.’

He took a deliberate step towards Karim, studying his face. Karim bristled, but could not prevent himself taking a step back.

‘I will return when the xenos leader is dead,’ said Markius.

The governor gulped and nodded. Markius turned before he could lose his composure and stomped towards the shadowhawk, Athena scampering to keep up.

When they entered the gunship Markius was surprised to see the passenger deck was much more cramped than usual. Nearly half its length was occupied by the armoured bulk of a predator-class battletank, painted in black and grey camouflage and marked only with the Imperial Aquila on its hull, locked down onto a transport tray that was clamped into slide rails in the fuselage. Its side-sponson mounted lascannons barely fitted inside the deck. The marines sat in the remaining seats of the chamber, six to a side.

‘Burrin just brought it down from the Arcis,’ explained Lieutenant Tobias. ‘It seems Magos Gaius has made some modifications.’

Markius nodded as the embarkation ramp closed and the shadowhawk engines roared into lift-off.

‘Athena,’ he said. ‘Go to the cockpit and give Burrin and Lars the new location.’

She nodded and slipped past the predator. The other marines exchanged glances and then stared at Markius. The gunship roared out from the fortress and climbed into the sky above Kharthan. Goran grinned, showing his canine teeth.

‘All Talons, listen to me,’ said Markius. ‘We are not going into space. The Vistro Corridor mission is a decoy.’

He enjoyed for a moment their surprised expressions.

‘I’m sorry, but we had a security leak and we had to be sure the government forces did not suspect.’

‘Then where are we going?’ said Borias.

‘A place in the mountains called Thangod Colony. We have intelligence that points to a ghoul raid there tonight.’

‘Forgive me, Captain, but we’ve heard that before,’ said Patreus.

‘This time the ghouls don’t know we will be waiting for them,’ interrupted Goran, green eyes glinting.

‘Right,’ said Markius. ‘But we have to keep it that way. We can be sure Kharthan will be tracking us, so the ‘hawk will not be making a drop, and we are not going to use the cloaking device. I want them to see this gunship go all the way up to the Arcis. Then, Athena has instructed Burrin to tell Gaius to take the starship right out to the Corridor.’

The marines exchanged looks again.

‘We have to do this to be sure. I will not let the ghouls know what we are up to. We forego orbital support in favour of surprise.’

‘So, how will we get down to this Thangod Colony?’ said Borias.

Markius smiled and pointed to compartments located above the grav-seats.

‘We are going to jump,’ he said.

‘You mean using the grav-wings?’ said Borias, his wicked grin returning.

‘Right,’ said Markius, ‘At last, we will swoop down to battle like the proper Storm Eagles we once were.’

He stopped at that statement. Zharn had made it a condition that they never again used the name of their former chapter, and he had not even thought of it for a long time, but the thrill of the coming mission had stirred an old yearning for the honour and glory promised in a former life. The marines all looked similarly excited.

‘What about the predator?’ said Goran, eyeing the tank.

‘Ah, Burrin mentioned one of the modifications were four grav-chutes built into the loading tray,’ said Lieutenant Tobias. ‘I think this will work!’

‘Aye!’ growled a familiar voice, and all eyes turned. Rasmus struggled to squeeze past the predator tank to join the marines. Markius could not help grinning, despite the way he struggled to move, already exacerbated by his bionic leg.

‘I heard something about a scrap, eh?’ Rasmus shrugged, his craggy skin wrinkling as he grinned. Sören emerged behind him, following from the medicae deck. The Apothecary shrugged at Markius and said, ‘I couldn’t stop him this time.’

‘Sergeant Rasmus, I don’t think you…’ started Markius.

‘Don’t even try to keep me out of it!’ bellowed the big marine.

‘You have lost your primary heart!’ protested Sören, ‘I need to resource a replacement on the Arcis…’

Rasmus shrugged and said, ‘I’ve got another one, eh?’

He brandished his power-axe and growled. Markius shook his head, smiling. The other marines cheered. Rasmus shrugged down into a seat next to Markius and they clasped hands.

‘Truly you are an inspiration, old friend. I think we are going to need you.’

‘Of course you will,’ said Rasmus. ‘Now let’s go and kill some ghouls!’

‘Invictus!’ the marines roared.


* * *



‘THIS IS… UNEXPECTED,’ said Zharn, meeting Markius as he marched towards Thangod Colony. Markius nodded in greeting, casting his stare beyond the inquisitor at the settlement. It was another bleak place; a grim collection of metal sheds and pens for the mountain goats, nestling in a steep-sided valley in the foothills below the volcanic mountains. Tangled woods of stunted trees with gnarled roots sprawled on each side of the valley, leaving its centre clear. A trickling river – more of a stream – crept through the shingle of igneous shale and boulders that formed the ground of the valley. The sky had deepened into dusk-grey, distant Alpha brightest amongst the stars that peeked through the blotches of sulphur clouds. Markius looked up and spied the vapour trail of Shadowhawk One, climbing towards orbit, eventually to board the Arcis. It was cool here, much cooler than Kharthan or on the plains.

The other marines landed silently, ghostly birds of prey dropping out of the night and settling upon the ground. They removed their grav-wings and checked their equipment. The predator tank landed with a crunch, the four grav-chutes attached to its loading tray only just sufficient for the task, no doubt carefully calculated by the Magos. Markius grimaced, giving thanks for the tech-priest’s foresight as marines gathered and began disconnecting the tank from its rig.

‘Forgive the surprise,’ Markius addressed Zharn, ‘but we had to be sure Karim did not find out we were coming here.’

‘Why are you here, Captain Markius?’ said Zharn, his eyes widening as he saw Athena also land and quickly rush to the other Psirens. The Throne Agents had discarded their ponchos and photochromatic goggles with the coming of starset, and they greeted Athena as a long-lost sister, clasping hands and exchanging excited whispers.

‘Come,’ said Markius, gesturing Zharn towards the settlement, ‘I have an interesting story to tell you.’

The marines finished working on the transport rig for the predator tank and its engines rumbled into life. Weapons slung over shoulders and carrying ammunition crates, the marines marched towards Thangod Colony, flanking the tank as it crunched across the shale, its engine a throaty grumble.

Marching at their head, Markius told Zharn of their discovery regarding the meaning of djinnar – and Devilnacht. He pointed to the sky.

‘Look, the moons are coming into conjunction for a total eclipse.’

‘A xenos attack, here?’ said Zharn, raising his eyebrows, ‘Devilnacht?

‘Is there a local elder we can talk to?’ said Markius.

Zharn led Markius into the centre of Thangod Colony. The shacks were all closed and bolted and not a single lume-globe or flame could be seen, as if the buildings screwed their eyes shut against the night. The goats in the pens were quiet, sensing something foreboding in the deepening gloom. Zharn walked to one of the larger buildings and banged a fist on the corrugated metal door.

While they waited, Markius spotted Aul Vespasius skulking in the shadows nearby. Though it was dark, to Markius’s enhanced eyes the ancient astropath looked as crippled and exhausted as ever. The blind psychic sensed his scrutiny.

‘Good evening, Markius,’ Aul rasped. ‘The boy is finally starting to grow into a man.’

Markius narrowed his eyes. He tapped his temple and said, ‘Just keep out of here, sorcerer.’

Zharn banged again and the voice of an old man barked something at them in the local language.

‘It is me, Jeremiah!’ the inquisitor shouted. ‘Open up! I need your help again.’

‘Be not here tonight!’ the voice spoke in Gothic. ‘Djinnar! Go! Go far away!’

Markius stepped forward and smashed a fist against the metal wall. The blow clanged throughout the entire settlement and the voice was silenced.

‘Is this Devilnacht?’ he shouted. ‘The Devils That Stalk Men will come?’

The door finally opened a crack and Markius saw the wrinkled face of a hooded old man, nearly as skinny and decrepit as Aul. The man’s eyes widened when he saw the massive outline of Markius in the half-light of the dusk. He peered beyond Markius, spotting the other marines filing into the settlement. The rumble of the tank vibrated in the cool air.

‘Angels of Death?’ said the old man. ‘The Holy Emperor answer our prayers?’

Markius said, ‘We are here at last. Is djinnar Devilnacht? Do the Devils That Stalk Men come here tonight?’

‘Sei, sei, Devilnacht!’ nodded the man, terror in his eyes. ‘Marenza called it that before he die. The devils come!’

The old man pointed to the moons looming large in the rapidly darkening sky. Markius turned to Zharn and folded his arms.

‘A festival?’

‘I… I can’t believe it,’ Zharn shrugged. ‘I never made the connection.’

He stared at the sky and sighed.

‘I must be losing my touch.’

‘Never mind,’ growled Markius. ‘We did, thanks to Apothecary Sören and a lucky break. Now we are finally going to get those ghoul bastards!’


* * *



‘NORTH OR SOUTH?’ Markius asked Lieutenant Tobias, surveying the length of the kilometre-wide valley. ‘Or both at once?’

Tobias rubbed his hawkish nose and narrowed his eyes.

‘If it were me, I’d say south, but the villager said north.’

‘So do I,’ said Markius, gazing northwards. ‘It is upwind.’

‘What kind of predator approaches its prey upwind?’

‘One that wants the prey to know it is coming,’ Markius said. He glanced at Tobias and continued, ‘More terrifying. More spectacular.’

‘I see, and I agree,’ said Tobias. Markius nodded.

‘Alright, all Talons, listen to me!’ he called to the marines gathered on the outskirts of Thangod Colony.

‘We have two hours until full eclipse. We’ve got four heavy bolters and Brother Jorgen’s Soundstrike,’ he said. Brother Jorgen hefted his Soundstrike-pattern missile launcher onto his shoulder to acknowledge. ‘Brother Patreus, do you think the one-oh’s can knock down those skiffs?’

Brother Patreus scratched at the plasma-scarred side of his face and nodded, ‘Yes, I think so. They are more lightly armoured than Astartes speeders. Concentrate on the tube-engines at the rear, try to hit them under the wings, and they should pop.’

‘Right,’ said Markius, ‘but their main defence is speed. When we open fire, remember to lead the target. We will need to bracket them into killzones there, and there,’ he pointed. ‘Lambda squad will take the slopes beyond and above the trees.’

‘Invictus!’ intoned Lambda squad together.

Markius said, ‘Milan and Klinns, I want your sniper rifles on the west side – wait until the raiders are down then pick off the infantry. Brother Patreus, you’re with Tobias; take the east side and create the crossfire. The rest of us will split into three fire-teams, just outside the colony. We will have to dig in and prepare fallback positions as well. First-Sergeant Goran, you take Kholar and Sören, west side. Your call-sign is Epsilon again.’

Goran nodded and flexed his powerglove.

‘Sergeant Andreus, you’re with Krieger and Jorgen – and the missile launcher. You are Zeta.’

‘Invictus!’ Andreus beamed, his albino beard splitting to reveal a boyish grin.

‘Brother Jorgen,’ Markius lowered his voice, ‘I want the first krak missile to take down the skiff with that damned baron-ghoul on it. Understood?’

‘Invictus.’

‘Borias, Rasmus, you’re with me. We take the east side. We are Omega.’

Borias and Rasmus exchanged grins.

‘That leaves one more heavy bolter,’ commented Athena, watching the meeting nearby with her Psiren agents.

‘We will set it up at a fallback position,’ Markius said.

‘But you want maximum fraggin’ firepower right at the initiation of the ambush!’ Athena argued. Markius growled.

‘You have another fire-team right here,’ said Athena, gesturing to her unit.

Markius frowned, but Athena continued, ‘We are combat trained, and everything will depend on our opening ambush.’ She flashed him a smile and said, ‘Trust me, Captain. You need us, too.’

‘Alright, dig in near to Andreus,’ Markius smiled back at her. ‘Your call-sign is Psiren. Give them the Emperor’s Wrath!’

‘And what are we going to do with this, eh?’ rumbled Rasmus, jerking a thumb towards the predator tank.

‘Brother Lars, can you hear me?’ Markius called without using the vox.

‘Loud and clear, Captain!’ Brother Lars’ augmented voice rattled from a caster on the hull of the tank. The tank’s turret swiveled left and right, its twin-linked lascannons rotating, and the side-sponson mounted cannons similarly tracked back and forth. Its engines revved. The modifications of the Mechanicus had made it possible for the augmented marine to pilot the tank single-handedly. It resembled to Markius a huge metal bird of prey stepping to the edge of its nest and trying out its wings for the first time.

‘How does it feel?’ said Markius.

‘I begin to understand the attraction of piloting tanks,’ Lars called back. ‘And it is much easier to drive than a Throne-damned gunship!’

Markius smiled as Lars spun the tracks of the tank so that it swiveled on the spot, churning the shale.

‘Good. We will dismantle one of these shacks and use the metal sheets to disguise you until the critical moment. The tank will look like just another building in the settlement until we are ready. You will have to listen for my signal,’ Markius regarded his men again. ‘All of you: strict vox-silence until the ambush is launched on my signal. I will not give those bastards one hint what is waiting for them. And fire teams; we will have to dig in deep, full concealment from the enemy approach. Does everyone understand?’

‘Invictus!’ the marines began talking, pointing out likely spots for their defensive positions. Markius stared up at the sky. The moons were closing together, crowding out the meager starlight. He took a deep breath.

‘I am not one to make big, inspiring speeches,’ Markius said. A hush settled on the marines, and they all stared at him. The Psirens watched with wide eyes in pale faces, too. ‘But we all know what is coming. We have all come a long way since… since our previous lives. We have lost Brother Gunnar, Brother Bhurgsson, Brother Olson…’

The marines remained silent as Markius recounted the names of their fallen brothers.

‘… Brother Olaf, Brother Ballach, Brother Mattheus – and Brother Rasmus nearly, twice!’

A chuckle rippled through the men.

‘But this is where we make our stand, tonight, together. This is where we hold back the darkness.’

The marines growled their agreement. Markius took another deep breath.

‘I have not been the captain you all deserved.’

He glanced at Rasmus and then Goran. A chill breeze groaned through the valley.

‘I have made mistakes and I have not always listened. We have had to work hard. I thank you all for staying beside me. I feel honoured to fight beside you all. We know that we can beat these scum, but we can only do it together. Tonight we reclaim our glory!’

The marines murmured, and Markius sensed a hesitation in their enthusiasm. He narrowed his eyes at Goran, who stepped forward from amongst the others.

‘Our glory?’ he said. ‘What does the inquisitor say about that?’

All eyes turned to Zharn, who had been silently watching nearby.

‘Say about what?’ he frowned at Markius. Markius gulped. He had never asked the question about the Deathwatch. The marines waited.

‘Inquisitor,’ Markius finally spoke. ‘What will our heraldry be in the Deathwatch? What is this talk of disgraced Black Shields?’

Zharn cupped his chin and thought for some moments before answering. Then he said, ‘Let me tell you about my homeworld instead.’

Markius exchanged looks with Rasmus and Goran as Zharn strode into the centre of the circle of marines. He began speaking.

‘On the planet where I grew up we have a rich history. Tales from before the coming of the Holy God Emperor are still told, and re-enacted in the scholams. Particularly well-loved are the stories of the Age of the Three Kingdoms.’

Markius scowled, unsure what the inquisitor was leading up to.

‘This was an age when men fought with sword and spear and arrow, when men rode steeds to war clad in simple armour of steel and mail. This was an age before the people were united under the blessed protection of the Imperium. There were ever three great kingdoms on this world, three monarchs who sought ultimate power. It was an age of constant struggle and war.

‘And each king had at his command the great households of the… well they would be called knights in old Gothic… proud warriors of the nobility. The households each had their coats of arms, and every knight would ride to battle clad in his colours, bearing his pennant upon his spear, and with his symbol painted proudly on his shield.

‘Each household had its own reputation and hard-learned tactics, each with a proud history recorded in great tapestries that hung from their feasting halls. And they were well matched. No matter how hard the kings strived, no single one could hope to dominate the other two combined, and no alliance ever lasted, as each king was arrogant and greedy and would not share power. So, too, the knights became arrogant.

‘Often battles were won and lost without a blow being struck, the colourful shields that heralded the nobles striking fear into the foot-soldiers, who fled simply at seeing the symbols of the Phoenix, the Dragon, the Wyvern, and so on.

‘But it was not to last. One day, a new breed of knight took to the field of battle. None knew who they were or where they had come from. Some say that they were peasantry daring to emulate their betters, others that they were wu-nin – knights whose lords had been struck down in battle and therefore had been forced to become roaming mercenaries. But these mercenaries did not hire their services to any one king. Nor did they proudly cling to outdated rituals of combat. They were vicious and they were effective. Neither did they have a household, a place where the enraged knightly orders could besiege them. They were as ghosts, attacking out of the night and disappearing once more to darkness.

‘The reputation of these warriors spread amongst the peoples, for they fought where they found injustice, righted the oppression of corrupt sheriffs or marauding hoboni tribes. And they had no heraldry; no flags or pennants or symbols. They became known as the Black Shields.

‘As they won victory after victory, the kings became afraid of the Black Shields, suspicious of their motives, begrudging of their autonomy. But none could find them, or defeat them when they attacked, for always they attacked on their terms. They came to be regarded as a supernatural force, sent by some distant god to temper the overreaching oppression of the kings. And eventually, inspired by these shadowy heroes, the people themselves overthrew the warring kings, just as the emissaries of the Emperor finally came to rediscover my world and bring it into the blessed fold of the Imperium.’

Markius listened, occasionally glancing to the faces of his fellow Astartes, as the inquisitor told his story.

‘The legend of the Black Shields lives on, while the memories of the knightly orders have faded into lost glories,’ said the inquisitor. ‘But you see, Captain Markius, the power of the Black Shields was not built on symbols or colours or heraldry. Their honour was in their deeds. Their identity – the thing that made them so strong – was that they had no identity. Pride precipitated the fall of the knightly orders - pride in who they were, not what they did - but the Black Shields triumphed over this weakness. None of them were known to the people, yet collectively their legend is immortal. Do you understand what I am trying to say?’

Markius thought for several moments. The wind had grown during the inquisitor’s tale, moaning through the valley from the north. The marines were all silent. He made eye contact with each of them in turn.

Eventually, Markius said, ‘Yes, I think we understand. Thank you, Inquisitor.’

Tobias stepped into the centre of the circle and said, ‘And now we have less than two hours to prepare! Time to move out!’

‘Invictus!’


* * *



Markius completed his circuit of inspections around the edge of Thangod colony. Epsilon, Zeta and Omega teams had worked hard and their foxholes were well concealed and protected beneath boulders. The secondary positions were closer to the colony buildings, where a new corrugated shack now stood. Markius squinted in the gloom at it, satisfied that the tank would not be detected until it was too late. No matter how hard he searched, he could not find the secreted positions of Lambda squad’s snipers beyond the dense tangles of forest at the valley’s edges.

He stomped towards the position of the Psirens and frowned. Though they were as well concealed as the marines, Athena had rested the heavy bolter on the flat surface of a boulder.

‘You should use the brace, you will not maintain accuracy like that,’ he pointed.

‘I’m trained with fraggin’ bolt-weapons,’ said Athena, caressing the butt of the bulky weapon against her shoulder, ‘they are like missile launchers. No recoil.’

‘Not with Astartes weapons, you aren’t,’ said Markius. He stepped next to her and popped a 1.0 calibre shell from the feedbelt. ‘Look, the bolts are self-propelled, yes, but this base kicks it out like a stubber – that is how the big one-oh’s produce such a high fire-rate.’

He switched the heavy bolter’s control to three-round burst mode.

‘Try it if you don’t believe me.’

Athena scowled and tugged the firing lever that dwarfed her human hand. Three rapid booms echoed along the valley, disturbing the mournsong of the wind. The first bolt fizzed low over the igneous shale, but the heavy bolter bucked in Athena’s grip, thudding against her shoulder, and the second and third bolts screamed skywards. Markius folded his arms.

‘All-fraggin’-right,’ said Athena. Nyx and Selena helped her to lift the heavy weapon as Athena clicked out the tripod base. Nearby, Maia re-assembled her own sniper rifle while Yuri organised ammunition in their foxhole. Satisfied, Markius peered beyond the outskirts of Thangod colony and saw another recent excavation in the dark earth. Inquisitor Zharn stepped beside him, checking the clip of his stalker-pattern boltpistol.

‘Your missing taxman?’ Markius pointed to the unearthed grave.

Zharn nodded. ‘The last to be accounted for and the first to disappear. It completes the pattern. He was called Jonus Grammaticus, and had almost completed the assessment when he noticed Karim’s… anomalies… It seems he grew suspicious and fled to the mountains. The governor panicked, tracked him down and killed him in the night.’

Markius shook his head.

Zharn said, ‘Karim was more careful after that. The second official’s ship was destroyed in an accident just as it first landed, and according to Magos Gaius the xenos did Karim a favour and destroyed the ship of the third while it was still in the Vistro Corridor: All to prevent his few extra luxuries appearing on an assessment.’

‘We will deal with him when we are done here,’ Markius said.

‘You know, there’s something that doesn’t make sense to me,’ Athena joined them. Zharn raised one eyebrow. Athena said, ‘The warp-fraggin’ traitor sold out his own people to stay alive and get his kickbacks from the ghouls; that I understand. But what was in it for them? It’s not as if the ghouls needed him at all, and why give him juvenat suites and other bits of archeotech?’

Zharn exhaled and rubbed his chin. A ridge of grey-streaked beard had grown during his time on Beta-Coplin XXI. He said, ‘From my experience with the eldar, I suspect it amuses them.’

Markius and Athena exchanged raised eyebrows.

‘Indeed, like the sadistic owner that beats his dog, but then throws it a bone every now and then, they revel in the wretchedness and the terrified loyalty, turning their pets against one another. Truly we are as animals to them.’

The gloom deepened further and Markius peered skyward.

He said, ‘The moons grow large. Soon it will be total eclipse. Soon it will be Devilnacht.


.
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:07 am

= XXX =
Venators



THEY HEARD THEM before they saw them. Ghosting through the darkness cast by the moons that blotted out the stars, shrieks and howls floated on the wind. Markius tensed in the foxhole, waiting beside Rasmus and Borias. His bio-enhanced metabolism pumped adrenalin, his instincts preparing for a combat heightened state.

The hysterical cackles of the xenos did not chill Markius. He understood what they were trying to do. The Devils That Stalk Men. The screams were the herald of mad daemons, intended to terrify their prey. But this time the xenos were unaware that they were not, in fact, the venators. Brother Borias gripped the heavy bolter, peering into the darkness. The occulobe implants of the marines pierced the eclipse shrouding the valley, but they could not see the enemy.

A hiss whispered above their heads and Markius spotted a twisting trail of smoke. Borias tracked the movement through the sights of the one-oh.

‘Hold,’ said Markius. The trail expanded into a cloud, staining the sky. Faces leered out of the smoke, flickering and grimacing, but they were not real. Lit by hellish flares from within the pale blooms, the daemonic visages were formed of the smoke itself. More of the smoke serpents slithered into the sky, casting twisting patterns that merged into a shroud. The faces shrieked and pirouetted, shedding blooms of gas. Soon the cool silence had transformed into a fog of jabbering voices.

‘Pyrotechnics, hallucinogens,’ said Markius, ‘meant to terrify the colonists. Keep your eyes to the north.’

The insane cackling echoed all around the marines in their foxholes now, and the smoke phantasms hissed, circling above.

‘Markius! There!’ said Rasmus, pointing. Markius squinted and followed his gesture. There.

Skiffs like predator fish glided out of the gloom, fin-sails churning contrails in the flickering smog. They swam on anti-gravity motors several metres above the rocks. Draped from their masts and balustrades, cackling pirates in bladed suits of armour the colour of arterial blood waved their cruel weapons. In the centre of the flotilla, one skiff paraded a gilt-edged prow, pennants flying from its mast. Markius thought he spied the horned helm of the baron amongst its payload, but hauled his attention back to the eastern side of the valley.

‘One, two… five, six raiders, Captain!’ reported Borias, peering through the sights of the heavy bolter.

‘Take the second from the right,’ Markius said, and Borias nodded, adjusting his aim. Markius knew each of the fire-teams would be selecting their targets. He glanced across to Zeta team’s position. Brother Jorgen’s Soundstrike would have the leading raider in its sights.

‘Could be more in reserve, eh?’ said Rasmus.

‘For what?’ said Markius. ‘This is just a party to them.’

The six raiders swooped onwards, the shrieks rising into a crescendo as the xenos descended on Thangod Colony, surrounded by a flickering nightmare of phantoms.

‘Standby,’ whispered Markius, gripping his boltpistol in one hand, the other poised over the holster of his powersword. The skiffs glided closer. Two kilometres, one. They were entering the designated killzones for the ambush now.

‘Standby!’

Rasmus clutched his power-axe, trembling with anticipation. Barely five hundred metres separated the sadists from their waiting hunters.

‘Now!’ shouted Markius, ‘Open fire!’

Brother Borias’s heavy bolter roared, vomiting a stream of self-propelled missiles. The bolts scorched through the murk, a tracer of flame spearing at the nearest skiff. A split second later, the other marine weapons answered the war cry, and a storm of blazing tracers erupted into the nightmare.

Markius watched the nearest raider, snarling as Borias wrestled with the bucking heavy bolter, raking the anti-gravity vessel with mass-reactive blasts. The raider floundered, jerking away, but Borias tracked it, the one-oh spitting fiery death in a steady rhythm. Boom boom boom. From beyond the woods to the east, Brother Patreus’s heavy bolter cornered another skiff in a hail of explosions.

Finally one of Borias’s rounds hit something critical and the engine tubes at the rear of the skiff exploded into eye-searing flames. The skiff slumped, ploughing into the shale, its masts and sails disintegrating. Borias continued pumping streams of missiles at the insect-like humanoids that somersaulted away from the wreck, trying to escape.

Markius switched his attention to the lead raider. The distinctive white contrail of a krak missile arrowed towards the skiff. Brother Jorgen had made his shot.

‘No!’

Markius growled as the missile smashed into the prow of the skiff, blasting into pieces the two aliens that manned the fore-cannons there. The missile had hit, but not downed the skiff. It drifted at an angle for several moments, like a stunned sabretooth staggering, but soon the sails flattened into a new alignment and it turned ready to flee.

Markius was about to order Borias to switch his aim when a mechanical grumble roared from Thangod Colony, behind them. Shedding its corrugated disguise, the predator tank churned forwards. Its turret swiveled, optical sensors glowing red in the haze from the gas bombs. With an ear-shattering boom, the twin lascannons of its turret hurled their mighty spears of crimson light at the escaping skiff.

Markius snapped his head around, chasing the flight of the lasbeams. They smashed into the skiff, cracking its hull like twigs smashed by a warhammer. The engines erupted into a fireball and the mangled pieces of the skimmer fluttered down to the valley floor like leaves falling in autumn.

‘Invictus!’ roared Markius, punching the air. The call was answered by his fellow marines as one then another of the wallowing raiders was rent apart by the storms of bolter shells.

‘Still two raiders flying!’ said Borias, pausing to change the magazine of the smoking heavy bolter.

Markius saw that he was right. A pair of the skimmers ascended into the gloom, turning and streaking away. The marines concentrated their fire on the scrambling xenos survivors trying to find cover amongst the rocks. Markius squinted.

‘The leader! He’s alive!’ he pointed. The baron and his entourage had evidently leapt clear just as their transport had suffered the wrath of Brother Lars’s lascannons. Rasmus growled and started to climb out of the foxhole.

‘No, hold,’ said Markius, but he was torn. He could not let the leader escape, but the xenos survivors were regrouping and returning fire now. Black shards fizzed from their splinter rifles and skittered across the boulders shielding the marine positions. It was suppressing fire, the xenos retreating as they spat vengeful poison at their ambushers.

Rasmus glared at Markius, trembling with rage. ‘He’s getting away!’

Markius watched as the leader and his retainers strode northwards into the enveloping clouds of smoke. The predator tank ground to a halt beside their foxhole.

Rasmus cupped his hands to his mouth and bellowed across the valley, ‘Hey, where’re you going, you great galau bird?’ The big man scrambled out of the foxhole and clambered up the side of the tank.

‘Rasmus, what are you doing?’

Rasmus ignored Markius, his bionic leg making hard work of the climb to the top of the tank. Once he succeeded, he straightened and looked to the north. Rasmus bellowed again.

‘You’re just a fraggin’ galau bird! GALAU, GALAU, GALAU!’

Markius’s mouth dropped open in disbelief as Rasmus bent his elbows and flapped his arms up and down, strutting in circles on top of the predator’s hull, his head jerking back and forth. The galau birds, man-sized roosters that were the prey for just about every other species on their homeworld, were ridiculed by the Prismish tribes for their distinctive shriek when they scattered from predators. It was a boyhood taunt.

‘GALAU! GALAU! GALAU!’ Rasmus continued strutting and bellowing.

Markius grinned and joined him on top of the tank. He holstered his boltpistol and flapped his arms.

‘GALAU! GALAU! GALAU!’

The other marines joined in, emerging from their foxholes, climbing on top of boulders. They laughed and bellowed. In the gloom, the xenos retreated.

‘GALAU! GALAU! GALAU!’

Windows opened in the shacks of Thangod Colony. Terrified humans peeked out and stared with open mouths. Soon they began laughing, too. Brother Lars turned up his external vox-caster to maximum volume and repeated the taunt, echoing through the smoke-choked valley, chasing the pointed ears of the xenos.


* * *



BARON VORLXRATH STRODE across the igneous shingle, his shadow-field enveloping him in a billowing mantle. He refused to run. Around him, the Incubi honour-guards scuttled, armoured in their black chitin. His slyythian protector lumbered behind, great-axes swinging in its mighty arms, sparks leaping where they clipped the boulders. When they were a safe distance from the mon-keigh weapons, the baron whirled and exhaled, a poisonous hiss through the daemon-mask of his helm.

Kabalite warriors crept out of the fog, heads turned back to the hooting mon-keigh. The two remaining raiders swept down and halted, hovering nearby, ready to whisk away their leader.

‘The traitor failed us. The colony is guarded!’ whispered Klaivex Y’solazian, champion of the Incubi. He clutched his energized greatsword in two hands, its blade as yet unblooded.

‘I am aware of that,’ said Baron Vorlxrath. His voice was calm, his posture relaxed, his stare inscrutable behind the mask. Nearby, Haemonculus Cyleich recoiled, recognising the deadly fury of the baron about to be unleashed.

‘We should leave before they pursue,’ Cyleich hissed. The baron did not move. The rest of the dark eldar froze, waiting.

Y’solazian said, ‘After the loss of the cattle-ship, we cannot go back to Vect empty handed again. I hunger for rejuvenation!’

‘We all do,’ said Cyleich, licking the edge of his mouth where his lips should have been – his black tongue parched.

Y’solazian inclined his horned helm towards the settlement, listening to the strange whoops of the mon-keigh.

‘What are they saying?’ he asked Cyleich.

The Haemonculus sneered at the second portrayal of stupidity by the Incubi champion, wondering how such an accomplished murderer could be so dense. Then he realised the baron was waiting for a translation also, and gulped with a desiccated throat. As prestigious as his position was within the Kabal, Cyleich knew the baron was too unpredictable to be relied upon to respect the sanctity of the Haemonculi order. Not when he was this angry.

‘They are… they are imitating some kind of bird…’ he started.

‘They are mocking me,’ said Vorlxrath.

Silence fell on the gathered dark eldar warriors. Cyleich closed his mouth.

‘They dare to mock me.’

‘My Baron, they are just mon-keigh animals… they were lucky this time… we can attack elsewhere…’ said Cyleich.

‘No,’ said Vorlxrath. ‘They laugh at me. This ends. Here. Tonight. Devilnacht. These mon-keigh have been tolerated for too long, and now they mock me.’

‘We will teach them the meaning of fear!’ said Y’solazian, saluting the baron with his klaivex. The baron ignored him, and turned to a subordinate.

‘Dracon Sidrae,’ he said. The wild-haired warrior bowed.

‘Yes, My Baron?’

‘Send a reaver back to the Black Lotus. Bring your remaining raider. The warriors of the Slashed Heart will receive this honour while we watch.’

‘I obey, My Baron.’

Y’solazian said, ‘Should we not attack in full force, My Baron?’

Vorlxrath ignored him again. To the phantom-infested fog he turned, and announced, ‘This is a chore, but we will perform it with elegance, nonetheless. I require entertainment from these upstarts. It is time we made an example to the restless degenerates of this world. Tonight we will toy with these animals until their souls are broken, jibbering wrecks.’


.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby Mauthos » Wed Aug 22, 2012 8:35 am

Didn't realise this was finished, but well done matey, I very enjoyable and accomplished tale. Looking forward to more stuff from your good self.
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Sat Aug 25, 2012 3:41 am

Err, it isn't! :shock: I thought I had lost the interest of readers so stopped updating.

I'll get onto editing the final chapter, then. :D


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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby Mauthos » Wed Aug 29, 2012 7:47 am

That's good news. I thought it an odd place to end, but noticed the title with Final Part, complete, in it and as my observational skills are obviously lacking, thought you had just added that and assumed, incorrectly, that the story was done.

Look forward to the actual last chapter then. :)
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby Chh » Fri Aug 31, 2012 11:43 pm

Nooo! This reader has not lost interest! Please finish this!

And then I might do something about about the extra exclamation marks I've found all of a sudden!

*er-hem* Enough of that silliness... nicely done with the Inquisitorial message, by the way - struck a near perfect balance between being so censored that the ignorant characters would not understand most/all of the references, but enough so that we readers can see what's being spoken about



Spoiler: Is Markius some sort of latent/manufactured psyker, courtesy of whatever the Storm Eagles' higher-ups were doing, or have I got everything completely backwards?

Currently writing: http://www.thebolthole.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=2138 (Sanguinian Heresy)

Please read some of it, and give feedback. Please?
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Sat Sep 01, 2012 3:50 am

= XXXI =
Black Shields



‘THEY’RE COMING BACK!’

Markius stopped posturing and touched the vox bead in his ear.

'This is Talon Actual: Repeat that.’

‘Lambda to Actual, sorry,’ crackled the vox. It was Tobias, spying from the slopes overlooking the valley. ‘Ghouls regrouping. Three raiders approaching. They are re-engaging!’

Markius glanced at Brother Rasmus, who grinned back, ‘Galau birds grew a spine, eh?’

Pride,’ Markius spat. ‘You knew exactly how to get them, Rasmus!’

A confused frown creased Rasmus’s face, but Markius did not pause to explain. He leapt down from the hull of the predator, Rasmus clambered after him.

‘Actual to all Talons: prepare for second wave. Now we have a battle on our hands!’

Markius and Rasmus slid back into the foxhole to rejoin Borias, who double-checked the belt-feed to his heavy bolter then scanned the fog to the north. Three angular silhouettes burst from the concealing clouds. The raiders swooped low and fast this time. Heavy bolters thundered and tongues of fire lanced out towards the xenos skiffs. But the raiders jinked and swerved, avoiding the questing streams of fire. One was trapped in the crossfire between Borias’s heavy bolter and the perpendicular field of fire from Brother Patreus, up on the eastern slope. It flopped belly-up like a dead fish, crashing into the shale of the valley floor.

The other two xenos vessels screamed low overhead. Borias turned his heavy bolter, maintaining a blistering rhythm of fire to follow their flight. Markius grabbed his shoulder plastron to capture his attention over the hypnotic boom boom boom of his weapon. Borias ceased fire and looked to his captain.

‘You will hit one of the other fire-teams.’

The raiders zoomed between the buildings of Thangod colony, then wheeled and swooped straight back towards the marine positions. Sharks on the scent of blood. The cackles of the xenos pirates festooning their masts filtered through the sudden quiet left by the cessation of heavy bolter fire.

‘Actual to all units; prepare for assault!’

Gore-red figures cartwheeled out of the fog as the whine of the raider engines passed by overhead. Rasmus and Markius clambered out of the foxhole, keeping low, maximizing their cover from the clusters of boulders littering the ground. Markius drew Salvator and activated its crackling energy field. He heard Rasmus do the same with his power-axe.

‘What we’d give for a thunderhawk or two now, eh?’ said Rasmus, baring his old uneven smile.

‘Our cover was too thorough,’ sighed Markius. ‘The Arcis will be halfway to the corridor by now.’

Aliens pirouetted around them as if performing, their spindly limbs whirling. Two flashes of segmented armour drenched the colour of blood, and a pair of eldar darted at Markius. His carapace armour saved him twice, thwarting curved blades that slashed for his heart. Markius lunged and swept Salvator in a horizontal arc. The powered blade cleaved the air, trailing coils of energy, and the two pirates dropped, their abdomens dissected by the strike.

Markius glanced across to Rasmus, who was bellowing like an enraged ice bear. More of the insectoid xenos danced around him, blades flashing. Though the power-axe wielded by the hulk was a clumsy weapon, he fought without fear, daring the aliens to strike at him. The bulky marine left himself open to the slashing enemy blades, but the great sweeps of his axe promised instant retribution. It was a foolhardy technique, but the pirates paused, unwilling to accept the trade of lives.

Another eldar sprang from the shrouds of psychotropic visions. Markius ducked this time, adjusting his fighting style to match the slick mode of the enemy. He thrust Salvator point-first into the belly of the cackling pirate, just as an overhand-underhand punch-blade flashed over his head. The sadist slumped, black blood pumping into the shale, and Markius witnessed a deathly white face when its helmet rolled away, tattooed and framed with a spiky mane of wild hair.

Borias’s heavy bolter roared and two more of the xenos circling Rasmus exploded as the mass-reactive rounds blew them apart from close range. Markius breathed, searching the fog for more assailants. The cackles and shrieks of the aliens filtered through the gloom from all directions, but seemed to be fading now.

Rasmus roared a victory cry.

‘Beat ‘em off again, eh?’

‘Actual to Lambda; status?’ voxed Markius.

‘Second wave breaking off,’ voxed Lieutenant Tobias, ‘but infantry moving up through the valley. Approx forty. Heavy weapons evident. Take cover!’

Markius and Rasmus dived once more into the foxhole as black streams of fire fizzed from the north. Markius listened to the crystalline missiles chewing through the boulders that shielded their position and gauged that the enemy were using heavier versions of the splinter rifles, with far higher rates of fire.

‘Actual to all units: Casualties?’

‘Epsilon here: All good,’ came Goran’s voice on the vox.

‘Psiren: All good.’

‘Zeta: Brother Krieger down!’

‘Actual to Caduceus,’ Markius used Apothecary Sören’s call-sign.

‘On my way, Actual,’ Sören voxed back.

The predator near to their foxhole hurled spears of ruby light from its lascannons with ear-shattering booms, defying the withering fusillades of enemy weapons. Markius, Rasmus and Borias crouched deeper into their cover behind the boulders.

‘Actual to Lambda: Can you see where they are deploying from?’

‘Negative, Actual,’ replied Tobias. ‘I think they must have another of the portals out of sight just north of the valley mouth. Wait…’

Markius waited, biting his lip.

‘Lambda to Actual; here they come again…’


* * *



‘FALL BACK TO secondary positions,’ Markius voxed to his company.

The bodies of four waves of dark eldar warriors lay scattered about their foxhole, guts leaking from rents in stomachs, heads brutally separated from necks. Pools of dark, poisonous blood polluted the shale. Salvator had reaped a fearsome toll on the xenos, but still they did not relent. The valley stank of blood, scorched metal and cordite smoke.

Rasmus and Borias – lugging the heavy bolter – jogged beside Markius as they hustled back towards Thangod colony. Psychotropic fog lingered in silvery curtains, the spectral shrieks and moans filling the air. The lascannons of the predator boomed again and again behind them, giving covering fire while they redeployed. Markius knew the snipers of Lambda squad would also be punishing the enemy infantry from their positions high on the slopes. He glimpsed silhouettes of marines hurrying towards the village. They ducked and weaved, presenting as small a target as possible for the dark eldar infantry entrenched several hundred metres to the north.

‘Lambda to Actual,’ Tobias’s voice crackled on the vox. ‘I think raiders are moving to the south of Thangod now, too.’

‘They’ve got us pinned, eh?’ Rasmus said between heavy breaths. ‘Still no thunderhawks?’

‘They will not get here in time.’

Markius knew Rasmus’s single heart would be struggling to sustain the combat heightened state of the big marine. At the pre-prepared trench they rendezvoused with the Psiren unit of Throne agents, whose wide eyes stared out of slender pale faces into the noisy fog. Markius realised the hallucinogenic nightmare would be wearing down their sanity. He glanced at the vox-set in Nyx’s backpack.

‘Can you send on local medium-wave on that?’

Nyx nodded and hefted the set out ready. Markius took up the caster.

‘This is the Emperor’s Talons to Kharthan; do you receive?’

‘What are you doing?’ said Athena.

‘We finally have the ghouls locked into a fight. But we are surrounded and need support,’ Markius clicked the caster again. ‘Emperor’s Talons to Kharthan; acknowledge.’

Raiders and jetbikes swooped overhead and the marines ducked as streams of poisoned crystal shards sprayed out of the fog. The beating wings of hunting beasts accompanied the pirates, slicing the murk, but they rustled like knives being sharpened. The aliens squealed their delight – distant voices muffled by the surreal mist.

‘You don’t think the fraggin’ PDF is going to do anything, do you?’ said Athena. Her sanity appeared entirely intact.

‘We will see.’

The vox-set whined as a return signal was received. Markius did not recognise the voice, and the sender was speaking in the local language.

‘This is Markius… Adeptus Astartes… Get General Saifi.’

There was some jabbering on the other end, and Markius surmised there were two soldiers manning the vox-station in the fortress.

‘Not possible. Saifi sleeping,’ said the voice.

Markius grimaced. ‘Listen, you maggot. I do not know who you are but I will hunt you down and break your worthless neck unless you get General Saifi right now.’

Markius actually heard the man yelp on the other end of the vox.

‘Please waiting.’

‘Understood that all right, eh?’ Rasmus chortled nearby.

‘This is Lambda-three to Actual,’ the vox-bead in Markius’s ear hissed. It was the voice of Brother Milan, out on the slopes to the west, voxing outside the set chain-of-command protocol. ‘We are compromised. Jetbikes converging on our position.’

‘Invictus,’ voxed Markius. ‘Return to Thangod; link up with Epsilon. Actual to Lambda-one; how about you?’

‘This is Lambda; I think we had better move, too,’ voxed Tobias.

Another skycraft swooped overhead and a deep boom pounded their ears. Markius glimpsed what looked like a spike of lightning, but formed of utter darkness rather than light. Though his enhanced eyes were protected with photochromatic layers, he still blinked instinctively to protect his retinas. The lance of darklight split the fog and smashed into the predator driven by Brother Lars. The resultant explosion hurled the marines and Psirens to the ground.

Markius shook his head to clear the concussion shock and scrabbled to his feet. A fragment of shrapnel had ripped into Yuri’s thigh. The tiny Psiren agent with cropped hair screwed her face up tight as blood gushed from the wound, but Selena was quickly to her, producing supplies from her medipack.

Rasmus clambered to his feet, swaying a little on his bionic leg.

‘Are you injured?’ Markius said.

‘Eh?’

Rasmus rolled his head around on his bull neck, then turned it both ways so that one ear then another was directed towards Markius.

‘Can you hear me?’

‘Aye,’ rumbled Rasmus, ‘but only in the left. Something wrong with the right ear.’

‘Alright, we had better fall back again. Here is no good,’ Markius said. Borias sat up in the shingle, again miraculously unscathed by the blast. Next, Markius regarded the tank that had been struck nearby. Smoke gushed from a ruined lascannon sponson on one flank. Black paint peeled from the metal where it had been flash-burned by the darklight projection.

‘Brother Lars?’ Markius shouted. The sound of gears grinding came from within the vehicle.

‘Ouch,’ Lars’ cybernetic voice finally hissed from the vox-caster on the tank’s hull. Markius smiled.

‘Are you alright?’

‘Left cannon reading inactive, but I think I am still mobile.’

The engine groaned in protest as Lars tested its power. The track on the right side of the tank churned shale, but the left-side treads flapped and fell uselessly from the drive wheels.

‘Throne,’ cursed Lars. ‘I was enjoying this.’

‘You had better disembark,’ called Markius.

‘Negative. With respect, Captain, I still have a good field of fire to the north and the turret works fine.’

‘You are an immobile target!’

‘So keep the ghouls off me, right?’

‘Captain Markius!’ it was the Psiren agent, Nyx. ‘I’ve got Saifi.’

Markius decided it was not the time to argue with Lars, he turned and strode towards the lithe operative and took up the caster again.

‘This is Markius. General; I need your help.’

‘What is this?’ Saifi yawned. ‘You are being the Vistro Corridor.’

‘Negative, General. We are here, now, at Thangod Colony.’

‘Thangod?’ there was a pause. ‘It is Devilnacht!

‘Correct,’ said Markius. ‘It is Devilnacht.’

There was another pause. Markius imagined the avalanche of thoughts tumbling through Saifi’s now abruptly awake mind, ending with the inadvertent admission that he knew what was going on at Thangod colony. Markius gripped the vox caster and clicked to send once more.

‘General Saifi, listen to me. We’ve got the bastard devils, and they are not leaving this time. Forget everything that has gone before. This is your chance. Do not let it slip you by. I need everything you have out here, now.’

‘The planes,’ whined Saifi. ‘We having not fuel…’

‘Alright. The tanks. Get moving, General!’

‘It will be taking hours…’

‘As quick as you can, General. This will be the last Devilnacht on Beta Coplin.’


* * *



‘THE SLASHED HEART, the Poisoned Thorn, the Red Death and the Blood Kiss have all failed,’ hissed Y’solazian, gripping the pommel of his klaivex. ‘This is taking too long.’

Cyleich maintained a wary silence while the towering figure of Baron Vorlxrath posed and watched the battle impassively, one foot raised upon a boulder of granite. Cyleich pondered the loss of warriors they had suffered at the hands of the upstart mon-keigh so far on this disastrous night, counting the value of wasted resources. He knew it was all the more reason for Vorlxrath to stubbornly refuse to relent upon his objective of eradication.

The baron had surely heard Y’solazian’s complaint, but did not move or utter a word. Finally he stirred.

‘Haemonculus.’

‘Yes, My Baron,’ Cyleich jerked out of his musings.

‘Send another reaver back to the Black Lotus. Bring your pets; ready them.’

Cyleich gulped his parched throat. ‘Unsupported, My Baron?’

‘You fear these scum, Haemonculus?’

‘Of course not, My Baron, but how much time will we take to complete this?’

Vorlxrath sighed, a long and low hiss through his helmet’s voice synthesiser.

‘I have invested too much to walk away now. Perhaps we should proceed to the finale. Bring everyone.’

Cyleich exchanged a glance with Y’solazian.

‘I don’t… I mean… My Baron, forgive me. What do you mean exactly by “everyone”?’

Vorlxrath whirled and took a step towards Cyleich. He bellowed with such a venom in his voice that all eldar within earshot recoiled in fear.

‘I mean everyone!


* * *



‘WHERE IS KRIEGER?’ Markius looked around the marines that had regrouped next to the outhouse of Thangod. It was three hours, and seven assault waves from the dark eldar, since the vox exchange with Kharthan. Every marine clutched blades darkened by xenos blood, and their carapace armour plates were scarred in dozens of places. Eyes were set with steely determination, the inevitable fatigue of continued heightened combat states delayed by retarding chemicals released into their bloodstreams by bio-enhanced metabolisms.

Brother-Sergeant Andreus glanced at Apothecary Sören. The handsome marine’s features fell.

‘He was wounded with hypertoxins. I had to deliver the Emperor’s Mercy.’

Markius exhaled but nodded in understanding. Though the constant cackling and intermittent screams still echoed through the hallucinogenic fog that shrouded the valley, the xenos seemed to have paused in their relentless waves of assaults. A cold feeling slouched in Markius’s guts. They were building up to something big.

‘They move too quickly on those anti-gravs and they are coming from all directions,’ he said. ‘We will have to fight between the buildings, right in the streets of Thangod.’

He glanced at Inquisitor Zharn, loitering nearby. He and the astropath, Aul, had been keeping a low profile during the battle while sticking close to Athena and her unit, and a bauble of information from Magos Gaius’s briefing on the dark eldar, aboard the Arcis Indicium so long ago, twinkled in his mind. The pirates were known to highly value psychic victims.

‘We need to keep the civilians inside.’

‘Oh, have no fear, Captain. They are all locked in their cellars and none will dare emerge until dawn.’

Markius rubbed his chin and glanced north into the fog. Lambda squad had still not checked in.

‘Talon Actual to Lambda,’ he voxed, ‘status?’

‘This is Lambda,’ voxed Tobias. ‘I cannot raise Lambda three and four.’

Brother Milan and Brother Klinns, both isolated on the western hillside.

‘Lambda-three here!’ Milan’s voice abruptly crackled on the vox. ‘They got Klinns! Bladevanes on the jetbikes… Took off his head… Wait!’

Snatches of bolter fire echoed in the background hiss in Markius’s vox-bead – the sniper had evidently switched to his pistol sidearm. Milan had not disconnected his vox properly. The distinctive sound of xenos jetbike engines whined. Markius shared a glance with his marines; all of them were listening.

‘Actual to Lambda-three; do you need back up? Lambda-three?’

Whines of jetbikes and the insane cackles of eldar answered him.

‘Come on then, you effete degenerates!’ Milan yelled. Grunts of approval rippled amongst the listeners. Several bolts roared and exploded. Milan shouted something unintelligible. Markius found himself praying for the isolated sniper. More whines of jetbikes.

Then a scream.

‘Lambda-one to Lambda-three,’ Tobias’s voice came over the vox. ‘Report in, Three! Can you hear me?’

There was nothing but a hiss on the vox as reply.

‘Throne!’ growled Rasmus. ‘I fraggin’ hate ghouls, eh?’

He was answered by a chorus of concurring grunts from the marines.

‘Actual to Lambda,’ Markius voxed. ‘Get back here. I have a feeling the big one is coming.’

Then he turned to the marines, and the Psirens.

‘Pair off and find cover. Do not let them take you alive.’


* * *



‘HERE THEY COME!’ said Brother Borias, secreted behind corrugated fence panels of a goat pen, not ten paces from Markius’s position. Markius peered into the fog. The silhouettes were indistinct, and looked bigger than the ghouls should be. Possibly illusions? The psychotropic chemicals in the thick smog that shrouded Thangod colony played tricks on the eyes, and the ears.

‘Hold,’ Markius called across to Borias. The marine with the bullet-smooth head had paired with Sören, while Rasmus crouched next to Markius, waggling a finger in his damaged ear.

Then Markius spotted familiar shapes: The outlines of marines jogging across the rocky floor of the valley. It was Lieutenant Tobias and Brother Patreus of his Lambda squad, finally returned from their vigil on the hillside.

Markius’s smile dropped when the shadows lurking behind them solidified into real enemies.

‘Throne! Grotesques!’ he murmured, then louder to the marines; ‘Covering fire!’

Heavy bolters thundered in response and spears of flame lanced into the fog. Tobias and Patreus kept low and hustled back towards Thangod Colony. The grotesques lumbered like stampeding mammoths, groaning and grasping after them. More silhouettes scuttled after the constructed attack-beasts – the spindly forms of eldar this time – and fizzing volleys of black splinters pierced the smog, forcing the marines to duck into cover.

Despite the distraction of the grotesques in the vanguard, Markius noted that there were more of the pirates in this wave than any before it. The cordon of infantry was tightening the noose. They were making their final push. Jetbikes screamed overhead, their silhouettes like serrated daggers, and raiders lurked high in the fog-bound sky, waiting to swoop.

‘Come on, damn you!’ Rasmus growled, willing on Tobias and Patreus, clutching his power-axe and trembling with barely controlled rage. Patreus stumbled. Markius caught his breath. The heavy bolter Patreus carried was slowing him down. While the genetically-enhanced strength of an Adeptus Astartes could lug the one-point-zero calibre treasure of technology, it was still an unwieldy weapon to run with.

A jetbike slashed by overhead, and Patreus and Tobias ducked. The cackling pirate lobbed some kind of grenade as he passed. The explosion was brief but bright. Markius looked away from the white heat of a plasma eruption. When he glanced back, he saw Tobias rise gingerly to his feet. Tobias looked behind him. Patreus had not been so lucky.

The marine clutched his head and struggled on the ground.

‘Throne; it’s his eyes!’ breathed Rasmus, beside Markius.

Beyond the two marines stranded in no-man’s-land, shadows in the fog converged, squealing with delight. Blades flashed in the gloom.

‘Brother down!’ Sören’s deep voice rang across the battlefield and the statuesque marine rose from his cover, preparing to sprint out into the open.

‘Hold position, Apothecary,’ Tobias voxed.

‘I am coming for the wounded,’ Sören voxed back.

‘No heroics,’ Tobias’s tone was curt and businesslike over the vox. ‘Remember I am lieutenant.’

Markius blinked, for a moment unsure what to do or whether he should intervene. After their talk what seemed an age ago aboard the shadowhawk, Markius was stunned by his lieutenant’s order. Tobias must know every marine in the unit would hate him for this. Beside him, Rasmus growled and prepared to rise. The shadows in the fog emerged to reveal eldar pirates in spiked suits of armour the colour of blood. They crept towards Patreus like tundra wolves approaching a fallen prey animal that they knew to be helpless. The marine struggled and tried to crawl on all fours.

‘Rasmus, wait,’ Markius said.

Tobias had turned back towards the enemy.

‘What the throne?’

The sandy-haired lieutenant unshouldered and laid down his sniper rifle reverently on the shale. Then he drew his boltpistol and gladius; a blade seldom anointed in their previous battles.

‘Actual to Lambda, we are coming to you,’ Markius voxed, finally overcoming his shock.

‘Negative, Actual; protect the unit,’ Tobias voxed. Markius blinked.

With an old Prismish battle-cry, Tobias charged towards the eldar, spraying bolts from his pistol. The stalkers scattered, surprised for a moment, and Tobias skidded beside Patreus. He hefted the prone marine to his feet. Patreus held one forearm over his eyes and staggered drunkenly. Markius heard Tobias say to him, ‘That way; move fast, brother.’

Then the hawk-eyed marine faced the eldar once more. The stalkers converged on him, blades slashing. Tobias roared and fought back. He was a precise dueler, reproducing the strikes from the practice arenas with elegant succinctness. It somehow surprised Markius, who had always known Tobias first and foremost as a sniper.

The aliens did not show mercy. Tobias struck down two, perhaps three, and injured two others, while seven cuts were made by their flashing sabres. One xenos slashed his knee from behind, and when he fell the others pounced, driving dagger points into his neck and eyes. And so Brother-Lieutenant Tobias died.

There was a silence amongst the watching marines for several moments, while the deranged sadists giggled over their kill. Then Imperial retribution erupted from the marines in the form of missiles spewing from bolt weapons.

Markius watched Brother Patreus stagger into the embrace of Sören, who tugged him into cover behind the metal fence. He exchanged a look across the smoky battlefield with the medic. Tobias had shown an unknown side to himself and probably saved Patreus’s life. But the battle was far from over yet.

Markius aimed and added his own blistering stream of bolt missiles from his pistol, targeting the barreling grotesques as priority threats. Just as aboard the Xiphias, the frenzied monsters appeared impervious to pain or wounds – even as chunks of their flesh were blasted from their bodies. The heavy bolters intensified and concentrated their pummeling volleys at the lumbering beasts, until finally one tilted as it stomped forwards, then crashed into the shingle like a derailed mag-train. The heavy bolters switched targets, then another grotesque fell. Then another.

Markius grimaced with satisfaction, until he realised something. The attack-beasts were in the vanguard precisely to attract the fire of the heavy bolters. He looked up.

‘Prepare for assault!’

Insect-like eldar dropped from the skies, somersaulting or swooping on membranous false wings as the silhouettes of their anti-grav skycraft circled above in the haunted mists. The marines drew combat blades and the streets of Thangod colony descended into a surreal riot, the combatants surrounded by cackling phantasmal faces leering from the clouds.

The fighting was intense, but not the formless hacking and chopping of the tunnels of Crawl. Each and every one of the eldar were accomplished gladiators, inhumanly quick. They weaved and danced around the marines, razor-sharp blades flashing like lightning, their bodies sinewy like serpents. Streaking through the colony, ethereal like the smoke-phantasms so that it was difficult to tell them apart, multi-eyed warp-beasts with dagger fangs rampaged. Razorwing raptors circled and dived, their wings weapons capable of slicing heads from necks.

Every one of the marines fought with every ounce of his patience and concentration, as well as strength and skill. They were stoic as ice bears confronted by packs of leaping blood rats.

Markius gradually retreated, reversing step by careful step, while Rasmus fought to his back. It was a choreographed dance, designed to prevent the darting xenos from surrounding and overcoming them with numbers. From the corner of his eye, Markius spotted the Psirens also engaged in the whirling melee, and the swirl of a desert trenchcoat told him even the inquisitor was fighting for his life. Then he witnessed Brother Jorgen fall to one of the black-armoured murderers that had killed Olaf on the Xiphias. Again the powered greatsword of the xenos dueler proved superior to their scout-pattern carapace armour.

Markius’s anger was cooled by a moment of realisation.

If his horned bodyguards were here, did that mean the baron was lurking, too?

He thrust Salvator into the shoulder of the xenos before him, punching through the scarlet armour. The alien shrieked and Markius seized the moment to blow his head off with his boltpistol. Rasmus cleaved apart another pirate then stamped his bionic leg down on the head of a wet-skinned hound beast. It yelped then died with a squelch.

‘Quite a parade of nasties, eh?’ said Rasmus, enjoying the moment of respite.

‘I am almost impressed,’ nodded Markius, frowning as a shrieking face leered from the fog and screamed past them both. Slamming a new magazine into his boltpistol, Markius searched around the various scraps being fought in the phantom-infested gloom. His bionic powerfist crackling, Brother Goran jogged to them, with Sören and Borias behind.

‘Markius!’ he hissed, green eyes flashing. ‘The leader is here.’


* * *



‘HE IS MINE,’ declared Markius, snapping his blade once to whip off any lingering alien bloodstains.

Baron Vorlxrath strode into Thangod colony as if he were enjoying a luxury tour, bodyguards scuttling on both flanks. The five marines marched out of the shadows to confront them. The Incubi bodyguards instantly jerked into stances of challenge, klaives haloed by power fields. A huge, serpent-bodied creature with brutal axes in its massive grip shuffled behind its master.

Sören and Rasmus went left. Goran and Borias went right. The bodyguards split, mirroring the deployment of the marines. Rasmus grinned as he stomped towards the serpent-thing.

Markius was left facing the baron. He pointed his ancient powersword towards his chest and said, ‘Now I take your head.’

Vorlxrath’s daemonic helm bellowed with laughter in response. He lifted a curved sabre from beneath his robes and activated his shadowfield. Instantly the eldar lord was wreathed in shifting mantles of liquid darkness. Markius gulped, then advanced.

The sabre flew from the swirling shadows of his adversary, and Markius only just parried it in time. The fibre of the xenos blade resembled polished crystal rather than metal, but it clanged like glass shattering against Salvator, and neither blade broke. Two, three more quick slashes in succession, and Markius swiftly found himself on the back foot.

He reversed while Vorlxrath advanced, trying to ignore the hypnotic effects of the miasma that obscured his enemy’s form and concentrating on the weaving patterns of the lightning-fast blade. Parrying was a task in itself. The alien was preternaturally quick, shaming even his own skillful followers.

‘Come on, are you even trying?’ Markius yelled at the eldar as the two warriors parted and the xenos paused for a moment. He did not know if the baron understood him so he flung his hands up, dropping his guard, and grinned.

The ruse succeeded, and the xenos surged at him with unbridled fury. Markius took his opportunity, sidestepping the uncharacteristically inelegant thrusts of the alien and sweeping his powersword in a diagonal strike.

Markius staggered a step as his blade whistled straight through the shadowfield without meeting resistance, leaving the baron untouched. The arcane energy had somehow refracted his strike, just as it had turned aside missiles mid-flight once before. Shocked, Markius only just blocked a return cut to his throat in time.

The baron laughed; a slow, menacing guffaw. Markius felt the doubt pierce his heart like a splinter of ice: Had he met his match?

Again and again, they traded blows and parries, feints and redirections. The baron never once lost his footing and Markius became more frustrated every time a killing blow was thwarted by the devious protection of the shadowfield. At one point he thought he saw a face in the reflective surface of the eldar’s crystal blade, and wondered if he was in fact dueling with two opponents, rather than one. He discarded the thought, blaming the hallucinations of the gas clouds.

Markius had no idea how the battle around him was faring. He shut out the chatter from his vox-bead, his every sense concentrated upon the lethal dance he was locked into with the xenos leader. Frustration turned to weariness; the long hours of the conflict, from the opening ambush through all the bewildering hallucinations of the xenos gases taking its toll upon his limbs and his mind.

But Markius would never capitulate to weariness. He was a space marine, a servant of the God-Emperor, and his glory would come. Hatred and pride along with artificially enhanced adrenalin surges powered his aching limbs. Thoughts flickered through his mind; the long-lost Father-Chaplain on Ornisgard, the escape from the Crimson Paladins, his brush with the daemonic Chaos Champion, the battle brothers who had fallen, his arguments with Goran, the Deathwatch, the fate of Beta Coplin. Everything he had fought for was at the cusp.

After yet another deadly exchange of blows, the two warriors parted for a moment’s respite. Markius tried to find his adversary’s face within the cloaks of shadow. He had to find a way to foil the shadowfield before that blade defeated his own fraught defences. He felt as if his entire life had been leading up to this moment.

The baron advanced. Markius took a breath, and stepped up to meet him.

Then, from behind the baron, a figure armoured in desert-pattern scout carapace surged from the shadows. Old bio-acid scars marred the fuzz of black hair upon his head, and jade eyes flashed. Markius opened his mouth to say something, but was too late.

A powerfist wreathed in electric coils of energy rammed into the back of the baron. Markius looked on in horror. Goran’s strike had punched right to the heart of the shadowfield, and either by pure luck or genius intention, found the body of Vorlxrath lurking within.

The xenos leader shrieked for a microsecond, before his ruptured guts were splashed across Markius’s face. The shadowfield abruptly shorted out, and the broken, skinny wreck of the eldar lord crumpled onto the ground. His elegant ghostplate clanged into piles of smoking armour segments, his trinkets and ghoulish trophies scattered.

Goran reached down and prepared to tear the still-intact helmet, and the head within it, from the narrow shoulders of the alien.

‘Goran, stop!’ Markius shouted. Goran looked up.

Shaking, Markius raised his blade at his old rival.

‘I said he was mine. My glory!’

He could barely restrain himself from striking at Goran, waiting for the other to straighten and fight. After all the frustrations of this mission, he was not going to let Goran get away with his actions. Goran cocked his head to one side. Markius waited to see what his antagonist would say.

‘Oh, will you grow up?

Markius gaped.

Goran stood and said, ‘I once fought you for the sake of glory, a long time ago, Markius. I know now that it was foolish.’

Markius glanced around him. The battle appeared to have ended; the few surviving xenos warriors retreating, stunned or perhaps released by the death of their leader. Marines were staring at them. He realised Goran was still speaking.

‘I have paid the price for my error: I watched you be promoted to captain ahead of me, Markius; but have you learned the same lesson as I have?’

‘You blindsided him from behind. It is not honourable!’

Goran stooped and wrenched the baron’s head from his shoulders with a splinter of bone and squelch of tearing sinews. He offered the head to Markius.

‘This is not about glory or honour, mine or yours. We won. Victory to the Black Shields. Mission completed.’

Markius grasped the offered head, still encased within the daemon-faced helm of gold. He looked around again. The eyes of the marines were upon him and Goran. The Psirens appeared, and Markius noted the corpse of the pale-faced freak beside Athena. Even inquisitor Zharn was staring at him thoughtfully.

Markius returned his stare to Goran, then the helm of the xenos lord. Finally, he silenced the hissing voice in the back of his mind and accepted Goran’s words. The baron had allowed pride to be his undoing; Markius now realised what a fatal weakness it could be, and he had to overcome it. He raised the baron’s head aloft.

‘Mission complete: Victory to the Black Shields!’


* * *



‘DEVILNACHT HAS PASSED,’ said Markius, watching the white sun rising. The last of the insanity-inducing fog had whispered away on the valley winds. He turned to Apothecary Sören and said, ‘Tell me.’

‘Brothers Milan and Klinns are gone,’ Sören’s deep voice was sad. ‘The scum did not leave much of them left. Krieger I lost to the hypertoxins.’

Markius nodded and said, ‘Tobias?’

Sören shook his head. ‘They made sure of his death, too.’

There was a moment of silence as they appreciated his final moments. Nearby, Rasmus snorted.

‘Never knew he had it in him, eh? I should have made more time for Tobias.’

‘And Brother Jorgen makes five,’ said Markius. Five. The dark eldar had again proved their most deadly enemy.

Sören nodded and gestured to the gathered marines.

‘We have walking wounded, but nothing a few synth-skin patches will not cover until we have time to heal,’ said Sören, who had earned some impressive scars himself.

Markius glanced at Brother Patreus, his head wrapped in bandages soaked in medical balms. Sören followed his look and continued.

‘Brother Patreus has lost both eyes; I will need augmetic replacements. But he is responding to stimuli and I believe his brain is not damaged.’

‘Not damaged even more, you mean,’ murmured Borias.

‘I can hear you, Babyface,’ grunted Patreus. ‘My ears still work.’

A chuckle rippled around the exhausted survivors.

‘You know that was a plasma grenade, right?’ said Borias, who had further ingrained his legend amongst his battle brothers by escaping the battle without a scratch, again.

‘Fraggin’ plasma!’ said Patreus, who had once been permanently scarred by an exploding plasma gun at Callasia 9, ‘I’m never going near a Throne-damned plasma cannon.’

Markius smiled while Rasmus belly-laughed next to him. The hulking marine had a new trophy for his collection; the tip of the tail of a brutish, serpent bodyguard.

‘What about your ear?’

‘Seems fine now, eh?’

‘Brother Kholar will make it?’ Markius asked the Apothecary, glancing to the unconscious marine.

‘Give me time. It is not hypertoxins, some kind of nerve-agoniser. I think he will recuperate.’

‘And do not forget me again!’ said the metallic voice of Brother Lars.

‘Sorry,’ said Markius, again. Lars had had to cut himself out of the mauled predator eventually, as no-one had thought to go and check on the ruin of a tank.

‘So there are nine of us left,’ Markius said: Nine of the twenty-one neophytes that had set out from Ornisgard to prove themselves as battle brothers, so long ago. He glanced across to the Psiren unit. Yuri’s thigh would heal, but they had lost the tall one called Maia. It was impressive they had not suffered more casualties to the lethal xenos. All the marines viewed the Psiren agents with new respect: they had scrapped like cornered mountain cats.

But Zharn had killed the Haemonculus, Markius remembered. He had at first thought Athena had taken yet another scalp to add to her tally. But this time the assassin had needed rescuing. Zharn had filled in Markius on how the cadaverous torturer had incapacitated Athena with some kind of electrocorrosive whip mid-battle, before Zharn had shot him between the eyes. Markius harboured a vague suspicion that the inquisitor had used Athena as bait, but did not pursue it.

The battle was won. The enemy was defeated. The mission was complete.

Residents of Thangod colony were slowly emerging from the blasted remains of their buildings, rubbing their eyes in the first rays of a new dawn, a new age of life without terror of the xenos parasites.

The celebrations were cut short when Brother Borias shouted, ‘Look! Tanks coming from the south!’


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Last edited by kurisawa on Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:11 am, edited 4 times in total.
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Sat Sep 01, 2012 4:00 am

= XXXII =
Incognitus



‘NOW THEY COME,’ Brother Rasmus shook his head and folded his arms beside Markius. The marines formed a line ready to greet the PDF tanks outside the remains of the settlement, when something caught Markius’s attention.

‘They are moving in attack formation,’ he said.

‘Captain Markius!’ called Nyx. She had the vox-set earpiece to her head. ‘The general is demanding your surrender!’

‘What the Throne?’ growled Markius. ‘Everyone, take cover.’

He stomped to the Throne agent while the tanks ground to a halt and trained their cannons on Thangod colony. Nyx switched the reception to speaker while Markius grabbed the caster.

‘What is the meaning of this, Saifi?’

‘It is being over, Captain. I am sorry. Karim knows about you – you are being wanted outlaws by the inquisition!’

‘What are you talking about? We have just ended your xenos nightmare after four hundred years. Look around you!’

‘It is not being in my hands. The Ordo Hereticus are coming to Beta Coplin. I have orders to take you in to Kharthan, dead or alive.’

Markius cut the vox. That meant the Crimson Paladins had likely caught up with them, too. ‘Holy Throne of Terra.’

‘This guy is fraggin’ unbelievable,’ Athena screwed her hands up into fists. Markius considered his options for several moments. He had nine marines, only seven still fit to fight, a trashed predator, and precious little ammunition. The vox-set crackled again.

‘Captain Markius, I am knowing what you have done here for us, but I can change not my orders. I have family, remember. Make me not destroy you. I am having fifty tanks.’

An idea came to Markius.

‘Saifi; has Rafik contacted you yet?’

‘What? Repeating that please.’

‘Rafik – your son – he was on the Exodus. I – we – saved his life, and your family.’

There was a long pause.

‘Markius, I am wanting to talk. Meeting halfway, please. No tricks.’


* * *



MARKIUS STOMPED ACROSS the igneous shale of the valley, flanked by Athena on one side and Inquisitor Zharn on the other. General Saifi approached from the south, a troop of ten soldiers trailing thirty paces behind him, and the guns of fifty tanks and armoured troop carriers gaping beyond. They met halfway, the Beta star just beginning to warm the ground with its radioactive rays. Saifi shot a glance at Zharn with his pinpoint eyes.

‘You are being the rogue inquisitor?’

Zharn inclined his head noncommittally but did not speak. Saifi turned his attention to Markius.

‘I have not been seeing Rafik since that night in Dassan’s. His crew is confirming me he is not here. I am thinking he is running away and drinking – he is to do this sometimes when we disagree – but I expressly forbidding him to get on that ship!’

‘Nevertheless,’ said Markius. ‘He was on the Exodus, with his wife and little Sunil.’

‘You saw Sunil? Tashk!’ Saifi wailed and tugged at the chest of his tunic.

‘They are safe,’ said Markius. ‘We have made sure of their passage to Vistro; and I made him promise to contact you once he gets there.’

Saifi paced up and down before the three, his soldiers maintaining a nervous but discreet attention just out of earshot.

‘Tashk,’ he repeated. ‘I am in greatest debt, but I am being difficult position. You understand, yes?’

‘General,’ Zharn stepped forward and broke his silence. ‘Did you know the Exodus was an offering to the aliens?’

Saifi halted and regarded the inquisitor with hooded eyes.

‘You knew what Karim has been up to all these years?’ said Zharn.

Saifi scratched his cheeks with his fingernails and continued pacing.

‘I am not knowing, but I… yes… if I am honest…’ he stopped and stared at Zharn. ‘Too long I am looking the other way and just following orders. I have a family. You understand, yes? On Beta Coplin you either join the establishment, or you are being victim. I must doing for my family.’

To Markius’s surprise, Athena spoke up.

‘I understand,’ is all she said, but she gave Saifi a tender smile that Markius did not think her capable of.

‘Your family are gone now – safely,’ said Zharn. ‘And it is the end of the xenos. Things have changed.’

Saifi nodded, ‘But what can I be doing now? I am knowing! All this time I am knowing and doing nothing! My poor people…’

Zharn took another step, and control of the conversation.

‘This is your chance to put things right, General. You have a choice before you. We need to get into Karim’s fortress. Everything is about to change here on Beta Coplin, but you have an opportunity to make a future for yourself here.’

‘He will be not trusting me,’ Saifi thought out loud, eyes darting. ‘There are other commanders. He is saying dead or alive, but he is meaning dead before the inquisition comes. He is needing you silenced before you say what he is done.’

‘Indeed,’ said Zharn. ‘But I have an idea.’


* * *



‘WHAT WILL HAPPEN,’ said Saifi, ‘when this is being finished?’

He was thinking out loud rather than asking the question of anyone in particular. The chimera armoured transport they were traveling in grumbled across the desert towards Kharthan. Markius’s head slapped against the metal ceiling of the transport and he hunched with a silent curse. The gloomy compartment was built for humans, not Astartes. He exchanged a look with Zharn, who shared the square box with him, along with Athena, Saifi and his orderlies.

Sören, Rasmus, Goran and Borias had squeezed into another chimera that traveled in convoy behind them, flanked by the tanks on either side. Markius had ordered Lars and Andreus to watch over the injured marines back at Thangod until shadowhawk extraction.

‘General,’ said the inquisitor. ‘The first duty drilled into Imperial soldiers is to obey orders. You have now made a choice that makes me inclined to judge you well, despite what has happened in the past.’

Saifi’s eyes darted.

‘That is being all well, but I must live here in future. I know what these people are having suffered, and what I am not doing.’

‘Then maybe you should dedicate your life to serving the people of Beta Coplin XXI in the future – to repay your debt. That would be a fine oath for the next planetary governor,’ said Athena.

‘Planetary governor?’ Saifi’s voice brightened.

The vehicle lurched to a stop. Voices gabbled on the vox-set carried by an orderly and Saifi glanced at Markius. He took up the caster and replied in the local language.

‘What is happening?’ said Markius. He checked through a spy-slit and saw that they were just at the outskirts of Kharthan. More PDF tanks barred their way, in formation with turrets activated.

‘Tashk,’ said Saifi. ‘Karim is getting some warning.’

‘Someone betrayed you? I thought you could trust this tank company.’

‘The bodies of the devils… and the head of the baron is convincing them, I am thought. But Karim is still governor. Change is… difficult.’

‘You’re fraggin’ defending a traitor amongst your men?’ Athena’s tone was hard. Markius warned her with a glare.

‘What do they want?’ said Markius.

‘Commander Anwari is being promoted to general. I am… how you say? … temporary retire,’ Saifi shrugged at Markius. ‘I told them we killed you and are having bodies, like you say. But they demand handover.’

‘Epsilon to Actual, what is the hold up?’ Goran’s voice crackled quietly in Markius’s vox-bead. He keyed his vox.

‘Karim knows we are coming. PDF tanks are confronting; standby.’

Devils anshalah!’ Saifi yelled into his vox-set, pleading with his former junior officers. He continued to argue with them in their own language. The tone of their replies betrayed their mood.

‘Captain,’ said Inquisitor Zharn. ‘Perhaps we should make the rest of the journey by foot.’

‘I was thinking just the same thing.’

He keyed his vox again. ‘Actual to… Team Talon,’ he voxed. With only five marines remaining they were hardly a company any longer. ‘Prepare to disembark. We make a run for the city. Follow my lead.’

‘Invictus,’ came the replies.

Markius turned and laid a hand on Saifi’s shoulders. The elderly general turned.

‘We need a distraction.’

‘I am knowing… Tashk! If only they would listen to me.’

Markius nodded. Zharn joined the conversation, checking his stalker-pattern boltpistol. ‘Often great changes in society are preceded by great violence. Your people will remember this moment, and celebrate it one day in the future.’

‘Go,’ Saifi nodded. ‘May His will go with you.’

Then he turned to his vox-set, switched channels, and made the order in Gothic to his tank company: ‘Open fire!’

Markius, Zharn and Athena sheltered behind the bulky chassis of the chimera as the thunderous opening volley of the tanks all around them boomed across the sulphur desert. They were shortly followed by explosions, then return fire erupted from the tanks defending the city. The civil war had started.

The four marines from the other chimera hustled over to join them, and as flames and smoke ignited in the parched desert, Markius waved them on.

For a perilous four hundred metres they were caught between rival factions of PDF tanks exchanging shells, dashing and keeping as low as possible. But then they thankfully dived into the cover of the raised platform of a hydroponic field. Markius checked on the team. Athena and even old Zharn had kept up, gasping in breaths. The marines clutched their weapons ready. Markius noted that Borias still hefted the heavy bolter he had manned during the Battle of Devilnacht.

‘I got attached to her,’ he said. ‘She sings a beautiful song.’

‘We move.’

They dove into the warren of twisting alleys that comprised the dilapidated shanty town surrounding the city proper as Kharthan awoke to strife on its streets. Keeping to the shadows between leaning shacks, Markius heard tanks rolling down the main avenues, the booms of shells and the tramp of booted feet as platoons of soldiers deployed.

The deeper they penetrated into Kharthan, the more disorganised the unfolding battle around them seemed. Confused shouts went back and forth between squads of olive-uniformed soldiers before frantic firefights erupted. No-one seemed to know on whose side anyone else was – nor even what the sides were.

Zharn shook his head. He said, ‘I wanted so dearly to avoid this anarchy.’

‘Not much point fraggin’ worrying about it now,’ said Athena, ‘we have to topple a dictator before we worry about government-building.’

‘Yes,’ Brother Sören cupped his square-cut chin. ‘And how exactly are we going to get into the fortress?’

Markius raised his eyebrows, remembering the fortifications and gun-nests all around the outer walls. The building next to them collapsed in a slide of corrugated panels and cloud of sulphur dust. The marines dived to safety as a Leman Russ battle tank ground through the wreckage, its turret tracking back and forth.

When they had regrouped in the smashed remains of the former building, Athena said, ‘Listen. I found a secret tunnel into Karim’s mansion. We can use that, but we’ll need to get to the east fortress wall.’

Markius raised an eyebrow.

‘How did you find that?’

Snooping,’ she shot back. ‘I think it is designed for Karim’s emergency escape.’

‘Which is another good reason to utilise it,’ Zharn said. ‘Do you know where the outside entrance is?’

Athena nodded, but her face was grave.

‘This won’t be easy.’


* * *



KHARTHAN WAS BURNING. The inhabitants awoke to soldiers battling in their streets and tanks unleashing payloads across densely populated slums. The stink of sulphur smoke choked the air, and the screams of terrified civilians ripped through the mayhem.

‘There,’ said Athena, pointing. ‘Under the portrait, beside the spigot.’

Markius appraised the location from their hiding place and whistled.

‘That must be a hundred metres of open ground.’

Atop the walls of the fortress he counted three heavy bolter emplacements amongst the crenellations within view. They spat streaks of fire into the smoky city, but Markius formed the impression they did not know what they were firing at. Total anarchy ruled the fire-lashed streets as every soldier with a gun defended himself. Tanks seemed intent on happily leveling every building around them. Refugees, soldiers driven mad by the chaos amongst them, fled into the desert. Markius turned to his marines.

‘Brother Borias, it seems we need your one-oh after all.’

Borias hefted the bulky weapon in his grip and flashed his signature wicked grin. ‘Oho!’

‘Scholar,’ said Rasmus, gesturing to Brother Sören, ‘your Godwyn has a better range than our pistols, eh?’

‘That is correct, Brother Rasmus,’ said the handsome apothecary. ‘I, too, shall provide covering fire.’

‘Goran, Rasmus; with me,’ said Markius. He looked at Zharn and Athena. ‘Keep up.’

Markius led the way, striding into the open, then breaking into a jinking sprint. After a few confused moments, the soldiers manning the sentry guns spotted them and their heavy weapons thundered. Explosions ripped the dusty yellow ground around him. Markius did not waste time checking to see if everyone was safe. Clenching his teeth against the blastwaves from the heavy bolter shells and sprays of sulphur grit, he headed for the foot of the fortress wall where Athena had indicated. From behind, he noted the staccato booms from the weapons of Brother Borias and Sören, unleashing suppression volleys at the gun-nests.

A grunt from Rasmus behind caused him pause, but Markius continued his pace while they were still in the open and at the mercy of the heavy bolters.

After what seemed like an eternity dashing through a fiery hell that rained death upon his head, Markius slammed into the black ferrocrete of the fortress wall. Goran and then Rasmus were beside him a moment later.

‘Rasmus?’

‘Stopped a bit of shrapnel in the left forearm. No problem, eh?’

‘Can you still fight with that axe?’

‘I’ve got another arm, haven’t I?’

Markius shook his head, then glanced back and saw Zharn and Athena jog out of the smoke to join them, breathing deeply. He checked the fortress wall towering above them. The angle was too acute for the gun-nests further along the walls, but the men manning the heavy bolter directly above them were in the process of unhitching it from its rig to point right down at them.

‘Now what?’ said Athena.

‘Frag grenades,’ said Markius. Rasmus and Goran grinned. The three scout marines unhooked the metal cylinders, took a step back to improve the angle, then hurled the grenades upwards. Rasmus overshot. Goran’s bounced wide. Markius’s grenade plopped right into the gun-nest and a moment later a thud echoed down, swiftly followed by screams and a short downfall of blood and body parts.

‘Scholar, Borias; go,’ voxed Markius.

While he waited for the two marines to join them, Markius scrutinised the fortress wall. It looked like solid ferrocrete to him. He searched for hidden locks or levers. Goran smashed his bionic fist against it, succeeding in only dislodging a chunk of masonry.

‘How do we get in?’

‘Here!’ called Athena, crouching and brushing sulphur sand away from her feet. By the time Borias and Apothecary Sören had reached them, they had uncovered a square metal plate set into the ground. Rasmus heaved it open and revealed a dusty tunnel below. Markius flashed Athena a smile, then took point.

The grim passage was built from a ferrocrete tube tall enough for a man to pass through – perhaps spare industrial waste pipes. Markius was uncomfortably reminded of their escape route out of Crawl. Lume globes were posted at regular intervals, and they only lit up when the infiltrators came to close proximity.

‘They must have some sort of sensor that activates them,’ mused Sören, ‘to save on energy.’

‘Shut up, Scholar!’ hissed Goran.

They reached the end of the tunnel unchallenged and came to a ladder. Again, Markius took point and gingerly stepped onto the first rusting rung. It groaned but seemed capable of holding the weight of a marine.

They emerged into the courtyard of Kharthan fortress, a small and innocuous outhouse building disguising the exit hatch from the ladder in its floor. Peeping through grimy windows, Markius appraised their next move.

As expected, the courtyard was full of activity. A division of tanks stood ready as reserve, engines revving and crews shouting to one another from the hatches. Platoons of olive-uniformed guards dashed to and fro, carrying ammunition crates to the outer wall defences and back. The officers seemed particularly belligerent as they bellowed orders and scrutinised their men for signs of rebellion. From beyond the walls, the sound of a city under siege boomed and thudded.

‘There’s no way we can get to the mansion unseen,’ said Goran, lupine features scowling. Markius looked at Athena.

‘Go for the rear entrance, where the cover to the broadcast station lies.’

‘It is further,’ he said.

‘It’s also less fraggin’ guarded.’

Markius hummed. Zharn cupped his chin and said, ‘If I may make a suggestion, sometimes the best way to move unnoticed is in plain sight and as if you have every right to be there.’

The marines exchanged grins and nodded, then they strode out from the square building. Markius took the lead, briskly promenading beside Zharn. The rest followed in pairs, a committee on its way to do business. Markius even proffered salutes to several gaping PDF troopers they passed, who dropped their ammunition crates and pointed.

They managed to get two thirds of the distance to the mansion before irate lieutenants challenged them. PDF troopers dashed to intercept, lasguns clutched in trembling hands.

‘Brother Borias?’ Markius voxed, slowly reaching for his boltpistol as a squad of ten troopers appeared from the doorways at the rear of the mansion.

Sören called something in the local language, which seemed to aggravate the Beta Coplin officers even further, but succeeded in delaying their attack. Their hesitation was enough. Borias swung round his heavy bolter and unleashed hell across the courtyard. Platoons of soldiers dived for cover. Ammunition crates exploded spectacularly as the mass-reactive missiles within cooked off.

Markius and the others drew weapons, ducked their heads, and ran.

They slaughtered their way through the guards at the entrance to the mansion and burst into the cool interior. Immediately heads peered from behind doors. Quick shots from Athena’s hellpistol took care of one, while Goran made a gory mess of another with a roaring round from his boltpistol.

‘We have to move fast,’ said Markius, jogging ahead along the carpet.

By the time they reached the staircase, someone had set off an alarm. Casters all over the building bleated at the intruders.

‘Oho, is there some kind of emergency? A fire perchance?’ smirked Borias.

‘Knock it off, Borias,’ Markius grimaced.

Rasmus and Goran rampaged ahead as knots of PDF troopers poured out of double doorways to try and halt their progress along carpeted corridors. Sören and Markius covered the rear, while Borias swung his heavy bolter left and right to face each corridor entrance they passed.

Markius realised with a twinge of pride that his team were working as a cohesive unit, instinctively taking up positions complementary to one another as they advanced with unspoken understanding. They dispatched the running patrols of PDF guards with smooth efficiency, Zharn and Athena able to maintain a brisk walking pace through the mansion within their protective circle.

They reached the chamber of state and a more determined firefight erupted. A dozen troopers had been lying in wait for them. Zharn and Athena dived behind pews for cover while the marines deployed around the circumference of the hall and blasted their adversaries one after another. The humans put up a spirited resistance, but the towering Astartes were like a landslide; an unstoppable and relentless force. Sheets of cordite smoke choked the shattered chamber when Markius called out, ‘Clear!’

Athena now darted into the lead, showing them through a padded wooden door at the rear of the hall.

‘Karim’s private chambers,’ she spat. The marines followed her through several plush offices, where cabinets had been hastily emptied and marks left where portraits had been ripped off walls to reveal safe-locks. There was no sign of the man himself.

They came to another corridor then, carpeted and lit by chandeliers like every other on this level.

‘Throne, have we lost him?’ said Markius, glancing left and right.

‘Wait,’ said Athena, frowning. ‘This is where I first saw that… shadow-thing that tried to kill Brother Rasmus.’

‘Look at this!’ said Sören.

A secret doorway hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling portrait had not been closed properly. It stood slightly ajar, and a damp taint in the air crept into the corridor from whatever was beyond. Markius peered in, boltpistol ready, then harrumphed.

‘More claustrophobic tunnels.’

They followed another dark passage down a steep incline, and Markius guessed they were passing below ground level when they finally and abruptly came to its end. Another doorway, this one a chunky armour-plas portal with several locking mechanisms also invited them in, half open. They stepped into the cool vault beyond.


* * *



‘THEY AREN’T COMING,’ Inquisitor Zharn called to Governor Karim.

Markius wrinkled his nose as they occupied the dank cave. Karim was scratching his hand across a flower-like gem set atop a stone stalagmite, its black petals apparently sharp enough to cut his flesh. Bloody droplets squirmed down its side, splashing onto several bulging cases, hastily packed.

‘Come on! Come on!’ Karim wailed.

Markius frowned. Was he trying to commit some kind of ritual suicide? What was this ghastly place?

‘The xenos are all dead,’ Zharn continued. ‘We have the baron’s head on a goat-prod back at Thangod.’

Karim turned and faced them, his shoulders slumping. Markius realised with a jolt that he had been trying to contact the aliens. He had expected them to rescue him. Markius smiled, for a moment wishing he could witness what they would have done with him. Sören examined the far end of the cave.

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Just solid rock.’

‘I’ll fraggin’ bet tests will prove a webway portal is located there,’ said Athena. She glared at Karim, who seemed undecided upon whether he should cower or bluster and bristle.

‘So,’ Zharn paced around the cave, studying its dripping walls. ‘This is where you made your pact with the devils…’

‘I know who you are!’ Karim pointed a finger at Zharn. ‘Inquisitor Kielman is coming; he wants very much to speak to you.’

Karim dared to grin.

‘His ships will be leaving the Vistro Corridor even now.’

‘Then he will be far too late to help you.’

Karim paled, glancing around and apparently noticing for the first time that five hulking space marines shared the cave with them. His hand jerked towards his belt but Markius moved in response, placing himself between the inquisitor and Karim. A weapon cracked. With a grunt Markius took a shot to the shoulder plastron from the pistol Karim had drawn. Athena was on him in a flash then, spinning and high-kicking the pistol away. Zharn bent and retrieved it while Markius examined the fresh scar slashed into his carapace.

‘Hmm. Antique? No, mock archeotech. A modern las. Did you get this from them, too?’

Karim quailed and tried to back into a corner. Athena hissed at him like a feline warning an unwelcome mate.

‘Look, you have to understand, I had no choice…’ Karim stammered.

‘Salhan Karim,’ Zharn straightened and began, ‘You are thrice damned; by your thought, deed, and association with the unclean xenos. And so it shall be witnessed in this place: In fealty to the God-Emperor, our undying lord, and by the grace of the Holy Throne, in the name of the Ordo Xenos and the Inquisition…’

Karim turned to Markius, clasping his hands as if in prayer, his eyes pleading.

‘They were going to kill me! What could I do?’

‘You could have fought!’ growled Markius. ‘And died.’

Zharn continued his declaration, ‘…I call thee traitor to humanity, and in the testimony of thy crimes, I submit this carta…’

Zharn produced a certificate of rolled parchment that he had prepared on their way in the chimera.

‘We couldn’t fight them… they are devils…’ mumbled Karim.

‘So you sold your own people to save your worthless hide?’ Athena sneered.

‘May Imperial justice account in all balance. The Emperor protects,’ finished Zharn. He stared at Karim, as if waiting to see what else he would say. Markius watched Karim’s eyes searching their faces and imagined the mind feverishly working behind them. Finally he fell to his knees before Markius.

‘Captain Markius, you are a blessed Adeptus Astartes. I know what you want.’

Markius exchanged looks with the others.

‘Protect me from him, and I can give it to you!’ said Karim. ‘The Crimson Paladins are willing to offer an amnesty. I know you are not Emperor’s Talons, or whatever you call yourselves. You have no heraldry!’

Markius shifted uncomfortably then. Karim continued.

‘Listen; I can vouch for your deeds here, defeating the xenos. You can settle your chapter here, on Beta Coplin. I am still governor; I can offer you the planet!’

Karim shot a look at Zharn, who had not yet reached for his pistol.

‘We will immortalise you for your heroics. We will build statues, write songs, the whole planet will worship you! Let Kielman take him,’ Karim jerked a thumb at Zharn, ‘and become legends, as you should rightly be as mighty Adeptus Astartes.’

Karim rose to his feet before Markius, carefully.

‘Think about it, Captain Markius. Courage, honour, glory; that is what you Astartes believe in, no? I can give it all to you. All you have to do is give me a name: Tell me what chapter you are from, or found a new one here and now! Tell me; who are you?’

Markius nodded his head, as if in deep thought, and Karim’s eyes widened in hope. Markius met stares with Rasmus, Borias, Goran and Sören. They each told him their answers with their eyes.

‘Just tell me,’ repeated Karim, his voice low, cajoling. ‘Who are you?’

‘I am sorry, Governor,’ said Markius. ‘You will have to keep your honour and your glory.’

He raised his boltpistol and aimed between Karim’s eyes.

‘We are Black Shields: Incognitus.’




THE END




.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Sun Sep 02, 2012 2:42 am

Chh wrote:Nooo! This reader has not lost interest! Please finish this!

And then I might do something about about the extra exclamation marks I've found all of a sudden!

*er-hem* Enough of that silliness... nicely done with the Inquisitorial message, by the way - struck a near perfect balance between being so censored that the ignorant characters would not understand most/all of the references, but enough so that we readers can see what's being spoken about.


Oho! Hello Chh, and thanks for looking in. The posting is now finished, and I'd love to hear your verdict.

Regarding your spoiler, officially I can neither confirm nor deny that potential future plotline. But in the meantime, *hands Chh +10,000 internetz* ... shhhhh. ;)


K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby BaronDeSade » Sun Sep 02, 2012 11:42 pm

Very nicely finished!
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby Mauthos » Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:16 am

Great ending with a suspected twist but nevertheless well handled and executed. I have in all honesty really enjoyed this story.

All your characters have shown growth and development in such away that it is easy to relate to and empathise with them. You handle group dynamics well with relationships appearing realistic and genuine without the need to force the point and you succeed in making the reader appreciate and like (or hate) your characters. For me, I was personally gutted when you killed off Tobias.

Your description throughout the whole thing was simply done, but wonderfully executed with some excellent lines that really set the scene and make it easy for a reader to picture the areas/planets/situations etc that you have created.

Really strong piece that has kept me engaged throughout and my personal feelings that I am upset that this story has come to an end really proves to me how much I have enjoyed it.

Great job, look forward to more from your good self (when you have the time of course).
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Mauthos
 
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Location: Bristol


Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby Therion » Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:07 pm

Thanks for the book, I finished reading it yesterday :D .

Nice character development, it was interesting to see how the protagonist got paranoid about glory and his authority while Goran actually actually learned something from almost getting them all killed with his stupidity in the beginning.

The writing felt a bit clunky at moments, but generally, I have enjoyed the book a lot.

I particularly loved how formal and professional the vox chatter sounded and how there were briefings, debriefings and stuff like that. It sounded very convincing.
Generally, combat scenes being shown from the Markius's perspective with all of information about what's happening with other squads coming in form of vox chatter was a major strength of the novel.

One thing that I have found weird about the final fight that only one marine died from hypertoxins (Krieger) while all the others who died seemed to have been killed in meelee. I thought that Dark Eldars are pretty good shooters. And it seems that their warriors didn't have any heavy weapons while it's pretty normal for them to have weapons like splinter cannons, dark lances and blasters which would be more effective against armoured opponents.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more of your stuff, especially about Black Shields :D .
"There can be no bystanders in the battle for survival. Anyone who will not fight by your side is an enemy you must crush" -Scriptorus Munificantus
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Final part, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Tue Jan 22, 2013 7:23 am

Great! Thanks for taking the time to let me know your thoughts.

I am gratified that you picked out the base plotline - Goran and Markius's development (or lack thereof) from their raw and vainglorious beginnings.

I am doubly gratified that you found the vox signals convincing; I spent time with real army vets (and did a lot of reading) to get that and the tactical decisions right.

(Though I can't really defend the DE's preference for elegant close combat at the end despite having the enemy pinned down, except to say that it was pride messin' with them, again. 8-) )

Black Shields short stories are in my sig.


K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am

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