Know No Fear
20/10/2008 in Warhammer 40K
These small moments of peace, so brittle, so tender.
Surely something so fragile should be sheltered, protected, treasured.
Still, it is not my place to question the nature of the universe, the nature of my existence in it.
I continue running.
The breath rasps in and out of my lungs easily as I lope, shadowed figures at my side. We are not pushing, merely moving faster than would normally be the case in such circumstances.
Steadily, eating ground with each stride, we run. Through the darkness and the gloom, powered armour whispering its message of devotion and protection, past buildings whole and shattered, like the wind we move.
Ahead comes the sound, something at variance with the peace of the night, something heavy, scraping over something hard.
There is no need for command, we split, seeking cover.
The night is ripped by the fire of his guns, bleeding red light into the turgid darkness as his chorus of death sings across us.
Jared is already returning fire, the insignia across his chest blazing into sudden relief twice, with a pull of the trigger. Ismail takes the count as Jared ducks back, but only fires the once. I do not even bother, merely rolling as I land, to stand again, and continue running. I had already seen his figure fade from the doorway he used to ambush us.
Again peace descends, again we run into the night, pursuing, persistent.
He cannot outpace us, he cannot outfight us. Why he continues to defy his fate is a mystery, but one that does not concern me or my brothers. It is enough that he defied his Brothers, his Emperor, his duty.
It is enough that he must die for these sins, committed so long ago.
* * *
Perhaps he seeks to lead us into a trap.
Perhaps he believes his corrupted will and shattered armour are enough to permit him to live long enough to watch our downfall.
More fool he, if that is so. Should that be the case, we will hold, and die if need be, until our Brethren, so close behind, arrive and wreak a reaping greater than that which has gone before.
No, he cannot be such a fool, even if he was foolish enough to believe the lies of a demon and a traitor.
His companions are dead, if not then taken by the Inquisition, and praying to their perverted Gods that they will soon be dead.
A chance encounter?
Perhaps, but who can know the greatness of His will, the moving of His ways?
The Emperors mind reaches across the boundless boundaries of space, what mortal man can say the limits of his power?
While sudden, the assault of the Fallen has achieved little. A guard regiment gutted, a weapons cache destroyed. My Brothers and I fell upon them from the heavens like the angels of legend, plummeting from the sky on leaden wings.
As the drop pods unload their cargoes, so our bolters unloaded theirs, and the Fallen, fell.
Many are the battles I have seen, this was no different. Outnumbered, out thought, against the finest warriors of the Imperium, what could the Fallen do but die?
And now we seek their remnants, vengeance for those of our own who have fallen and will rise no more, who now go to know the glory of his spirit, and live forever in the inscriptions in the Hall of Glory.
Who we seek I know not, though his name must be recorded somewhere, in some record of perversion, some tome of the Damned and Despised.
How has he risen in the worship of his perversion, his false god, his own demon desires? The thought is of no moment, only his death will pay for the many sins he has committed over the countless generations since he Fell.
A champion, perhaps, favoured in his perversion, in his denial of the truth, the light. Somehow he has survived the destruction of his fellows, somehow he survives still.
It is still a mere matter of time before his soul is purified, in the fires of the Emperor’s eternal embrace, and his body given back to the soil of this world, as recompense for all that he has taken from the soil of others.
Steadily, seeking, into the night we run.
* * *
The precious peace is broken again, with the sounds of violence from ahead.
We slow, moving as one at a raised hand.
The smell here is saline, the sea cannot be far. Within this war torn wreck of a city where all is still with the sounds of death, it seems wrong somehow to hear the gurgling and slapping of water as we move forward.
The sounds we had heard are gone now, silence once broken now descends with a vengeance to claim the area that was its domain.
Faruhk, the Librarian, cautions. The Fallen is near, very near. Through his gift from the Emperor, Faruhk may sense the presence of Corruption, and beneath his helm I know his lips are bared in a snarl.
It is hard to stop my own from twisting into that same grimace of hate as we slide slowly forward.
The ocean is before us now, hissing and seething with rage at the shackles of the piers. No craft are here, having fled the city when first the cry of war was raised.
A faint flicker of light is a tempting target as it spills between the piled barrels and crates. Something is burning, something small.
A gesture of the head, and Ismail and myself move forward, while the brothers spread out, facing away from the tempting, dancing flame. We have been blooded and trained enough that no mere target will focus all of our attention.
My footsteps sound loud as they echo across the empty spaces between the crates, my breath still comes easily to my lungs, though the rasp sounds loud within the confines of the helm, an oft heard, comforting sound.
The flames come from a small barrel, something flammable burning and twisting as its light illuminates the bloody scene that is centred about it.
I count seven bodies, and there can be no doubt that they are bodies, for no one can survive the mutilations inflicted upon them. It is not possible to tell how many were men, and how many women, and it is of no moment.
Of more importance is the manner in which they have died, the symbols created by their blood as it pumped from their bodies. In some obscene instances pumps still, with a liquid life of its own, flowing and surging against the constrains of the warding lines etched into the concrete.
This was a ritual, of some sort, and the aura of evil hangs heavy in the air here.
* * *
The crate explodes with an unnatural suddenness, the figure contained within springing upright and leaping in one swift move.
Ismail is already diving, not even attempting combat, and leaving our fire lines open to target the Fallen without fear of striking him.
Upon a crate he leaps, weapon tracking Ismails dive, obscene runes on his armour glinting in the half-hearted light.
His armour is pitted, cracked in places, split in others. That it is still enough to keep him alive is a mystery, doubtless some perverted science of his dark gods.
My first shot catches him as he lands on the crate, precisely in the centre of his chest, sending a spray of shards and circuits. My second mirrors it, driving him back a half step. My third misses by a hairs margin, as I jolt to the ground, my leap directly backwards placing me behind a sheltering, splintered crate.
I hear the thunder of his own weapon twice as I roll to my feet, but not the distinctive sound of bolter rounds impacting ceramite. For my intervention, the Fallen has not reaped Ismails life.
From the corner of my eye I see Faruhk, blade unlimbered and swinging. Though we all hate what our Fallen brother has become, for Faruhk it is more personal, a more private stain against the Emperors love.
The Fallen laughs now, his voice distorting across the speaker as he rages his challenge.
I make my feet easily, turning my back to the confrontation raging behind me, enhanced eyes piercing the darkness.
He has fled us too long, made his taking too hard, to give up in such spectacular style. It is an obvious diversion, had we been less the men that we are, perhaps we would have been entrapped by the move, our faces to the sea, our backs to the land, our bolters hammering death into the Fallen whose death sentence was pronounce millennia ago.
Instead we face the darkness, as the skulking forms charge from their places of hiding, knowing that Faruhk and Ismail together are enough to ensure death for our heretic brother.
The Corrupted are the first wave, human faces animalistic with hate, weapons stolen or converted, they are few and fall fast. More lives to lay at the door of the heathen Powers that dare to call themselves Gods.
But their deaths are not pointless, an obscene logic dictates their dying, shielding as they do the horrors behind them.
For behind them comes something more, something other.
Behind them come the Demons, over their corpses come the Summoned.
And with the Demons comes fear.
* * *
And they shall know no fear.
It is said of us that we have had the instinct for fear scoured from us, drilled, trained into nothingness, genetically bred from us, spiritually removed from our souls.
The truth is far different from these common beliefs.
Fear is far too useful an emotion to let fall by the wayside, abandoned and unwanted. That deepest penetration of the human psyche, to the core of that animal from which we sprang, with its basest fight or flight reaction, is too valuable to disregard.
The flood of adrenaline, the heightened responses, awareness, reaction times, all too precious to lose.
Aye, we know fear, but it does not control us.
The difficulty was, of course, to guide fear into the path of fight, rather than flight. A combination of drugs, training, genetics and time saw that barrier fall millennia ago. Now our fear is mastered, not master, and all of its power and benefits are ours, without the clouding of mind and sense and reason that accompanies it in lesser men.
And they shall know no fear.
A lie that becomes truth, a truth that has no basis in fact.
Yes, we, my brothers and I, know fear, but not as others know it. We feel it, and use it, and thus become fearsome indeed, worthy of fear ourselves. And few are those we face who know too how to control their fear of us, after we have become masters of our fear them.
* * *
I am furthest away from the demons, closest to the fire, but even so I have but scant seconds to fire before they close with my brothers. Already I know we are outnumbered by the beings of Chaos.
I fire as I charge, streaks of sudden light as the projectiles centre themselves on my foes, while from behind I hear the sound of metal shuddering against metal. Faruhk and the Fallen have engaged in combat, and I cannot spare the moments needed to see what has become of Ismail.
The anger that comes at the thought of his defeat I use to power my legs to the utmost speed, my fullest effort. Using a pylon as a vaulting point, I hurtle over the shoulders of Feroz, to bury my armour-encased feet against the chest and face of the spawn facing him. Such is the suddenness and force of my blow that it sends the beast hurtling it to the ground as I roll into my own fall.
I rise to my feet to see Feroz bury his gauntlet into the warped features of the things’ face. It spasms a moment more, clawed arms flailing wildly before death makes itself more certainly known to the demon.
I do not pause in my momentum, spilling into three of the creatures surrounding Ikram, my armour turning my body into a living weapon.
Augmented claws, my hands rend and grip, throwing one of the beasts aside even as the other stumbles. The fear, the fighting drug, flows through my veins as I wheel, and turn, and strike.
Another of the demons is released to the warp.
Before me, Ikram moves with that shocking suddenness that marks him, and the demon pinning him spins back, putrid flesh and obscene organs spilling from the gaping hole in its belly. It ignores the mortal wound, and moves in again towards Ikram, mouth gaping toothily in a perverse mutation of a smile, before Feroz’s shots take its head off at the shoulders.
We turn, we three, as one, and the last of the beasts that were confronting Ikram has barely a moment to feel fear before we lay it bloodily to rest.
And then it is into the melee surrounding Jared and Salim, as they stand back to back against a circle of the things.
Feroz marks the point of our small triangle, as we move in and the slaughter begins anew.
Claws dripping ichor rasp against my armour, and horrid features dance before my eyes. The combat is too fast for thought, to fast to even dream of thought. Merely the instinctive reactions drilled into us, and the encasing armour protecting us keeps us alive in those heated, hazy moments.
Within seconds we are separated, our brief victory dissipated like the bodies of the demons we have killed.
Now it is just a desperate battle for survival, instincts screaming in counterpoint to the unholy screeching of the demons we fight. We need but hold, buy precious time with our blood, with our lives if need be, and our brethren will be here.
It will be close.
And then Faruhk is there, his blade burying itself into the flesh of the demons, laying about with an almost holy fervour.
The beasts shrink from him, both for the fury of his assault, and the sure knowledge means the fall of their champion. Within those brief moments three more of the beasts die, hewn apart by a force they did not have time to see. They falter, and in faltering they die, for no quarter is given by us, not against these creatures of the warp.
It is not enough to save Jared, his spine bent and cracked almost with ease by the creature that holds him aloft, even with the weight of his armour.
But it is enough to avenge him, as we circle and slay the thing that killed him, the last of the demons.
* * *
Ismail lives, though his legs are both shattered.
Weeks of healing lie before him before he is combat worthy again. Should time be short, bionic replacements will be his, to speed the time until he is again useful.
Jared though, will walk no more, his spine shattered and useless, as is the rest of his body. No miracle of the healers art will see him striding out to battle again, save in the cold chassis of a dreadnought.
In that strange half light before the sun rises truly, it is easy to believe that this has passed in a dream, that these bodies decaying and rotting with unnatural speed are the conjugations of fevered minds.
Only the roiling clouds of smoke and flame that rise across the horizon are testimony to the violent savagery that was unleashed during the night, the storm of war that so briefly shook our passing.
It is not ended yet, for those who live here, I know. Inquisition, martial law, other passing indignities until the loyalty of this city, of this planet, is reassured, reaffirmed.
It is not my place to ponder these, yet ponder them I do, in these fleeting moments of peace.
Had we not been near, not heard the Astropaths call, how different might this story have been, how much stranger an ending than an uprising of the Chaos power put down, an investigation into how it was made possible to come about.
It is of no matter, no moment. We came, and we saved. It is enough that we are secure in his love, and that we have secured so many more souls against the rampant ruin of Chaos.
As the soft light of dawn spread slowly across the seething sea, we gather our wounded and say our prayers.
While this small world is kept within the iron grip of the Imperium, its inhabitants need know no fear, for we are with them, and our armour and bolters are ever ready to protect them. Their bounty knows no end, for though we will move on, He will remain. Ever vigilant, he is our guardian and protector, forever.
As He wills it.
They need know no fear, for we know it for them, and master it, as they cannot.
It is a heavy burden we bear, one that can only grow heavier with time. Yet there are none better suited to its bearing, save others like ourselves.
It is understandable how the Fallen could cast aside this burden, how their desire could be perverted to allow themselves to be shackled to burdens even heavier on the soul, until the struggle towards the light of His truth is too much.
Understandable, but not excusable.
Somewhere, within the cold heavens lies a ship, built perhaps an aeon ago, that harbours more of these fallen souls, these corrupted minds. There is no other way for the fallen to be here, so far from the Eye.
Yet that battle is not ours, and others must face it and foil it, with ships of their own.
We will move on, having come here to conquer, our conquering now done.
Truly we have conquered our fear, as we have vanquished our foes, one battle so long ago, one so shortly concluded.
Onwards we will go, to another battle, another mastery of fear, to ensure that those there will also be safe, that they too will know those precious moments of peace that make all the broken moments worthwhile.
To ensure that they will live as He has decreed that they will live, that they will continue his design for the human species.
That they will know no fear.