Alright, for the folks I've kept bugging in the Sci-Fi section, here's a preview chapter of the Nanowrimo project I was talking about. At first I was thinking of writing a "Guard Battle" novel, but I realized that it would be more fun to go to the very beginning - and tell the tale of an Imperial Guard regiment just as it's about to leave its home for the first time.
If I was doing this in a Warhammer 40K Omnibus style, I'd suggest that folks read my first story in this particular sector first, entitled "Legacy of Steel":viewtopic.php?f=9&t=153188
As it does introduce the reader to my particular corner of 40K verse.
Comments are welcome, though this is still a rough draft that hasn't seen my editor's corrections
.A FoundingPart 1: The Gathering"They say that a constant companion of every Guardsman is the fading memory of home. Because no matter how far or how long a regiment has fought, its soldiers never forget that they once came from somewhere else."
- Colonel Thaddeus van Helden, during the First Founding of Brennus (Stricken from Munitorium Records)
Sitting in his foxhole, Private Alec Strom knew that he should be afraid. It was his first time on the receiving end of a heavy artillery barrage. He had already seen squadmates get torn apart by shrapnel and high explosives. Yet even now he still felt the anger of the betrayed. He had simply endured one lie too many.
Strom was still young, and had only been a soldier in the Brennus Planetary Army for six months. That made him rather naive, which was made worse by his upbringing. His family had a noble lineage, and his grandfather was among the last of the old Brennic Knights. He expected people to be true to their word, adhering to the old codes of honor and chivalry. The Recruitment Officer apparently believed otherwise.
He had promised Strom many things. Three warm meals a day. A nice soft bed in the barracks. Plenty of opportunities to show off his skills at swordsmanship to impress the girls. But most of all, he had assured Strom that the Orkish threat in the Northern Wastes was all but finished, and that the Army was now only engaged in limited skirmishes.
But as another shell exploded near Strom's foxhole, he was reminded that this was definitely NOT an enemy that was "all but finished". Strom was not about to find himself in a “limited skirmish”. He was about to find himself in the middle of a full-scale battle for the first time in his life.
Suddenly, the firing stopped. The Orkish cannons fell silent. Yet Strom still found it hard to hear himself thinking, as the greenskins instead began their infernal chant. Over and over, they repeated their sacred holy word for jihad: "Waaagh!"
"Riflemen at the ready!" voxed an officer over the Xenos chants, and Strom - his blood still up - was among the first to respond. He got up in time to see the green tide begin its advance.
"Bring it on, your Ork bastards!" Strom growled under his breath, still too angry to realize that he should be terrified, "Let's see how you like being shot at for a change!"
But the enemy was still beyond rifle range, and Strom hadn't been given the order to open fire yet. Tensing, he waited and watched as the Army's heavy weapons went to work. A fierce curtain of mortar and artillery shells descended on the enemy horde as they crossed the barbed wire and minefields, followed by withering fire from the Heavy Bolter and Autocannon emplacements. Soon the longlas snipers and grenade launcher troops had joined in, letting Strom know that his turn was about to come next.
"Riflemen, open fire!" the officer ordered, to which Strom responded with relish. Mentally, he imagined the Recruitment Officer's face replacing those of his greenskin foe, and he let loose a blistering volley of laser fire at the horde. In less than five seconds, he had emptied his clip and was forced to reload. It was only then that the terror hit him in earnest.
Strom knew that he had scored many hits with his volley - the enemy was packed too densely for him to miss - but the Orks ignored the losses and injuries and were still pressing forward. They were simply unstoppable. This was what his grandfather had warned him about. This was...
"Riflemen, fix bayonets!" the same officer now ordered, a quiver of fear clearly in his voice. He may as well have said, "Prepare to die!"
His hands shaking, Strom did as he was told and drew his bayonet. It was a pitiful weapon, unlike the longsword he used for practice back home in the province of Liguria. But the Army no longer allowed sons of knights to bring their personal weapons into battle. They had now entered a more "modern" age, where everything was standardized. These changes were killing his family's way of life. And, Strom realized, they were going to get him killed too.
But just as the green mass was about to engulf the Imperial lines, a vox message went out that was heard by everyone on the field. The message contained only two words, but every human on the field knew exactly what it meant.
It was the battle cry of the elite of the Brennus Army. The Mechanized: Armor and Infantry working in concert as part of an integrated whole.
Turning to the west, Strom watched as a column of Imperial vehicles smashed into the Orkish flank. Led by a handful of Leman Russ tanks, the bulk of the force was made up of Chimera Armored Infantry vehicles equipped with infantry-killing multilasers. Taken by surprise, the Orkish forces on the right fled in disarray, trampling their own comrades in the center. Jubilantly, Strom resumed firing, able to shoot at will while the Orks were too busy dealing with the new threat.
To their credit, the greenskins rallied and tried a counter-attack. But the Chimeras of the Mechanized had already deployed their attendant infantry squads, and they provided the bodies and firepower needed to break the onslaught. Soon enough, the Imperial armor was moving forward again, now in pursuit of a routed foe.
Strom felt enormous relief at the development, but could not help but feel envious. The Mechanized were the reason why the Brennic Knights had become obsolete. What could horse cavalry hope to achieve in the face of steel monsters such as this?
And as if to add insult to injury, a Chimera drove up right beside Strom's foxhole, its commander smiling down on him. From the Chimera's markings, Strom could tell that the Lieutenant was from the 5th Carnute Brigade - who were mostly made up of peasant-farmers that formerly served as serfs to the Knightly Orders. Strom had to swallow a lot of pride to salute the Lieutenant.
"You okay there, Rifleman?" the Lieutenant asked, his accent thick with peasant-cant, "Those Orks got pretty close."
"Thank you for your concern, sir. But fortunately I am uninjured," Strom replied formally but dryly, very nearly adding, "Except for my pride."
"You're lucky that we're still in the area," the officer went on, "Most of my Troop was supposed to pull out yesterday, but we decided to make ourselves available to the Ligurian Brigade after our rail transport got delayed. If the Orks attack had come a few hours later, we wouldn't have been here to help."
"You weren't even supposed to be here, sir?" Strom said, surprised at the alarm in his own voice. He was only beginning to realize how close he had come to death, and how the Carnutes had been instrumental in preventing that.
"Duty calls elsewhere," the Lieutenant answered simply, before pointing to a new insignia on his shoulder.
Strom bit his lip as he finally noticed the patch, and realized what an idiot he had been for thinking ill of the officer. The Lieutenant was part of the BrennMech - The Brennus Mechanized Regiment. He wasn't Planetary Army anymore. He was now Imperial Guard – part of the Founding who would soon leave for the stars like the Astartes candidates of old, never to come home again.
"May I ask what is your name sir?" Strom asked hesitantly.
The Lieutenant raised an eyebrow, but answered, "Ignatius Mahlney."
Strom held up his right arm, his fingers forming the V-sign. This was the Velcitan salute, named after the world's patron heroine. It held many different meanings. Some say it is an invocation of Saint Velcita's name, or of her motto "Vae Victis". Others say it is simply a prayer for victory.
But for soldiers selected to meet the tithe, it was meant to convey three things: Thank you, good luck, and good bye.
Mahlney frowned mightily at Strom's salute, before saying "You're new to the Army, aren't you?"
"How can you tell sir?" Strom asked, taken aback by the officer's negative reaction. He was about to learn something very important about this Founding.
"I can tell because you still haven't learned that we really, really hate being reminded of how we're being forced
to leave our home forever."
Far to the south, in Private Strom's home province of Liguria, an Ecclesiarchy service was just concluding. Every member of the congregation had their arm raised to show the Velcitan salute, paying honor to their priest who had just conducted his last service on his homeworld. He was part of the tithe too, and like Lieutenant Mahlney he did not enjoy being on the receiving end of this salute.
Confessor Leo Krost was an old man, especially by local standards. He was already fifty standard years old, when most Brennic citizens were already dead by the age of forty. There was something in the air, or perhaps radiation from the system's triple suns, which caused an unnaturally high rate of malignant tumors to afflict the population. Krost was fortunate to not only avoid the tumors, but also to remain healthy and vigorous. His hair may be gone, and his poor eyes needed spectacles, but he was fit enough to begin the next - and most likely last - phase of his life.
Still, Krost did not want to end the current phase of his life on a sour note, so he politely accepted the Velcitan "tribute" by following custom and remaining completely silent. It was only after these formalities that his flock finally came forward to give their informal goodbyes - kind words, handshakes, hugs, and more than a few tears - which meant far more to Krost than the "Vae Victis" sign.
Finally, once the goodbyes were done and night had fallen, Krost found himself alone in his humble chapel. Only then did he allow himself a few sobs, as he realized how much he was going to miss this place and his friends.
But Krost knew he had little time to wallow in sadness, and he summoned energy into his old bones to resume packing. Leaving his home was bad enough. Leaving his books behind too would have been intolerable.
As a learned man, Krost was an expert on the Velcitan texts, chronicling the Saint's crusade to free her homeworld from the grip of the Archenemy thousands of years ago. Though he already knew them by heart down to the last verse - in the Saint’s original tongue of Barevic rather than Low Gothic no less - he still liked to read them again from time to time, even though doing so always gave him headaches.
He wondered often how the Saint would feel about this Founding. Would she be proud that Brennic sons and daughters were once again going back to the stars to fight for other worlds? Or would she simply feel anger at the senseless politics which triggered this new Founding?
Krost did not consider himself worthy to speak for the Saint. But after his meeting with the Governor last month, he had a terrible feeling that her opinion would fall more towards the latter rather than the former.
It was a tense dinner. Neither the Governor nor his father spoke a single word during the entire meal. But both knew that it was only a matter of time before the argument resumed.
Governor Lucius van Clemeus had become Governor at a very young age, replacing his very old father when he was just twenty-eight years old. His first seven years of leadership had been marked by dynamism and energy, transforming Brennus from an idyllic backwater to a highly prosperous world that was potentially the nucleus of a new agricultural and industrial powerhouse. But everything had soured after the fate of the world's First Founding, and he was now one of the most hated men on the planet after the bitter memories resurfaced thanks to the new tithe.
"We need to discuss the Second Founding," his father, the Honorable Decimus van Clemeus, finally said out loud. He said it with all the authority that a father should have over his son.
"It isn't the Second Founding," Lucius replied rather impudently, "As far as the Munitorium is concerned, this is our first Founding."
"Damn the Munitorium and their secrets! I'm talking about reality here!" the elder Clemeus growled, "Half of your subjects are children and grandchildren of retired Guardsmen. Fine soldiers who served under my command, who were given this world as a new home in honor of their service. They are not stupid. They know exactly
what service in the Guard means. You were naive to think that you can fulfill this tithe by counting only on volunteers!"
"We had enough volunteers for three regiments during the "first" Founding, father," the younger man countered, "So forgive me for thinking I would never have to forcibly conscript my citizens for the "honor" of serving the Guard."
"That was five years ago, and it was a much more optimistic time," Decimus reminded, "The memories of war had faded among the veterans, while the old Brennic families wanted to relive the glory days when their knights were chosen to become Steel Warden Space Marines. But after what happened to Thaddeus' regiment..."
"Please don't say that traitor's name, father," Lucius cut off quietly.
"He was not a traitor, dammit!" Decimus shouted back, "I know the van Heldens, they know that duty comes before anything else. There must be another reason why the Munitorium erased all records of his regiment!"
"And I simply don't care anymore!" Lucius answered, his demeanor now closer to a petulant child instead of an Imperial Governor, "Because of their “disappearance”, we must now raise a new regiment, which is costing our family an enormous fortune!"
"Why do you care about money so much?" the father's voice now almost a growl, "Because you plan to abandon your governorship and campaign to become a Senator in Akkadia?"
Lucius looked away from his father's accusing eyes, "Brennus is a backwater. Akkadia is the subsector capital. The real power is there, and I need money to seek a better position."
"Duty comes before power, son," said the older man with twenty decades of wisdom behind him, "You forget that, and you become a tyrant."
The Governor, who had seen his effigies being mocked and burned throughout the world after announcing Edict of Conscription, merely snorted, "They already think I am a tyrant."
"That is because everyone can see that you don't care anymore!" Decimus shouted, a hint of a plea in his voice, "You say the regiment is costing you a fortune, but you’ve skimped on spending and left them under-equipped! They have only old and improvised war gear! You're just sending them out to be slaughtered!"
“It doesn’t matter as long as the Munitorium is happy with the tithe,” Lucius replied coldly, before rising to leave, “If the regiment has any shortfalls in combat, then the fault lies not with me, but with the Colonel commanding them on the field.”
Brennus was an old world, with a history dating back to at least M36. The oldest surviving structures were known locally as the Great Halts, so named because they were supposed to halt the progress of any invader. To an offworlder, these structures were simply magnificent castles - with each of the nine provinces having one. Most visited of them all was Victoria Halt, built with the help of the Steel Wardens Chapter in M38, and it was widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Warden architecture to survive to the present day.
Colonel Marten van Helden was in command of Victoria Halt. He was a middle-aged man, who had spent twenty of his thirty-five years with the Brennus Planetary Army. For most of his career, he had served with the Victoria Yeomanry Brigade as they made the transition from horse cavalry to mechanized infantry, becoming one of the world's leading experts in the field of armored warfare. He not only looked like an intellectual - with his well-ordered black hair and rounded glasses - but he truly was one. Much of the Brennus Mechanized's organization and doctrine were the result of his labors.
Yet van Helden was not part of the BrennMech. He had been sidelined to this prestigious but meaningless post. He endeavored to make the best of it.
"Say what you will about Victoria Halt, but the food here is simply wonderful," said van Helden's loyal aide, Captain Ohanessy, "No wonder the damn pilgrims love going here."
van Helden nodded in agreement, as he resumed trying to enjoy his dinner. He was having a sumptuous meal in the Halt's Great Hall, which had been converted into an officer's mess. The main course was choice cuts of spiced meat, baked while wrapped in puff pastry and served with a special gravy. The locals called it the "Macharius", supposedly because this was the Lord Solar's favorite meal and the recipe was copied from off-world, but van Helden suspected the story was apocryphal. As far as he knew, this delicious meal was only available in Brennus.
Ohanessy meanwhile was enjoying some Brennic Mash - ground swine mask fried with onions, peppers, and an egg – which was an unhealthy but popular street food. In the old days, meals like the Macharius and Brennic Mash were luxuries, available only in seasonal "Halt Meets" where farmers gathered to sell their produce. Nowadays, Victoria Halt was surrounded by restaurants and food stalls selling all kinds of meals year-round – a sign of the province’s growing prosperity thanks to tourists and the rapid expansion of its steelworks.
Yet even as van Helden filled his belly with warm meat and crunchy pastry, he could not help but feel the emptiness inside of him. The BrennMech was supposed to be his. He was supposed to follow in his father's footsteps.
Ever alert, Ohanessy immediately noticed his friend’s brooding. He once again tried to get the Colonel's mind off the Founding, "I hear the Orks launched another attack in the North today. They hit the Ligurians hard."
van Helden nodded as he swallowed another portion, before wiping his mouth with a napkin, "I read the report, the Orks have started using heavy artillery again. There's a good chance they have a new Mek building their big guns."
"They're persistent aren't they?" Ohanessy replied, bits of fried hash sticking on his cheek, "You think they'll send the Yeomanry up north again?"
"Maybe. There’s been talk of reactivating the Brigade from Reserve status. But it won’t be with me in command," van Helden answered, knowing what the Captain was implying, "I'm just part of a tourist attraction now."
"Come on Marten, you don't believe that," the Captain countered, "With your brains, you're sure to get another combat command someday."
van Helden sighed, knowing it was impossible to argue with Ohanessy's boundless optimism. Capitulating to the inevitable, he merely nodded in agreement and resumed eating his meal.
For the immediate future, van Helden was certain that battle would not be part of his life.
The Ancient Forge had just completed its latest production cycle. Slowly, the product of countless hours of labors emerged from the furnace. It looked like a simple longsword, but a trained eye could sense that it hummed with power and purpose. This was the world's crowning technological achievement, as well as one of its most treasured exports: The Psi-Sword. The art of making them had been thought lost until a Mechanicum research team had helped the Brennus locals rediscover the secrets of their ancestors.
Enginseer Katlin Hlovre was present to witness the unveiling of this new sword, but she was not one of the researchers who now operated this facility. In many ways, her entire existence was a contradiction. She was officially a citizen of Forge World Dorcet, but she had been born and raised on Brennus. Though she served the Machine-God, she often felt her true calling was the Army and the Imperial Guard. She had become a renowned warrior, a legend in the Planetary Army, despite not being Skitarii. And yet now she had been ironically “promoted” to handle the logistics of the BrennMech, a distinctly non-combat position, instead of continuing to serve on the frontlines.
Still, the contradictions were what endeared her to the Tech Priests of the Brennus Psi-Forge. They were originally from Forge World Orbis - Dorcet's principal rival - and its Tech-Priests were renowned for their alarming eccentricity even among the ranks of the Mechanicum. The senior Magos, a young and handsome man named Deklan with only minimal augmentics, lifted the sword and presented it to Hlovre.
"Perhaps you would like to test our latest creation?" the Magos said with a smile, "No need to be shy, we can tell your superiors that you were merely performing quality control if they find out."
Katlin suppressed a smile, for the Omnissiah supposedly frowned upon such displays of human emotion. But her bright heart-shaped face could not hide her excitement. She took the blade and waited for the Magos to take a step back. She could feel the sword communing with her mind, letting it reveal its subtle nuances. Unlike other cultures, Brennus psi-swords were rarely named, but each still had its own unique personality.
Then, she began. Thrusts, wide arcs, and then swings. The blade was designed for both cutting and thrusting, and Katlin was eager to test different stances and killing strokes. She adjusted her footwork, and switched the sword from her right hand to the left. She was at ease using either, and went through the same practice motions as before.
Next, she threw the sword into the air and allowed her back-mounted mechadendrite to grab it. As her robotic third arm began practicing with the sword, she drew her two other melee weapons with her human hands - a chainsword and a force axe.
Finally, she took a deep breath and took on a menacing pose - a weapon on each hand and the metallic arm rising behind her like a scorpion's stinger. The Orbis Priests, recognizing the signal, wheeled in a target: an armored dummy the size of an Ork. They all then took several steps back as a precaution, the need for safety overriding the desire to witness Hlovre in action close up.
What followed next could hardly be seen by human eyes, and even those with augmented optics had difficulty following her movements. She unleashed a flurry of attacks, transforming her into a blur that sent metal chunks flying off the target. It was her signature all-out assault, which she had used to slaughter the notorious Ork War Boss Gazrun five years ago while serving with the Victorian Yeomanry.
It was over in under two seconds. She had reduced the dummy to a pile of neatly shredded scrap metal. Katlin took a deep breath, sheathed her weapons, and brushed away the strands of black hair that had come off her pony tail and covered her face. Deklan and his team were clearly pleased. They applauded.
"This one's spirit is a little too eager," Katlin said as he handed the sword back to the Magos, "But the balance is perfect."
The handsome Magos nodded, "We'll keep that in mind for the next one, Enginseer Hlovre. Until then, may this one serve you will for your journey to the stars."
"I'd love to use it again, Magos, but you have to remember that the sword isn't meant for me," Katlin reminded, "It's for the witches."
The temperature was dropping precipitously. Sparks of electricity began to appear on the ground, while storm clouds gathered overhead. Thunder boomed, masking the sound of a battery of Hydra anti-aircraft vehicles conducting live fire exercises a few kilometers away. The six hooded figures continued chanting, following the sanctioned techniques that they had been taught by their mentors. But something was wrong. The choir wasn't in synch. Their fourth attempt to unleash a bolt of warp-spawned lightning was again a failure.
Primaris Mari Sakhson was not from Brennus. She had long silver hair and an exotic but handsome face that easily marked her apart as an offworlder. And she was growing impatient with the locals. She had accepted "retirement" from the Inquisition on the condition that she would instead lead a Sanctioned Psyker detachment of an Imperial Guard regiment. It had always been her dream to pass on her combat and analytical skills to a new generation of Imperial servants.
But the Brennus Scholastica Psykana facility - known locally as the "Onyx Tower" - was proving to be a disappointment. Brennus was home to such a facility because of the unnaturally high number of psykers born there - with as many as five candidates discovered every year out of a population of just ten million. It was possibly an effect of the erratic radiation from the system's three stars. The Steel Wardens had known this, and had built the Onyx Tower to supply them with candidates who could become Librarians. It was ironic that the facility survived longer than the Astartes Chapter.
Still, the quantity of Psykers was simply not as important as their quality, and the current crop simply wasn't up to the standards set by their ancestors.
+I was promised twenty-four potential battle psykers,+ Mari mentally told Head Mistress Novena, +These six are useless. And the first eighteen weren't that good either.+
+I'm sorry to disappoint you, Miss Sakhson, but the last Founding drained us of many of our best candidates,+ Novena replied, clearly uncomfortable with the offworlder, +And let's not forget that the Inquisition also regularly takes many of our best students to serve as their agents.+
+Hey, don't blame me for this predicament. I'm new to all this,+ Interrogator Varen chimed in, adding his charming shrug, +Besides, this facility wouldn't even exist if the Inquisition hadn't allowed it.+
+Regardless, these six should just be given the Emperor's Mercy by the Commissariat,+ Mari said coldly, +They're too weak for combat.+
+No they're not,+ a new voice insisted, before realizing she had revealed she was eavesdropping, +Oops.+
"Candidate 456-5, step forward!" Mistress Novena shouted angrily, turning to one of the hooded figures. Hesitantly, the woman stepped forward and took off her hood, revealing a kind face framed by short, black hair.
"My apologies Mistress," the candidate said automatically, as though this was a common occurrence, "Please don't punish the rest of the choir for my transgression."
Novena was about to shout at her again, but Mari raised her hand to silence her. In truth, the young woman's impudence reminded Mari of herself.
"You claim this choir isn't weak," Mari said, "How can you say that when you've failed four times to invoke the simplest of warp-attacks?"
"Because they aren't used to having me as part of the choir," 456-5 explained matter-of-factly, "I was just a last minute addition. If you really want to send someone to the Commissariat, send only me and let the others be."
Mari found herself smiling, "Alright, let's try this choir out with just five then."
"You idiot girl!" Novena started, "I should send you to the dungeons again for this!"
"Don't worry Mistress Novena, I'll punish her myself if the choir still proves to be a failure," Mari promised, throwing the candidate an icy glare. The young woman's facial expression did not change, but Mari could overhear her thinking, +Please everyone, don't screw this up.+
They didn't. This time, the choir demonstrated its full power to Mari, gathering their strength and shooting a bolt of energy at their designated target. They hit a derelict Chimera tank, which had survived repeated assaults from the previous choirs. But the power of this group was such that the vehicle simply disintegrated before their attack. Delighted, the choir erupted into cheers at their achievement.
"Quiet!" Mistress Novena ordered, before glaring at Mari and switching once again to mind-talk, +Do you see what happens when you allow them to speak out of turn?!+
+It's okay Mistress, you should let your students have fun once in a while,+ Mari replied, +I've also seen enough. Your candidates will do.+
+Even the one with the big mouth?+ Interrogator Varen reminded, winking at 456-5. The young woman managed to keep her face neutral, even as she sensed the Inquisition agent's lustful thoughts regarding her.
+Especially the one with the big mouth,+ Mari insisted, +She has a lot of raw talent, doesn't she? That's why she can hear us talking like this even when the other students can't. Why hasn't the Inquisition selected her before? She'd be very useful in interrogations.+
+Her powers are unstable,+ Novena replied, ignoring the candidate's "No they're not!" insistent look, +And her combat aptitude scores are abysmal. She's a menace to herself and her allies if you arm her with a gun or a sword.+
+Okay, that part is true. Although I still insist that Gregor should have ducked when I was practicing with that sword,+ 456-5 found herself saying, before she realized that she was talking out loud again, +Oops, sorry.+
Novena was about to say "Dungeon, now!" but Mari managed to raise her hand in time again to stop her.
"What's your name?" Mari finally asked.
"I'm Candidate 456-5," the woman replied, though showing all the discomfort of remembering that she was officially just a piece of equipment and not even a human being.
"I meant your real name," Mari insisted, "You do have a name that your friends use, yes?"
"My name is Farah Toth," she replied hesitantly, as though wishing to not reveal her true self yet to a stranger.
"I'll remember it," Mari promised, "But for now, I think you already know that your Mistress would like to have a long talk with you before you come under my charge."
Brennus was one of many moons of a gas giant, orbiting a star that was part of a tertiary system. Its official population was ten million, but outlying asteroid colonies and mass immigration had probably increased the real count to fifteen million now. It had ample orbital defenses, built by the Steel Wardens before their extinction, and Battlefleet Cuxehaven had long considered using it as a secondary anchorage in case the main fleet bases at Akkadia or Hydronis Majoris became unavailable. The Planetary Defense Force was divided into nine brigades of ten thousand men each, a high ratio by subsector standards due to the Orkish presence in its northern hemisphere, which was also responsible for its unusual Guard tithe. Instead of 12,000 infantry, which would drain the PDF's manpower reserves by an alarming degree, the governor would instead provide a Mechanized regiment of 4,500 men, 24 battle psykers, and over 300 vehicles. The vehicles would mainly come from the subsector's two primary Forge Worlds -Dorcet and Orbis, but some vehicles would also be taken from the mothballed stocks of General Clemeus' Imperial Guard colonization army.
Adept Dynisus knew all of these trivial facts, for it was his job to know such things as a Munitorium official in charge of assessing Guard tithes. He was good at his work because of his eidetic memory, and because he enjoyed touring the cosmos to see new worlds. He particularly liked sampling local delicacies, and he had hoped to try the little-known Brennic dish known as the Macharius – so called because it was invented in an inn with the same name as the famed Lord Solar.
But Adept Dynisus realized that none of this mattered anymore. All that mattered now was the fact that he was going to die.
His ship - the venerable Exorcist-class grand cruiser called "The Might of Akkadia" - was overrun with... things that he could not describe. Unspeakable horrors that appeared after the ship's Gellar Field had failed. Horrors that had...
"Have you sent out the distress signal?!" shouted the Akkadian Commissar protecting him, who was shooting at something with too many arms and too many legs, "Do they know that we have been betrayed?!"
Dynisus tore his eyes away from the Commissar and the thing trying to eat him, and stared at the ship's Astropath. She was terrified too, squirming and trying to scream in her glass tube. The cogitator beside her was still blinking red. The distress signal had still not been sent.
"Have you sent out the distress signal?!" the Commissar repeated, before shouting in anguish. The Astropath, who could sense that the Commissar had just lost his right arm to the warp beast, began convulsing uncontrollably as her heart began to give out.
Slumping to the floor, Dynisus stopped trying. There was no point left in sending the distress call.
Instead, for the first time in a very long time, he prayed to the Emperor, and hoped it was not too late to save his soul.