Allies of Desperation

4.81/5 (4)

Once more, Rulf rotated the blade in his hand, weighing the merits of murder. The medic ran a finger down the engraving on the hilt, ‘Suffer No Xeno,’ and rapped his thumb in tune with the buzzing outside. As a drop of sweat fell from his brow, he caught a glimpse of his own grimy reflection. He twisted the knife away in revulsion then wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his tattered Brimlock Dragoon uniform. His slumbering guest, white bodysuit stained green and brown, stirred against the broken Chimera’s bulkhead—no doubt agitated by the deep burn on his side. Something outside gurgled a bark into the night. 

Startled, his guest jerked awake and reached for his alien weapon. Rulf raised two uneasy hands in placation, a gesture they both understood. The guest’s eyes, blue like his skin, surveyed the cabin and settled on Rulf’s knife. The swamp didn’t stir as the moment held between them. The guest rolled over and returned to slumber, offering his back to Rulf; baiting him to cease his cowardice and kill him. Rulf sighed and sheathed his blade. He tucked his knees in and pushed at his guest’s gun, smooth and exotic, a toy for a deadly child. Rulf settled into a vigil as the night droned on. 

 

+++

 

As the guest awoke, Rulf prepared fresh bandages by the dim glow of morning light. ‘Twist,’ he whispered. It was the only word the Xeno responded to; all other communication limited to a handful of gestures. Twist sat up and groaned as Rulf inspected the Lasburn at his hip. Why had Twist saved his life? Even after Rulf’s men had shot at Twist, he still pulled an unconscious foe to safety. To Rulf, it was incomprehensible. Twist nodded in appreciation while biting back pain.

Later, Twist collected his weapon and started his daily ritual of disassembling and cleaning the device. The familiarity of such a simple action chewed at Rulf. He had lost his Lasgun to the swamps when the Archenemy arrived, yet here was one of the T’au, a sworn enemy, doing the same rote task Rulf had drilled on for years. This Xeno, born on a world separated by the gulf of stars, was just another soldier like him. 

Rulf prayed that the God-Emperor would look favourably upon him, forgive him for helping the Xeno, and even… He stopped himself. His mind clouded with doubt. Again, he had lulled himself into trusting this alien. This creature was anathema to him, yet Rulf treated him as he would any other wounded soldier. Sensing Rulf’s agitation, Twist clicked the last component of his carbine into place and hovered a finger over the trigger. Rulf slowly reached to his waist and narrowed his eyes. He would have lunged then, if not for the fetid stench that washed through the cabin. 

Both men froze. Rulf craned to see through a rent in the Chimera’s hull. The bog was quiet, bugs flitted over a stagnant pool, sunlight dimmed by tree cover. But the vile stench in the air was wrong, it held a miasmic quality which unsettled Rulf to the core. Such a stench was not natural: The Archenemy was here. 

Branches at the treeline snapped like gunshots—A trio of hulking mutants crashed into view, axes and Ripper Guns rattling on rusty chains. They trudged towards the downed tank. Twist kicked the rear doors and winced in pain, cursing in his alien language. Rulf pushed him aside and forced the doors open with a sidewards lunge. They stumbled from their makeshift hovel and plunged into the undergrowth. A gurgled cry of hungry laughter bubbled behind them. 

Their path of flight knotted with mud and roots, hindering every step. They overcame an incline and dropped down an unexpected mound. Twist yelled out in pain and stumbled on a hoof; he landed on his wounded side, unable to rise. Rulf pushed Twist against the dirt incline, fleeting cover at best, and clenched a fist in frustration. Rulf should have ended the Xeno’s suffering nights ago, but regret twinged in his gut as Twist pointed deeper into the swamp, pleading for Rulf to leave him, and run. 

Rulf let instinct take over: He grabbed Twist’s gun, took one knee, prepared a firing position—then pulled the trigger. Bursts of plasma punctured into their pursuers. Shredding the canopy above, Ripper Guns barked in reply. Detritus tumbled to the ground, joining the two survivors in the voracious swamp. 

The carbine punched a hole in one of the oncoming abominations; how many of his men had this very weapon killed? Rulf discarded the guilt; it would not save his life. A geyser of pus erupted from the mutant’s chest, gore sizzling in the air. Its companions gurgled laughs and retaliated with spatters of gunfire. Twist reached over to get Rulf’s attention, but Rulf swatted him away. The momentary distraction was enough, pain exploded in Rulf’s shoulder.

Thrown back by the impact, Rulf sank into the muck, gun lost in the sludge. He tasted blood mixing with filth and felt the overwhelming temptation to close his eyes and let it all wash away. It would be easier, no more doubt or guilt. But Twist had other plans; having regained some stamina, he lurched to Rulf and pulled him up with a strained burst of strength. They rose from the bog together, ‘Emperor save us,’ Rulf prayed. Twist grunted something in reply.

Then the unmistakable crack of lasfire saturated their senses. Six dark phantoms garbed in elite Brimlock Dragoon uniforms waded from the depths of the mire, firing controlled bursts as they advanced closer. ‘Help! Over here!’ Rulf cried. Two of the arriving Imperials raised their Lasguns at Twist. Rulf panicked and pushed ahead, putting himself between Twist and the newcomers, ‘Stop, please…’ he raised a hand in placation, begging for understanding. 

One of the soldiers pointed his Lasgun at Rulf and weighed the merits of murder.

About the Author

Harry Sillett is a UK based writer by night, network engineer by day, and a lifelong Warhammer fan who loves to dig deep into the dark and the cold to find that spark of humanity, then bury it deeper. He loves writing, irreverent trivia, video games and anything fantastical.

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