I haul myself through the orifice, the peristaltic pulsing of the narrow tunnel eliciting groans from my armour. Helmet gone, I gag on the bile washing over my face. It’s like crawling through battlefield offal. I taste the sting of exotic acids, metal and blood. The blood of my brothers.
Waramunt was the first to die. Waramunt, taciturn brother of the Imperial Fists. Master scrimshander. Together we held the walls at Alunite, waves of Orks crashing against us as we stood side by side in the breach for two days and nights-but this boarding action had barely begun when Waramunt fell. The mission timer measured in seconds, our squad barely clear of the boarding torpedo when an avalanche of bio-horrors descended, biting and clinging and stabbing in a frenzy of hooked legs and mandibles. Individually they were no threat, but the swarm was without number, an immune response against intrusion. Waramunt, firing on full auto, was dragged down as he fought the avalanche of flesh and chitin. We drove them back, but it was too late. There was no apothecary to claim the Chapter’s Due, so instead I took a beautifully hand-crafted relic from his belt as his legacy.
Brother Yair died next. Yair, fast to mirth and faster with a blade. Together we laughed and sparred in the duelling cages, giving and receiving honour. There was no honour to be found as a towering mantis-killer lopped Yair’s head from his shoulders with a single strike. One instant the auspex had been dry, the next a barbed beast had unfolded itself from the oozing walls and was amongst us. We bought it down with a barrage of bolts, then followed the arterial branch it guarded. I took Yair’s prized blade with us to honour his memory.
Brother Itoro fell shortly after. Devoted Itoro. Together we had sworn our pledge of duty before the Reclusiarch. Itoro’s oath proved stronger than his armour; he was turning his meltagun on the screamer-killer even as his ceramite failed, and his transhuman body turned to ash beneath the kiss of bio-plasma. We had all taken the same Oaths of Moment. Imperial Fists, Ghost Wolves, Solar Tyrants. Corolis sector is the breadbasket of the coreward trade routes. We all understood what was at stake. Solemnly, I took a miraculously intact purity seal from his burnt husk to carry onwards.
Brother Leuthar was the last to die. We had been together since the beginning. First in, last out. I knelt by his side as he silently wept over the corpse of his slower, weaker sibling on the icy Fields of Initiation. From that moment on he was only stone, an immovable bastion of discipline. But for all his strength he could not bring down enough of the winged horrors that assaulted us, drooling corrosive flame as they flapped about our heads in the damp passageway. I fought and shot and stabbed as bio-acid fell and claws sliced, until at last I stood alone, chest heaving with exertion. The winged abominations had given their lives to protect the puckered orifice in the wall of meat before me, but I would not be denied. I took Leuthar’s Marksman’s Honour to remember his prowess, adding it to the other tokens of my lost kin, and then I began my climb.
The memories are my sole companion as I claw my way up through flesh and dim red light. The burden weighs me down as I climb. But I am a son of Dorn and there is no weight I cannot bear. The light changes from deep maroon to mauve to a corpse-lip blue and suddenly I am free. I tumble into an ossified chamber with a clatter of ceramite. In front of me is my objective. Correction: in front of me is some form of guardian beast, and behind that is my objective.
The creature is on me before I can stand, razor-edged instinct driving it to show no mercy. I block its blows as best I can while I fight to regain my footing. The guardian glistens in the bioluminescent chamber. Was it birthed in response to my arrival? Its newness does nothing to dull its lethal edge. It is a biological fortress of chitin towering over the chamber. But I am an Imperial Fist, with my Chapter’s millennia of doctrine in how to bring a fortress to ruin. Bladed limbs sally forth, piercing my armour and flesh, but I endure. The beast has over-extended, leaving itself vulnerable. My power fist exploits the breach, pulping muscle and guts.
I limp past the ruins of the creature, part-ruined myself. Shattered bones grate together inside me. My body is fever-hot as it wars with alien phages in my blood. As I invade this bioship, so it invades me. The bloated brain of the ship pulses before me, large as a Land Speeder. My mind is as blunt as an old stone axe, but even I can feel the psychic hunger radiating from it. Other guardians approach on the edge of hearing. They don’t waste time with territorial roars or challenges; nothing but the soft scuttling of predators running down wounded prey.
I allow myself a moment of introspection as I wind a belt of krak grenades around my power fist. We were children of different worlds, but brothers all. Their keepsakes fall from my hand to the moist floor as I resolve that their legacy will lie not in objects, but in our deeds.
“You spent so much time erasing individuality, you forgot what happens when you make it personal,” I say to the alien mind as I swing my power fist back to strike.
The battle raged in the night above the frozen gas giant. The system’s inhabited worlds glittered like jewels in the distance. Unnoticed by fleet command and lost in the frenzy of larger boarding actions, a small drone escort ship spasmed drunkenly out of formation. Forgotten, it spun towards the crushing depths of the planet below.
About the Author
Chris Buxey is a writer, laser safety officer and occasional Tony Stark impersonator. He lives in southern England with his wife and two children. Chris has been travelling the Warhammer 40K universe for nearly thirty years and has so far managed to keep his heresies hidden from the Inquisition.