‘What the frak is that?’
Corporal Joriah Hask tutted as he looked to his watch partner, Guardsman Kant.‘Stop gawking, Kant. You’re Cadian.’
‘I’m serious,’ said Kant. ‘Something big’s coming.’
Hask felt like he’d seen everything the mind could conceive these last months since the Despoiler’s legions had come to Cadia. Since he’d been pulled from retirement and pressed into service with the 234th Cadian Rifles. But he knew Kant had seen the same things. Knew the lad wasn’t one to panic.
Stiff joints creaked as Hask pushed himself up with the butt of his lasgun. He looked skywards, towards the lilac bruise that dominated his homeworld’s sky, and froze.
Something big was coming. Something colossal. Something drowning the sky with fire and smoke.
‘Throne,’ he whispered as it crashed into Cadian soil.
‘That’s our Evac Point, right?’
Hask frowned as he stared at the carnage below. As he watched a seemingly endless horde of the mad and damned hurl themselves towards an ever-shrinking circle of guardsmen and Battle Sisters. Inside the circle, he saw ragged lines of soldiers shuffle into a makeshift fleet of landers and voidcraft. The rhythmic thud of bolters and crack of lasguns filled the air.
He checked their position on his map against the coordinates he’d jotted down when the order to evacuate had come.
‘That’s Evac Point Delta-One-Three-Seven-Four. Not sure; it’s gonna be our Evac Point, though.’
He heard Kant swear. The boy was exhausted, down to the bone. Hask was too, and he knew the young man’s courage was nearly spent.
‘But, Corporal,’ said the young soldier. ‘Our orders are to go to the nearest Evac Point. That’s this one.’
Hask rubbed his eyes. Sometimes, it was easy to forget how young Kant was. How naive. He was barely out of the Whiteshields, yet he fought like a veteran. That wasn’t surprising after the last months.
‘You fancy our chances fighting through that lot?’ Hask pointed towards the enemy hordes. ‘Got to be realistic. There’s another Evac Point near here, anyway. Only a few hours away. At good speed.’ He shot a nervous glance towards the bloody bandage wound tightly around one of Kant’s legs.
Before the other guardsman could reply, the ground began to shake. As it seemed to do every few minutes now. Since that thing had crashed into Cadia. Hask stumbled beneath the force of the quake. Kant cried as he fell, injured leg giving way.
Dust and thunder filled the air. Buildings began to fall. Towers of smoke and fire erupted from the earth, and Hask felt his skin prickle with sweat. He knew lava would be flowing from open rents in the earth nearby.
Cadia is broken, he thought. Cadia is dying.
As the tremors subsided – if only temporarily – Hask hauled Kant back to his feet. The young man’s face was white with pain, mouth a thin grimace, as he used his rifle as a makeshift crutch.
‘Come on, lad,’ Hask said. ‘Let’s get moving.’
He heard laughter on the wind.
Hask fired again and again. Yet the enemy didn’t stop, their ravaged bodies swallowing each blast. He grabbed Kant by the shoulder and began to haul him along.
‘Nearly there,’ he panted. ‘The Evac Point should be round here. On the roof of the old hospital.’
Kant didn’t reply. The lad’s breathing was heavy and laboured, his skin pale and drawn. Hask knew his leg was bleeding again, but they were so close now. He had to believe they’d make it.
‘Just one last push,’ he muttered. ‘One last push.’
Behind them, the sound of buzzing filled the air. As if a thousand flies chased them. He gagged as the stench of rotting flesh filled his nose. He stumbled, only just catching himself and Kant. He stopped. His lungs heaved in burning air, as he glanced back along the road.
At least they’re slow, he told himself, taking in the shambling wall of dead bodies, their bodies monstrously swollen and skin ridden with pustules and sores. Cadians, mutants, civilians, cultists. All dead, yet all walking. Walking towards him and Kant. To devour them.
He grabbed Kant and set off again. Dragging him down the road.
Rounding the corner, he spied the hospital. Or where it should have been. He stopped as he realised it was gone. Not even a pile of rubble. Gone, beneath a sea of hissing and boiling lava. No landers. No aircraft. No Evac Point.
‘No,’ he whispered. ‘No.’
His grip went slack, dropping his rifle. Kant fell to the ground with a thump, limp and unresponsive. Hask grabbed the young trooper quickly and rolled him over. His skin was paper white, eyes rolled up into their sockets. He mumbled. Asking for water. For home. For his mother.
‘Come on, lad,’ said Hask, giving Kant a quick slap on the cheek. ‘Get up.’ But he knew it was no use. The boy was gone. Not dead, but as good as.
He looked up towards where the hospital should have been. He looked towards the approaching horde. It can’t end like this, he told himself. After everything he had faced. After surviving the Despoiler’s legions. After facing unholy creatures of nightmare. It can’t end like this.
He thought of the Evac Point Delta-One-Three-Seven-Four. A cruel joke, he thought. We’d been so close. Yet so out of reach.
He heard laughter on the wind again. Voices too. Hissing, cruel voices. Malicious.
‘The end is here…’
‘Grandfather has come…’
‘Death consumes all…’’
Hask closed his eyes, desperate to block the voices out. His limbs grew heavy. On instinct, he reached for his rifle. It felt reassuring. Familiar.
He opened his eyes and looked down at Kant. The young man’s breathing was shallow, yet he still clung to life. He still fought. Clarity returned to Hask’s mind at the sight.
I am Cadian, he reminded himself. I will fight.
He stood and raised his rifle towards the approaching horde. He screamed as he fired.
About the Author
J.S. Savage is a teacher in the UK and has been an avid of all things 40k and Warhammer Fantasy since he accidently found his way into a Games Workshop store as a young boy. When he was younger, he was a keen writer but has only just started up again recently. Between work and being a parent, he doesn’t get nearly enough time to paint, read and write as much as he would like – or as much sleep as he needs!