Paying the Sky Warriors’ Due was no simple task. From their village it was a five-day trek across shattered cliffs and brackish jungle rivers. Besides the terrain, there were stranglevines, razor-tooth felinids, and vast megacrocolids. Village folklore even spoke of iridescent-winged ghostfowl that could pluck out a man’s soul with their obsidian beaks.
Once every five years the Sky Warriors descended to the distant mountaintop and took the youngest to join their war across the stars. Families who gave freely were greatly honoured. Still, Jetta had needed convincing. They had talked into the night as they worked in the village forge, Boone hammering metal and Jetta sweating at the leather bellows, both stripped to the waist in the heat.
‘What is honour compared to watching our child grow up?’ Jetta had asked, her auburn hair being the colour of the smouldering metal that Boone worked with his hammer.
‘Fox wants this!’ Boone replied, pausing between blows. ‘He wants to keep us safe.’
It was true Fox had known he wanted to fight with the Sky Warriors ever since he had seen their likeness in books. He spent hours marvelling at their colourful armour and strange weapons that they used to fight their wars against the galaxy’s horrors. By his ninth cycle, Fox was ready to make the journey.
Skye was less keen, but Boone had insisted they travel as a family for safety. Your little brother needs you, Boone told her. They argued, her kohl-lined eyes flashing beneath her dark fringe, but finally she relented. As they left the village the next morning, Skye shared a lingering farewell with Kamau, a tall boy from a trapper family.
‘Come on!’ Fox called, hacking at the stranglevines with the blade that Boone had forged for him, ‘the Sky Warriors are waiting!’ Jetta and Boone exchanged a smile. Skye snuck Kamau one last kiss.
Their burning torches had kept the felinids away, and the megacrocolids did not bother them until the third day. Wading waist-deep through a river, Fox tripped on a hidden root and vanished beneath the surface. His thrashing attracted one of the sluggish reptiles. Skye dragged the half-drowned boy towards the steep bank as the giant beast swam silently towards them. Boone and Jetta hauled them clear, until both children lay panting and shivering on the shore, clothes plastered to their thin frames.
‘Aren’t you glad you came?’ Boone said to Skye as the megacrocolid circled below.
On the fifth day, they caught glimpses of the Sky Warrior’s plateau through the jungle canopy. The howl of engines echoed from the mountaintop and craft larger than any village house descended from the sky. The colourful birds in the trees squawked, disturbed by the noise.
By late afternoon they were near the summit.
‘We made it,’ said Boone, smiling with relief. Jetta grinned, her lips beginning to form a reply. Suddenly her bright eyes lost their focus, and she crumpled to the floor. Fox and Skye rushed to their mother’s side, howling her name. In the trees below, the colourful birds sang their song. A iridescent-winged ghostfowl flapped awkwardly away from Jetta’s back, gorged on the sweetmeats of her soul. Boone watched it go, his jaw slack.
Over the ridge, the note of engines changed in pitch. Boone recognised a building of power, just like his steam boiler. It spurred him from his stupor.
‘We have to go!’
‘No!’ sobbed Fox, cradling his mother.
‘Yes! Come on, or her death means nothing!’
Tears cutting through the dirt on their faces, Fox and Skye took Boone’s hands and ran.
They reached the mountaintop and beheld a vast craft squatting on the plateau, engines roaring. Dust billowed everywhere and the noise was a physical pain in their chests.
‘Please!’ Boone yelled, uncertain if anyone could hear him, ‘Take my son!’
Miraculously, an armoured giant emerged from the tumult to stand before them. Its bright armour was caked with the dust of the plateau, but its eye lenses burned a clear blue as it considered them. Boone trembled with the tension and the noise and the pressure of the warrior’s gaze. Eventually it nodded once and Boone sagged with relief. He hugged Fox furiously.
‘I love you son. Join the wars among the stars! Keep us all safe.’
The Sky Warrior gestured towards the craft. Fox nodded, and struggled into the billowing dust. The Sky Warrior turned to follow.
‘Wait!’ yelled Boone, ‘My daughter too!’
Slowly the warrior turned back. He regarded Boone and Skye, and then nodded again.
Boone clutched his daughter, feeling her heart hammering.
‘I love you, look after your brother!’
Skye hurried into the tempest. The Sky Warrior regarded Boone for a long moment, then vanished after the children. The engine noise increased and Boone staggered, hands covering his ears. The craft hauled itself into the sky on trails of blue fire. Boone watched it gain altitude until it became a point of light in the sky, and then vanished entirely.
As the dust settled, Boone realised he was not alone. Parents from other villages were tearfully watching the sky. Representatives of the Sky Warriors were there too, moving between the families. One approached Boone and bowed low.
‘Thank you for your contribution to the Greater Good,’ said the T’au Water Caste envoy, ‘my name is Por’la T’yst. Your children will have the honourable role of Gue’vesa – human helpers – in Commander Brightsword’s cadre.’
‘Thank you, emissary.’
Por’la T’yst smiled warmly, and then looked thoughtful.
‘May I ask a question?’
‘Of course,’ said Boone.
‘Our perimeter drones detected your approach. Why did you not take the maglev train that runs through all the villages, as the other families did?’
‘The Greater Good isn’t served by the easy option,’ said Boone, ‘what use would Commander Brightsword have had for untested recruits?’
‘And this was worth your partner’s death?’ asked T’yst gently. Boone smiled sadly.
‘Keeping the senseless brutality of the Imperium from our door is worth any price.’
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.