The brave way out
On the Hive World of New Theia, it was night. Theia’s days were cruel. Being closer than average to the nearest sun than other hive worlds, the planet during the day suffered an increased thermal and radioactive bombardment. The people of the planet needed to wear UV gear during the day to avoid burning as they worked and the heat trapped in this special clothing was unbearable to anyone who had known cooler climates.
Each set of clothing was packed with a power unit that vented heat and pumped water, the very water the occupants sweat out, cooling it down, filtering it around their body to cool, even letting them drink the slightly cool liquid after it had been filtered. Per-hive world tradition, nothing was wasted, not even the salt that collected in the filter bag.
However, at night, New Theia became bearable. With the thermal shift as the sun dipped out of sight it caused near constant breezes that carried night-cool air from the other side of the planet. The citizens of the planet enjoyed the song of the winds whipping pleasantly over their homes, lulling them to a pleasant sleep as their shelters vented the warm day air and tried to collect and maintain the cooler night air.
The citizens were tireless workers during the day. Loyalists that knew that every ounce of sweat that they bled from their sun-browned pores was for the emperor, even when they were this far away from his grace. They never were thankless. Each day they tended to the fields of genetically modified crops that sprang up twice a day, growing from seed to food under the intense heat. Each day when the sun dipped they rejoiced that they were alive and under the Emperor of Man’s care. That’s why trooper Cadence liked them.
Cadence had no love for the planet. Even with the issued gear the heat got to him and the moisture that collected between his skin and armor made him itch something maddening at the end of his patrols. The dry shrub-grass that was native was razor sharp and plentiful, shredding his leggings if he wasn’t careful, the wild life was violent, and to make matters worse heretical tribesmen lurked in the hill ranges.
Trooper Cadence hated the planet, loved the people. They reminded him of home. He also loved doing night patrol. After nearly a standard year of day patrols he had nearly cracked, Emperor help him. He was delivered when the night-workers started to be targeted as they brought water from the vast aquatic caves that hid under the plains that they walked on. Increased security was needed and he was the first one asking to brave the dark like a brave member of the Sundersand Regiment he was.
Under the soft light on the small moon that cut through the darkness, Cadence and his patrol team followed the heavy skimmers that hummed slowly out of the gates of the hive-city and plodded along past their guard posts. It had been a week since the attacks had started and they have been growing bolder. More and more people have been kidnapped or worst and they still weren’t sure if it was animals or the tribesmen who crept out and had previously only prodded at their perimeters. They had started with a small unit of men, no more then forty, but now it had grown to a convoy in size. Three centaurs had joined the escort along with a dozen bikes and tauros transports and two sentinels which plodded ahead.
Trooper Cadence had the pleasure of riding in a taurus with a unit of “White shields”, untrained soldiers with no allowed affiliation besides a stripe of white on their helmets. They were chatty, eager, and new, a combination that both amused Cadence and made him weary. Service to mankind was noble, his purpose, but at the same time it was a never endless task that weighed on a guardsmen. Death loomed always close. It was weird both enjoying that the company he kept was so jovial and sad that he knew they’d soon become as paranoid and somber as he was.
The convey drove in relative silence for what seemed like a half hour from the last checkpoint. The commanding officer on this patrol, Lieutenant Oglund, occasionally barked orders through the comms from his position in a centaur but otherwise there was just the sound of the vehicles treading over the sun-baked ground. They were five minutes out from the tunnel when Cadence noticed something ahead of them.
While the White Shields had been happy to chatter and goof about, Cadence had looked up to the skies. The stars were bright and clear tonight, aiding in illuminating the world below them, and he was grateful. When the clouds were heavy the small moon’s weak glow just made deeper shadows than he liked. Which is why when he thought he saw a small section of the night starless that he shifted in his seat and stared at the spot. Nothing moved. It was like the stars had avoided this little section in the nights sky.
He looked at it for a moment longer before rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand and looking once more to the spot and sure enough, it was still there.
“What in the name of…?” he muttered while lifting a hand and pointing up at the section of space in awe. The troops in the vehicle stopped chatting for a moment to follow his arm, looking into the sky as they continued moving.
“What are you going on about, man?” the white shield closest to him, some young New Theisan who talked large but now was hushed and fearful. “You see something?”
“Get out of the way.” Cadence barked while he shouldered past him and reached between the two front seats to pull the radio off the front panel of the jeep.
He had just pulled it to his mouth and pressed the button when something caught the corner of his eye. He could see the guard station ahead of them in the distance but there wasn’t a single light on. Cadence felt his mind flood with not fear but adrenaline.
“Trooper Cadence to Lieutenant Oglund, something isn’’t right, the lights are off at the checkpoint and something is-“ was all he managed to speak before it happened.
He didn’t see it as much as he felt it. All of a sudden the world was painful to look at. He thought he had seen streams of purple cut across the dim lighting that flared the normally ink black night into violet lightning but it was hard to tell as now as he blinked it seemed the vision was burned into his eyes, painfully stabbing into his brain.
Something besides him boomed deafening. Some poor sod on a bike now was cartwheeling with the rest of his flaming wreckage down the road. A Sentinel walker didn’t so much explode as it tore apart, two circles of metal just gone from the machine’s torso and waist causing it to collapse and judging by the scream pull apart the pilot as the tons of metal separated.. The air suddenly became cries of alarm and pain before it became a cacophony of gunfire.
From all around him rang the beasts of war. Las guns lit the night as they fired into the night, the tauros vehicles snapped their spotlights forward and let fly a barrage of propelled grenades, the remaining Sentinel’s Las Cannon shrieked onwards, and the Centaur transports opened fire with heavy stubbers in every direct forward.
Cadence had his weapon up, ready, and firing even before he realized that his eyes had been damaged by viewing the strange weapon that had fired on them. He could make out basic shapes but his eyes felt like someone had flayed them with tiny razors and each line marred his vision. His Las-gun was joined by the rest of the infantry with him, the screaming new-bloods joining him in firing at their attackers.
While he fired his weapon blindly, he felt something whip by his head and a wet splatter struck him in the left side of his face. Hot penny-flavored fluid touched his lips and he spat it out while turning to try and make out what had happened.
“Who’s hit?” Cadence bellowed while reaching to the left blindly and touched what had been a shoulder. His hand pulled backwards as his fingers had just touched something wet, warm, and shaking. He was shouting Medic when hands grabbed him from his pack and yanked him down as something whined right over his head and someone behind them screamed briefly before going suddenly silent.
“Eldar, sir!” screamed the brave lad who had saved his life. The white shield’s rifle shot behind them at whatever had zipped by while he spoke. “They are using jet-bikes, taking people’s emperor loving heads off!”
Cadence opened his mouth to ask how many right before the radio screamed out orders, Oglund demanding that they adjust their fire upwards into the empty skies right before his transmission cut out right in sync with the fireball of shrapnel and fire that erupted ahead of them, his Centaur violently exploding and taking out a tauros that had been flanking the vehicle. The other vehicles that had been in formation with him soon followed the fate of their commanding officer as the strange weaponry focused on the armored units and reduced them into slag with a barrage of firepower from above.
“Sir, what do we do? Emperor save us, they are above us!” The same solider who had saved him yelled and fired his lags higher than Cadence would have assumed would have been needed.
“Keep firing! Focus on their armor! “ Cadence screamed into the radio he had blindly groped for before it was slapped into his hands. “And get me a med-kit!” he yelled after dropping the radio.
He felt the troops in the car shifting around him, some firing, some ducking under fire from strange sounding bullets that pocked against the jeeps harmlessly enough but when they struck flesh all he heard was screaming. His vision was even more obscured as a thick gel had been sprayed into his eyes and he was being held in place.
“Your eyes are bleeding, sir!” Came the familiar voice.
“Shrapnel?” Cadence asked while he blindly groped for a replacement power pack for his weapon.
“No sir!” Came the reply “Radio chatter says several troops are suffering the same, something about-“
The speeding vehicle that they were sitting in suddenly swerved and a short cry out was silenced. Around him, soldiers scrambled to deal with whatever had set down on the hood of their jeep while one of the White Shields simply screamed close near him. They were clearly out of control based on how badly the all-terrain vehicle was swerving but the wheel was the last thing on anyone’s mind as they tried to combat the thing in front of them.
“Get the xeno!”
Emperor help us, Geoff isn’t driving anymore!”
Cries from the various soldiers rang out while the sounds of those strange bullets rang out and a blade whistled through the air. Screams, struggles, las-gun firing. It was a horrid mess but no where near what was going to happen next.
With no driver, the vehicle struck uneven ground and careened to the right, narrowly missing a Bike-riding guardsmen who’s relief was cut short as a reaver cleaved him nearly in two. If it was accident or design didn’t matter as for the briefest moment he could hear the cold calm laughter of the Xeno as it passed. He knew he shouldn’t even perceive these details, but, life has a funny way of slowing down when death is looming over you. He could feel the jeep turning to roll, he could feel the medic treating him shift to try and brace, and he could hear the beginning of a litany of curses before the jeep struck the ground sideways and began to tumble.
Cadence awoke to pain. He didn’t know how long he had been out of it or even if he was the only one left in the squad. His eyes opened but now on top of being mostly blind blood was pooling down his face and his whole world seemed to pulse with pain. He put his hand down and felt something cold and metallic but familiar. A las-gun was under his fingers.
“Status!” Cadence croaked out. Much to his surprise, someone answered.
“Completely Fuc-“ came the reply before voice broke away and all Cadence could hear is las-gun fire.
“I don’t know who you are, but, pick up your las-gun, Emperor damn you!” screamed the man while he continued to fire.
Unlike before when the only noise had been there fire and the occasional strange fire of the weapons incoming, now he heard war-cries of the aliens. He heard blades clashing against bayonets, curses being issued out before screaming started, the sounds of flesh tearing, and an odd liquid noise like someone was using a hose on a garden…if the flowers screamed in what he could only assume was utter agony.
Cadence blindly reached and found a anchor point to pull himself up. From what he could tell, the Tauros had flipped and came to rest in the road and was currently acting as cover. He could sense at least three other bodies around him, all firing forward. No longer could he hear the strange energy weapons that had taken out their armor. Now all he heard was the sounds of infantry combat, something he knew all too well.
“Get me to my feet and point me in the right direction, I can’t bloody see!” Cadence bellowed and someone obeyed.
He was hoisted up to his feet and pushed against the cover. It was for the best as he could tell his leg was broken, snapped at the ankle, but in his current state he couldn’t feel it or at least he paid no attention to it. He rose his gun and started to fire it blindly, joined by his battle brothers.
The dying cries of the xenon seemed to only pepper the darkness. For each alien cry of pain that rang out at least five guardsmen died in ways that he couldn’t imagine. What in the world was happening? He had heard and seen men die but these ones sounded like they were dying slow and horrible. It made his already shocked system flood his brain with the strange mix of fear and panic.
Around him, one of them suddenly fell over and screamed shrilly into the darkness. They shuddered and shivered on the ground in agony while the rest continued to fire, no one could stop to help him. He was just another screaming man in the background. Another joined him, someone right next to Cadence, and the last man standing with him swore heartily while he ripped the gun away from Cadence and fired the last that the power pack could muster.
“frak, frak, frak!” the man screamed before Cadence heard the familiar sound of a sidearm being pulled out. Cadence’s heart swelled with pride. These White Shields, the people of this world, had what it took. At least, that was what he thought before the sound of the weapon went off right next to him and the man with the gun fell over with a thump.
“Coward!” Bellowed Cadence whom scrambled for the dropped pistol, his hand fanning around in the dirt searching for it. “I won’t die a coward! Emperor damn you all, you sniveling slugs!”
“Greetings, Mon-keigh.” came a gravely voice somewhere in front of him.
Cadence’s hand found the weapon, snapped it up, and fired at the sound of the voice. He managed to get three shots off before the hand holding the gun simply was not attached any longer. He felt no paint, just an odd nerve confusion as the limb hit the ground and discharged into the night.
“Shh shh shh, rest now. “ came the voice, so close to him, right before something struck him that felt more like a Ogryn than an eldar. His feet left the ground and he went sailing into the air, already falling to the darkness.
The last thing he heard before it all ended was laughter and a deep bassy grumbling of something large walking towards where he had landed.
Cadence awoke to pain. His whole existence was pain. His mouth had opened first as a ragged shriek ripped from him. His eyes fluttered open but only darkness greeted him. Something felt wrong, something felt missing…he tried to look around, to swivel his vision, nothing felt right. He realized after trying to blink that he no longer had eyes.
Cadence kept right on screaming. He never had stopped. His lungs might burn with the effort but it wasn’t a choice. His whole body felt like it was on fire and being jabbed with red hot pokers. Something immense hummed over him while a snip-snickering noise rapidly clicked and whirred above him, each snip and clack blossoming even more pain. He felt himself being flayed, reduced, some of him disappearing. The thing above him didn’t seem surprised at his sudden screaming. It didn’t pause, didn’t stop, just kept on going like it had never heard him to begin with.
“Interesting!” Came that harsh voice that spoke common. The voice sounded Eldar, that fair and rich voice…but it was flooded with disdain as if the actions of speaking his language was beneath the xeno.
Cadence turned his head and tried to make a demand…but he realized, at this point, his life was reduced to screaming in blind animalistic pain.
“Lovely meeting you! My my, what wonderful lungs! You can’t see them, of course, but I can.”
Cadence’s life was now reduced to pain and confusion.
A hand reached out to touch where the eyes would have been on him and he thrashed in his bonds.
“ You, my mon-keigh friend, might have noticed you aren’t…whole at the moment. Don’t worry your little head. “ The hand removed from his face and something cold bit into his eyelids.
Pain flared. Cadence screamed with fresh vigor and shuddered while his mind became delirious with agony.
“Normally you’d be dead at the moment. I’m sure you can appreciate that fact…or not.” The voice spoke so casually while it removed the other eyelid. “You’re hooked up to a wonderful array of tubes and needles keeping you alive…ish.”
Cadence couldn’t appreciate any of this. The pain dominated his form, his mind, everything. Rational thought wasn’t capable. All he wanted to do was scream, scream, and scream.
“Wonderful. Please do keep this up. It’s simply…refreshing to have a specimen that is so generous with what they can take before their heart give out.” the voice chimed in before the thing above him stopped.
“Ah, finally. Let’s move him to the tank and allow him to enjoy himself for a few days. No no no! Do not use the hooks! “ came his tormentors voice before it went on a melodic but somehow sinister tangent of alien tongue.
The presence above Cadence suddenly was looming so close he could feel the air it expelled brush his hair. Suddenly his world became true agony. He thought before he had been in a living hell, but, as the cold metal manipulated him and lifted his flayed, skinless, and neatly filleted body upwards the pain reached a new plateau. His mouth was open but the noises that he wished to utter could not come forth.
“That’s more like it! Some real spirit. Now drop him into the tank…carefully.” the voice ordered and the hulking thing holding him obeyed.
Cadence felt his raw body fall into a fluid up to his neck. That was the last thing he actually understood because whatever bubbling, hot, and stinging fluid he had been set in obliterated him. His vocal cords were useless in conveying his sense of agony.
Silently the imperial guard suffered,just bones, a bit of flesh and nerves, and his mostly in-tact head floating in a tank of preservative fluids left to suffer. The only noise that was being made was the faint noise of his body rattling around in the fluid and the noise of the sporadic twitching of the dark elder in their caskets, feeding themselves off his suffering, re-knitting their flesh and setting their bones, robbing life from his pain.
Cadence lost all sense of time. His brain lost sense of pain.
He lost all sense of self. He lost all sense of anything.
Cadence wouldn’t remember that he had spent three weeks in that tank. He wouldn’t remember that his heart had burst twice while in the tank, locked in that mind-obliterating agony. He wouldn’t remember that the Talos who had worked on removing his skin and flesh with machine like efficiency fished him out of the tank per orders and brought him to the Haemonculus. He wouldn’t remember the strange looking xeno working on him with grisly delight.
What he would remember is suddenly waking up. Pain was a faint memory. He could see a dark stained floor. His eyes were back. He was confused, puzzled. Where was he? What had happened? Was he still on New Theia? Was it a dream?
The last remaining member of the Sundersand regiment tried to push off the floor and get to his feet and found that too many limbs responded to his command. He felt countless limbs push downwards and lift his body only slightly into the air, at most two or three inches. In his immediate confusion, he realized that he had something in his mouth. The taste was wet, stringy, delicious…but somehow horrifying. Like he was eating a rare-cooked streak back on his homeworld, the juices dripping down his chin.
The thing that was Cadence looked down at the mirror-like puddle of blood mixed with the skin and scraps from the surgical table above him. The watery mirror showed him a vague idea of what horrific fate had befallen him. To even call what he looked like a “him” was too human. Much to his horror his head was mounted onto the body of a haemovore, his upper half of his skull human and surgically melded, the lower half of his jaw pinchers to masticate flesh and thrashing tendril like tongues to slurp the fluids that puddled on the floor. He tried to scream but all he emitted was a strange watery hiss, blood bubbling out of his strange new mouth. Then something “flicked” in his brain and the thing that was Cadence went back to dutifully cleaning the laboratory floors.
Mezahyque, the haemonculus in charge of running the labs when his mistress was away was busily prepping another victim for the rejuvenation pods. He had only stopped to look down at his latest “Pet” project when it made that hilarious attempt at screaming that warmed his hearts…well…most of them. He realized that the brain-modification he had implanted had released it’s hold, allowing the mon-keigh to realize, once again for the first time seemingly, his grisly fate.
The fact that it was so entertaining after five human years astounded Mezahyque. He was amazed that the biological system he had implemented was working so soundly, detecting the level of shock and switching back on to let his “assistant” go back to being a mindless little clean-up worm. Sadly, his Mistress didn’t share the same love of his practice and did not approve of his proposal to make a small fleet of these off the next slaves.
Still, the worm was useful. After his nerve endings had died the mental anguish that flared now and then made a refreshing pick me up and always had him working away with new vigor. Much to his newest victim’s dismay.
The part that always got the Dark Eldar surgeon was that the man had a chance to avoid this. He could have followed the example of the mon-keigh that blew out his own brain. He guessed this one wanted to take the Brave way out.
What a fool.