Dawn was approaching on the Imperial world of Waxion. The horizon glistened with sickly crimson light, as though the sun were radiating over a sea of blood.

Valia did not want to die. She was only seventeen old while the average lifespan of a human according to what she had read was ninety. It was unfair for her to leave her mortal coil so soon, not when there were many things she wished she could do.

Born of the war-torn planet Cadia II, named after the famous fortress world that was lost in the Warp centuries ago, Valia's first memory was of war. She remembered digging trenches and scurrying across them with munition before she was old enough to wield a gun and started firing at the Chaos armies that constantly invaded her homeworld. She had no memory of her parents, neither their face nor their deeds. She was told they died heroically while fighting against the Archenemy. For all she knew, they might have been shot by commissars for fleeing from combat or committed suicide to be spared from what horror the universe threw at. Valia herself had been having these ideas from time to time, and the officers tended to say that cowardice was a hereditary thing.

Miraculously, she survived her childhood after watching so many of her friends dying in horrific manners or traumatized to the point the planet authorities had to convert them into servitors to maintain their usefulness. At the age of sixteen, she was given two options: she could remain in the local militia where the food stank and people bullied her to get her stinky food or she could join the interstellar army where the food did not stink too badly, and the people bullying her would risk standing at the wrong side of a firing line. At that point, she naively picked the latter.

Big mistake! And now she regretted it more than ever.

During her short service, she was forced to fight against the Orks on Daiji V, an experience both good and bad. Good in that she made a lot of friends during the journey, with some of them making hilarious jokes. Bad in that all of her friends got mercilessly hacked to pieces by the Greenskins.

And just when Valia thought it was over, as the last of the aliens on Daiji V were purged, she was immediately sent to the next planet, Waxion, which also happened to be filled with maniac hostiles. This time, though, her enemy was the Forces of Chaos.

Adding to her horror, she was all alone now. Urban combat was a bitter and hellish thing. Her entire squad was cut down in an earlier ambush. She only survived because she knew when to run and that the commanding officer had been the first to fall before she could execute Valia. Though the act saved her life then, Valia had put herself in a corner, with neither the Forces of Chaos nor the Astra Militarum willing to let her live should they get her hands on her.

Valia moved through the ruins sluggishly. The streets were choke-full of debris, war machine wreckages, and corpses of combatants on both sides. If the terrain were not unforgiving enough, her boots being too large and her socks ridden with holes added to the misery of her feet. Unfortunately, being second-priority meant everything she had was standard issue for the bulk of the army which, unsurprisingly, consisted of men who were not only bigger but also more resilient than her should their gear malfunctioned. As much as she wanted to relieve her of her awful footwear, walking barefooted in an area filled with broken glass, shrapnel and Emperor-knows-what wasn't such a good idea.

As Valia made her way through the rubble, she heard rasping voices nearby. Turning around, she saw two figures heading towards her. They looked very lean and were dressed in purple khaki that left much of the skin exposed. Their bodies tattooed with twisted images that unsettled the mind. Before Valia could react, the enemy spotted her. One of them let out an inhuman howl and both rushed at her instead of taking cover.

Valia switched herself to a firing position as per training, shouldered her lasgun, and pulled the trigger. The first two shots went wide. The cultists did not bother lowering their heads even as the las beams seared through the air mere inches away from them. The third shot slammed home, punching one off his feet. The other Chaos human was upon her, a jagged knife bearing. Valia shot him in the eye at point-blank range, putting a smoking hole through his shaved skull.

More silhouettes were coming, alerted from the howling earlier. They neither looked nor sounded happy. Deciding the best course of action would be to retreat (as it always had been), Valia straightened up and sprinted from her position. The stupid standard-issue boots were a real annoyance, and she could not take two steps without almost losing her balance. She did not get far before she fell over. A sharp pain running through her body indicated her ankle was strayed. She could not walk anymore. She was sitting duck now.

This is it, then, Valia thought. Her fated moment which she had been avoiding her whole life had come at last.

Not going down without a fight, Valia opened fire on full auto, killing one, two, three more cultists who had only T-shirts to protect themselves. A fourth, the last of them, got into melee range. Valia tried to smack him with the rifle butt to no avail. The cultist knocked the weapon away from her and pinned her down by her face. Instead of killing her. Chaos soldier removed Valia's helmet, revealing her dirty wheat-blond hair. Her blue eyes were teary.

"You look nice, sister," he said, licking his lips with an unnaturally long tongue. If his pinkish skin did not spill the beans, then the icon on his shoulder did: the man was a follower of Slaanesh, the God of Pleasure. "Prettier than the others we've killed so far. We are going to have some fun, aren't we? Now, where do I start?"

Valia screamed, and the cultist relished in that. She twitched and struggled, but the man was stronger. Campfire tales had it that the servants of Slaanesh were tougher than their slim appearance betrayed. After all, it took a considerable amount of strength to be able to share a bed with a daemonette without losing one's testicle. Now Valia wanted to die badly. Whatever fate awaited her at the hand of his sadistic pervert was bound to be worse. She twitched her body violently, only to be responded with a fist to her gut that knocked the air out of her.

The cultist ran his hand at the part between her legs. The sensation was overwhelming: pain, embarrassment, despair, and dark ecstasy altogether. Valia sweated heavily as he did so, nearly pissing herself and ruining her near-perfect track record of not doing so for five weeks.

Then, as if a miracle had happened, the cultist stopped. Valia finally caught her breath; any more of that and she would bite her tongue to death. As she came to sense, she saw that the miracle had indeed happened after all. The depraved Chaos follower was dead, his face staring blankly at the sky even though he was prone, and Valia found herself looking at a giant. He was at least two meters in height, his bulging muscles uncannily resembling the Greenskins she faced on Daiji V. He wore a sleeveless shirt rather than the standard flak armor and a necklace made from teeth taken from Orks and Tyranids around his neck. Valia saw a vicious-looking knife on his back and a melta pistol at his side.

Valia recognized what world he came from immediately: Catachan.

"You are OK, girl?" he asked caringly. The man had a loud, low-pitched voice and the accent of someone who did not speak Low Gothic often.

"I think I am fine," replied Valia in relief. She checked her body for injuries and found none visible on her body. "Oww, except I think I have a sprained ankle."

"Let me help you with that," the Catachan offered. Valia was taken back by his kind behavior.

"Would have been a lot worse if you hadn't shown up," Valia remarked as she tried to gather herself and scanned for up her weapon. "I believe I owe you my thanks, though don't expect me to repay that. I'm... not good at keeping promises."

A las beam zipped through the air, heralding the arrival of yet more cultists. Valia attempted to get up but failed miserably, her broken ankle failing to respond just when she needed most. Before she realized what occurred next, the Catachan had carried her on his shoulder as a man would carry an ammo box. Valia had no time to protest as the Catachan sped up like a bull and went straight into the valley while under heavy fire.

"Hang on," said the Catachan.

Cultists surrounded them. With one free hand, the Catachan grabbed his knife in deft movements. He chopped off two heads with a single swipe. Valia watched with awe as her comrade fought like a beast to defend them both. She still had her lasgun, but it was impossible to fire from where she was, on the shoulder of someone else. Still, more cultists appeared, replenishing their losses faster than an Ork could eat his tasty Squig. There were so many of them. Despite the death world fighter's inhuman prowess, he was in no position to win at this rate.

Then, the booming noise of an autocannon filled the air. Explosive projectiles shredded the cultists like papers and mowed them down in droves. Valia and the Catachan turned towards the direction where the fire was coming from, the second floor of a relatively intact building that used to be a bakery. The sight of allied personnel in the area rekindled their hope despite them still being severely outnumbered. The Catachan ran behind the wall of a shattered building and watched the battle unfold through its window.

The cultists changed their direction and advanced towards the heavy weapon emplacement. Accurate las fire joined in from the bakery, slaying many Chaos troops that got through the barrage. Even with sustained firepower punishing them dearly, several cultists had converged around the entrance of the building. Valia had an urged to help those Imperials from being overwhelmed, but before she could speak out, the cultists were thrown back in disarray. Bodies were sent flying from the entrance of the bakery like rag dolls, smashing into walls and the hard ground leaving trails of blood or impaled on steel frames jutting out of the cement. After several minutes, the Chaos humans had had enough and fled for their lives, leaving a score laid dead in their wake.

Valia dared think they would be safe at last when a Chaos Spawn barred in their way. The creature was a manifestation of the Warp, its abhorrent body pink like the rest of the cultists and covered in a thick layer of smudge. It had three outstretched arms, five legs, three tails, two mouths - one on its face and another, much larger, on its thorax - so many creepy eyes, and no symmetry whatsoever.

Valia screamed frantically at the sight, her savior's response was nothing but professional. In swift movements, he discarded his knife and reached for his melta-pistol. He fired. The Spawn reeled back, squirming in pain and half its face and about two-thirds its eyes all but gone. Unfortunately, the melta-pistol required time to recharge, and the Chaos Spawn recovered much quicker than that. It pounced again, and the jungle fighter had only his arm to protect himself. Valia was about to screech when a long-las shot exploded on its shoulder and sent the creature off balance, thus missing its charge by a tiny margin. Capitalizing on the distraction, the Catachan finished recharging and fired his melta weapon again. A massive smoking hole punched into its face, the abomination shuddered and lied dead.

"Looks like we are not the only Imperials in the vicinity," the Catachan remarked. "The is also a fine marksman on our side."

"Praise the Emperor," Valia added.

The two finally made it to the building where their allies were. Once they were in, the Catachan put Valia's on a coach and tended to her feet as meticulously as a father would. Her bare feet emitted a stench from the old socks, much to Valia's embarrassment, but the Catachan didn't seem to mind. Four men greeted them. Three men, Valia corrected herself, and an Ogryn. While many worlds across the Imperium were tolerant to abhumans designated as friendly, Cadia II was not one of them.

"Ah. It's good to see more of our men have survived the enemy onslaught," the first man began. He was dressed in a refined junior officer uniform, colorful if not a bit too gaudy for the battlefield. Valia could not resist her jealousy seeing someone whose uniform actually fit their body so perfectly like that. The Pickelhelm on top of his head was also well-crafted and almost spotlessly polished. He also smelled nice, which added to the problem she had with how he appeared.

Valia was loathed to think badly of the person who just saved her, but she couldn't help but feel a pang of jealously knowing some regiments of the Astra Militarum went to war with all their luxuries. These regiments tended to perform better due to high morale, as long as they didn't get too complacent.

"Glad to find you guys," replied the Catachan. "I thought we were goners back there."

The officer flashed a soft smile. "With you two, that makes six of us," he went on. "I am Lieutenant Luggana Leitdorf of the 11th Mordian Iron Guard, the "Silver Swan", by the way."

The Mordian Iron Guards were out of action for as long as half a century, spending that time to re-consolidate and reorganizing themselves rather than fighting against the Emperor's foe. They came out from that period significantly reduced in strength but offering superior troops than previously. A brief look may give them the impression of an effigy, but Mordian soldiers were second to none in combat, and many a foe had paid the ultimate price for underestimating their competence.

"Thanks for the rescue," said the Catachan. "A fine showing. The name here is Randy Nebular, but for Throne's sake, just call me Randy. I can't handle too much detail. I am a Master Sergeant."

"I am trooper Valia of the 256th Cadian Shock Troops," Valia said anxiously. She was the lowest rank around here. Her desertion earlier also made her adverse to being around other undisgraced Imperial Guardsmen. "An honor to meet you all."

"Grenadier R40592 at your service," introduced the second man grimly. Unlike the Mordian officer, he wore a plain grey uniform with his face hidden behind a gas mask despite no reports indicating the Forces of Chaos were deploying chemical weapons. He had magazine pelts hanging on his chest, so Valia guessed he was the heavy weapon operator. "Death Korp of Krieg. 26th Infantry Regiment."

Valia had a decent respect for the guardsmen from the Death Korps of Krieg. They were renowned throughout the Imperium for their stubbornness in the face of insurmountable odds, never retreating and never looking back.

"Trooper Mkeller," the third chimed in with an obnoxious voice. He wore camo cloaks and looked more scruffy than the other two companions, though not as much as Randy. Valia presumed he was the sniper earlier. Being outside the squad structure and usually operating alone, these lone wolves developed a personality that was both anti-social and alienating. "3rd Tanith Regiment."

The Tanith earned much of their name in the Sabbat World Crusade as masters of scout, marksmanship, and infiltration. Valia was happy to have one of them here with her.

The last person in the room was an Ogryn, a hulking creature that towered even the Catachan. He gave everyone a dumb look, jumping his gaze sporadically from one to another.

"Come on now," encouraged Leitdorf. "Don't be shy. Tell us who you are and which part of the Astra Militarum you came from."

"With respect, Herr Leitdorf," R40592 cut in. "I don't think he possesses the ability to speak Low Gothic anymore. Just look at him, he is…"

Before he could finish, the Ogryn whooped loudly. "Me iz Bragg Gutsman. Savlar Chem Dogz. Me iz 'ere teh smash those bad Chaos boyz to bits. Fer da Emprah!"

"Not too bad, isn't he?" asked Leitdorf. He sat down clasped his hands together to get others' attention. "Now. It seems we have known who we are fighting alongside. If anyone does not already know in advance who we are fighting against, I will gladly put a las round through his head. Since I am the highest-ranking person right here and right now, does anybody here object to my assuming leadership?"

Nobody answered.

"Good luck, Lieutenant," said the Tanith mockingly. "Please go ahead and show us the way to glorious victory."

"I understand how you feel, trooper," said Leitdorf evenly. He didn't seem to think it was a joke. Given he was from Mordia born and bred, that was highly the case. "But glorious victory can wait. Right now, our goal is survival. The enemy has numbers, and we don't. Until reinforcement arrives, we are on our own. I want this parameter secured and…"

Valia did not hear the rest of his blabbering. She was quick to sleep. The day had been long and weary. She was still young. The others let her be.

With more battles to come, Valia wondered how further she could survive in this hellish reality. For the very least, she would not have to tolerate these horrendous boots for long.

A/N: My first attempt at Imperial Guards. Tell me what you think. Hope you enjoy it.