Chapter 43: Stand of Defiance

Location: Somewhere near Logger's Path

996.M41

I keep an eye on the man who has everything to lose but I caution myself with a man who has none.

- Ronelious Sandig, Spymaster

Their withdrawal from Yavin was supposed to be quick, using mobility to outrun any possible threats and using their knowledge of their terrain to the fullest. But much to his chagrin, they had forgotten one major fact about their opponents. Though admittedly smarter than a regular greenskin, the orks that had invaded their planet still possess the primitive instinct to rush their prey and using their superior numbers to bleed them to the point where a toddler could kill them with a spoon. And so with that in mind and with the newfound information thanks to the brave efforts of their scout team, the ranking officers made a decision. A group of orks, possibly the size of a warband was marching towards them from the direction of Yau'le.

Of how this has happened, they were unsure. It may be that the orks had overtook them with the goal to intercept them was still up for debate. It was a debate that might be left unresolved. And with another pack of orks possibly hot on their trail, they were caught smack right in the middle of a pincer attack. Thus the retreating troops of Yavin once again divided themselves into two groups. The first was led by the farseers and warlock. It consisted of the injured and a few combat ready soldiers, they would disembark from their brutes and cut a path through the trees. It was a desperate attempt at evading the incoming redskins by their flanks. If travelling on foot, they should reach the capital by two days or maybe three.

Then there was the second group, a force consisting twenty-five able bodied soldiers including himself would be left behind with the transports and initiate a distraction long enough for the first group to escape. He, Captain Julius Arch has volunteered to lead this group. The cold decision to leave the said soldiers behind came from Warlock Uldereth and though it brought some bitterness, anger and despair on the troops attached, it soon turned to resolve and determination.

They were the soldiers whose fates have been sealed. Little was said after that as everyone occupied themselves with preparing for the defense of the second group and the travel for the first, both knowing that it would be the last time that they would be seeing their brothers and sisters in arms. The brutes were moved to make an improvised perimeter circle, providing the guardsmen some ounce of protection. Overall, it took only a few minutes to prepare even with the storm that has been raging for quite some time.

Julius was not at all oblivious to Elain's subtle reaction earlier when he volunteered. But with only four of them who were experienced with leading a unit left, it was quite obvious that a guardsman captain like him would be a preferred loss rather than a farseer or a warlock. Elain disagreed with him, and she made it known through their connection. The time came to part, friends, said their goodbyes and comrades could only encourage one another of the upcoming fight. As for him and Elain, it was a short exchange.

Her green eyes bore down on him, she dawned an expressionless mask that hid her emotions from him. He on the other hand could only sigh.

"I have a million things that I want to say to you but...now is hardly the time to be honest." The guardsman told his ranking officer with a sad smile and a shrug.

"Then when will you say it? When you're dead?"

"...Someone has to do it. And you know that, Elain." He answered back.

Elain turned her back at him.

"Captain Julius Arch, I thank you for your service, for fulfilling your duties to the end, for becoming my closest confidant." The farseer told him.

"Die well." And she was gone, walking towards her group.

A lump had formed in his throat. He wanted to tell his feelings, his attraction towards her that had been nurtured and strengthened during their time together. But saying it now would only be a bother for her and now more than ever, she needs her focus. He watched her walk away before she and her soldiers along with Farseer Lofn and Warlock Uldereth disappeared under the cloak of the darkened forest.

Before anything else, he reached to the depths of his mind and grasp the line of connection that the two shared. With much remorse and guilt, he sent one last message for her.

"I'm sorry." Then he broke it, terminating their last form of communication.

The dull thump of bullets ripping the dirt behind him reached his ears as he dodged for cover. Landing roughly on his belly, he ignored the force of impact and swiftly leaned on the wall of his small entrenchment. Without wasting time, superheated bolts burst out from the barrel of his lasgun causing a pair of crimson gretchins to fall. But almost instantly, bullets the size of bolter rounds forced him to duck behind cover. His vox-link crackled to life revealing the voice of his sergeant.

"Captain, they've surrounded us! They-" the sentence was left unfinished as static filled his helmet.

Cursing under his breath, Julius prayed to whatever omniscient being that could hear him that the other half of their meager force has reached other friendly troops. He attempted to hail the soldiers placed under his command but received no answer. With enemy fire causing soil to rain over him, he braced for the worst. The guardsman raised his lasgun above his head and over his rapidly diminishing cover. Not bothering to aim, he pulled the trigger spraying lasfire on full auto towards any damned ork close enough to be hit.

Julius felt his personal lasgun heat up through his gloves but he kept on laying down suppressing fire. Noticing the gap in between enemy shots, he stopped sending out lasfire and bolted out of his would be grave. Not even five steps out, a small metallic ding echoed behind him and the next thing he knew, he was sailing through the air before collapsing back to the ground. His breath was knocked out of him as he landed on his back.

"Fuck." Julius groaned as he collected himself.

Warmth covered his right leg and was numb, still he pressed on. In an attempt to pick himself up, he felt a sharp pain flair on the back of his left shoulder. Whatever it was, it must have been strong and fast to break through carapace armor. His left arm went limp as a result. He ignored it and proceeded to limp away as fast as he could. He paid no mind to the absence of his lasgun, he was simply focused on finding a sturdy enough cover against the bullets. All around him, small plumes of dust clouds arose from the ground as it was disturbed by the impact of the ork projectiles. Just as he was about to reach the bark of a fallen tree, he felt four consecutive thumps on his back causing him to topple onto the ground.

As luck would have it, Julius felt no pain telling him that his damaged carapace armor was able to catch whatever had hit him. The boisterous roars of the orks inspired anger within him. First was that they tarnished his world with their presence. Next, they invaded and slaughtered his people as if it was some sport. Exhausted and injured, the captain dragged himself towards the trunk. While struggling to prop himself up, the orks seemed to have noticed him and began rushing towards him.

He saw them running towards him, as if children racing towards their price. Breathing laboriously and two of his limbs being unresponsive, he knew that his chances of surviving were low. Unholstering his equalizer, he levelled it towards an approaching ork. Julius knew that even with the upgraded output of his laspistol, it would only be able to boil the wretched ork's skin. So he did something that he hasn't done for a long time.

The Arch heir, called forth his connection to the warp. He felt the pull it has on his soul but his willpower resisted it firmly. Then came the surge of power, flowing through him like electricity. In a matter of seconds it manifested, enveloping him in a blinding white flame. Underneath the shade of a forest, the sudden brightness caused the approaching orks to falter. He heard them hiss as their hands moved to shield their eyes.

This single moment was what Julius was betting on. Pouring his psychic energy to the power pack of his equalizer and with a short incantation, he then pulled the trigger. What came out was not the brilliant shade of red that lasweapons were known to emit but a torrent of compressed warp fire. It spread towards the bulk of the orks, engulfing them in a shining white cloak. The flames were quick but their deaths were painful.

Even as the bestial screams subsided he continued to fan his own flames using his psychic power to fuel it. When he halted his efforts out of exhaustion, he had burned much of the area in front of him to crisp leaving charred remains of the once tall trees and battle crazed orks. Julius dropped his equalizer, its frame feeling too heavy of a burden for his right arm to bear. With trembling hands, he reached and activated his vox-link once more.

"Captain...Arch to...is anyone still alive?"

No response.

He attempted again but was met with the same result.

One and a half, one and a half day. That's all we gave them.

And he hoped that it was enough.

He sat there, slowly bleeding out from his injuries. Julius allowed it, not that he wanted to die but because his body felt too heavy to move. It felt as he was wearing a dead power armor. A space marine would be able to handle it but for a regular human, even with traces of eldar blood, it was neigh impossible.

A rustle made him force his head to turn towards the source. It was a little ways in his left where his flames had not touched. The bushes gave way revealing a worse for wear ork. Its armor, which only consisted of welded plates of metal on his chest was scorched and melted. Wearing it while being exposed to the high temperatures would've definitely hurt. Its exposed limbs were boiled with its left arm, from the elbow downwards seemed to have mutated as bones jutted out of its skin in unnatural ways. Its face was no better.

If before it would've had a face that only its mother would love, now the said mother would've screamed and pull out a plasma weapon at the mere sight of it. Julius was surprised, not many have survived his warp flames and still, those handful of individuals who did were too mutated to be able to retaliate. The ork saw him as he saw it.

Without skipping a beat, it walked towards him with an obvious limp. It grunted as it moved but continued on anyways in its slow pace. On his part, Julius tried to lift his equalizer that he still held in his hand. The said hand was bleeding as his gloves were burned away by the intensity of the move he just pulled. The guardsman was able to aim it at the approaching ork but with great difficulty. Yet when he pulled the trigger, the upgraded laspistol only emitted a quiet fizz before going silent. His eyes drifted to the power pack that has been deformed severely.

A shadow covered him causing Julius to look up at the ork standing in front of him. It grunted and hissed at him. He tried to make a snarky comment but a fit of cough got the best of him followed by globs of blood escaping his mouth. He attempted to wipe the blood away but the next thing he felt was being lifted up in the air which was quite painful for him. The ugly face of the ork was the last thing he saw before pain in his abdomen flared. His sight started to dim until he completely lost consciousness.