M43.644.286

Not a bang, not a whimper, but instead, a slow, bleeding groan that stretches into the ever-malignant uncertainty of the future.

Such is how an empire dies. Slowly- marred in violence and internal strife, subsisting only through the sacrifice of the unnamed and unknown millions who fight and die at the command of uncaring distant lords. The Imperium in the forty-third millennium could be likened to a corpse that did not know that it was yet dead; the limbs spasm and twitch, fulfilling orders that are no longer relevant. For in the forty-third, madness has taken root across the galaxy. It would be wrong to call it the End-Times, but it would be a lie to say that they were not far off.

From the mouths of madmen, blind prophets, and accursed heretic demagogues, were dark utterances screamed to the huddled masses. Hysteria was visited on cardinal worlds of the imperium in the form of unsanctioned Psykers shrieking of a damned future. Screaming fell names, apostate preachers roused their cults, and filled the streets of hive-cities with their dark hymns in the claim that now was The Time of Dusk.

Even as these false-prophets burned at the stake, they would still say that the manifest destiny of mankind has become bitter and ashen, that The Shattering had seen to the death of all, that the dark-gods would at last have their final victory. Words such as Lies, Heresy, and Madness, were prescribed to these epithets that were so bitingly shouted by those who burned. The citizenry was reassured, their souls and minds assuaged by familiar passages and keen propaganda, the simpler folk clung to the falsehoods with all the might they could muster, for otherwise, the possibilities were too horrific to imagine.

It is only in truth, that despite its blasphemous portents, the cold kernel of doubt remained in the heart of the faithful.

Countless times before has Mankind been at the brink of annihilation; The Dark Age of Technology, the Age of Strife, The Horus Heresy, The War of the Beast, The Age of Apostasy, The Wars of Armageddon, The Tyranid Incursions, The Baddab Wars, The Black Crusades, these have all tested mankind and each time mankind stood triumphant over their foes. Bloodied, and unbalanced, but ever yet resilient.

The Shattering was different.

Never before has The Emperors light been so dark and distant- the shining beacon at the head of The Throne World nothing more than a faint ember. Once thought limitless, the ranks of the Imperial Guard dwindle. The strength of the Astartes; once thought indomitable, now more akin to a blunted sword coated in rust.

The Sisterhood of the Sororitas, a bastion of peerless faith, finds a dark needle of blasphemous uncertainty lacing its thread through their tapestries of devotion. The venerable hulls of the Imperial Navy are as scarred and broken as the battlefleets they are a part of, and the revered god-machines of the Adeptus Titanicus find their maniples understrength and undersupplied.

The once unstoppable might that was the Imperium of Man has been blunted. It was shattered. It all came to its end upon the day Abbadon launched his thirteenth and final crusade.

And although it can be readily said that the Imperium did not break without its allotment of blood, the cost for slaying Abbadon the Despoiler once and for all was a price that has now crippled what little strength the Imperium had left. The borders are closing in, the shadows teem with Xenos raiders, dark cults stir, and renegade warbands coalesce.

Mankind has not the strength to withstand another storm.

The galaxy does not care.

The waters begin to rise.

`Tis the last Chorus 'fore the final verse.

This world once Was.

It was once a world of blue and green. It was once a noble planet. People bent towards humility. Rulers humble and kind.

Prosperous lands, tilled by peasantry, living quietly under the guidance of a single grand monarchy, its holds spanned across the singular equatorial landmass of the largely aquatic planet.

It was once all this, now never again.

In golden light- the days of the Great Crusade, was this world then brought into the imperial fold. Salvation from the terror of old night, from behind the curtain of a warp-storm. Its saviors came from the void with their heraldry that of a wolf. They were the Luna Wolves, and at their head was the favored son of The Emperor, Horus Lupercal.

It was this cursed history that would lead to the systems ruin. In the darkness of the forty-third millennium, a schism grew within the monarchy as these old tales were rediscovered, the days of founding. Recidivists saw to the usurpation of the king and queen, and the installment of their own puppet lords that cried the name of Horus towards the sky in adulation, braying for their master to show them the truth of his path and deliver them from the cage that was the Imperium that he rebelled from so long ago.

Corruption, born from the howling of madmen burrowed to the surface and made known their unholy growths.

They summoned up dark magicks that hid away the sun, and they carpeted fields with rotting black flags, each one daubed with a singular blood red eye that leered up at the cosmos in calling. Dark runes were carved into innocent flesh, the still beating hearts of these victims torn out and sacrificed upon crimson alters bespoken of grand and eternal war. The gods of the warp -both fickle and malicious- granted a portion of favor to this damned world.

Heretic prognosticators screamed of dark glory to be gained, of a return of Chaos triumphant in the conquering of this defenseless systems bereft of warriors and starships. This dark promise of a twisted and corpulent hope drew forth both Warbands and Renegades, lost without the protection afforded to them by The Eye of Terror. So it was made so, that upon the eighth day of genuflection unto the dark name of Horus and his legacy of treachery, that the sky above the once humble planet named Valtavyn, was turned black by the hundreds of thousands of war-scarred landing ships dyed red by a gore-hued sun.

Valtavyn fell; it fell long before even the first heretic survivor of The Shattering set foot upon its fields. The land was already sewn with chaos by the feudal heathen warlords that now vied for control of its singular grand central cathedral. The system of Mulvan fell, and from the Mulvan system, a ramshackle warband of less than a thousand destitute fleets, traitors, and renegades turned their attentions to the sub-sector and conquered its several hundred worlds.

With this boon of slaves, this cursed stretch of subsystems now decreed itself the Apostates Lash. This cull of hedonists and murderers turned its claws to the sector, and skewered through the meager defense flotillas that had been drawn from to defend the Cadian Gate and were then lost in the mutual destruction wrought of the disastrous 13th.

The Apostates Lash was a collection of the desperate and the weak; for the conquering of this swath of once Imperial territory was not enacted out of strength, it was born out of necessity. The Eye of Terror, once a haven for the madmen of the arch-enemy, was in turmoil.

Discord within the Eye of Terror was nothing new, it was a realm of Chaos and so it was naturally chaotic and inclined to the whim of the dark gods. After The Shattering, this changed. The balance of power shifted unequivocally, the Great Game of the Chaos Gods had been turned on its head, and within the warp did great armies of daemons clash against each other in a manner never seen before. There had been a deception, a trick, a gambit that not even Tzeentch had foreseen had been enacted by the Dread Anathema.

Of what he had done, of what He had stolen from under their noses that had incited the chaos gods in such a manner none can say, but its effects were manifest in the absence of daemonic incursions- if only for a moment. And for the Eye, the dark pocket of corrupted realspace writhed, the internal warp rift spasmed and broke, a great ruinous storm shattered the worlds that lay within its hazy caress.

The Imperium and its learned few knew nothing of this, for all they knew, nothing had changed and the forces of the arch-enemy were as strong as ever. And it was so, that even when battered and weary, The Imperium gathered what was left of its strength.

The Great Crusade had seen to the gatherings of the greatest number of imperial forces ever imagined. The Emperor and his sons oversaw the mustering of billions of ships and their countless trillions of soldiers, serfs, and servants.

In the dark days after the Heresy but before the shattering, crusading fleets under the guidance of Warmasters saw to the reconquering of imperial territory lost to the countless enemies of mankind. Still, these conquests were but pale shadows of the numbers seen during the Great Crusade. Though a shadow in comparison, they were still mighty, they were unstoppable gatherings of imperial strength, the resources of an entire galaxy-wide empire condensed and distributed for one, singular purpose in the destruction of an enemy, the Imperial war machine was both unrelenting and uncaring.

In the darkness after The Shattering, what now served as an Imperial Crusade was nothing more than a ragged band of those with power enough to fight. The back of the Imperium was broken, even a few dozen battlefleets was almost too much to ask for, and several hundred dozen regiments almost unmanageable, to say nothing about Astartes, Titans, Knights, and Sororitas. The territorial losses the Imperium suffered during these dark decades were said to rival those seen during only the Horus Heresy.

A crusade against the Apostates Lash was not wanted, nor was it needed. The renegades of the Lash were crippled and tired. They were exhausted and depleted. Their ships were barley held together wrecks without the means to be repaired, supplies were so depleted that those few remaining traitor astartes among them had resorted to using repurposed mortal weapons.

The several desolate forge worlds they had captured were nothing more than skeletons, and the armory worlds among them were barren. The realm of the apostates lash had neither the means nor the resources to be of any immediate threat to the imperium. If given at least a handful of centuries to gather slaves and allow the dark adepts of the traitor priests of mars to man the forge worlds and gather resources, then maybe the Lash would pose a threat, and if the masters of the lash were of such right-mindedness, than maybe they would agree to stay their hand for the moment.

Imperium and Lash both smelled the blood in the void, the blood of each other. They wanted the fight to end. Both wanted the Long War to finally be over.

The remnants of Chaos prepared its defenses, the broken armies of the Imperium made ready for one last war.

It begins with a man.

A human, a mortal, a spec so insignificant when put against the backdrop of the galaxy that he measured no more as an ant, digging within the crust of a planet, floating through the void. He is naught but dust in the dirt, a raindrop in the ocean, a single blade of grass amidst a field.

All the same, he is a soldier, an Imperial Guardsman. He knows his insignificance in the grand game of the galaxy more than almost any other. His duty is to die. His purpose is to die in such a manner that his corpse may be used by his betters to build the rampart that scales the fortress walls that think to hide humanities final victory.

His armor is in tatters and his equipment is dented, burnt, and chipped. His body is battered and his ears are bleeding. He is filthy with mud and smeared with soot and shit. His scarred, torn up and worn face is scowling with a look of grim petulance, and despite a split lip and freely bleeding gash across his cheek, he does not seem aware of the pain. He is fighting for his life in a blood-drenched pit.

The guardsman thrashes, fighting tooth and nail, clawing at his enemy, grappling for control of his opponent's weapon. Entangled with him is an equally dirty man, but his filth seeps from the soul. Covered in ritual brands and scarred with devotionals towards dark powers, a Heretic with exposed muscles and animal furs stitched to his own skin snarls at the guardsman with peeled back lips.

The Guardsman currently has the advantage, but only barley.

He struggles to pin the cultists face- down beneath him, trying to force the lunatics head below the murky loam at the bottom of the crater they find themselves embattled within. It is an ugly brawl, brutish and uncivilized, both of them snarling in contempt for the other. For the simple fact of its pure animosity, it is perfectly human.

The Guardsman fights, throwing punches, his torn up knuckles driving into the heretic's skull before as forces the cultists down, trying to keep the sigil-scarred mans head just under the brackish water long enough for him to lose strength and drown. He struggles to keep the cultist pinned; the wild thrashing nearly throws him off, and his gurgled screams ring in his ears.

The guardsman grits his teeth, trying to force the man back under, and failing as the heathen surges upwards with a burst of desperate strength, and it is only a second later that the heretic is falling upon the guardsman with an ecstatic, gleeful shriek.

Chipped and dirty fingernails claw at the guardsman's face, digging into flesh as the enemy wraps his hands around the guardsman's neck, crazed like some pestilent beast. Choking for air, the soldier kicks upwards, trying to dislodge the fiend even as another salvo of artillery hammers down from the sky itself. The cataclysmic crashing shakes the world, beating his eardrums into deafness. The guardsman feels himself weakening, his pulse screams in his head. The heretic squeezes tighter, grunted slurs and oaths spill from his blood filled mouth, spitting out of his stitched-open lips.

The Imperial soldier reaches around him, plying the murky loam with desperate fingers until at last fortune favors him and his hand scrapes over a familiar shape. With an unheard prayer he brings up a mud-slick revolver from the loam and plants the barrel squarely under the heretics chin.

The cylinder turns, a beam of heat lances through the skull of the cultist, incinerating both brain and bone in a split instant that spews ash out of vaporized eye sockets as flakes of brain flutter out of the cultists nose and mouth to fall across the desperately heaving guardsman. The body falls limp atop the Imperial. Blinking rapidly, trying to clear his eyes of the heat flash, he breathes through his nose, smearing the remains of the cultist off of him. He can taste charred bits of skull and burnt hair in his mouth with even viler substances- he nearly vomits. He shoves the corpse off of him, letting it slip beneath the mire.

He struggles to stand as the world is shattered again as yet another bracketing salvo of high-explosive shells smashes into the ground around his deep, waterlogged shelter. Any semblance of the once pristine farmlands was being torn away with each barrage as traitor and imperial batteries dueled each other from entrenched positions miles away. The guardsman ignores all of this like tree ignores a rainstorm.

He leans back against the side of the crater; and again tries to wipe the mud and guts and bits of heretic from his face and only further succeeds in smearing the offal across his blunt and tired features. He vomits weakly; half digested rations spewing down the front of his flak vest. He wipes his mouth and fumbles his lasweapon in his shaking hands- he had thought himself rid of the damned shakes over a decade ago.

The muddy revolver is cold in his grip; he swings out the cylinder and removes the spent microlas capsule, exchanging it with a fresh one. The weapon held only six shots, but each lasbolt was enough to burn clean through carapace armor, the person inside it, and out the back. He fondles the grip; he lets the engravings upon it press into his callused palm, they comfort him, they remind him of home.

It is a weapon that has never yet failed him, he spins it, and slots it home into his holster. The guardsman takes a moment to shut his eyes, silence the daemons in his head, and stop his legs from shaking like a frakking newblood conscript before a charge.

"Sacred-shite, you're better than this,"

He seethes.

"You're Fendoran,"

He smacks himself,

"you're born in the sands,"

He hits himself again,

"you're born proud,"

Another,

"Act like it!"

With a final blow across his face, he takes a long pull from his canteen before the war reminds him of where he stands with yet another salvo of heathen artillery destroying the world outside of the crater and nearly sending him sprawling back into the red tinged water of the crater. He stumbles and packs his canteen away, he then struggles through the mud and guts that make up his surroundings.

This soldier has a name, and it is Hastis. He is an Acolyte of the inquisition, it is a sacred, a coveted position. To him, it is nothing more than a position that has been forced upon him, it is a position he never wanted.

Across from him, nearly buried under a landslide of corpses, coughing and half conscious as his world spun from what was likely a concussion- was another guardsman, strapped to his back was a heavy set of Vox equipment. Heaving, struggling to breathe with almost a quarter of his face torn up from shrapnel this guardsman lurches upwards, pushing half-mulched bodies off of him before falling back down against the slope of the crater.

The front of his flak vest is shredded, bits of metal stick out across its surface; it likely saved his life. Grabbing the guardsman by the shoulders, Hastis hauls him up, steadying him; he methodically begins tearing the worst of the shrapnel from the ruined side of the guardsman's face. He ignores when the vox-carrying guardsman heaves, coughing up chunks of dirt and mud that splatter across Hastis' face, Hastis simply holds him straight and grimaces. He's dealt with this before, the boy just needs to clear his system.

The guardsman's eyes open, panic fading as he begins to breathe in the familiar soot-choked air of a battlefield. Hastis grabs the guardsmans' loose helmet, and slams it back onto the mans head. "Are you with me?" Hastis asks; the simple question is enough to pull the soldier into focus. "Bastards landed a shell just behind us. Knocked us into this crater. Saved our ass, believe it or not." He snorts.

The man coughs again, maybe even laughs, and finally finds his balance. Blood still runs freely from the savaged right side of his face, his helmet is askew, the strap is broken, cut through by the shrapnel. The guardsman wipes the mud from his eyes. Hastis leans in, grabs the radioman by the sides of his helmet; he forces him to look him in the eye. "Can you walk?"

Pausing, blinking, the radioman nods, not saying anything yet, just closing his eyes and trying to breathe as he steadies himself, trying to force his way through the shell-shock. He manages to spit out a few words regardless, "Bastards." He coughs. "Facking heretics… Facking-" Another furious bout of coughing overtakes him.

His name is Lagorn. Inquisitorial Adjutant and Vox Technician.

Hastis smacks Lagorns' vest and nods grimly. The Vox adept has a new priority; reaching down, searching through the mud and the blood he rolls over a corpse, and finds a familiar rifle. He clears the mud from its workings. A standard M35 M-Galaxy pattern. He checks the barrel, clearing any obstructions over the lenses, then he checks the powerpack and finds it half full.

Hastis staggers through the mud, fumbling over the half submerged bodies of heretics and penal legionaries alike. He makes it over to the opposite side of the crater. He crawls over the corpses until he finds one in particular, slumped over, and half buried by filth. Ragged and gaunt features can be made out through the occluding viscera and shit covering its face, Hastis checks for a pulse- he finds one. "Fack." He swears. Even so, he winds back with one arm- and strikes the man across the face. "Wake up,"

Life seems to flow back into limbs. "Wake up, you bastard!" Hastis strikes the man again, shaking him; his teeth grit and contrasted against the murk and grime that was the rest of his face. "Wake. Up." He hits the man again, this time striking him in the gut. "I'm not through seeing you suffer just yet! So don't you facking quit on me!"

The man hiccups, gasping, and then beginning to shout. "-Enough of that! I'm awake, damn you!" Hastis strikes him once more- just to be sure. "Sin on the throne! Do you have to do that?"

"Just making sure, sir." Hastis lies, stepping back.

"I know if you're lying. Hastis." Inquisitor Hyork of the Ordos Hereticus, Lodge Militarum, coughs and stands, his black and red coat is covered with grime and mud. His wizened face is smeared with ash, and there is a deep cut across his scalp that still bleeds, trickling down over his face and into his beard. Only his electric grey-blue eyes are clear, although unfocussed.

"Are you injured at all?" Hastis asks, looking the inquisitor up and down.

The Inquisitor takes a moment to pat himself over, wincing several times as he shifts his weight, stumbling forwards, nearly falling back into the loam, Hastis doesn't move to catch him. "I can move, just let me, just give me my-" Hastis reaches down into the muck, pulling free a long black cane of metal, its handle flecked with brass etchings, he forcefully slaps it into the hands of the the Inquisitor. It was ornamented with various sigils and seals, most prominent of all- despite being but a tiny emblem- was the inquisitorial I.

"Then let's move." Hastis doesn't wait for his superior, he glances over at Lagorn; the Voxman nods and slings his rifle. Another volley of high explosive shells hammers home around them, and despite the protection of the crater they were almost buried, it was fast becoming a dubious safety at best.

"They'll bracket the lines with earthshakers soon. We have to push with the rest of the penals."

Hastis looks skyward, trying to will his eyes into piercing the soot-stained heavens as if he could see the procession of artillery barrages as they spear downwards from the apex of their trajectory.

Stumbling over to him, no amount of grime and mud keeping him from looking alien on such a brutal battlefield, Inquisitor Hyork grabs Hastis by the shoulder. "That's suicide." He snaps, trying to steady himself with his ornate cane but unable to find purchase.

"Might not've been had the facked Astartes not botched their end of the deal." Hastis glares back at the Inquisitor and shrugs off his hand, "Your damned fault we're here in the first place." He says as he makes his way over to Lagorn, the vox-operator is checking over his equipment, the large backpack vox likely took damage from the brutal initial bombardment.

"We're running for the trenches." Hastis grunts.

"The trenches, sir?" Lagorn balks.

"It's their first defensive line." Hastis nods across the lip of the crater. "Heretics won't have it as defended as the latter ones. Penals' should have softened it up enough by this point." Hastis says. "All we have to do is fall in with the penals' and make our push behind them."

"Hard to take you seriously sir, when we already tried that."

Hastis doesn't say anything in return, instead digging his fingers into the sides of the crater, he hauls himself up, rolling over the lip and back into a blood-soaked hell.

It was once a picturesque visage of a feudal world devoted to the God Emperor with hamlets and fields, small villages and townships with dirt roads all leading towards the grand capital. This used to be one of those humble farmsteads with rolling plains of gently whispering golden stalks. On days of harvest, the farmers and children would take to these fields under beautiful clear blue skies with rolling clouds.

Now, the only thing felled on these fields of mud and gore was man.

Out of the crater and onto the battleline, the sound seemed so much clearer, so much more pure and unfiltered as the whizzing shrieks of bullets and the crack of lasguns assaulted them all at once.

The cordite the sulfur, the smell of burning flesh and roaring promethium- every other second the ground would shake as yet another shell buried itself into the land with explosive impact.

Hastis screams, surging forwards with his head tucked low. "Move!"

He does not know if the inquisitor could hear him over the tortured screams of dying men, and the ripple of stubber fire from hardened pillboxes. He dives forwards into the mud as yet further artillery ripped through the sky and tore up the landscape behind them, Hastis can feel the heat wash over his back as a cluster of shells hits, sending legionaries screaming into the beyond. He grabs Hyork by the coat and drags him up with him, sprinting with hunched backs over spent casings and laspacks, Lagorn charges right beside him, a death grip on his rifle.

It is a tidal-wave of bodies surging across a ruined landscape, each individual nothing more than a number sent into hell to be turned into charred chunks of meat as lasers, bolts and bullets snap overhead or burrow into bodies.

Olive drab shapes sprinting through the loam- heavy iron collars around their neck pulling them towards the distant trench of the enemy with electric shocks and threats of assured death. They hold shoddy rifles to their shoulders, squeezing the trigger and spitting out lasbolts at fortified targets. They stumble over bodies, and crawl under razor wire; they use the dead for cover- only moving when the hideous beeping of their collars threatens them with death for their lack of forward momentum.

"Keep low!" Hastis growls, keeping a firm grip on Hyork, holding him down as they scramble across the uncertain terrain. The trenches had already been breached by the penals, but only partially. There were still pockets of resistance, pillboxes and bunkers that needed the attentions of the dedicated shock-assault regiments that were tasked with moving up behind the penal legions.

Hastis again takes the lead, through filthy puddles and crawling around the burning remains of what may have once been farmhouses as the world shrieks again. "Incoming!" Hastis shouts, dropping to the ground he covers his head, opens his mouth, and curls into a ball, behind him; Lagorn does the same, Hyork copying them only after a second of indignation.

It was murder, this battle line. Hemmed in on either side by towering mountain ranges, this singular pass was the only viable means of striking the fortified capital from behind. The ground outside of the mountain pass was turned into a hellish affair of static defenses and trenches pocketed with bunker and mortar emplacements.

Behind those was the city itself, and the great cathedral within, the primary goal of this battle. Even from the ground, amidst the mud, the blood, and the bodies, Hastis could see the reason for all this slaughter: A shimmering iridescent dome. A massive void shield was projected over the city, its surface rippling as heavy ordinance continually pounded into it.

It was the task of the Penal Legions to break through the entrenched positions that guarded the exit of the mountain pass, or, at the very least soften the defenses to such an extent that the next wave of Imperial Guard could break through with minimal losses in men and machines. In truth, this would have been a task that the Astartes should have been given, but they reported that they did not have the numbers nor the equipment to deal with such entrenched fortifications.

The majority of their numbers were tasked with assisting the other guard regiments in combating the hordes of macabre cyborg tanks that the twisted adepts of the arch enemy had been creating. Entire towns. Had been converted into hellish machine-pits that processed the civilian population into strange and grotesque machine beasts.

The fiends of the Lash were intent on turning this world into a factory that welded together metal with bone and sinew. That left the Penal Legions, a single guard regiment, and a small detachment of Astartes to take the Cathedral that served as this planets capital. It was a task that would have been made easier though no less bloody had it not been for the enemy's heavy artillery camps- camps that were supposed to be silenced by the team of Astartes that had deigned to assist the operation.

They had clearly failed, or met some form of resistance. Hastis dearly hoped that it was simple bad intelligence that had seen them fail in their task. Hastis was not sure if the meagre resources dedicated to pacifying this planet would be able to handle something that was capable of wiping out an astartes detachment.

The bombardment stops for a moment, and Hastis reckons that they had a minute or more until the next salvo is fired. His ears still ringing, he uncurls and surveys his surrounding, his head pounding in time with his heart. He was still alive. Hastis could unclench his teeth, then he was moving, pulling Hyork with him, struggling forwards under wire and through mud. It was a typical killing field: littered with bodies of cannon fodder penal legionaries, some were even still alive as the reserves once again began streaming across the field towards a line of trenches and a wall of guns further beyond.

The three make it to the lip of the first trench line, already bought with the lives of thousands of condemned men, and nearly made useless by the constant pounding of heretic artillery fire. They roll into it, tearing up their flesh as flattened razor wire catches on their uniforms and cuts into their skin. Hastis presses himself into the trench wall, breathing hard. His hands are torn up and bleeding badly, he doesn't notice. The soft earthen works are a small sanctuary that every infantryman learns to appreciate.

Hastis glanced up and down the trench they occupied. They weren't alone to make it in, other penal troopers had reached its relative safety. "We need to move on the bunkers."

Lagorn nods, already flipping open his wrist-mounted cogitator, its wires running up his arm and into the vox unit on his back. He scans through the channels, the chatter filtering into his helmet. Hyork remains silent, nursing a wound on his side, it was bleeding pretty heavily.

The trench was filled with dead men, some still dying. Legionaries, sigil scarred cultists, and slaves. Hastis bent down, turning over several legionary corpses, stripping them of several trivialities and policing several laspacks that he knew would could come in handy. He tossed a sparsely filled and half- ruined the medical kit to the inquisitor. Hyork fumbled open the medicinal pouch, several syrets spilled out as the inquisitor tried to still his shaking hands.

"This is filled with more narcotics than there is anything useful." Hyork noted.

"It ain't meant to save their life, sir, just make 'em fight through the pain." Lagorn said. "No use wasting anything important on a dead man." He commented before setting his helmet straight once again.

"Couldn't agree more." Hastis stood up, Lagorn helped the inquisitor wrap a bandage under his coat but over the grey undershirt that was doubtlessly made of woven flak material. Although it hadn't done anything to stop the knife that had given him the wound in the first place.

"Should help for now." Lagorn said. Hyork sighed, looking up as Hastis approached.

"Take this," Hastis forced a plundered laspistol into the inquisitor's hands. The man scrutinized the weapon before looking back up at Hastis. "You know I don't need one of these."

"Take it anyways." Hastis insisted. "Can you use it?"

"Of course," Hyrok stood tall, sounding indignant before Hastis yanked him back down.

"Keep. Low." He hissed through grit teeth. "I thought you said you knew you about warfare?"

Hyrok muttered something indiscernible under his breath, and then they were moving once more.

The trenches were barley wide enough for two men to stand shoulder to shoulder. Each corner was a right angle meant for a single person to stick their weapon around and unload blindly. The lips of the trenches were covered in razor wire with sandbag palisades, if a man wanted to move without getting their head blasted apart they had to crouch.

To Hastis, most trenches built by cultists were little better than a pre-filled mass grave. They were things dug in haste and constructed by unskilled hands who only ever saw a trench on munitorium propaganda posters. Lazily reinforced with plywood and bags of dirt, they were already set to collapse, a coordinated artillery bombardment would have smashed them to pieces.

Not these trenches, these were deep dug winding constructs that were properly reinforced with rebar and even plywood floors. They had firing slits and gantries, even alcoves set into the walls for stockpiles. This wasn't the work of fools, and Hastis noted that most of the bodies around them were Penal troopers rather than sigil scarred heretics.

Either the heretics had only lightly manned these trenches, or more likely they never expected to hold the first defensive line and therefore only let the battle-fiends hold these expendable positions so as to soak up losses that their more veteran units could ill afford to suffer. The enemy had counter attacked out of the trenches when the battle began after a preliminary bombardment.

Madmen brandishing hacksaws and clubs, they showed no discipline, and simply rushed to meet the wave of penal legionaries in close combat instead of holding back in their trenches, as even a simple manned trench could be effectively held for an extended period of time.

They kept low, Hastis in the lead, trying to listen over the barrage of artillery that slammed home with almost dogmatic consistency, spraying dirt and shrapnel into the trenches. The guardsman stopped suddenly, he held up his hand and took a knee, "Ears open, listen."

"Listen to what? I can't hear a damn thing after all this noise." Hyork griped, he wasn't wrong. The artillery barrage was heating up. Smashing into the earth around them but instead of focussing on the overrun trenches, the impacts fell further behind the trenches, inside the enemies own lines. Hastis took note of it, but it wasn't what had his attention at the moment.

"Just shut up and listen." He snaps.

"Don't you dare stop, you cretins! Every last one of you- keep pushing! Clog the barrels of their guns with your intestines if you have to!"

Bawling out over the war-born orchestra was a clearly vox-augmented voice. There was no tact required when commanding a penal legion. Its operation was simple, its purpose clear. It was an instrument of penance and cold logic. A commander would select an enemy position, and then drown it in bodies.

Made up of the filth of the imperial guard and bolstered by the countless overflowing prison worlds of the Imperium, the penal legions of mankind were given the dubious glory of being the first to die at the guns of the enemy. They were thrown into the grinder by the uncaring men at the back of the line- the Prefects.

Standing straight, assuredly exposing herself to the guns of the enemy, she lashed out with hateful words. Her sneer as biting as any sword, she was surrounded by countless shock-maul wielding military arbites, thrumming warshields ready and mauls sparking with energy. "More bodies on the field- next wave charge!"

Countless legionaries, pushed up over the trench wall by those at their backs met their end almost at once. A tidal-wave of dirt and shrapnel blew the charging legionaries apart. Hastis watched as the prefect sent yet more legionaries into the midst of a heavy artillery barrage. He cursed and shook his head.

"Next wave! Charge!" Her augmetic voice shrieked, nearly giving out as she thrust outwards with her chainsword. Again more legionaries vaulted over the trench wall and into the chaos of a heavy artillery bombardment- but this time, several hesitated for an instant- an instant too long, their heads popping as the keen eyed prefect put lasbolts through their skulls- urging on the others through their execution.

"Prefect?" Hyork called out; the prefect didn't respond for a moment, before turning around, her shield wall parting to let her through. She eyed them, as mechanical as the grilled vox-hailer that replaced her mouth.

"Inquisitor?" She asked, "I had assumed you dead."

"Nearly." Hastis nodded. "Shells went wide, knocked us about. Got lucky."

"Not lucky enough, it would seem. You have yet to meet with the Emperor." The prefect nodded. Hastis withheld a groan. He loved The Emperor as much as the next man but a zealot was always a pain to deal with.

"So it would seem, Prefect. Regardless of that, would you give us a summery of the situation?" Hyork shouted, replying with far more tact than Hastis was capable of.

"The heretics are just over the way, Inquisitor, holed up within the second line of defenses. The moment their first line fell, they rolled back their bombardment to block us from assaulting their secondary defensive line." She jerked her head to the roiling storm of explosions behind her. It was only by the virtue of her Vox that Hastis could even understand her. "It is the perfect chance for redeeming these wretches- next wave!" She shouted, and again another miserable line of scum cowering in the trenches was forced over the lip of the trench.

Nearly two dozen men dying at once as an air-burst mortar barrage detonated a meter above the ground and ripped the men apart. Hastis, Hyork, and Lagorn all hit the deck. The prefect was unmoving in return, scowling at yet another failed charge, but it was unlikely that she was expecting anything but.

"Should they fail- as this scum likely will- it matters not." The legionary overlord continues. "Their duty is to be ground into meat so as to pave the road with their corpses."

"They're doing a fine job of it, it would seem." Hyork muttered to himself, familiar in his grim humor, another wave was sent over the trench wall, and another wave died. Hastis remained silent. It did not go unnoticed.

"The artillery." He finally said. "They've stopped the blocking bombardment." It takes countless battles and exposure to heavy guns and their report to hear it, especially over the explosions of heavy ordinance, but a soldier can learn to pick out the distant report of cannons, and time them to the impact of their shells. The backdrop of war- artillery, is white-noise to most guard veterans, and when it goes away- the silence is all the louder.

Hastis couldn't make out the sound of distant heavy guns, only lighter mortars. True to his prediction in several seconds, the bombardment had ceased, and a pall of dust and smoke hung over no-mans-land. Hastis stared, as if his eyes could see past the thick fog of smoke and ash.

"Not good." Hastis cursed. "It isn't?" Hyork questioned.

"Hah!" The Prefect cackled. She raised her sword and waved at the remaining legionaries. "Over the top! While their guns fail them!"

Hastis bolted upright, "Wait, somethings-" He shouted at the prefect, at the legionaries, his voice fell on deaf ears as the legionaries stood upright, hauling themselves over the edge of the trench to begin their charge through the fading smoke of the barrage.

Smoke.

Hastis smelled the air. Curling white smoke. This wasn't the ash or dust that a bombardment kicks up, that would have faded by now. What he was looking at- rolling over no-mans-land was smoke. Concealment. There was only one reason why the enemy would do this.

A wave of sound- like the roar of some great beast, or the laughing of a mad god- washed over the field like a cloud of palpable dread. Even as the last legionary disappeared into the smoke Hastis could heart the thumping of hundreds of feet trampling over corpses.

"Enemy counter-attack!" Hastis screams. Hyork strains to say something in the face of what could only be summarized as an encroaching wave of hate. Dread pulled at the old inquisitors tired features.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

In the face of the oncoming tide of madmen, Hastis desperately searches, reaching down he grabs a dead legionaries lasgun. The sound of charging feet are closer now, echoing through the smoke. "Lagorn!" He shouts, the voxman pushes Hyork aside and shoulders his own rifle, aiming over the lip of the trench. "I'm with you, sir!" The voxman shouts back. Hastis rests his cheek against the stock of the plundered rifle, noting the sickly sweet smell of blood that seems to permeate the air as the cultists approach.

He never wanted to be part of the damned inquisition.

"Open up!" Hastis shouts, he pulls the trigger, he doesn't bother aiming- it's impossible to miss- and red beams stitch through the smoke, burning through the air and vanishing into the white, illuminating it from within and giving the area around the bolts a sickly red glow. Lagorn fires on fully automatic, burning through his pack as he fans his lasrifle back and forth, low, close to the ground, trying to blow the legs off of the charging heretics.

The facking old man, Throne damned Hyork, he had ruined everything.

They emerge- a brute of a man, smeared red and bellowing at the top of his lungs manifests out of the smoke. Shapes materialize behind him as he charges headlong towards the trench. Hastis snaps his lasgun up and aims.

He didn't want to die here.

Hastis squeezes the trigger. The head of the madman snaps back as the lasbeam blows through his skull and incinerates his brain- his body falling limp. With Lagorn next to him, the scene repeats for the next trio of cultists, lasbolts burning through ragged cloth or cratering the bare chests of the heathens as they leap into trench, hysterical with rage, armed with only crude weapons and some not even armed at all- their hands curled into claws or fists, their teeth sharpened to nail points.

Hastis watches form the corner of his eye as Hyork takes on a different aspect, he has his laspistol aimed and firing, he pulls the trigger with succinct curtness, taking his time to direct his shots despite the mass of flesh before him. The aged inquisitor doesn't flinch from the erupting melee, bullets snap through the air around him but he hardly pays them any mind, simply stepping to the side every so often and letting a lead round fill the space he had once occupied.

The bulk of the charging horde hits the trench. A screaming hulk of rippling muscle, bulling over the lip, one of the cultists tackles an arbite, and by the time a boltpistol is pressed flush against his skull he has already eaten through the arbites throat, and by the time the bolt blows apart his head, three more of these fiends have crashed into the others and they are lost from view.

"Prefect! To me!" The Inquisitor pockets his pistol- powerpack empty, he grabs his cane and twists, along its length a blade emerges, and glows with brilliant white light, the head of the cane turns and straightens, forming to his grip. The Preceptor, howling her battle hymns only gives the faintest sign of acknowledgment, her remaining shield-bearing enforcers shifting around her, power-mauls crackling with energy.

"This is our stand!" She bellows, her bolt pistol ejects a cascade of shells as she holds down the trigger, emptying an entire stack in a matter of moments- the trench before her exploding into a gore heap as mass reactive rounds tear through legionary and cultist alike. "No mercy only death! Only duty! Only the Emperor!"

There was no battle cry or epitaphs from Hastis and Lagorn, just inarticulate screaming, and the animalistic lexicon of grunts and shouting as the horde fell upon them, bodies seeming to blot out the sky as they jumped into the trench.

Hastis emptied half of his lasguns powerpack into the first two, he had no time to even remember what they looked like, what horrid brands they wore, nor their scars or ritual markings, they were the enemy, and they needed to die. Hastis moved to shoulder the lasgun, but the confines of the trench were quickly becoming to cramped, he shifted, lifted the barrel, aimed from the hip, and held down the trigger.

Superheated beams of light punched holes in unarmored cultists, searing through flesh, boiling blood, burning bone and stitching a line of charred meat through the dogs of the dark powers.

Hastis whipped around, grabbing the barrel of his weapon- ignoring how it scalded his hands- he smashes the stock over the head of a cultists that had thought to spear him through the back with a crude blade. He kept ahold of the bent lasgun, swinging it back around and into the gut of some mutant thing with too many arms.

It grabbed the bent piece of metal that was once a lasrifle, and Hastis let it have it. A snap-step back, and Hastis feels the bulky shape of a Vox caster against his back as he did so. He needn't think twice to know that it was Lagorn- his brother, his closest comrade.

Hastis rips his revolve free from its holster- fanning the hammer, he held down the trigger, each shot tore chunks out of the mutant, each lasbolt powerful enough to dig a hole in the trench wall before dissipating. The chamber turns and a desultory whine is all he hears- he's out of power, but that doesn't mean he's without a weapon.

He spins the revolver around in his hand, he catches the heavy metal handgun by the barrel, despite its recent eruption, cool to the touch. He shouts- a roar ripping up his throat as he hauls back and clubs the reinforced plasteel grip across the head of a traitor. The bald, scarred head of the heathen snaps down as the grip clobbers his skull- Hastis sets him right again, slamming the grip back up in a reverse swing, crunching the jaw of the madman shut- his tongue flopping uselessly into the mud as he bites it off.

With a final third swing, Hastis roars and smashes the mans nose back into this face with a powerful blow. The madman staggers back, limp and choking. Hastis spits, spinning his revolver, he deftly slips it back into its holster, there he draws his blade, he nearly loses his grip when something sharp yet blunt smashes into his side. Hastis grunts, the weapon then drawn out and slammed back home again.

Hastis whips around, ignoring the pain, his arm sliding out like a striking snake, he gores the cultist responsible for wounding him through the neck before cutting his way back out. The cultist stumbles back, trying to hold his ruined throat closed. Hastis stumbles, grunting from a savage blow slamming across his back, spinning him around.

A hulking brute of muscle with a blunt iron club sneers down at him, hauling back for another strike with his weapon in the close-in confines of the hellish trench. Hastis doesn't give him the chance to strike again. Hastis slams forwards, barging into the cultist, from behind, clawed hands try to grapple him, ripping into his skin- he was surrounded.

Hastis rips his knife into the brutes gut, letting the serrated edge dig into flesh and tear through guts, he yanks it back and forth, carving through meet, as much damage as he could do in as short an amount of time as he could manage. Ripping the blade out he jumps back- fighting for distance when in truth he had none. All he succeeded in doing was jumping back into the crowd of maniacs with blades and claws, but it was worth it- seeing the brutish cultist drop his club so that he might clutch at his unspooling guts.

He doesn't drink in the death like the wastrels around him, he spins on his heel and smashes his fist across the next closest man and elbows another in the ribs. It's all out combat, he hasn't the time to appreciate the end of his enemies. A shrieking banshee reaffirms this, barreling towards him, knocking others out of her way just so that she can close the distance- Hastis sidesteps her charge, kicks her in the back and sends her careening into another.

He dodges a clumsy swing, countering, he slams his knife up to the hilt in the mans throat before spinning away and smashing his fist into the scarred face of a boy no more than ten years old. He plunges his knife through the reeling Childs eye socket, and with a snarl, he kicks the dead boy away from him and into the melee beyond. Instinct shrieks in the back of his mind, and he spins around again in time to catch another frenzied cultist across the face with his knife, the cultist can only snarl in inarticulate response, frothing at the lips.

Madness gives the man fortitude, letting him ignore the bleeding wound across his face, his eyes shot with rage. With his fingers curled like claws he lunges at Hastis, and Hastis roars back, smashing this heretic across the face with his torn up fist and then delivering a quick jab to the cultists stomach, Hastis doesn't get the chance to finish the man when something smashes Hastis across the back of his head from behind.

He is thrown forwards- reaching out he catches a cultist by the throat and drags him down to the ground. He pulls the heretic ontop of him, using the madman as a shield - blows and fists rain down across the cultists back and Hastis rips into his guts with his knife, gutting him, his blood washes down over his blade and across his waist. He brings up his foot and kicks the dying cultist-turned-shield off of him and into the crowd with enough force to knock several of the bastards off balance and giving him the space to fight his way back to his feet.

Hands- gnarled and callused -a farmers hands- wet with blood grab him, dragging him up, Hastis is quick to respond, his knife flashing like a silver snake, once again lodging itself into the eye of the bastard grabbing him, and before he can secure his grip on his knife Hastis is thrown back- slamming into the trench wall as three, four- no five- six madmen rush him.

Hastis screams through a clenched jaw, covering his head as several cudgels and knives bite into his arms and crack against his deteriorating flak-vest, he catches one heretics swing by the wrist even as he nocks away a trench-axe lusting for his skull. He kicks one of the heretics feet out from under him, the bloody mud of the trench working against them as the battle transitions into a brawl, a cultist lunges at Hastis and the guardsman chokes a scream out as something skewers into his side, sliding under his armor and into the flesh beneath.

Hastis bites down on the pain- he batters it into submission as he grapples the heretic responsible- using him as a shield even as the hateful heathen grinds his shiv deeper into Hastis' flesh, mindlessly set on killing Hastis, his spittle flying in his face as he howled his insane prayers to a dark and uncaring deity.

Hastis needs a weapon- gathering his quickly diminishing strength, he throws the Heretic off of him, his gut wrenching in pain as whatever was lodged within him was torn out. Then he sees the length of straight steel embedded up to the hilt in the chest of a dead cultist. He jumps and dives. He reaches out and grabs the rubberized grip of his knife, lusting for the simple weapon like it was the very steps to the golden throne.

His fingers are broken- he only notices it when he can't get a firm grip- his pointer and index finger- both bent backwards and out of joint, and his pinky is twisted around at a completely wrong angle. Like an afterthought, grinning as he does so- he snaps them back into place. The pain is not absent but it is unnoticed, like a singular raindrop cascading into a flood.

Hastis scrambles to his feet, holding his knife out before him like some sort of ward against the madmen- two of which are already throwing themselves at him with that self-same disregard for their own lives. A flurry of arms and elbows from every side, Hastis hacks and cuts- plunging his knife into bodies and ripping through throats with his serrated edge as the trench fight dissolves into irregular madness at every angle.

He cracks a cultist across the head with the pommel of his knife, with a quick twist and flick of the blade, and he punches its tip back through the gut of another, its glinting surface grinding against bone and parting muscle before he pulls it back out- the squall of gore that follows as it's hooked tip pulls at meat and sinew is lost in the blood and mud below.

There's a keening howl screaming at him to his left- he has not even seconds left to react but all the same his mind sprints ahead- trained reflexes, hard-won experience, bitter animosity, and the furious barking memories of drill-instructors forcing their way to the fore of his mind as the sound of a chainsword rips into his consciousness.
Hastis twists around, leaning back- just ducking out of the way of the hungry grinding teeth of a red-splattered weapon that has carved its name across the galaxy since the days of the great heresy.

The analytical part of Hastis' brain thunders in time with his racing heart- his mind picking out seemingly insignificant details- the man holding the chainsword was lean, wiry and spry. He was holding the chainsword in a two handed grip- it was an Imperial Guard or PDF variant measuring a foot and a half in length. The man wasn't wearing shoes or boots, he was barefoot. He had an old cut just under his left eye, keeping it partially squinted shut.

He had his right hand over the left on the grip. He was swinging with his biceps- forcing the weight of the chainsword, rather than letting the power of a strike flow along the arms and out through the wrist. He was leading with his left leg, and right arm. He had swung from his right shoulder down across the body, trying to hack off Hastis' head.

He was screaming.

He was screaming and his strike was inefficient.

He was likely out of breath.

Hastis struck, his movements like clockwork. He stepped in close, gliding across the slick muddy surface, he grabbed the cultists right arm by the wrist with his left hand, and arrested the down-swung chainsword with his right leg, forcing the flat back of the sword-guard against his shin while he stomped down on the heretics leading foot with his left boot. He flicked his knife, tossing it upwards, and with his right hand now free, he grabbed the pommel of the heretics chainsword and pulled upwards while he pushed down with his left hand against the heretics wrist.

The Chainsword practically peeled out of the heretics grip and slid into Hastis' own, it was an awkward reversed hold but it didn't matter as Hastis pulled it upwards and pressed the growling chain up over the heretics side- his breathless shriek turning into a gasping gurgle as the chainsword lurched into the body of the cultist, being pulled in as the whirling chain growled in hunger. With it stuck in like this Hastis didn't need two hands. His left hand snapped out and caught his knife before it could hit the ground.

Hastis spins away from the gurgling cultists, ripping the chainsword free he flips it around in his right hand and catches the grip, the bulky melee weapon is heavy in his hand but unlike the cultist that had held it previously, Hastis knew how to make the most out of it. Hastis stands with his back to the trench wall, his back hunched his eyes peeled and pupils dilated like tiny pinpricks of hateful savagery. Cultists, dozens of them, piling in on either side of him, jeer and spit, not yet suicidal enough to rush in just yet- not after what they just saw. Some of them still had some semblance of self preservation.

"Fack me sober," Hastis hisses with a spit lip. "How many more of you are there?"

Hastis looked to his left, he saw cultists. He looked to his right. More Cultists. They weren't charging him. Not yet.

So he charged them. Lagorn would have likely had some pithy one-liner.

Snarling, raging, Hastis lurches over the muck and the bodies, and brings his pilfered chain blade down into the morass of shapes, blood and viscera explodes over his vision as the high pitched whine of the blade ratchets down into a throaty growl that tells him of contact. Before he can rip try and rip the chain blade free from its new unwilling recipient a shape rushes him, he doesn't recognize the colors so that makes it fair game, he ducks under the swing and lashes out with his knife, he drags it across a throat and a body joins the pile.

Something rips into his thigh, he lurches forwards and a club smashes him across the face. The impact sends him backwards, he lets the momentum yank the chainsword free, he swings the howling length of teeth and metal in a frenzy- letting it twist him around, the whine turns into a growl as it impacts into something fleshy, something made of meat. He holds the lever down and it cuts and chews- and then it coughs and dies, the growl turns to a squeal as the chain catches on something unyielding and the track is clogged internally. A grunt of hate and he lets it go, he flicks his left wrist- sending his knife from his left hand twirling into his right, he flips it around and holds it tight.

"Back to basics-" He slurs, drool flecked with red dribbles over his chin, mixing with sweat and grime. He wasn't all that upset about losing the chainsword. He was better with a knife anyways. "In the sands," He chants.

Blood was smearing his vision, shapes moving all around him. Sound- roaring, like an ocean, like a raging river, a torrent of blood pounding in his head, fire racing through his veins. Every breath scorching his throat, all the pain telling him he's alive, that he's fighting- killing. He steps inside of a blow, he catches the wrist, and his knife throttles up through the jaw of a foe, ripping back out with bits of brain sticking to the groove. He spins- crouching low and stepping back behind the falling body, letting the next cultist stumble over the corpse. Extending forwards now, thrusting like a spear, locking up his arm and twisting into the thrust- plasteel punching through a mans nose and up into his brain. Too many.

There was just too many. No use in coordination, no help from training, there was just nothing to combat their numbers. He doesn't scream- Hastis doesn't scream, he refuses to scream- even as a spiked club smashes into his thigh he just grits his teeth and grunts as more blows fall onto him, he raises his arms like a boxer, guarding his head as he's bullied back against the trench wall.

Countless heretic bastards screaming in his face, as he desperately fends them off, more red splattering over him and coating his body with every slash of his knife before he's knocked across the face again with a hammer- his nose crunches and breaks as he's pulled to the ground.

He smashes his elbow into what looked like a face, pain staining his vision into a blurred together mess against the red foreground. He smashes his broken fist into a neck, a chest, again, again, until something breaks and hands wrap around his throat, cutting off his breath. Words- shouting, he makes them out through the panoply of violence surrounding his existence- Lagorn:

"Support-" Lagorn screams, Hastis grins, roaring through the blood staining his teeth; he smashes his elbow back against the cultist strangling him. "Inbound-"

A roar, louder than the cultists and louder than his own, shrieks overhead.

Hastis can only think 'Airstrike' and he braces for the rush of wind before the shockwave and the fire, but it doesn't come, in his thrashing struggle against the cultists holding him down, Hastis can only make out a whirlwind of green and brown falling from the sky.

It was over in seconds. The trench was no longer a defensive fortification. It was a grave, a charnel pit, and Hastis was lying in the mire of it. There was blood up to the ankles, floating with bits of human meat bobbing along the surface like some horrid, saccharine stew.

Overhead, flying just over the nape of the earth, screaming speeders let loose with brutal weapons over no-mans-land to tear up the enemy trenches with blisters of high explosive rounds and shrieking missiles. Even more deadly were the giants that leapt from the speeders, landing amongst the rabble, tossing grenades into firing slits and breaking into fortified positions, all while not speaking a word.

Leave it to the Astartes to steal all the credit.

Hastis struggled to his feet- still riding along the waves of a combat high, his body did not yet understand how badly damaged it was, but his mind knew well enough. Hastis spat blood.

A good head and shoulders taller than him, muscled like a young ogryn, but time and again more intelligent, Hastis couldn't help but notice that they didn't wear the armor that there were always depicted in. He could count roughly ten of them, all wearing lighter armor made out of shaped carapace plating that covered the vitals without restricting the movements of the wearer.

Their colors were ochre brown and forest green, with a dull argent silver trim. Their weapons were forged of black plasteel with burnished wooden stocks; shotguns, long-barrel bolters, axes, and heavy metal quarterstaves. They each had decoration's on their armor and shoulder-plates that Hastis didn't bother to understand- aside from the stylized white Gothic VI that every one of them carried along with a twisting tree icon emblazoned over a yellow sun.

One of the marines stepped over to Hastis, the blood-water of the trench not even splashing as he moved. This one was holding a silver metal quarterstaff easily taller than Hastis. The marine was a grim looking, dour and taciturn figure with steel-blue eyes and several studs driven into his skull. His features were chiseled and hard, faint scars ran over his face.

His carapace armor was decidedly older in appearance, worn and faded by time and combat, but it also bore several distinct decorations along the shoulders in the form of what looked to be thorny bramble vines interwoven into the armor's trim. Wrapped over his shoulder like a cape was a chameleon cloak, but unlike the other marines he was the only one who wore such a piece of advanced equipment. The marine stopped in front of Hastis, his expression betraying no emotion as he looked Hastis over, waiting for the guardsman to speak first.

Hastis stood his ground and looked the marine right back in the eyes with a flinty glare. He wasn't going to break first- not to a damned marine.

If the marine was at all impressed by Hastis' obstinance, he didn't show it. The Marine tipped his staff towards Hastis and spoke in that low, gravely tone that Hastis remembered all too well. "You are wounded." He said it as if the Guardsman didn't know it himself, or, if the Marine didn't know what else to say.

Hastis grunted. "I didn't notice." He didn't look down at himself. He didn't really want to see just how bad it was. A moment of silence passed before the marine spoke again.

"You did well holding as long as you did." Hastis grunted, dragging his knife along his filthy sleeve, trying to clear the worst of the gore from its length before he slots it home into the sheath across his now ruined flak-vest. The Marine cocked his head as Hastis did so. Taking a passing glance at several of the cultist corpses. "Most guardsmen abstain from melee." The marine says, it was likely Hastis' own bias playing into effect but he thinks the marine sounds incredulous.

"Yeah, well, most guardsmen aren't me." Hastis spits back.

The marine nods to the chest rig of his combat knife. "Double-edged serrated plasteel. Non-reflective finish. Quick release snap-sheath with silent draw padding." He observes. "Stormtroopers?" He asks.

"Fendoran twenty-second light-reconnaissance, third stormtrooper auxiliaries." Hastis tries to hold back a cough- all he succeeds in is leaking a lungful of blood past his lips. He staggers, losing his balance as a sudden wave of vertigo crashes over him.

The marine catches him by the shoulder and nods to one of his brothers.

"Votar. See to this one." It was only at this point that Hastis allowed himself to pass out.

...

AN: If you leave a review, I will reply and/or kiss you on the lips. #LorgarIsTheBigGay