Next chapter, google "40k Imperial dating system" if you don't understand the numbers dividing sections of the story. Also, I'll be providing translation/explanations of strange words I use at the end of the chapter, except for names and places, the names/places of my 40k characters usually reference or mean something and you'll have to figure them out for yourself.
I'll throw you a bone though, since she's dead, "Inanika" is a reference to the Sumerian "Inanna", just with a butchered Hellenization to fit the Iron Warrior themes.
This chapter is a bit dark lol, there is an attempted rape, just a warning for anyone sensitive to those kinds of things, it's stopped before it can actually happen, but the results are not good either.
"Why do you wander so forlornly child?"
A voice, deep and flowing like the mythical rivers of Mount Danuber upon which Tymeris was founded, startled Soter. He whipped around, raising his fists instinctively, only to find himself face-to-face with what looked like a wall of humming metal that made his teeth itch. Craning his neck further and further, he finally found himself truly face-to-face with the disruptor of his lamentations. Soter saw there a face, seemingly carved from stone, stern and hard, unkind, but unlike any he'd seen before. Immediately he felt fearful for reasons he couldn't explain, the way stray Kotik would arch their backs and stare at invisible dangers. Soter felt like he was being watched, and not just by the abyssal eyes of the giant that stood before him. He felt as though he were falling endlessly into the black irises of that armoured giant, something itched behind his own grey eyes and Soter blinked reflexively.
As if waking up from the verge of sleep, his head shot back, fear now turned so easily to anger. "Who are you?" Soter questioned with narrowed eyes, leaning and taking a few steps back.
The giant of a man smiled, and Soter's eyes were drawn ineffably to the long staff he carried. Taller than even the his towering height, the staff appeared to be dark iron in colour, and at the top stood the same ironclad image that sat in the centre of his chest, a glaring skull, its jaw covered in a grille-like mask. Around the iron skull, wreathing it like a halo, there was a golden wheel with eight spokes protruding from it.
Soter grew curious as he thought about the man's armour. He'd of course heard of the Emperor's 'Angels of Death' before, but he'd never imagined he would actually see one. The man was adorned in gunmetal grey armour, with trimming of gold, and filigrees of the same, whose strange decorative lattice sucked at the inside of Soter's skull. He felt dizzy just looking at the man's armour and its strange glyphs, and fearful seeing the screaming iron faces decorating its knees. Strange yellow and black diagonal stripes covered one of the man's enormous rounded shoulder-plates, akin to the hazard symbols Soter had seen occasionally in the warehouse. He also saw a strip of crudely stitched beige leather hanging between the giant's legs that he knew was human skin. Soter was only slightly disquieted by this, as his work with the warehouse's servitors had long since desensitized him to such sights.
"Perhaps I am a balm for your anguish, my boy." The Angel replied with a bemused expression, his eyes focused above Soter's head, to something only he could see. Just as Soter thought about running, the man's eyes suddenly locked with intense focus onto his, and he felt he couldn't move, paralyzed by the Angel's stare. It was different this time, different from the endless abyss, now the Angel's eyes were flat, like the slick black of oil, and unlike before, Soter didn't feel like sleeping.
"I feel your suffering, I feel your pain, this..." The giant waved a free hand aimlessly at the surrounding hab-blocks.
"... This forsaken hive-world, it gnaws at your soul, carving away your will piece by piece doesn't it? It sunk its teeth into your family one by one, and now, it seeks to sink its teeth into your own flesh, and drink your marrow, and leave you a husk, empty of everything that made you. A hive is a place where insects breed and die, and you child, are no insect."
Soter found himself reluctantly nodding along, the man's words were soothing and true, they resonated in his heart in a way few things ever had, and he listened keenly, eager to hear more. This city-no, this world had taken everything from him, his father, then his sister, then his mother Soter thought to himself. But despite the appeal of the Angel's words, he was no fool, Soter had lived in the under-hive for a long time, though he lived in a shallower part, it was still far removed from the luxuries and safety of the surface. Another detonation interrupted the endless cacophony of gunfire in the distance, the ground shook slightly, but Soter maintained his balance, staring into the Angel's deep black eyes, strangely, now Soter thought they looked more like the dark iron that decorated his armour.
"The Emperor, that distant figure who beckons your endless supplication, your endless obedience, doesn't he seem such a small thing now? In this place? There are no promised protections, no saviours. Your life has fallen apart now, you are already dead, but he has never come for your soul. He has never freed you from the chains of this hive's endless demands, he has never freed you from this endless suffering, this futile struggle full of sound and fury and saying nothing, making nothing, becoming nothing. The Emperor has only ever rotted away your hope, your fury, your desires, and your joy. There are no gods worth worshipping in this galaxy child..."
Soter swallowed thickly, his hands clenching into fists as a sob tried to rise from the base of his throat. He would not let it, he controlled himself in front of the Angel. The thought of humiliating himself with displays of weakness was too much, for the Angels words were true and painful, like a lash they cut deep, but not deep enough to destroy him, only deep enough to make him remember, to make him aware. Soter's jaw clenched, his teeth grinding, and still he stayed silent, but his eyes were pleading for more, pleading for something, anything to justify, to explain why his mother had to die, why his sister had to leave them, why he was so weak, so powerless.
"Tymeris was a motherly queen who lost everything, no father, no mother, no siblings, only a son."
Soter's breath hitched.
"And her son was taken from her, taken by the master of a distant empire, a distant imperium. But she did not let grief and apathy consume her, her rage did not control her, her obsession for her son's memory did not lead her astray, nor did the scheming of her court. Instead, she harnessed these things, she plotted vengeance against that ancient imperium, she perfected her armies, her fury only brought her focus, and the numb apathy she felt for the world only made her more merciless. She cut off this emperor's head, and let him quench his bloodthirst in the rivers that spilled from the veins of his butchered warriors..."
The Angel reached out with large armoured fingers, his palm up and welcoming, a smile spreading across his face.
"Now, will you join us?"
Soter took a shaky breath after what felt like an eternity...
"What's your name?"
"Gnosiros Ermegist, heretic Astartes of the Iron Warriors legion."
"I am Soter Amagi."
... And reached out with a pale, sunlight deprived hand.
The next morning Soter awoke sharply, panicked and startled, shooting out of his hard cot and onto his feet, only to realize he wasn't in his hab-unit. Then, the memories struck him with the force of a mega-hauler.
"If you aspire to be one of the fourth legion, you must, like all other aspirants, prove your worthiness. Of course, I know you can and will succeed, there is something special within you the other aspirants lack, but know that failure means death, there will be no second chances."
"I understand, what should I do?"
"First, you will rest with the other aspirants. When you awaken you will assist with the war effort, what you do will be the first of your trials."
Soter immediately prepared himself, there was running water available, though all fifteen aspirants had to share a single bathroom, but that was why he'd awoken so early. He splashed the cold water on his face, shocking himself into alertness, and cleaning his eyes, then he dried himself on his sleeve. He was still wearing the same clothes as the previous day, but that was unsurprising to him, there was a war going on after all. While he did this, he thought on Gnosiros' words, and while they filled him with pride, that an Angel of Death would have such confidence in him, he was not stupid. Soter understood that likely every aspirant had been told something similar, if not the same exact words, they were all only children. That was another curious thing to Soter, the ages of the aspirants, all fifteen including himself ranged from a year or two younger than his own thirteen years, all the way to young men near seventeen if he had to guess. Perhaps, he thought, only the youthful can become Astartes?
Nevertheless, he shook his head free from his curiosity, schooling his features and leaving their sleeping quarters, immediately walking briskly to the briefing room, a full hour early.
There was another Astartes there already, a different one to Gnosiros, he wasn't carrying a staff, but instead he held an enormous combat knife in his hand, idly spinning it. The knife looked more like a sword to Soter, but its shape gave away its true purpose. The marine also wore a helmet with icy blue lenses and a large, yellow hazard stripped grille that reminded Soter of the knights he'd read of in fiction data-slates. On the Astartes' back was a massive gun that was unlike anything Soter had seen before, it was boxy and over-sized, and looked unbearably heavy, yet it stayed perfectly still on his back with no visible straps. Soter paused briefly, but quickly recognized that it was likely magnetically locked, and he spoke before he could stop himself.
"Why not use a strap? Won't the magnetic domains deteriorate quickly in armour that's always being damaged?"
The Astartes turned his head, the glare of his lenses boring into Soter's soul, he regretted speaking immediately.
"The magnetic dipoles are aligned by the electric field generated by my armour's power, they will not deteriorate because the field will simply re-align the dipoles whenever the armour is powered."
Soter nodded studiously, before sitting down on a nearby bench.
"Will you be the one briefing us?"
The Astartes merely nodded, ignoring him again and returning his attention to his combat knife. Soter decided not to push his luck further and remained quiet, his mind racing.
Eventually the other aspirants filed in, some were more injured than Soter expected, sporting fresh bruises he either hadn't noticed before, or that hadn't existed previously. He suspected there had been a few fights over the bathroom's availability. Standing up to with the others, he took the time to watch them, and he saw that while some looked to be from the under-hive, others appeared more well-off, sporting nicer clothing and cleaner faces. Among the group however, he spotted a handful that looked to be from deeper portions of the under-hive than he belonged to, he could tell because of their even worse condition, and the sharp way they glanced between the other aspirants. Soter looked away before any could notice his staring.
The Angel of Death stood, sheathing his blade and towering over all of them. Even though he did not serve the Emperor, such figures would always remain as angels to Soter, at least until he became one himself, they were larger than life, supernatural forces of annihilation.
"Pay attention aspirants." His voice boomed, noticeably louder and more snarling than when Soter had spoken to him, was it a function of his armour to sound like that? Soter wondered to himself.
"I will only say this once, there are fifteen of you, and there are fifteen targets we have selected. Another wave of expansion has begun already, and our forces are penetrating deeper into hive-city Tymeris. You will assist or you will die. You will not question the targets we have picked, their tactical significance is not your concern, you will only obey and succeed, or die."
As he spoke, a glowing hololithic display was born behind him, replacing the wall behind him with blue light. On it were fifteen targets displayed, and a partial map of Tymeris.
"You will each be granted a single fyceline explosive weighing approximately four kilograms, it is also pre-programmed with a timer to detonate five minutes after activation. All fifteen locations indicated behind me must be infiltrated, and the targets within destroyed. Pick one, you will be instructed where to place your bomb depending on the target you've chosen, this will be your first trial."
As the aspirants shuffled forward eagerly, Soter also approached, one target in particular burning itself into the forefront of his mind. Reaching the Astartes, Soter immediately responded, knowing his target before the Angel could even ask him.
"The Basilica" he spoke, his voice low and unwavering. "I want the Basilica."
Things had vastly changed since Soter had last been in his home district of Arcadia. Now the air was filled with endless rattling gunfire, thundering artillery or tank fire, and a cacophony of las fire. The air smelt like burnt ozone, like the vaguely smoky scent of burning wires and overheated electronics. Soter adjusted his grip on the fyceline explosive in his hand, wiping sweaty palms on his dirty grey shirt. He had successfully reached Arcadia district without seeing any combat, sticking to narrow alleys and half-remembered paths, but Soter didn't think his luck would stay so successful forever. In fact, he could hear more active weapon's discharge in the Basilica's direction, no doubt it was still being defended by the PDF.
In front of Soter there was a crossroad, a grey rockcrete path between tightly packed buildings of similarly uninspired, dour colour. He knew if he took the rightmost path, he would eventually find his way back to his hab-block, his hab-unit, where his mother's corpse lay, hopefully undamaged in her bed. Clenching his teeth and eyes shut, Soter growled in welcome anger, it was better than dwelling on despair. Abruptly, he switched the hands that carried his bomb, and marched to the left, not looking back.
I will need a weapon, Soter thought to himself determinedly. He could not defend himself without at least some kind of auto-gun or stubber. He was only a thirteen year old boy, no matter how angry or supposedly special, unless he landed a lucky hit with the makeshift shiv in his pocket, he would die.
As Soter walked he came across a large, dark grey vehicle, it was slumped on the side of the road akin to a great, dying beast. On its side he saw the insignia of Scythia's Planetary Defence Force. On the top he saw a powerful and heavy looking stubber mounted, with a slumped figure, a man, leaning over it and still with death. There were no visible fires, it was as if the vehicle had chosen to there, angled slightly as if resting in the shade of the tall hab-units and buildings that stood by it. Soter approached cautiously, this could be his opportunity for a weapon, it was a highly valuable and rewarding endeavour to search this thing, but there was great risk. Slowly, as he moved through an adjacent alley, Soter came to the truck or tank, he did not know what to call it, from another angle. There from his new viewpoint he saw a great gaping hole, dark like a hungry maw. The dark metal that surrounded the hole was curled inwards, and Soter thought some powerful weapon must have blown through. Behind the vehicle a pair of doors hung ajar and broken, swung open by the two dead men that piled behind it. Had they tried to escape their doomed fate? Soter wondered, perhaps they had been shot afterwards, finished off and left to rot. Now it seemed like some sort of transport to him, and he had no doubt there were many more bodies inside.
Less cautious now, Soter placed his bomb behind a garbage bin, sliding some garbage over it as a disguise, before approaching the military transport quickly, his eyes darting everywhere he could manage. His hand reached out to remove the backpack one of the two dead PDF soldiers, when a bloody, thick forearm suddenly shot out from underneath the man's body, seizing Soter's arm. There was a third man, not dead but hiding, surviving beneath the corpses of his comrades. The forearm pulled Soter down harshly, throwing the boy to the hard rockcrete road as the two bodies shifted, pushed aside by the man who rose from beneath them. Soter let out a sharp, strained gasp as he struck the road on his back, with the wind knocked out of his lungs, he struggled to retrieve his shiv from his pocket with his free hand.
A man, armoured in the same flak as the other dead PDF soldiers revealed himself, his eyes were wide with rage, his teeth bared as he lunged for Soter, tripping over the shifted bodies of his comrades and instead stumbling into him. Soter desperately swung his shiv with a cry, only to have it slapped out of his hand by the soldier, who wrapped his off hand around Soter's neck.
Soter gasped for breath as his vision grew darker, he beat at the soldier's wrist with his free hand, then tried to claw at the man's eyes, but his arms were too short to reach. His legs kicked, but the man manoeuvred himself over them, the grip on Soter's neck slackening marginally before immediately tightening again as the soldier used his body weight to pin Soter's legs.
Panic and fury kept surging through Soter even as his vision blackened further, he was screaming in his own head. He felt something shift within him, something behind his eyes moved, it felt like a pressure on the inside of his skull, as if his brain became too large to fit, yet strangely it did not hurt. Soter heard a cracking noise as the pressure on his throat disappeared and something wet sprayed on his skin, landing in his open mouth as he lunged upward with a desperate and hoarse gasp of air.
He tasted iron on his tongue as hyperventilated, greedily sucking in gulps of oxygen to fill his abused lungs. Soter opened his eyes and whipped his head about wildly, panic still coiling in his blood, an electric snake beneath his veins. Then he found the soldier, laying with the limpness of death, a vast spread of chunky gore and white skull fragments almost artfully spattered where his head was meant to be.
Soter looked around to see if there was a gunman nearby who'd made the shot, he saw nothing. He paused, rolling over and retching as the heady stench of blood hit his nose, spittle and bile spilling from his mouth, the remnants of whatever he'd eaten recently. Several minutes passed as Soter slowly calmed himself, looking away from the man's corpse, the man he'd killed. Somehow, he knew he did it, he knew there was no gunman, something shifted within him, something he could not identify, but he felt different, like he was sensing something that he'd never noticed before, but it was vague, subtle. Briefly Soter stared at the sky, feeling a wind that never touched his hair or shirt, only his skin, carrying faint sensations and feelings. Weeping in profound sorrow, screaming in inarticulate rage, laughing at a joke, and smiling in the face of a new sunrise, feelings Soter could barely sense, experiences he could scarcely perceive seemed to graze his flesh in a way the wind never could. Then they disappeared, and Soter knew what he was.
"Iron… something about iron…" Soter murmured to himself, his tongue felt too thick in his mouth, and his eyes too tight for their sockets. He licked his lips absently, tasting blood, and found they were chapped and dry.
He clenched his fists, and ignored it, ignored it all as he marched to the dead men in the military transport. He bent down and unclipped a backpack from one man, emptying it as best he could, though he grabbed a grain-bar and shoved it into his pocket. Then he turned and climbed into the transport itself, it was darker, but not so dark he couldn't see, light streamed in a ways through the gaping hole in the centre, and the opening at the back. Soter looked around, before spotting a las-rifle on the floor and grabbing it, surprised at its weight, it was easily as heavy as the four kilogram bomb.
Soter walked back to his bomb, retrieving it from its hiding place and stuffing it into his new backpack, as he fiddled with the straps, before figuring out how to adjust them to better fit his size. Soter paused, leaning the las-rifle against the wall of a nearby building, before leaning against it himself as he idly ate the grain-bar. He eyed the dead men's flak armour, but decided they wouldn't fit him, and would only slow him down more than the bomb and rifle would. Still, as he finished the bar, and retrieved his new rifle, he bent down and picked up a man's helmet, untouched by the chaos and death around it, Soter fitted it to his head, and walked away, his face still covered in blood, to the Basilica.
The fighting was everywhere now, and Soter was close enough to hear the screaming and dying. Lips pressed themselves together thinly, as Soter whipped around corners, his las-gun levelled amateurishly, and his eyes darting about each new alley he entered, relying on his paranoia and tightly controlled panic to keep himself sharp. He paused as he heard feminine pleading coming from a window above him, though it was muffled.
"No! No please-don't do this you bastard!"
Soter managed to catch the fearful words before they were muffled again, he paused, considering as he felt the pit in his gut deepen, sinking as a worrisome picture rose to the forefront of his mind. He'd heard similar things before, war made monsters of men it was said. Of course, Soter didn't actually know what was going on, but he could check, and he had a weapon now, an effective one, he could defend himself. Mind made up he quickly found the entrance of the tall hab-unit, and holding the las-rifle tight to his belly he began to sprint up the stairs, the sounds of panicked struggle and whimpering becoming louder with each step.
"Stop it! S-stop! No no no... don't-please!"
Quickly he found it, the door was ajar, and Soter quickly shouldered his las-gun, transitioning from a jog to a quieter, more controlled walk.
"You understand what'll happen if you refuse you stupid bitch!? I'm an officer, you're just a stupid fucking conscript..."
He heard the woman's cry, even as he pushed the door wider with the barrel of his weapon, exposing a man's back, wearing Imperial flak armour around his torso, a long commissariat greatcoat thrown haphazardly across the floor. He kneeling over the slumped form of a woman, only partially visible in front of the man, also still wearing distinctive Imperial flak on her upper torso, though her pants were removed, exposing some naked leg to Soter's sight that made his face heat up, to his shame and irritation.
"... That means you obey my fucking orders."
Soter slowly circled from a distance, a dark, morbid curiosity filling him as he swallowing thickly, and tightened his grip on his las-gun, aiming carefully at the man's head. The man held a las-pistol aimed at the woman, even as his free hand struggled to remove his pants one-handed, her head was facing away.
Soter licked his dry lips reflexively as his eyes widened, his heart tightening with dread and anger at what he was seeing. He tasted foul dried blood, he still hadn't cleaned his face from last time, but now it seemed to focus him, and before he could think anything more, his finger squeezed the trigger. There was a sound almost akin to muffled lightning, tinged with a whining undercurrent. A flash of thin red light flared in Soter's vision even as he closed his eyes reflexively, there was a shocked cry, followed by the tumbling sound as the man's limp body collapsed to the floor.
Soter opened his eyes as he watched, almost dispassionately as the woman scrambled off the bed, her hands covering her nethers as she put distance between herself and him. Her eyes were brown he noticed, so was her hair. She stared at him in shock, even as her chest heaved beneath her vest, panic and adrenaline making her almost hyperventilate. Soter lowered his rifle, and she reached for her pants, using the bed to hide herself as she crouched, getting dressed.
"Shit… shit, you killed him…" she was staring at the body of the Commissar, her face transforming from shock into terror. She turned to look at Soter again, who merely stared placidly at her, "you're so young..." she muttered.
Soter didn't react, the sinking feeling in his gut doubled, she was the enemy after all... she was an Imperial, a soldier.
"Fuck!" She cursed suddenly, glancing back at the body as the crackle of the dead Commissar's vox cut off anything further she had to say, "Commissar Cephis! Status report!" She seemed paralyzed with fear, and so was Soter, but he swallowed his panic and waited to see what she would do.
"Cephis are you there!? You'd better be dead if you're not answering... damn."
The vox went silent, no longer receiving communication. The woman's face was like the colour of ash now, pallid and pale with terror. "Oh Emperor! They'll charge me with betrayal, th-they'll execute me..." She muttered to herself, glancing up at him.
"We-we'll have to lie or-or something! We were supposed to be retreating from the Basilica!" She rambled, panicked words spilling from her mouth. Then she paused, taking a breath as she noticed the markings on Soter's pilfered armour.
"37th division!? I thought, I thought they were all lost behind enemy lines... It-it doesn't matter, we need to get back to the Basilica right away!"
Soter felt like his heart was drifting into his stomach as he stood there, silently. The woman didn't seem to realize the armour was stolen, that he was a soldier for the rebellion against the Imperium, that he was a heretic, but he knew the other soldiers in the Basilica would. He couldn't let her follow him into the Basilica, he needed to sneak in or something.
She started to move around the bed, slowly like she was approaching a dangerous animal, she kept her front facing him as she moved around and away, and Soter noticed her las-rifle was laying in the corner of the room, near the door from which he'd come. Abruptly, he wondered if he was wrong, and that she knew exactly who and what he was...
"Stop." Soter spoke his first words since he'd entered the building, his voice rough, hoarse and struggling to keep calm as he shouldered his las-rifle, still too big for him and pointing directly at her.
She froze, and tears pooled at the corners of her eyes. Soter desperately wished he hadn't heard her name. "I'm sorry."
Soter's closed his eyes at the sudden flash of light, reflexively flinching as the piercing, sharp whine of the las-weapon split the air again.
He opened his grey eyes again upon hearing the clatter of her body hitting the floor armour first. She was laying there, a still smoking crater in her chest, black save for lines of glowing heat that accented it. Her face was still locked in pleading desperation, there were tears drying on her cheeks.
Soter's lips pressed in a thin line and he clenched his jaw, stifling the grain-bar he'd eaten earlier from coming back up. He turned away, feeling more like a murderer than a soldier this time. "Iron Within, Iron Without." Soter mumbled to himself, turning to the door and leaving, clenching his gun in a white-knuckled grip until his fingers hurt.
Bigger chapter this one, sorry for the delay but I started this at a bad time, starting this story while I'm swamped with Uni. I need to also buy Mass Effect Legendary Edition on Steam for myself and for this story. Don't worry! We'll get to Soter the Iron Warrior next chapter, there just like roughly half of chapter 3 to get through before we're finished with 13 year old Soter.
Kotik is literally Russian for cat, but Scythia is a hive world with a bit of a mish-mash of cultures and language, you could generally call it vaguely Slavic and indo-european, with obvious references to ancient Scythians, Mesopotamia, Greece, etc.
Another thing to note is that Soter's perspective is somewhat warped, he doesn't fully realize the evils of chaos, and besides, many of the evil things chaos does are things that happen in the Imperium on a daily basis. To Soter, he is part of a rebellion against the Imperium, and in a way he is right, after all, one could say the Horus Heresy never truly ended.