Friday, 25 June 2010

Email In: Character Creation

Hey there,
My local GW is having an event called "The Warding."  It is a celebration of the love that Mat (one t) Ward is currently getting from the higher-ups at GW.  After the release of the BA codex, the manager thought that everyone should be able to have a "fun" character of their very own.  What we are doing is this; create a stat line for a model, write a few paragraphs of background on your model, build and paint said model, and then incorporate the model into your 1500 pt army for a 3 round tournament. 
I cannot tell how fun the Warding has been so far; some of the ideas getting kicked around the store are amazing!  I found your blog because of this. 
Now the reason I am sending you an e-mail.  I am totally stumped?!?  For the life of me I cannot figure out how to create my character.  If you could help out I would welcome any help and or advice you could give.
I play a lot of different armies, but my love is the Daemon-Hunters and the Inquisition.  Therefore I plan on creating an Inquisitor.
The idea I have is this:  my inquisitor is a dual bolt pistol wielding gunslinger ala Cypher.  I also plan on having him accompanied by a retinue of three death-cult assassins.  I would also like to incorporate "Exterminas"; this would be something like, "when Inquisitor so-and-so dies, place the APOCALYPSE template over him and scatter D6"... or something like that.
If you have any interest in this project, feel to e-mail me at any time.
Thanks in advance, Max

Reply:

Hi Max,

Thanks for the email, I'd love to help. Since I play Inquisition as well I feel it cannot be coincidence that you found my blog - it must be the Emperor's divine guidance :). 

You seem to already have an idea of what you want in terms of story but I understand this can be difficult to put into rules. Let's start with stat line for a trained human in Carapace armor:





WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Sv
3
3
3
3
1
3
2
8
4+





Since our guy is going to be hanging out with a harem of Death-cult Assassins he needs to be combat capable. We could just give him WS 4 which makes him as good as a space marine in terms of hand to hand combat (already an exceptional feat) but this makes him rather unexceptional (see: boring) as an Inquisitor. Our Inquistor isn't going to slay many Daemons with WS 4 so let's bump him up to 5. That way he can hit little daemons on a 3+ whilst they will require a reasonable 4+ to hit him.
Since this is a special character and a leader of an army his Wounds, Attack and Leadership characteristics should receive a solid boost. Let's give him the customary 3 Wounds, 3 Attacks and Leadership 9 available to most human characters:





WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Sv
3
3
3
3
3
3
3
9
4+

BS 3 is a failquest for a gunslinger. We want an Inquisitor who's a roguish varlet with a quick wit and a quicker trigger finger - just like Han Solo himself. Let's bump his BS to 6 and his initiative to 5. This guy thinks on his feet and never misses. As an Inquisitor he's likely a psyker, able to use his talents to sense his foes movements moments before they make them giving him an unnatural speed and accuracy. Let's remember this when we make our special rules. 

For future reference it's important to use exceptional stats such as these to define your character's persona but reduced stats can do the same. Let's pull his Leadership stat back to an 8 - the Inquisitor knows how to look out for himself and his attractive entourage is proof that he's perfectly willing to put pleasure before business. Not for him the blind dogma of the Imperial Cult - he's a thinker and he sees the big picture, he knows it's wrong to sacrifice himself for the sake of stoicism alone. Perhaps he's a younger agent of the Inquisition, willing to be flexible and determined to reverse the backward stubborn views of his elders. 

Now that we've got our unique stat line we can move to wargear. Let's setup a typical ready-for-trouble wargear list:

  • Carapace Armor
  • Laspistol
  • Close Combat Weapon
  • Frag Grenades
Wow what a shitty load-out. While this might be the typical luggage for a Dark Heresy player it's not going to let our guy face down a Greater Deamon (which he does twice before breakfast). Heavily dependent on his speed and perhaps more than a little arrogant our Inquisitor won't don anything heavier than Carapace armor. He's no fool, however. Beneath his stylish leather overcoat he wears a mysterious gem-encrusted medallion gifted to him by his master upon his ascension to Inquisitor. It hums potently with quiet energy and grants our Inquisitor a 4+ Invulnerable save. 

Since our guy hunts daemons and other perverted entities from beyond reality he needs a suitable weapon. Rather than just a pair of Bolt Pistols let's give him a brace of pistols such as one might have found  on a pirate some centuries ago. This enhances his cavalier image but also lets us give him a Sternguard-like arsenal. Each pistol is designed to fire different ammunition allowing the Inquisitor to overcome a variety of foes. Naturally each gun has a name and special place in the Inquisitor's heart:

"The Lover Scorned"

Range: 6" Str. 8 AP 1, Pistol

"Jealousy"

Range: 12" Str. 4 AP 2, Pistol, Poison (2+)

"Lady Angela"

Range: 12" Str. 5 AP 3, Blast, No Invulnerble Saves allowed against this weapon

"The Barkeep"

Range: Template Str. 6 AP 5, Pinning

So you've got a little bit of everything and our Inquisitor is beginning to look like a choice worth taking. He's not that dangerous yet but a couple of special rules will see that change. We won't give him any more wargear, again leaving him limited in some ways so that he is more characterful. No power weapon, not even krak grenades means this guy is going to be limited in his abilities which leaves the owning player with some tactical decisions to make. This hopefully inspire more involved gameplay and variety on the tabletop.

So now it's on to the most important part of character creation: Special Rules

The Inquisitor is a gunslinger which means he probably shoots with both hands. Let's make him...

Ambidextrous: The Inquisitor may fire two weapons in the shooting phase instead of the usual one permitted. The second shot may be fired at a different target and the Inquisitor may then assault either target. If he chooses to do so his BS is halved reducing it to 3. 

Halving the BS won't matter much for the template or blast weapons but it'll keep the Inquisitor from taking out two separate high-value targets on 'easy mode'. Again this produces difficult decisions for the player.

Assassins are fast and if our Inquisitor is used to working with them (may even train with them) then he'll be fast as well. Let's make him Fleet for those occasions when you really need to get stuck in. When you make into assault you'll need all the skills available to a...

Gunslinger: The Inquisitor may use either Pistol weapon in Close Combat. Resolve the shot at the Inquisitor's initiative and using his BS to hit. He may take a number of shots equal to the amount of attacks on his profile (3). Models targeting the Inquisitor in Close Combat still do so using his Weapon Skill. 

As a gameplay mechanic the Inquisitor will also need some way to express the fact that Daemons are his most frequent adversaries. Thus we'll need to take something that characteristic of Daemons and give the Inquisitor a buff against it. Weak saves are common amongst the denizens of the Warp so how about we make the Inqusitor...

Deadeye: All successful saves made against wounds caused by the Inquisitor must be re-rolled.

A powerful special rule and very importantly it works against more than just daemons. Thus we avoid balance issues that crop up when units are tailored to counter certain armies. This would also be a good place to describe the Inquisitor psychic talents and how they allow him to take his shots with inhuman accuracy. Let's add the Psyker special rule. He doesn't have any psychic powers per se but it does affect gameplay in many cases. 

Normally I would find a way to make a special character affect the FOC but it doesn't seem necessary here so I'll just give him Independent Character and call it a day. "Exterminatus", while a cool part of the fluff, doesn't work well in-game. There's simply no place for Apocalypse templates in regular 40k and the Exterminatus event would be impossible to represent even with a template a hundred times that size. 

There's a heapload more rules we could give him. Certainly it would have been nice to give a buff to the Assassins that accompany the Inquisitor but we have to keep the cost of the Inquisitor relatively low and therefore suitable to 1500 pt games. 

As it stands I imagine the cost being between 120 - 145 - just under 10% of the 1500 pt limit. 


Inquisitor Danar Kasan     120 - 145 points

Inquisitor Kasan is an HQ choice for a Daemonhunters, Space Marine or Imperial Guard army










WS
BS
S
T
W
I
A
Ld
Sv
5
6
3
3
3
5
3
8
4+/4++


Unit Compostion: 1 (Unique)

Unit Type: Infantry

Wargear: 
  • Carapace Armor
  • Daemonbane Jewel
  • Close Combat Weapon
  • Brace of Pistols
  • Frag Grenades
Special Rules:
  • Independent Character
  • Fleet
  • Psyker
  • Ambidextrous
  • Gunslinger 
  • Deadeye
Dedicated Transport:

The Inquisitor may take an Inquisitorial Rhino, Chimera or Valkyrie as a Dedicated Transport.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Tale of Kelraxus Half-blade



Chapter 1 of John Venegas' 'Tale of Kelraxus Half-blade'.


“All power to starboard thrusters!  Keep the ship in orbit!”  Marshal Devlan maintained his composure and spoke with authority, but even he could not keep all hints of worry from his voice.
The servitor that replied spoke in a monotone devoid of concern- “Negative, Lord Marshal.  The ship is caught in the planet’s gravity fluctuations.  Impact in three minutes.”
“Damnation.  Fight, you mindless whelp,” Devlan roared.  “Use what little intelligence you have to die with the Emperor’s name on your tongue.”
“All hail the Emperor of Man,” the servitor replied coldly before returning to its duties.
      Devlan sat back in his command-throne, pondering his next move.  Though he remained as motionless as a statue, his enhanced mind raced over the details of the situation.  The world below was covered in a multi-hued landscape and crawled with armies large enough to be seen from orbit.  The circumstances were grave indeed.  He punched in a code on the arm of the throne and began to speak.
“All hands, this is Marshal Devlan.  We have been ensnared by the foul treacheries of the Ruinous Powers and will make planetfall within three minutes.  Arm yourselves.  When we land, we fight.  We fight in the Emperor’s name.  Devlan out.”
“My Lord Marshal, astropathic distress signals have been unsuccessful.  There have been fatal levels of psychic interference, most likely emanating from the planet itself,” another servitor reported.
“Blessed is the mind untouched by the Taint.  It is only fitting for having trusted witches,” Devlan replied.  As if in response, his vox-link buzzed.
“This is Devlan.  Go ahead,” he said into his communicator.
“My Lord Marshal, this is Chaplain Bavon.  I have the Blessed with me.  Requesting permission to come aboard, sir,” came the reply.
“Permission granted, brother.”
      A massive bulkhead shifted and groaned as it lumbered open.  The interior of the massive portal was covered in sigils and laurels detailing countless triumphant moments in the history of the ancient strike cruiser, designated the Black Sword by Chapter record keepers.  Save for the symbol of the Templars above it, the exterior was only adorned by the untouched scar of an unsuccessful melta charge attack.  Devlan had left it there to remind any future boarders of the futility of their endeavors.
The two individuals that entered the bridge were every bit as imposing at the door itself.
      The first was Chaplain Bavon.  A hero of countless battles and the inspiration of many Crusaders, he was the most senior of the Black Templars aboard the Black Sword.  His skull-faced helm was already fixed in place, and his right hand flexed open and closed around the hilt of his crozius arcanum.  His left hand gripped tightly on the grip of his bolt pistol. A huge rosarius generator hung from his neck.  Though the field it created around him was largely invisible, it filled the air with a gentle humming.  As if completely oblivious to the impending doom of the venerable space ship, his body language spoke of one eager for battle.
      The second was Ramasian, the Emperor’s Champion.  If Chaplain Bavon represented the Emperor’s furious judgment, Ramasian embodied the heroic visage of the sacred vision of the Lord of Mankind.  He was nearly a head taller than Bavon, with a statuesque olive face and long black hair.  His armor, one of the legendary suits called the Armor of Faith, was as ancient as it was ornate, with the purest gold and silver trim bedecking six thousand year old ceramite.  At his side, his right hand rested on the hilt of the Black Sword, the obsidian blade of which stretched out six feet behind Ramasian.  His stoic manner seemed at odds with the severity of the crisis.
“Chaplain Bavon.  Blessed-Brother Ramasian.  The Emperor has given us an entire planet’s worth of his enemies to smite,” Marshal Devlan said.
“None of the serfs are expected to survive, Lord Marshal,” Chaplain Bavon said unsolicited.  “Casualties amongst the Initiates are expected to be light, and those amongst the Neophytes heavy.”
“As expected, Brother-Chaplain,” Devlan responded.  “The servitors are going to put us down on the planet’s main continent.”
“Impact in two minutes,” one of the servitors called out.  Red warning lights and klaxons blazed and wailed in response.
Silent as usual, Ramasian moved forward toward the bridge view-screens, watching the mad planet writhe underneath them like a predator awaiting a doomed prey.  The slightest glimpse of anticipation flickered in Ramasian’s eyes, and for a moment, Devlan did not know who was predator and who was prey.
“Something has changed in him, Bavon,” Devlan said quietly.  “Has he been granted a vision from the Emperor?” Devlan asked.
“He has indicated nothing of the sort, Lord Marshal,” the Chaplain replied.  “We must not forget that despite his ascension, he is still an Astartes- a warrior like you and I.  I believe in this moment he is simply a warrior coming to terms with his final stand.”
“You mean our final stand.”
“Most likely, Lord Marshal.  I have never once questioned your tactical brilliance nor the valor of our warriors, but even the most zealous of the faithful understand what is to come.”
“Aye, Brother.  We shall stand together here and now for the last time.  I am honored to die at the side of Brothers such as you and Blessed Ramasian,” Devlan said.
“Impact in one minute, Lord Marshal,” said one of the servitors.
“Brother Chaplain,” Ramasian called out behind himself.  “A moment?”
“Of course, Blessed Brother,” Bavon answered as Devlan returned to his command-throne and donned his helm.
“What is it?” Bavon asked.
“Is it wrong to consider this death ignoble?”
“No death in the Emperor’s service is ignoble, Brother,” the Chaplain replied.
“So teaches Father Dorn, but I cannot help but hate this place.  Crawling with vermin, catching us in a freak gravitational accident.  No one will come for our bodies.  No one will come for the ship.  We die here, with no renown or vindication.  For this most of all, I hate this place,” Ramasian said, his face and tone never once wavering.
“Hate is a tool of the righteous, Brother,” Bavon said.  “All warriors fear that their lives will go wasted and their names unremembered by the pages of history.  Do not dwell on this, for you are no mere soldier.  You are the chosen champion of the Emperor of Man.  He knows your name.  When you finally fall, you will be welcomed into the company of legends.  You will be rewarded for your valor and your might, and the galaxy will know your name.”
Ramasian turned to Bavon and peered into the Chaplain’s blue eyes.  There was no hint of doubt.  Something in Ramasian knew that the Chaplain spoke only truth.
“These abominations will taste my hatred of them, and they will fall,” Ramasian said.
“Impact in ten, nine…” a servitor began.
      A massive shockwave hit the strike cruiser as it struck and obliterated the peak of a mountain.  It slid over the natural edifice as the tremors rattled the craft from stem to stern.  Weapons and iconography sheared off in mere instants.  The crusader skipped and turned on its side before slamming nose first into the ground.  It tore a huge gouge out of the ground before snapping in two like a fruit.  Within the scored and broken hull, servitors, serfs, and Astartes alike were tossed about in horrific fashion.  Computers and view screens exploded in showers of sparks and shrapnel.  The roaring of the tumult shattered ear drums as easily as it did steel firmament.  The halves of the Black Sword finally skidded to a halt over twenty seconds and seven miles beyond the initial impact on the mountaintop.
++++++
      Three miles away, the demon lord Hado’kir’i’tkas watched intently.  He stretched out his agitated blue wings and cocked his long-beaked head.  He was a very tall, fragile looking bird-creature that seemed completely out of place on the blood soaked landscape.  It had taken a considerable amount of power to weave enchantments that could hide his presence from the servants of the God of Rage, especially the hounds.  The warmongerers ruled this area of the planet for now, and they hated Hado’kir and his kind almost as much as the servants of the Dark Prince.  Nevertheless, the Master of the Empyrean demanded that his involvement be kept discrete.
      As the human ship came to a rest and the tattered remnants of the Astartes climbed from the monolithic wreckage, Hado’kir watched the very unsubtle warriors around him, still oblivious to his presence, began stalking toward the humanoids.  They chittered and barked with barely restrained bloodlust, while brandishing their longswords and their fangs.  Such primitive and base displays meant little to Hado’kir, but it seemed these Space Marines were more than willing to accept the challenge. 
      Finally, with his limitless demonic vision, the greater demon witnessed the favored one emerge.  His soul was a ripe thing indeed.  It burned hotter and more brightly than most, though without any direct ability to manipulate the aether.  The Starchild had singled out this warrior for greatness, and the Master of Fate had foreseen this warrior become far more than a forgettable annoyance like most Astartes were.  Indeed, if this one were allowed to prosper as the Starchild saw fit, the Grand Scheme for the realm of mortals could itself be jeopardized.  Though he would never admit it to any but his master, Hado’kir could not see such things happening.  It was one mortal amongst trillions, and like all of the others, it ultimately meant little.  However, if the Starchild’s orchestrations could be set back, the cause was undoubtedly worthy.
      It had taken only a minor thought to confuse the ship’s navigator and cause them to drop out of the warp dangerously close to the planet.  Even the manipulation of the planet’s gravity wells was a simple task for once such as Hado’kir.  But now the real game was beginning.  With no ambition, greed, or sorcerous power, this Ramasian was of little use to the Lord of Change.  However, his soul harbored an anger that bordered on darkness and that had been nurtured by his fanatical brethren.  The Blood God, simplistic fool that he was, would be most pleased with his new toy, and would be none the wiser of his brother’s involvement.
++++++
“Brother-Templars!” Marshal Devlan roared.  “To me!  The Emperor wishes us to banish these horrors back to the hell from whence they came!”
      Unseen to all, Marshal Devlan winced as he advanced.  Like almost all of the Fighting Company, he was severely injured.  His rib cage was thoroughly cracked, and would take several weeks of rest to completely heal.  Worst of all, Chaplain Bavon had been crushed by a machine console in the crash.  Not that it mattered now.  An unruly horde of bipedal monsters was in full sprint towards the Black Sword, each eager to claim the lives of the noble Templars.  Devlan swore that each of them would learn the price of underestimating the Emperor’s finest.
      To Devlan’s right, a tremendous bellow erupted.  It shocked Devlan enough to cause the Marshal to leap aside, and shocked him even more so when he saw the culprit.  Ramasian thundered forward like Sigismund himself, brandishing his massive, jet black greatsword.  His example did far more to rally the confused and scattered Templars than Devlan’s orders did.  Devlan himself thumbed the activation rune on his power-axe and followed the Blessed Champion.  As the red horde approached, the Marshal emptied his bolt pistol magazine.  Each shot found it’s mark in demonic flesh, which fizzled and vaporized even as it shred from its host.  Yet the demons came on without fear or hesitation.
      It was only then that Devlan began to appreciate the gravity of the situation.  The demonkin around him were more than enough to wipe out the fighting company, and a thousand times their number were clambering down the surrounding mountains.  Massive metal juggernauts pounded forward, spewing sulfur-ridden fumes and snapping at the warriors beside them.  Rabid, horse-sized hounds with collars of brass and iron galloped through the horde at terrifying speed. 
As the horde closed, Ramasian struck.
      The first three Bloodletters fell in less than a second.  The Champion’s sword rose and fell with an almost impossible combination of speed and strength, and in a few more seconds, he had punched deep into the enemy.  He seemed to anticipate where each frenzied, demonic blow would land and would dodge or sidestep at the last moment.  The counter-attack would behead or bisect almost without fail.  Around him, the Templars plowed into the demon ranks, pushing the creatures back.  Within moments, each warrior was cut off from his fellows and fighting to his last moment.  Superhuman warriors born of genetic engineering and armed with courage and steel tore into insane minions of muscle and rage before being hacked limb from limb.  Human blood and demonic ichor bathed each warrior and mixed in a cocktail of unholy, wanton death.
      Amidst it all, Ramasian was indefatigable.  A pile of dissolving corpses lay strewn about at his feet.  One of the lumbering juggernauts charged into him like a nightmarish rhinoceros, only for the Champion to behead the iron beast with a single blow.  A Flesh Hound leapt over the massing horde, and Ramasian fell back into a roll, splitting the demon’s belly in two.  The Emperor’s Champion leapt to his feet and swung his sword in huge, sweeping arcs.  It cleaved through demon blades and bodies with little resistance and cleared out six feet of space on all sides of him.  Though battle raged around him, the Bloodletters most adjacent paused.  A single demon stepped forward, taller and more muscular than its fellows, baring an unsubtle axe.  It leveled the weapon at the Champion in challenge, and charged.
      The first blow was easily parried, but the demon slammed into Ramasian and sent them both barreling into the ground.  They rose together and traded a flurry of blows that rang out and jarred Ramasian’s muscles.  He felt his contempt of the creature boiling to the surface.  From its furthest recesses, his mind urged him to let go and unleash the Emperor’s righteous anger.  “Why not?” he wondered.  He knew this creature was beyond any need for sympathy.  It existed only to bring destruction to the Emperor’s vision.  Ramasian’s muscles tightened and he screamed louder than he thought himself capable of.  He brought down his sword on the head of the demonic herald, splitting the demon in twain.  The Bloodletters surrounding him barked to the heavens at the fall of their leader, not in mourning but as if it was simply the way of things.
      A pain struck Ramasian’s mind then, and his senses seemed to extend beyond his mortal shell.  At first he thought himself dead at last, but he realized that he was witnessing the battle at large.  The pain stabbed into him again, and he saw a light extinguished.  It was the fall of another Templar.  How he could witness this he did not know, nor did he care.  His anger fanned with each death.  “Why did such brave warriors have to die such an ignominious death,” he questioned.  Even as growing confusion washed over his mind, his body dismissively butchered any demon that wondered too near.
      A roar, the likes of which few mortal ears had ever heard, resounded over the battlefield and brought Ramasian’s mind back to his body.  The boundaries between the warp and reality shimmered and threatened to break.  The ground itself tore open before Ramasian, vomiting forth the stench of burning sulfur and boiling blood.  A massive arm, as thick around as the Champion himself, punched through the void.  It gained purchase on the cracked ground and pulled forth a gargantuan, bestial demon behind it.  The demon, almost ridiculously brawny, spread a huge pair of bat-like wings and shook off a wave of soil and blood.  Its horned head growled intelligibly and scanned the field until its eyes fell on the Emperor’s Champion.  It took a step forward, its broad-hoofed foot melting the rock it landed on.  Raising its tank-sized axe, it swung a tremendous blow at Ramasian.  The Astartes Champion brought his blade up, but he had not the strength to withstand it.  He flew back through the air and slammed into a boulder with all the force of a cannon shot.  Ramasian’s backpack unit shattered along with most of the bones in his body, and the mighty warrior fell limply to the floor.
++++++ 
      Slowly, the Bloodthirster Mal’kandrinax advanced on the vanquished Ramasian, cracking his whip in frustration at having been summoned to deal with such a pathetic creature.  It looked so pathetic on the floor, simply waiting for its skull to be added to Khorne’s tally.  The mortal’s weapon, broken in two, lay beside him.  The Bloodletters around the greater demon shivered and cawed in the presence of such a perfect avatar of their master’s power.  Mal’kandrinax stepped on one of them in his anger, watching with satisfaction as the lesser being pulped underneath his hoof.
      When he reached the Space Marine, he reached down to pluck the mortal’s skull from its frame.  Suddenly, the greater demon’s entire body froze and convulsed.  A mixed wave of emotion flooded through his mind.  He was enraged at having been stopped, but equally cowed at the knowledge that only one entity could command him so- Khorne himself.  The Blood God had spoken and found this mortal worthy of his attentions, and Mal’kandrinax felt himself compelled to reach down once again.  This time, the demon’s hand came to rest on Ramasian’s chest.  With the slightest of efforts, he could crush the little worm, but his corporeal form was completely incapable of defying the Blood God’s will.  Lightning coruscated from the demon’s arm and poured into Ramasian’s broken body.  The Champion writhed as tendrils of chaotic power took hold of him.
++++++
      For a moment, there was only pain- the kind of pain that drove the mightiest men insane and the fear of which could kill.  Ramasian knew this pain for an instant, and then found himself naked aboard the bridge of the Black Sword.  He stood alone, save for the servitors and Chaplain Bavon.  He called out to the Chaplain.
“Brother?”
“Yes, Ramasian,” the Chaplain answered beneath his skull-helm.
“What is this?  This cannot be real.  You died in the crash.  I fell to a demon lord.  What is this?”
The Chaplain did not reply.
“We must find our way out of this nightmare, Bavon.”
“No.”
“What?” Ramasian asked, genuinely stunned.
“There is no point.”
“How can you say that, Chaplain?  I don’t understand what is going on.”
“Of course you don’t, you simple minded fool!  The ‘Chosen One’!  And you can’t even see what was in front of you all this time.  I suppose such stupidity is worthy of the Emperor’s Champion.”
Ramasian felt as if struck with a thunder hammer.
“You should see your face, Ramasian,” Bavon continued.  “Like a lamb lead to slaughter.  I know it has bothered you.  You spoke to me on this very bridge about your doubts.  You wanted to be remembered.  You wanted to feel vindicated in the endless slaughter of the Emperor’s enemies.  I believe I recited some spittle-wash from the Litanies of Hate for you to ease your limited mind.  Tell me now, Champion, do those words offer any comfort to you now that your mind is imprisoned here and your body is the plaything of the gods?”
“Gods? What devilry do you speak of?!  What has come over you, Bavon?!”
In an instant, Bavon closed the distance and caught Ramasian’s face with a ceramite-covered backhand, sending the Champion sprawled to the floor.
“Cease your ignorant prattle, whelp.  I haven’t the time for it.  You see, brother, I have been granted the rarest of epiphanies.  In the many years of our service, we have slaughtered millions.  How many gallons of blood have we spilled?  How many skulls have we taken as trophies?  Why?”
Ramasian gargled a response through a mouthful of blood
“Because the Emperor demanded it.”
“Exactly.  Because he demanded it.  And what did we receive for it?  As you so succinctly put it, ‘an ignoble death’.  To go unremembered and unthanked for shedding our blood along with that of countless others in his name,” Bavon said.  “My honor burns with anguish at such an affront.”
“This is the life we chose, Bavon.  To sacrifice ourselves for the sake of all mankind,” Ramasian replied.
“And what do you have to show for it, Champion? Nothing.  Well, I have found another way.”
“I will not hear this!  I know what road you now tread, and I will not follow.  I am no heretic.  I am not a traitor!” Ramasian yelled.
“Follow?  Moron.  Have you not yet realized it?  I am nothing more than a figment of your mind, forcing you to see the truth.  I am telling you nothing that you do not already know and believe.  You are simply too blind to see past your indoctrination,” Bavon yelled back.
“No…” Ramasian whispered, aghast.
“Do not cower before your destiny, Ramasian.  There is another way.  You need not live the life of a nameless policer of the Emperor’s supposed domain.  You are a weapon, built for war and conquest.  Embrace what you were forged for!  Become what you were meant to be.”
“I cannot…I am a son of Dorn…” Ramasian said.  For the first time since he became an Astartes, the pangs of fear addled his mind.
“No.  You are a warrior.  One of superlative skill.  There is one who will truly reward you for what you have done, and what you will do.  He will make you stronger.  He will make you faster.  Your knowledge of war will be unsurpassed, He will make you invincible should you prove worthy.  You need only say his name.”
“Keep away from me!” Ramasian screamed.
“Let go of that feculent corpse of a dictator and join the ranks of the galaxy’s greatest warriors.  You already know the name of your true lord, for he speaks to the hearts of all true warriors,” Bavon said, leaning over Ramasian and peering into his eyes.
Ramasian screamed again, tortured by the betrayal of his thoughts.
“Say it!  Say his name!” the image of Bavon cried.
“K…K….Khorne!”
++++++
      Mal’kandrinax stepped back and watched as the Astartes rose from the floor.  The mortal’s bones snapped back into place and healed their fissures.  Open wounds sealed.  The mortal jerked upright as if possessed and came to rest on one knee.  For several moments, neither demon nor mortal moved.  Mal’kandrinax leaned his head in and sniffed, like a dog exploring a familiar scent.  Indeed, the Bloodthirster sensed the essence of the Blood God within this pawn and became enthralled by it.
So much so that he did not notice the hilt of Ramasian’s sword return to the warrior’s hand.
      In a flash of movement and anger, Ramasian plunged his half-blade into the protruding snout of the greater demon.  The surprised creature bucked and stumbled away, but Ramasian would not let go.  Mal’kandrinax wavered and tripped, crushing screaming Bloodletters under his massive bulk.  The former Champion stood atop the fallen demon and began to speak words of a language unknown to him in his previous life.  At first he spoke alone, but as he chanted the demons around him repeated and echoed his incantations.  Blood poured from the wound in the greater demon’s snout, but it was absorbed by the sword as if the metal were devouring it.  More blood than even the creature’s huge body could hold came forth, and the broken blade swallowed every drop of it.  The demon’s flesh withered on its shrinking frame before dissolving like that of its kin.  
      Ramasian watched as his broken sword ignited and became a blade of flame and black steel, covered in red runes of unfettered rage.  Then, it quieted itself and went as cold as the void.
“Blood…for…the Blood God.”
++++++
      A powerful blow across the cheek woke Marshal Devlan.  He had been captured and restrained by his unnatural opponents, and now found himself being dragged through the blood soaked dirt.  He struggled mightily, but another blow stopped him.   When he realized he had stopped, Devlan looked up.  Ramasian, or rather, a horrific, gore-strewn image of the Champion, stood before him. 
“Brother Ramasian?  What…is…this?”  Devlan asked, despite a broken jaw.
Ramasian circled around him before placing a heavy boot on the Marshal’s back and forcing him into the ground.
“Ramasian is dead, fallen on this very field, Marshal.  I am Kelraxus.  Take that name with you to the afterlife.”
Kelraxus plunged his blade into the Marshal’s neck and said “Tell the Emperor that I am coming for him.”

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Best of the Best

I'd like to use this post to invite a new category to the blog: Fan Fiction. It's a difficult pursuit that requires dedication and patience as well as skill with the written word. If you are working on a personal project be it extended background for your army or a thousand verse epic feel free to send it to me. I'll kick us off with an old short story written about the mysterious Stellan Hoplites. 


Best of the Best 
by Atrotos

   Sergeant Drade was uncomfortable. His parade uniform was over-starched and the ribbon that held the medal clasped around his neck was too short and too tight for comfort. He was very much aware of how the temperature in the room had risen in the last hour as more and more celebrities, nobles, officers and other notables had elbowed their way into the banquet hall eager to see but even more determined to be seen in this momentous occasion. Tonight the most esteemed Stellan families could mingle with the heroic members of the Stellan hoplites fresh from their adventures amongst the stars. A dribble of sweat worked its way down Drade's back and he struggled with the urge to scratch at it like a trooper fresh out of Schola.




    Drade knew all too well he was not cut out for such functions. The opulence and easy wealth niggled at his utilitarian spirit. Here was a place where the wealthy came to flaunt their status. The ceiling was high to allow for tapestries and exquisite murals to spread across enormous surfaces and tall windows through which the commoners might observe the high society. The furnishings were not gold painted but actually gold wrought with care and precision around delicate velvet finishes. The floor was a soothing azure marble flecked with emerald dust. All around servitors offered refreshments from behind platinum plated masks. And here was Drade, a soldier, and utterly incapable of pointless small talk and social posturing.

    A weak tug at his sleeve interrupted Drade's study of his surroundings. A small boy of about ten standard years blushed shyly and pointed at the sergeant's scabbard.

    'Mister? Can I see your sword?' squeaked the youngster and Drade favored him with his most benevolent glare. The young boy started at the intense purple of the sergeant's irises. Slowly Drade unbuckled his scabbard and offered it to the young boy hilt first. 
    'Wow!' the boy exclaimed, 'how many people have you killed with this?'
    'A few' answered the veteran noncommittally.
    'Like...like a million?' the boy asked enthusiastically. Drade smiled
    'No, not that many, son'
    'You're one of the hoplites aren't you? The best of the best!'
    'Well I don't know about that', said Drade, his smile broadening
    'Can I have a sword too?'
    The smile faded from sergeant Drade's lips. 
    'Maybe some day.'

    'What in the warp are you staring at you worthless pile of grot leavings? Do you think you're man enough to earn this saber?' 
    Drade immediately averted his gaze from sergeant Loticus' scabbard. What was he thinking spacing out like that? He knew better and now he was certain he was going to have to pay a heavy price in sweat and blood for his wandering eyes. He stared directly ahead and found himself fantasizing for the millionth time about the massive pulsing vein in sergeant Loticus' temple bursting giving Drade and his mates a free pass until their drill sergeant could be replaced. Then again Loticus looked a stroke might be as dangerous to him as the sudden urge to sneeze was to a normal man.
   'Answer me you pitiful sack of xenos spawned witch drool! Are you man enough to wear this weapon of honor?'
   An intense feeling of indignation surged within Drade. He had drilled and fought for two years on this ball of dust earning the right to petition for a position amongst the Lady Enchantress's Hoplites. He had trained with every weapon accessible to the vast Imperium and then some. He was ready for a sword. He was ready for anything.
   'Sir, yes sir!' screamed Drade
   'What the gor did you say you gutless mutant failure of an alien experiment?'
   'Sir, YES SIR!'
   'Well then what in the Emperor-damned warp are you waiting for?' the sergeant responded with surprising calm. Drade had a moment to open his mouth to say 'sir?' before his feet were kicked from under him. His classmates who had moments ago been standing at attention to either side of him had disappeared. Now five men in drill instructor uniforms stood over him pinning him to the ground with their boots. Drade's two years of training kicked in immediately and he struck out, open palm, at the side of one of the drill instructor's kneecaps. The joint made a sickening crack as it shattered. The men standing over him quickly stepped back and Drade spun on his shoulder blade leaping to his feet in an instant. They seemed unwilling to approach him again. Realizing he had likely overreacted he quit his defensive stance and approached the man he had injured. He hastily began to voice an apology explaining that the adrenaline had caused him to lash out when a blow to the head from behind knocked him out cold. 

    Drade was woken by the most excruciating pain he had ever felt in his life. His eyes burned like living creatures were burrowing into his skull through his sockets. His whole body ached like never before. He felt like a cadet on his first physical training exercise. And there was a sound, a rhythm at once familiar and yet totally new. He realized it was his heartbeat, stronger by an order of magnitude than it was before. Strong enough for him to hear it's steady pace like waves crashing on an unseen shore. 
    Unconsciously Drade placed a hand on his chest and was not at all surprised to find a fresh scar there. Despite the pain he smiled.
    "It belongs to me now," said a voice as soft as silk. Drade turned to find its source sliding gingerly off the cold stainless steel operating table he had been laid out upon. The room he was in was featureless and small with nothing but a stack of medical monitors and a window high upon one wall where the blood red clouds of Stella could be seen against the midnight blue of the sky; a distant star twinkled knowingly at him. The voice belonged to a woman, one Drade noticed, that could easily have been the most beautiful woman he had ever seen despite the fact that her diaphanous gown revealed her heavily augmented, gold plated form. Drade wished he had realized he was stark naked before he had decided to turn around. Determined not to reveal his discomfort he replied coolly.
    "What does, dam?"
    "Your heart."
    Drade grinned a rogue's grin, excited by the invitation in her voice.
    "That it does, dam"
    "Don't play the varlet, Sektor, it doesn't suit you" the woman said but her smile implied she was charmed by Drade's mannerisms. Drade smiled back, it had been a long time since he spoken with a woman. It's going pretty well, he thought to himself. He opened his mouth to ask how she knew his name but was cut off.
    "What are you afraid of, Sektor?"
    Just as suddenly as it arrived Drade's confidence vanished.
    "Dam?"
    "What is it you fear?"
    Drade felt his pulse quicken and his temper rise. His eyes burned even more acutely.
    "Nothing dam. That is to say I wouldn't want to see Sergeant Loticus across the mat from me but other than that we've had all the fear drilled out of us."
    "And yet there's fear there. I've seen it"
    Drade was definitely angry now. Who was this woman to claim she knew him? That he was a coward? His eyes felt like they were radiating heat and his muscles tensed, ready to be put to violent use. The woman stepped closer to him and he could see that her eyes were as gold as the mask that covered half of her face.
    "I'm not afraid of anything. Of anything!", he said and his voice was louder than he had intended it to be. Good, he thought, she should know I'm serious. Yet another part of him wondered what it was about her words that bothered him so. He was so filled to the brim with conviction, with the burning knowledge that he could do anything, that the very notion that he could be afraid was hateful to him.
    " Don't dare lie to me Sektor Drade," she said all the playfulness gone from her voice. She took another step towards him and her countenance became both menacing and enthralling at once. Drade was captivated and at the same time hurt, like a schoolboy who's had his love rejected for the first time. He found her stern words almost impossible to bear.
     "I have sifted through the very ether of your soul, witnessed your consciousness from beginning to end". Drade was aware of the room growing darker, the lights dimmed by some action unnoticed to him. He realized he could see his breath and that goosebumps were forming all over his exposed skin. The woman's voice sounded twice like an echo and Drade noted that he could only hear the echo in his mind.
    "The contents of your heart were made plain to me when I held it in my hands. You fear disappointment, you fear helplessness, you fear death," the woman's eyes began to glow, discretely at first but then more noticeably until Drade could not look directly at her face. He had seen this before when Sergeant Loticus was very angry. 
     "And most of all Sektor, you fear failure. Failure to make your family proud, failure to protect Stella and its people from the enemies of the Imperium and, yes, failure to me."
     Drade was outraged. He felt as if he were about to burst with anger at the truth in her words. The burning in his eyes was agony and he noticed with a start that tiny motes of light hovered around him. Static discharge ran between his fingers. He was struck with a sudden realization.
     'My eyes... they hurt because they're glowing?'
     'The pain will ease with time, my love,' the woman's voice had lost its hard edge. In a moment it had gone from terrifying to comforting. It soothed Drade in an altogether unnatural way, like a balm for the soul.
     'And you...  you're the Lady Enchantress', he said falling to his knees. 
     'I am a servant of the Emperor, Sektor,' she said reaching down and gently lifting his face so that his eyes stared directly into hers. At such short distance staring into her irises was like leaping into the coldest ocean, like being blasted into atoms only to be reknit at the center of a blue-bright sun. He saw the unyielding courage of the Imperium's billion billion souls and felt himself be placed amongst them as a star appears in the night sky to guide the lost. He shared no similarity now to the man he had been just moments ago, he was larger, greater, more determined. In the endless void of space numberless faithless fiends and aliens scrawled challenges to him in human blood. He could feel their hatred radiating from furthest reaches of the galaxy. He would meet them with the force of a supernova and destroy them, he swore it.
    'I accept your promise, Sektor', said the Lady Enchantress soothingly 'make me proud.'

    'Tyco, leave that man alone.'
    From deep within the crowd a woman appeared and promptly removed the sword and scabbard from the young boy's hands. She was young, Drade guessed, too young to be the boy's mother. She could perhaps be as young as he and why not? She wore her ruby studded dress with frank disdain and he could see her brown hair had been hastily arranged into something more presentable than she would have liked. Some strands near the back were still dyed purple. She was born into wealth but like most of the privileged at her age she felt it was fashionable not to show it. 
    'It's okay, dam. This little fellow was just telling me how he wanted to earn his own sword some day, right friend?'
    'Yeah!'
    'Over my dead body!', the young woman replied hotly. 'No more cousins of mine are going off to get themselves killed!'
    Drade studied the woman closely. She was attractive even though she wore no rouge and her face was lined with worry. Her dress looked like it had been badly tailored or, Drade thought to himself, as if it had been purposefully loosened to hide what must be an impressive womanly figure beneath.
    'It is an honor and a privileged to serve the Inquisition and the Lady Enchantress', Drade countered.
    'Tell that to his father', she said and he could see he had stumbled upon something very sensitive.
    If the kid noticed the nature of their conversation he gave no sign. Outside the banquet hall a sound like distant thunder caught the crowd's attention. Drade tensed immediately. He knew explosions when he heard them.
    'Look, Ava,' said Tyco pointing to something beyond the window 'Fireworks!' 
    Drade followed the child's outstretched finger to the window and joined the rest of the crowd that now chattered appreciatively at the spectacle in the night sky.


    'It's like Emperor's Day back in the old town, eh Drade?'
    Drade ignored the new recruit. It wasn't that he disagreed with the young soldier it was simply that he had other things on his mind. Often in the transitioning moments just before combat his thoughts were overwhelmed with the memory of the Lady Enchantress. The consequences of the oath he swore to her weighed heavily on his conscience. It was not the that the promise to serve her might cost him his life. What tugged at him was the fact that dying with her name on his lips bothered him not at all.
   He rechecked his harness, tightening the straps while the hulking transport barreled down the narrow streets. The Land Raider took a sharp turn and Drade cursed as he hit his head on the bulkhead behind him. Outside the vehicle it sounded like the world was being torn apart. Explosions were so frequent it sounded like an infinitely long firepopper chain. Just like Emperor's Day, he thought. 
    Drade's vision flashed gold as his internal display activated itself and began calibrations. Bars and figures scrolled in front of his eyes detailing weapons status, power levels, the settings of his helmet's advanced targeting suite and dozens of other figures any one of which may determine whether he lived or died in the next few moments.
    A monotone voice spoke inside Drade's head. "E.T.A. fifteen seconds."
    The voice belonged to the Land Raider's cogitator sprite. Drade could tell that the rest of the squad had heard it too as the their chatter died down to a few nervous laughs. They craned their heads as if listening to someone calling them from far away. Drade cringed internally as the thought that most of these men were still green invaded his mind once more. Who am I to judge them, he thought to himself. After all it had only been two years since he had been in their position looking to emulate the calm mannerisms of the veterans in his unit. On his first mission an autogun round had skipped off his helmet just a few minutes into the fight leaving him unconscious for the better part of an hour. When he awoke he found the grim features of Sergeant Loticus staring down at him as he lay in the infirmary. The sergeant's return to active duty was cause for celebration in Loticus' eyes and he celebrated by drenching Drade with a bucket of blood and gore. 
    'Pig's guts', he explained chuckling, 'since you didn't get your share of the enemy's.' It was all Drade could do to keep himself from vomiting while the sergeant walked away laughing.
    Now his face was chipped by the scars he'd earned. His days of training on the harsh Alderan Moonscape seemed a relaxing escape compared to the hardships he now endured at every turn. Lord Corydon was a driven, tireless leader and whenever there was so much as a whisper of enemy activity anywhere in the Lucifus sector the Inquisitor was known to embark within moments of hearing about it. Thus the Stellan Hoplites were always ready.     
     'Five seconds to ramp release.'
     Everyone was standing now weapons ready in one hand steadying themselves with the other. Sergeant Loticus took a moment to look at each of them and then the ramp was down and the world spiraled into chaos.

    'I see Tyco has made a friend!'
Drade struggled against the urge to salute at attention as a Major stepped into view from behind him. The Hoplites were on standing orders not to ruin the festive atmosphere by doing anything so distasteful to the public as saluting or standing to. It was widely believed that they were a fighting force founded solely on the ideas of camaraderie and courage. Between them the Hoplites laughed at this concept but to the public the romantic view that the military could foster something other than  the strictest dictatorial regime was invaluable in drawing the enamored youth. 
    The Major nodded to Drade. He looked tired and rather bored thought Drade. He found himself considering how lucky he was. While as a sergeant this was his first formal banquet the Major who was an officer had to suffer these kind of events frequently. Drade wondered how the officer knew the child.
    'Uncle Thadeus!', exclaimed the girl. 
    'It's nice to see you again, Ava', said the Major. 
    'And you, Uncle', she replied
    'Sergeant... Drade, isn't it?', said the Major turning to Drade. 'From Epsilon Company?'
    'Yes, Sir', answered Drade
    'You were in that mess on Vega, weren't you Drade?"
    'I was, Sir',
    'Lost a brother in that fight. At the Second Breach just outside the wall. An ugly fight if half the stories are true.', said the Major and his pale green eyes glazed over. He seemed lost in an battle that had already been won, a victory stamped in blood, almost half a year ago. Drade closed his eyes and tried to keep a hold on the memories springing from the darkest corners of his mind.

    The recruit that had spoken to Drade just moments before looked disbelievingly at the hole that had appeared in his chest. He collapsed backward onto Drade without a word and was dead. Drade pushed him aside and surveyed his surroundings. This must be hell, he thought. Everywhere he looked enemies were pouring fire onto his squad's position. Directly ahead of him about two hundred meters out a massive wall, impossibly tall, took up most of his vision. The wall seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon and was large enough to keep titan-class warmachines out. He and his comrades had orders to destroy the heretics defending it and secure it. 
    The Land Raider, having disgorged it's occupants surged forward over the rubble. The heretics immediately diverted their fire to target it giving Drade and his squad a chance to go on the offensive. Drade's earpiece crackled and Seargeant Loticus' voice boomed the order to advance.
    Drade lept up from behind the rubble he was cowaring behind. His visor flooded him with information about the battlefield outlining enemy positions in sharp red lines and superimposing waypoints and possible entry points over his vision. Rising to his feet he let his targeter draw his sights to the nearest threat and squeezed the trigger repeatedly, firing short bursts at each target. He neutralized an archenemy heavy bolter nest and sprinted forward, the sound of his augmented heartbeat drowning out even the noise of the explosions cutting down men all around him. 
    Following the jagged waypoint lines described to them by their advanced wargear Drade's squads mounted an assault on the dug-in heretics in perfect coordination working their way towards the guardhouses at the foot of the wall. Drade's visor indicated friendly fire teams to either side of him covering his squad's advance with blistering arcs of fire. Just ahead Drade's helmet spelled the name "Chapter 7" hovering over the dust cloud that Drade knew was being put up behind the rampaging Land Raider tearing a hole in the enemy lines with its devastating firepower. 
    Enemy fire criss-crossed over Drade's head all too often finding it's mark in the body of a comrade. Drade lost track of how many kill shots he had made. His team ran up to an artificial ridge raised just in front of the first guardhouse. Sergeant Loticus made a hand motion and the team responded by unclipping their incendiary grenades and priming them. At the sergeant's signal they tossed them over the ridge. The grenades detonated into a firestorm of white hot flames incinerating the screaming heretics that had set up an ambush position just ahead. Drade gagged as his rebreather filter failed to scrub the smell of burning flesh from the air being vented into his helmet. 
    Sergeant Loticus drew his saber from it's scabbard and thumbed the activation stud. The wickedly curved sword sparked to life surrounding itself in a nimbus of crackling green energy. The sergeant looked back at his squad and even through his reflective visor each of them could see the purple glow of his irises. Small points of light flickered in and out of existence around the sergeant's massive form and the squad felt an answering burn in their chests where the lady's gift thrashed angrily and their souls cried out for blood. 
    The slight overhang of the defensive ridge in front of them afforded the squad some cover and chance to catch their breath but Drade was not the least bit inclined to slow down. All around him his squad was preparing for close quarters combat. The heavy flamer was brought up from the rear by a huge brute of a man that Drade didn't know. Combat specialists drew their powered blades and axes. Sergeant Loticus raised his voice above the cacophony.
    'Hoplites!'
    'Maximi!', answered the squad as one in ancient Proto-Gothic
    'For the Lady!' yelled the sergeant
    'Doxa!'
    'For the Emperor!' 
    'Nike! Nike! Nike!' screamed the squad, their boots stomping in time with the chant
    With a sound the world ending a massive earthquake shook the battlefield. A mile to the south Drade could see a portion of the wall as wide a hive block coming down in a kilometer high cloud of dust. The first breach in the wall had been made and the assault on the city proper had begun. Drade's squad surged forward over the ridge into the waiting enemy bayonets and trench guns. To the right Chapter 7 exploded from within as an anti-armor mine erupted in its bowels spraying the area with bits of torn metal. Drade took a round through his left hand but hardly felt a thing as the potent mix of adrenaline and the mysterious workings of the Stellan heart took over his body and his vision blurred in time with the throbbing pain in his eyes. 
    Drade plunged into the melee ahead of him. His first swing clove a heretic trooper in two and the return stroke tore the leg off of another. On his third thrust his blade was caught in the rusted mail of a traitor and he was forced to let it go. The mortally wounded soldier dived at him with his dying breath knocking Drade to the ground and making him easy prey to the heretics swarming all around him. 
    Drade flung the corpse from on top of him with a burst of panic-spawned strength. Looking down on him were the mutated, monstrous visages of heretic troopers their faces split by mirthful, murderous grimaces. One of them, a swine-headed subhuman stabbed a cruelly barbed ice pick into Drade's abdomen piercing straight through the heavy ceramite plating and into Drade's stomach. Blood gushed forth uncontrollably. The creature leaned close to Drade's face to watch him die, wet ropes of putrid drool dripping through its broken teeth onto Drade's faceplate. 
    'I accept your promise, Sektor
    Drade's vision swam, his body felt like it was on fire.
    'Make me proud.'
    A wave of pain overcame Drade as the pig-thing pulled the weapon from his bowels preparing to stab him again but the blow never came. Like a hurricane unleashed Sergeant Loticus was there slashing with his lightning-wreathed saber. He had lost his helmet at some point in the fighting and his eyes were too bright to look at. Glittering sparks of energy surrounding his body like the aura of a war-god from ages long forgotten. The heretics fell before him like wheat before a scythe. Almost single-handedly it seemed, Loticus was routing the enemy who were tossing down their weapons and crying out in shrill tones to their heathen gods. 
    Drade's blood was soaking into the soil around him and at that moment he knew he was about to die. Before his eyelids closed shut forever another earth-shattering clap of thunder sounded and a huge expanse of wall directly ahead began to crumble shrouding the battlefield in choking brown dust. 

    Drade opened his eyes. His body was numb with shock but death was not so easily invited into the bodies of men blessed with the Stellan Heart. Drade was not surprised to find his wounds had sealed themselves. There was still a fight on and Drade's part in it was far from over he knew. He rose to his feet and began to look for his weapons. Blinded by the swirling dust he groped blindly for a few moments before he found the heretic with Drade's sword still in his chest and, having pulled it free of the corpse, sought a way to regroup with his squad that had moved ahead without him. He thought he heard Sergeant Loticus furious war cry and moved in that direction. 
    It did not take long to find the sergeant. As usual Loticus was at the heart of the battle and the trail of destruction he and his squad had left behind them was easy to follow. A chill wind blew in suddenly from the west revealing the apocalyptic landscape directly ahead of Drade for a moment. In that instant what Drade saw caused his modified heart to skip a beat. Before him stood a figure of legendary horror unnecessarily outlined in bright red by Drade's visor. The traitor marine stood more than two and half meters tall and all 250 centimeters were covered in pink gore. The marine gripped a roaring chain-axe in each ham sized gauntlet and blood vapor spouted from the traitor's face grille in violent plumes. At the marine's feet was the rent and torn body of Sergeant Loticus
    Drade ignored the chasm of terror that seemed to swallow him whole. He grit his teeth and raised his carbine. His helmet gave a soft chime and the digital crosshairs flashed green as his sights centered on the marine's chest. The marine dug his heels into the dirt and began to charge, an unearthly scream blasting from it's helmet speakers. Drade gave an answering roar, toggled the full-auto switch on his carbine and pulled the trigger. 

    Drade was snapped back from his reverie by the hard smell of rich liquor. A nobleman, Drade could tell from his rich attire, swerved into view and clapped the Major hard across the back. 
    'Magerrr Lodigus!' the aristocrat slurred drunkenly 'I ab thrilled you could dthoin us, tonide.' 
    'Lord Castol, always a pleasure,' said the Major catching Drade's eye apologetically.
    Drade was dumbfounded.
    'Major... Loticus? Sir, are you perhaps related to-'
    'Anoder Hoplide! Major you must introduthe me to your heroic acquaintanth' interjected the drunken nobleman.
    'Please, Sir', said Drade nearly blushing 'the term "heroic" is reserved for better men than I.'
    'Strange to hear those words come from a Stellan wearing the Storm's Triumph ribbon,' said the Major smiling sadly at DradeDrade fingered the medal clasped at his neck anxiously. 
    Lord Castol seemed to sober at this revelation.
    'You were the Battle of Vegas Breach!' cried the aristocrat. The entire hall was instantly quiet save for a unanimous intake of breath. The booms and claps of fireworks seemed inappropriately loud. 
    'I was made to understand all the men decorated with that honor were dead.', said a woman just behind Drade
    'The best warriors can breach any wall and live to earn their medals', said a voice a soft as silk. 'The wall twixt life and death is no different.'
    The crowd parted and the gold-plated form of the Lady Enchantress was revealed moving directly towards Drade and the Major. As one the crowd knelt before the demi-godess, awestruck in her presence. 
    'And the Hoplites, my Storm Troopers, are the "Best of the Best."'