Chapter One: Headaches and Introductions
His boots clicked as they met the flooring, hard black rubber announcing his approach to anyone in the hallway. He quickly adjusted his cap, ensuring it was straight before he walked into the room; the two guardsmen on door duty gave a salute to him as he passed, he ignored them. The doors slid open as he walked in, and the three men in the room turned to face him.
Alaric snapped to attention as General Pyote stepped over a wire to get to him. The buzzing of the holomap wormed into Alaric's head and served no purpose than to worsen his headache, but he tried not to let the annoyance and pain show on his face. The general didn't notice and quickly told him to go to ease, grasping his hand in a firm shake soon after.
"Colonel Attelus, good to see you." Alaric gulped and nodded, trying his best to shake back.
"Likewise, sir." Pyote gave an easy smile, Alaric saw something behind it, something in his eyes. The dim realization that the man had read his file dawned on him.
"You no doubt have gotten your orders, the Deeprok twelfth are already prepared to meet us on the ground."
Of course I fogging know that they are prepared... he thought to himself, but gulped down his anger instead and said, "Yes sir, I was halfway up the boarding ramp when your aide found me." Pyote seemed pleased by his answer and walked back to the holomap, Alaric followed nervously. No one had told him why exactly he was being called back, not even the aide knew. Glancing at the map, he saw a local map of the system... and what looked like several red ships speeding towards Deeprok. His heart leapt into his throat and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead.
The men all went back to what they were doing besides one, who continued to stare at Alaric's face. The man, short and squat with a beer belly smiled a cocky grin at this.
"It appears our friend has realized what is happening." Pyote stopped at the end of the table and turned around to face them all, his old scarred face looking grim.
"Yes it appears he has... Alaric, judging by how pale you have gotten, I think you are correct. The arch enemy has destroyed Battlefleet Aska, the Imperial Magnificence and the Triumphant are the only ships to have survived the engagement." Alaric's jaw dropped, any force capable of wiping out an entire battle fleet was one that could destroy a planet like Deeprok. The man took a glass from the edge of the holomap and raised it to his ip, exposing crooked yellow teeth as he drank.
"Good news is that the Aska wasn't the crusading battlefleet or else the crusade would be over right now. The other good news, is that we gave them a good one when they hit us. Our nemesis's fleet seems to be working at one fourth of the power they were before, and they split to hit several worlds at once. You should be fighting only a few thousand men. Five hundred thousand at most."
It took everything he had for Alaric not to groan out in frustration, instead when he tried to gather his thoughts, his mind numb in the frustration. Pyote saw his discomfort and stepped in, looking angrily at the squat man who continued his cheeky grin despite the generals glare.
"This is my chief tactician, Victus Andreas. He has a tendency to... overstep himself." Victus quickly took the opportunity to hop in, his smile broadening even further.
"I am sure you will do fine when the chaos fleet arrives, a quick check of your record shows that you have experience fighting the arch-"
"Tactician Andreas! I will not have you instigating the colonel!" It was the tacticians turn to pale, the generals face looked angered and his frown seemed to stretch the scars that cut through his squared face. Andreas glanced at Alaric and then mumbled an apology.
Rot in the warp was all that he could think, the general ignored the tacticians apology and began briefing Alaric himself. Alaric was able to find some solace in the hatred he felt for everyone in the room.
"The seventh through tenth Deeprok have already left seeing as they have their commanding officers already, the eleventh was forced to stay behind due to munitions issues and will be assisting you in holding off the invasion force. The enemy won't be able to unload its army all at once, and even if it did," he shot a glare at the tactician again "you most likely won't see more than a hundred thousand of them who actually carry a rifle." Alaric took a deep breath and decided it was as good a time as any to ask questions. Any semblance of protocol was already out the airlock at this point.
"I won't be able to hold off that many heretics, even with 3,000 men." The general nodded in understanding, Alaric hated the man for having recommended him for Deeprok, for preventing him from having just been moved back to some backwater outpost where he wouldn't have to fail again. Still, he appreciated him for the fact that he realized how terrible the situation was. Most ranking members of the Imperium had their head stuck so far up their ass that they forgot there was a galaxy outside.
"It will be hard, but these aren't... well... they're not corrupted space marines..." the general seemed uncomfortable saying the words, and Alaric forced back a shudder from the mention of the arch enemies greatest triumph. "These are going to be regular fanatics, they will try to swarm you and overrun you with numbers, however we have superiority in equipment, discipline and position." Alaric shook his head slowly and bent over so that he could lean down onto the holomap.
"Even then, we can't spread two different regiments across an entire planet..." a tall man who stood at the generals right nodded, he stood a head higher than the general and was slightly taller than Alaric, his figure slim and lean with loose fitting green robes that shadowed his face. Alaric could feel the warp radiating off the man, an astropath it seemed.
"We've been ordered to evacuate the planet immediately..." the old man took a deep breath, Alaric was sure he would keel over and join the emperor at any moment. Instead, in a sheer defiance of the fact he was practically a skeleton, he wheezed on, "We have around six days to evacuate the populace, you have the honor of leading the main evacuation force... colonel." Alaric had no idea if he paused to get some breath into his ancient lungs or to insult him, he didn't dare ask, instead he stated the obvious.
"How am I expected to evacuate one million people in less than a week? It'll probably take that long to evacuate the capital alone." The generals face suddenly darkened and he took a step back from the holomap, glancing at his advisers, he looked Alaric in the eye and said sadly,
"It won't be a complete evacuation. We won't be sending guardsmen out to gather, we won't be waiting for anyone left. Anyone who isn't on a ship on day six will be left behind, whether or not they are in their home or waiting on the landing deck. May the emperor watch over them, for the emperor protects." Alaric was speechless, but like everyone else in the room, the words came by impulse.
"The emperor protects."
The pilot's voice came worriedly over the radio.
“Uh... colonel sir... there's a problem.” Alaric rubbed his temples and glanced around at the other faces in the shuttle. Dormont, Tauron and Kali. Standard bearer, Commissar and Vox-caster respectively. Women weren't welcome in Deeprok regiments, but Kali was the only one who had gone through each of his campaigns with him. They had become friends on Calarran and he had managed to convince command to let her follow him to Horones, he still remembered arguing that he couldn't trust a penal battalion with his whole command staff. He was still sad that he was right. She had nowhere to go any longer, the 4th Calarran had been destroyed in his first major failure, and him and Kali were among a dozen or so survivors, Calarran was mostly chaos held nowadays regardless, so command let her stay with him.
Tauron scared him, the man's face was slightly reminiscent of General Pyote if instead of one scar he looked like he had been raked with a set of claws. As far as Alaric knew, that was the cause of it, though Tauron would never explain the source of the scars, regardless, everyone was too afraid to ask him. He remembered on Horones when one of the members of the penal battalion suggested they run away, fall back to towns square and set up defenses. It wasn't a bad idea, Alaric himself was prepared to make the same order after the sixth wave of heretics fell upon them, running over the still fresh bodies of orks. The man had received las through the skull for his trouble, and the commissar hadn't even batted an eyelash before he was back to yelling for the men to keep fighting.
To be honest, Tauron wasn't someone he wanted to come with him from Horones to Deeprok, he would rather spin the dice of fate and see which other Commissar ended up stuck with him. However, command insisted that if Kali followed him then so would the Commissar. Deep down, he had a suspicion that Tauron was spying on him, waiting for another screw up. Bloody vulture was all he could think, but he didn't voice his fears.
Then there was Dormont. Dormont was the wild card, as in he was completely insane. Whereas Kali was friendly and outgoing and Tauron was strict and brooding, Dormont was so loony and deranged that it was a wonder he hadn't gotten himself thrown out of the guard via airlock. Dormont had been handed over on Horones along with the penal regiment. Despite this, Dormont wasn't actually from said penal regiment. In fact, no one knew where he is from. His file said he was from a shady backwater station called Elcador, he claimed he was from the manufactorum planet of Rhinefort and Commissar Tauron claimed that he had reason to believe he was born on Terra itself, though he claimed that he couldn't divulge why. Alaric was sure it was some sort of joke against him.
Past the issue of birthplace, Dormont was completely and legitimately crazy. He called his flag Lisal, and when Alaric noticed he was calling his new flag pole Lisal as well, he asked why. Dormont simply smiled his yellowed teeth and said in the ratty little voice he uses, “why colonel, Lisal is whichever one I am holding, ain't she pretty?” That event was just the tip of the insanity iceberg, at one point during the battle on Horones, he recalled Dormont charging through an empty street full of gunfire with his flag, reaching a machine gun nest and stabbing the closest traitors eye in with the blunt end. He proceeded to whoop and cheer as he struggled with the heretics ammo loaders bayonet. Alaric would suspect him of the taint if he didn't also carry enough figurines and idolization’s of saints and the Emperor to make a priest blush. Or if a large and intricate tattoo of the Emperor looking over Terra wasn't forever placed on the man's skull, which he claimed he somehow tattooed on himself.
”Sir?” The pilot asked once again, Alaric shook his head, he had lost track of his thoughts. The other members of his command staff looked at him oddly, he shot a glare at them. Kali looked away, Tauron met his stare and Dormont simply smiled and let out a cackle.
“What's the problem?” He shouted into his vox-set. Even in such close proximity and with the set on max, he could hardly hear anything over the din of the engine. The pilots voice came back nervously over the vox.
“I uh... the landing zone is obstructed. There are people swarming it, I am moving us to the backup landing site. Terra, there are civilians everywhere.” Alaric sighed and leaned back into his seat, Dormont's voice came over the vox.
“Why don't we just land? I'm sure they will run off when they see us, or not. Sure as sure.” The whole crew looked over at the smiling man, Tauron opened his mouth to say something when the pilot announced they were landing.
Alaric slowly stood up, his legs aching from the ride. He steadied himself as the dropship landed, the hull shaking in response. He was out the bay door almost as soon as it lowered.
And by the Emperor were there a lot of people.