Disclaimer: This is a piece of fan work made simply for the sake of entertainment and not for profit. The Warhammer 40.000 franchise belongs to Games Workshop, please buy their stuff.
This is a story about war.
Because of course it is. This is the 41th millennium after all what else did you expect?
The Imperium of Man.
Some may say that it is great and mighty, others claim that it is crumbling and is nothing but a mere shadow of its former self, filled with corruption and taint. I personally have no idea which is the case to be honest, nor do I really care all that much.
But there is one thing about the imperium I can say with absolute certainty though: It is big. And I mean really, unimaginably, incomprehensibly big. Spanning a sizable area of the Milky Way Galaxy containing countless worlds and star systems. Luckily for me I don’t have to cover the events of this whole intergalactic mess in this story. This one is just about me, my friends, some other people and the small part we played in this mad universe.
So let us zoom in for a second. Since one thing tends to lead to another it sometimes is very hard to tell were exactly a story first begins. Especially when it became possible by multiple factors coming together at the right time to and place to form one great chain of reactions.
But one of the most vital story threads of this tale started at an orbital station by a major trading hub of the Segmentum Tempestus where a rather nondescript Imperial trading vessel called: The Scream Of The Void, had just docked.
No one except a select few aboard this vessel knew that it held a series of well-hidden rooms, who for a change weren’t used to store illegal smuggling wears, not all of them at least. One of these rooms held an office.
It was well decorated in a subtle wealthy way that indicated both form and function. Its only occupant was sitting behind a dark wooden desk studying various data slates that had discretely been delivered to him a few hours ago when the ship landed. His name was Valeur Raldon and he was an Inquisitor.
Lord Raldon was reading the final reports of years of research done by his servants and his agents spread across the stars. These contained the distilled information and characteristics of various Imperial worlds around the Segmentum. From things like history and government to environment and weather. Everything was carefully reviewed and analysed.
He read slate after slate in rapid succession, dismissing some of the worlds immediatly and labelling others for some more in depth study. Then, halfway through the fifth slate he paused, reread a couple of sections, and then he nodded satisfied.
When Raldon inserted the slate in question into a data port that has been installed into the desk itself a low humming briefly filled the room, before a hololithic projector sprung to life on the floor in front of him. It showed a two-meter-tall 3-dimensional image of a world, projected to the finest detail. The title floating above the hololithic Globe described it at the second planet of the Archibalt system named: Gregoria.
The surface of the planet had a rather curious look to it. Most of it, at least eighty percent, was covered with deep turbulent oceans. What little landmass there is consisted primarily out of two large continents, one in the northern and one in the southern hemisphere, lying parallel to each other. Septen lied in the north and Meridia in the south. Even one not versed in the finer points of geology could see that the two used to be one great body of land before geological shifts had slowly begun separating them long ago. There was still is a large group of islands drifting in the narrow sea separating the two continents at about the height of the equator. The overall image reminded him of an hourglass that had been roughly snapped in half, with sand spilling out.
The Inquisitor pressed a few runes on his desk and the natural look of the world disappeared to be replaced with manmade borders and coloured areas, indicating different states and small independent nations, highlighted by the names and locations of various major cities. Many symbols and columns of information appeared as well.
Gregoria seemed to be a rather unremarkable world in the grand scheme of the Imperium, as it had a relatively low population, very little advanced technology and no specialty regarding its overall role in the sector like providing food or technology for other planets. It was a backwater world with almost no space traffic, even though it was located near the busy Imperial border system of Carnadon. Simply because very few trading vessels bothered to stop by this place on their way there, turned it into the kind of place you travel through on your way to somewhere else.
The only regular contact Gregoria seemed to have had with the rest of the imperium is the submission of soldiers for the Imperial Guard, which has not happened for a few generations at this point.
The inquisitor took this in for a moment before pressing another rune. A sizable part of the map turned green, starting at the largest of the islands at the equator before gradually spreading out to both continents.
When WAAAAGH!!!!! Gorehead first invaded the sector and began its attack on the Imperial frontier worlds, a single Ork ship, by what probably amounted to sheer chance, managed to find its way into the Archibalt system instead. After it was done amusing itself with destroying what had laughably passed for the Gregorian space defence force, the large ship had briefly turned its attention on the world’s only city that had any orbital defence, namely Leganfall, its capital. After throwing enough energy and ammunitions at it to not only overwhelm the city’s shields but also to turn most of it and the surrounding area into a smoking crater, the ship had left. Probably growing bored when it found nothing else to fight and wanting to rejoin the great WAAAAGH!!!!! in the nearby system, but before leaving it launched a sizable amount of drop pods towards Gregoria almost as an afterthought.
These made their way through the atmosphere to the surface of the planet to land in the ruined craters of the capital. And here the people of Gregoria made their first great mistake, the one that countless doomed humans had made before them. They underestimated the Orks.
Instead of unifying against the xeno threat and wiping them out, like loyal Imperial citizens were supposed to do, they began bickering among themselves. There had been many old disputes and vendettas between the northern and southern continent and with no planetary capital to lead them, both minor governments thought they had the right to obtain absolute rule over the world. A civil war broke out.
This gave the Orks ample time to settle and find a solid footing of Gregoria. They built a base in the ruins of the former capital and began to multiply and prepare, striking out at the surrounding cities and other nearby islands.
It took a few years for the population of the planet at large to fully realize just how dangerous a threat the greenskins truly were. Unlike humans, waging war costs them almost nothing, as they could make functional weapons and vehicles out of useless scrap, sustain themselves without trouble in almost any environment and each and every one of them was a warrior born and bred that could fight as naturally as human could draw breath.
Were first there was just a simple horde of stragglers, now there was a green army, armed and armoured and ready to fight.
The civil war had weakened the Gregorain militaries and unlike other worlds they didn’t have great Mechanicus manifactorums to produce war machines and weapons. They didn’t even have standard issue lasguns for their troops, only slug throwers. What little blessings of the Machine God and its disciples they had had been destroyed together with the capital. So, they had to learn to adapt with what they did pocess, much like the Orks did.
It took the combined effort of the whole of Gregoria’s remaining military forces to stop the initial greenskin attack before it gained any momentum. Reuniting the people again at last, but in many ways it had been too late as the Orks had gained a strong enough foothold that it was impossible for the Gregorians to get rid of them in one strike with what little forces they had left.
A war of attrition broke out, one that has been going on for over twenty standard Terran years by now.
There have been pleas for help to the rest of the Imperium of course. But with most of the sector fully engaged in a crusade against the Gorehead Ork empire that had come as a response to the WAAAAGH!!!!! years before, they had little time and resources to spare for a worthless mudball, since it would be cheaper to bomb it from orbit afterwards.
So it would seem that once again the Emperor only helps those who help themselves.
Lord Inquisitor Raldon allowed himself a small satisfied smile. This is perfect. He could not have asked for a better world if he had terraformed one from scratch. He presses the rune to open the private vox link he and his people share aboard this ship.
“Let Magos Farrion report to my chambers, and inform him that project: Soldier has now officially begun.”
I always hated hospitals. I’m not sure why but something about their plain, white sterility just really creeps me out. So some might wonder why I’m back here if they had discharged me just two weeks ago? Simple, I got a responsibility.
The small number next to the whitewashed wooden door told me that this was room 35, a piece of paper that has been slid in the groove below said number had a name written on it in permanent marker: Arthur McCansy.
It might as well have said: dread portal to the Warp, for all the chills it gave me.
I was shifting my balance from foot to the other, continuously repeating in my mind what I’m going to say, before coming to the abrupt realization that I was stalling.
Dammit Eachann, stop whimpering! You’ve made your choice and this needs to be done, so get on with it already.
I opened the door and peeked into the small single person bedroom decorated in the style of cheap hospital rooms everywhere. Most things were white, simple and somehow managed to look clinical rather than personal. Though for once this didn’t bother me that much since all my attention was drawn to the small figure on the bed. He was sitting strait up staring aimlessly at the wall ahead of him.
‘’Hello Arthur.’’ My words sounded hollow, even to me.
‘’How have you been?’’
No reply. At first glance the pale, sweet looking features that were only enhanced by the white hospital scrubs, which all came together with the wild bush of golden curls to create an almost angelic image. But then you began to notice other things, like the bandages wrapped around the left side of his head, or how he was slightly scrawnier than is strictly healthy. But above all as I walked up to him and peered into his one remaining blue eye I just know almost instinctively, that there was no one behind them looking back at me.
The doctors had told me that talking to him would be pointless. Ever since waking up after surgery he hadn’t responded to anything. But I owed him to try at least.
I sat myself down on a small wooden stool next to his bed.
‘’They told me you’re almost recovered so I imagine you’d be as eager to leave this place as I am?’’
Not even a blink.
I kept on talking about the other people of Slatevale that had survived the attack and the fire and how they were doing, and about the places the Stormland government had charitably called shelters we were now staying in. I am not even sure he is aware that I am here.
Not that I expected that he would have much to say to me even if he was running on all cylinders.
We’ve known one another since we were both children attending middle school. Most people tend to assume this automatically means that we were friends. Sometimes I wonder if adults automatically forget their own childhood when they grow up.
He had always been a small petite looking boy, especially a few years ago when he moved into town from a larger city further inland. The only child of wealthy parents.
I had never bothered picking on other kids before, because I never saw the point. But dammit I had to take care of four younger siblings because our parents were out working in Hill town mines all week while he could ride on his own damn bicycle to school. And every time I saw him I just got so angry, so jealous. I know it was wrong of me, that I was just being petty in taking out my frustration on him. Now more than ever I know. But I did it anyway.
And there I was, talking to the boy I tormented and hated for years because… Because I didn’t want him to be left behind.
I sighed and stared at his unmoving face. When looked at exactly from the left you can hardly see anything wrong, but the doctors told me that there was little they could do to restore the severe burns that had mangled most of the right side. He would be maimed for life. He had lost his right eye and much of the nerves behind it, and there might even be brain damage.
All because of what those beasts did.
A new fresh stab of pain and anger punctured through the shame I had felt until now, as memories came rushing back.
‘’How did it happen with you?’’ I asked him with my gruff voice. ‘’That thing they did to you I mean.’’
I gestured at the scars on my face and the spot below my left eye where the bone seemed to have been dented inwards.
‘’We were having dinner, the family and me you know. Dad had gotten home early for a change because it was Olens birthday and we were all eating together.
Then there was that incredibly loud bang outside in the distance, later I was told that was when they blew up the watch tower. We were shocked at first of course, with kids screaming, parents shouting and soon after that the raid sirens went off.’’
I hadn’t told anyone about wat had happened before. My body began to twitch a bit as the memories came back, but strangely enough my voice remained steady.
‘’Now we all did like we had been taught. Mom and dad were both part of the militia, so they suited up and went out to town square like all the other wannabe fighters. Which means that they left me to, like always, take care of the little ones. So I got them lined up with the stuff they needed to stay low for hours and hid them in the back room we used to keep food fresh. Then I took grandpas old hunting rifle and went with them. This worked out for a while at least, as we sat there, just listening to the sounds of gunshots and explosions in the distance. Waiting for it to die down again.’’
I shook my head.
‘’But it didn’t, it didn’t die down. Instead the noises only got closer and closer. Then suddenly there was this sound behind me.’’
I let out a sad little laugh.
‘’I was so twitchy at that point, I almost shot my little sister in panic, good thing the safety was on. Olen had stood up, she was angry and screaming bloody murder that this was her birthday and that it wasn’t fair and that it was all my fault and I should stop this right now.’’
I let out a sigh.
‘’I told her to sit down and be quite of course, but Olen was always a bit strange you know? Sometimes she could get very angry over very little things. And then the only thing you could do to calm her back down was to wait and let her rage, until she got it out of her system. But I could not do that, since we were locked up together. And like her I was angry and scared. Not just because of the attack but because of my part in it. I was the oldest by four years and because of that I always had to look after the rest. And at that moment I was just so sick of being the fall in parent, locked in a room with all their crying and whining! And so…’’
The words almost hurt as they spilled out.
‘’And so I shouted back at her. At the top of my lungs, I screamed that for once she would just shut up and listen to me. And she screamed more and that set the rest off, we yelled at each other for I don’t know how long. Then there was this crashing sound from the front door and we all finally shut up. And then the Orks came in.’’
‘’There were these incredibly loud savage screams from the front door. I told my brothers and sisters to run for it and head out the back door while I went to try and hold them off in the hallway. Not sure how far they got in the end. The Orks had smashed the door apart like it was made from thin porcelain instead wood. The only reason I wasn’t cut down on the spot as soon as I walked in was because the two hulking oafs were both trying to squeeze through a far too narrow doorway at the same time. They were shouting at one another whilst I was fumbling with the safety of my gun. I was so scared at this point that I couldn’t remember if it was on or off. Then one pistol-whipped the other and charged me. I shot him. He staggered for a second and I’m quite sure his guts came spilling out, but he barely seemed to notice this and leapt at me again. I think my second shot might have hit him in the arm, but I’m not sure to be honest, he wobbled a bit but seemed to barely lose any momentum. Then that green hulking pile of meat, bull rushed me in the gut and threw me on the floor.’’
I shook my head.
‘’that thing was just so Emperor-damned strong. I couldn’t move it an inch. It swung a huge blunt-looking cleaver at my head. Fortunately for me it did it in such an arch that the blade got stuck in the plaster wall besides me. Not that that discouraged the Ork much, as it strangled me with one hand and beat me across the face with the other.’’
I showed Arthur the various little scar lines across my eye and cheek again. The doctors told me there were a few cracks in my skull as well.
‘’After the first hit I saw all these white flashes in front of me, the second turned my vision red and with the third everything just went dark, I’m just kind of glad I barely got to feel that one.’’
I got up and walked to the rooms only window, looking down at the street below for a few moments trying to reshape my pain numbed thoughts. I highly doubt those memories will ever lose their edge, nor do I really want them to. And the worst was yet to come. I observed the traffic on the street outside for a few minutes before going down to the most painful part of this whole tale.
‘’In the end I could only give my brothers and sisters a few seconds at most. I woke up again some time later and everything was quiet. My head and face hurt so much I could hardly think and there was a dead Ork lying on top of me. Its skull had nearly been cleaved in half. I think the other ork must have done it when it came in, and left me for dead afterwards. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps it was just pissed off at its mate for hitting it before. Orks are messed up. As soon as I could get on my feet and walk again I went looking for my family. I could not find them.’’
I looked at Arthur again. This whole conversation had been increasingly painful but at some point, trauma just numbs your mind until you can’t even flinch anymore and you just feel dead inside.
I recalleds feeling like that when I walked, half conscious through the burning remnants of what used to be my home town and looked at the things that I found there. Things that used to be friends and neighbours. All the while searching aimlessly for my family. In some way I missed that feeling, in some way I actually envied Arthur for not being able to feel anything anymore.
‘’I just found what was left.’’
The Ork raiders had been the splintered remnants of a mayor naval assault that had been broken at the front a few months prior. They had crossed a lot of ocean in their ramshackle ships, a lot more than anyone had believed possible. But Orks do not seem to care much about what is possible or not.
The main force of the army thought they had accounted for all the survivors of the assault and had been too busy to doublecheck, so they just sent out a warning to all the nearby coastal towns and left it at that. No one had expected them to show op this far north.
To them our little village with its few thousand inhabitants had been nothing more than a brief pit stop to stretch their legs and loot supplies. We had fought for all we were worth but in the end they simply caught us by surprise and there were just too many of them.
Got to give credit where it is due though, Orks know their business well when it comes to plundering. In less than one night they ransacked the entire town, took whatever they thought they needed, set the rest on fire and then left.
The army annihilated the little rogue warband before it got too much momentum, but by that point they had already managed to do the same thing to two other small towns. Not to mention that much of the farmlands the greenskins had passed through had to be sterilized with fire and weed killer to prevent any Ork spores from taking root, putting a sizable dent in the harvest.
‘’They burnt down our home Arthur, they killed our families our friends, they took everything from us, including a big part of your face. Because that’s what monsters do. And as long as Orks exist they are going to continue doing it. There are probably Orks burning down a village like ours right now. If not on Gregoria than on some other world. They are a plague on our world that only exists to destroy. So maybe we ought to do something about that. I don’t know about you but the idea of killing those things is the only thing that still makes sense to me.’’
I reached into my jacket pocket and pull out the reason I came to see Arthur today. It was a small simple flyer upon which in simple black letters was written that the Stormland national army’s recruitment age has been brought down to 15.
I showed it to him.
‘’There are a few other survivors our age who are coming with me, some people you might know from school and since you are one of us I came here to ask you if you would join us?’’
There was no response, not even a blink.
I didn’t really expect one, but it still hurts.
I let out a deep sigh, that is part pain, part relief. ‘’Alright Arthur alright. I tormented you a lot because I was angry at life and I thought that you had it better. Which doesn’t excuse what I did, and I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me one day, but I understand if you don’t want to.’
I got up and walked to the door, feeling sad but also slightly lighter. I’m glad I got see him one more time and got to say what I wanted. I’m not sure what was going to happen to him now, and I wished that I could do more for him than just talk, but I had no idea how, which is another weak excuse.
I opened the door and turned around one last time.
‘’Sorry for everything baby face, farewe-‘’
‘’WHAT DID YOU CALL ME!!!’’
If I hadn’t seen his lips and face move I would have never thought that the voice could have been Arthurs. The words burned with an anger so intense it nearly scorched my ears, twisting my gut in instinctive fear to the violence it promises.
Arthur had turned his head towards me, his one remaining eye staring at me with an intensity that reminded me of an arc welder. For a second there I was stunned. Then I felt my face smiling almost by itself and I felt the need to suppress a mad giggle.
Before I had finished my sentence Arthur had launched himself out of the bed and bull rushed me into the hallway where he proceeded to punch, kick and bite me with the strength and ferocity of true blind anger.
It was a good thing there was a strong nurse nearby to pull him off of me. Then after I had gotten myself patched up, with one bite wound needing stitches, I left for the recruitment office of the Stormland national army the very next day, with Arthur in tow.