Toyhammer

From 1d4chan
Small Book.pngThe following article is a /tg/ related story or fanfic. Should you continue, expect to find tl;dr and an occasional amount of awesome.

A Fan fic in progress by Rogue Psyker

Chapter 1[edit]

"This is Inquisitor Iosef Danilov. What is your status?"

Ragged breathing hissed out of his helmet as the grey-armored figure tapped his Vox-caster.

"We are currently unsure. The terrain is most confusing as it bears little... coherence. The surface I am on can only be described as... springy. This place appears to be artificial, sir."

The sound of battle erupted around him as the lead Knight began firing his Storm Bolter, ripping a ragged line of holes in the cliff face. A slim, armored warrior stood before them, its spear crackling ominously with eldritch powers as it faced the four Grey Knights.

"You are outnumbered, xenos! Prepare to die!"

Then suddenly, there was a popping sensation as oddly armored figures emerged from nowhere.

"Alright, see ya 'round, Michael."

"Yeah. Tomorrow, then. Later, Vincent."

Trudging up the path to my house, I looked up at it. It wasn't a large house, but it wasn't small either.

Four bedrooms, two bathrooms on each of the two floors, a lounge, kitchen... you know, the stock standard thing for a growing family, except that I was in here alone. My grandfather had left me this house to piss off his sons, seeing as they were all married and sucking up to him so they could get the place. And... my father had left marks on me. Grandad was one hell of a guy if you pissed him off.

So, when he died his Will was one hell of a surprise: I was shipped in as the caretaker of his estate, and I had lived here with what few cousins I had going through the local colleges, but otherwise I was simply going to ply my trade as an aspiring artist. Right now, I was keeping the place down for when my baby sis would come along for her stint in college, so it wasn't a bad deal.

Unlocking the door, I opened it as a marble-sized, bright blue sun arced across the living room, instantly vaporizing a CD wide section of the carpet. Chattering gunfire, self-righteous shouts, litanies of hate and cries for medics filled the room.

What. The. Hell.

I recognized the small, table-top miniature sized figures were running around; some fighting in brutal hand-to-hand combat while others stayed at a distance in exchanged of brutal volley-after-volley barrages that more than damaged the furniture around the house. They all belonged to a game... Warhammer 40k, if I recall correctly. Good thing I had given most of the older stuff to aunt Linda, then.

My mind was going overdrive in shock, I found myself entranced, watching the battlefield as something settled into my stomach. I had played Dawn of War before. I had also tried (badly) at getting a hang of the tabletop games. Occasionally, I did a few sketches for friends who were fans. The little figures around me were from one of the most violent universes imaginable, and that universe had just deposited their most brutal warriors into my living room.

My knees buckled and I had to lean against a wall as Assault Space Marines traded blows with Eldar Banshees, Tau Fire Warriors sniped Imperial Guardsmen (which were occupying the doorway into the kitchen/hallway area, the closest force to me), and... an Inquisitor strangling his Vox-operator. A bright maelstrom of glowing skulls drew my attention to the Sisters of Battle, Grey Knights and other Inquisitional forces that were locked in combat with the other colorful Eldar and Tau forces around the couches.

"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN HERE!"

Everyone stopped as the booming voice above them demanded explanation.

Several heads turned, seeing me for the first time.

Okay, I'm not quite that much of a person in real life; blond hair that was rather long at the back, tied into a ponytail at times. I have blue eyes, which were right now more worried than angry, as well as some rather plain, mostly second-hand clothes.

If I bumped into you on the street, you're most likely to forget me in about two minutes.

These guys, however, looked like they needed sunglasses. Like I was some sparkling freak as I stepped in with the bright sun behind me. A few fell to their knees as they looked up in awe or confusion

But then again, I was about the size of the Empire State building when you thought about scale, so yeah.

The Inquisitor stopped strangling the poor vox-operator, and began to shout at the nearby tank - I recognized it as from one of the few factions of the game that I was familiar with: The Imperial Guard. This shoe-sized vehicle was perfectly identical to one of the tanks that my Warhammer 40k fan of a friend Vincent had shown me: A Leman Russ battle tank, the steroid enhanced T-34 of the 41st Millenium. It swung its massive cannon around to shoot at my knee. I panicked, and fell back to Isaac's – an old friend of mine, irrelevant to the story – usual lectures about idiotic things to try; such as shoving an umbrella into a gun to stop it from killing you.

An umbrella was ripped from the stand beside the door before I rammed the tip of the umbrella at the barrel. It missed, but sent the Leman Russ skittering off on its treads. The cannon fired wildly – hitting a wall – and stopping as its crew popped their hatches and wretched up their breakfast.

I picked up the tank - it was maybe the same weight as couple bricks - turned it upside down and gave it a shake. Screams and the sound of churning vomit and clattering high-explosive shells squeaked out from inside. A few Imperium tank-operators fell out screaming as they dropped the six inches/sixty feet to the ground. I hefted the tank in my hands, and looked around. Most of the figures around the living room were stock still in a tableau of shock.

That incident, if anything, steeled my confidence; I was much, much larger, and therefore could handle more people at once.

"Okay, if anyone else gets the idea of shooting me, I can - and will - throw this tank at you." A red-robed, half-machine man squeaked and fainted behind the Inquisitor. For the moment, I ignored him.

"So... I assume you all have leaders. Those leaders will tell their respective warriors to stand down and go sulk in a corner. Then they will meet me in the center of this room, now. And if you so much as sneeze in the wrong direction, I will introduce you to a HyperVac 3200."

The human soldiers at my toes all began to wonder what the HyperVac (my rusted old vacuum cleaner) was, but decided that it was better to ask me when I wasn't angry, so they all began to mill about, shouting orders and organizing themselves into their companies and taking shelter in the kitchen. The Inquisitor and his retinue quietly fell in behind me (but I could feel the hate being bored into my ankles).

Walking into the living room, I sat down on the sofa, waiting for the others to come along.

An angled, yellow-and-red armored suit flew on plumes of brilliant blue light as it hovered in the air as below, a large, hovering vehicle with very fish-like characteristics skimmed over the charred carpet. There was a faint 'pop', I smelled a hint of ozone (being in the same Chemistry class as Vincent during high school introduced you to a lot of new and often hazardous smells) and a walking armored bear, painted in royal blue and gold, stalked in with his massive left fist crackling energy even as he hefted a massive double barreled cannon. Glowing eyes and smoking scorch marks on his armor gave him a fearsome appearance. His retinue ran or jumped up to meet on the hard, wooden coffee table.

Something disturbed the air behind him, and a tall, elegant warrior armed with a glowing spear and swirling cape appeared. Holding a (geometrically) curvy pistol and moving with unnatural grace, I again was struck by the polarity of the two races: the Space Marine, of course, was brutally stocky and looked like he could barrel through any combat situation. The Eldar here, however, was tall and lithe, slim and... fragile. The large, dozen-and a half members of this one's council took me aback, though. There were simply so many!

Other warriors appeared around them, but it was they who grabbed my attention the most. Trawling through my mind, I recognized them as a Space Marine Force Commander and Eldar Farseer, respectively. The Farseer looked up at me, and I could see that it was visibly annoyed at me.

"We are here, as you have so kindly asked us, mon-keigh. Now speak," she hissed. "and let us be back to war."

The blue suit of armor whipped around, snarling something incoherent as it swung a mighty fist around. Coneheaded and willowy simply ducked under the blow, laughing with its rather odd yet regal voice. It brought its spear back up.

"Now that's more like it!"

Both of them were audibly pained as I slammed the Leman Russ down on them. Half the assembled leaders flinched from the impact. Shouts of frustration and agony came out from underneath the treads.

"Like I said; no fighting, damn you."

I lifted the tank off the two leaders, and they straightened themselves up, considerably chastened but probably uninjured, considering their mastery of combat. Scanning the faces before me as I sat on the battle-scarred couch, I considered my situation. There were characters from one of the most grimdark universes that humankind has imagined; military officers from the Imperium of Man (as Imperial Guard and Inquisition), Space Marine, Tau and Eldar factions were all assembled before me.

"Well, at least I don't have to deal with any Chaos or Orks." I muttered, rubbing my temples in frustration.

The races in front of me nodded rather cautiously, wondering what kind of game I was up to.

"Alright. So. Introductions first, along with whoever is your command squad. I'm Michael, I own this house and can crush you with a tank."

Thinking for a moment, I decided to add: "Repeatedly, if necessary. Or with something heavier."

A few glares were thrown in my direction. I sighed. "How about you?"

I pointed at the now very nervous Imperial Guard General and his command squad. After all, he was the most squishy one out of the heavily armored Space Marine and Inquisitor, the battlesuit-equipped Tau and the elegantly armored Eldar warrior.

"General Ulrich Faust of the Cadian 938th. My aides; Commissar Tomas Sturm, Father Bennedict, Kasrkin Leon Cadiasson, and Sanctioned Psyker Ishabeth." The man muttered, his hands resting on the hilts of his weapons; a sword and pistol. His retinue was composed of a black-greatcoat wearing man who fit the Soviet Russian Commissar stereotype perfectly, a priestly man with an eight foot chainsaw, a helmeted warrior who looked about as heavily armored as a human could get, and a woman who looked about the youngest of the group around me, cradling a staff with an eagle on its tip in her hands and gently whispering to it.

I moved my gaze to the armored bear. His voice was the modulated kind you get from someone trying to speak from the insides of a very echoey helmet.

"Eizak Arelius, Commander of the Angela Crusade. Ultramarines Chapter. With me is Chaplain Morteus, Librarian Vasili and Assault Sergeant Vinters." The other three Space Marine leaders were less armored, but not by much; the black-armored 'Chaplain' wore a mask that looked almost like a skull, and eyes glowed red as they bored into my soul. I quickly turned to the Librarian, who had a massive hood of metal and wiring mounted on his head. The man's eyes also disconcerted me. The last of these was perhaps the lowest ranking, his armor with very few decorations past a few lines of prayer engraved upon his shoulder-pads. What was striking was the large jetpack on his back and the chainsaw-meets-sword held loosely in his left hand.

A pointed look at the Inquisitor got me a very hard stare back. Thank goodness I couldn't make out his eyes; they would have made me piss myself if I wasn't careful.

"Inquisitor Iosef Danilov of Sebiska. Ordo Malleus. Also Canonness Samisha Ludmilla of the Sisters of Battle and Justicar Amadeus of the Grey Knights, as well as Arbites Judge Phobias." Phou-bai-ahs, I noted.

Nodding at the three others mentioned; a black-armored female with a rather incendiary theme about her, a grey armored knight with a crackling blue halberd and a man who looked like Judge Dredd after a shave, I quickly moved on to the Eldar, which met my gaze from the glowing vision slits of her conical helmet. She had, by far, the largest retinue of the forces around here.

"Farseer Zara, Ulthwe craftworld. My protege here is Councillor Alvus. Those standing around me are the Exarches of the Howling Banshees Lyndia... " She glanced behind her. "Shining Spears Iyanshir, Warp Spiders Gladosh, Striking Scorpions Yandeer, Swooping Hawks Al-Tair..."

I quickly held up my hand for her to stop, and shrugged. There were still probably another twelve or so to go.

"Thanks for introducing me, but... I think I can learn their names later on."

I was, also, on the verge of laughter at the sheer size differences and variety among them. They looked more like a troop of clowns, rather than warriors! Although I was probably going to have to ask her to introduce us again, it would have probably taken too long. I moved on, and looked at the battlesuited warrior.

"And last but not least..."

"Shas'El Fi'rios …" I saw hesitate, and then wave dismissively. "Gue'la have a hard time understanding the meaning of Tau names, but I believe my personal name in your language means 'Firestrike', and that will suffice.. Ethereal Aun'ui accompanies and guides us. I believe you can also learn the names of our other leaders later." The Fire Warrior replied, eyeing me with the tricolored visual sensors embedded in its helmet. The smaller Tau who had accompanied him was simply robed, and probably the only one among them who wasn't armored.

"Alright." I sighed, standing. "It's... interesting to meet you all, but now that you've shot up my hous~"

The three-dozen leaders all erupted into frenzied arguments, summing up their varied arguments as 'those people did it!'. I placed the Leman Russ on the ground, grabbed the coffee table and gave it a good shaking. The artificial earthquake subsided after a few seconds.

"Look. I'm pretty sure you all have your respective differences, but this is my house, understand?" I glared at the lot of them. "Would you kindly show some decency, since you are all such 'advanced' civilizations?"

The lot of them stopped their arguments, and a few sheathed their weapons. Then there were subtle murmurs in the tune of 'alright' chorusing around. I sighed.

"Good. Now lets find you some bases, and we'll draw up some kind of agreement and... " I paused, sniffing the air. The others noticed, and did the same themselves.

"Wait... what's burning?"

I looked from one face to another, before we all turned to look at the smoking cabinet of DVDs. A large hole was burned into the paneling. I noticed several soldiers nervously tuck away tubular weapons and flamethrowers. Inside, something flickered. My DVDs were burning.

"OH SH~"

Chapter 2[edit]

Thought for the day:

"The weak panic and act. The strong panic, think, then act.."

"Alright... is that it? Can any of you guys see any fire?"

I held the fire extinguisher loosely in my hand, which had been hastily ripped from its place underneath the kitchen counter, and prepared to squeeze out another blast of the carbon dioxide. The white powdery gas still wafted around the room as I coughed a few times. My DVD collection was simply ashes. The Tau stealthsuits boosted their way up into the cabinet, and were quickly joined by the Assault Marines and peered around inside. Their investigation lasted all of a brief few seconds.

"It appears so." They replied. Sergeant Vinters added his own report; "A lot of the crystalline structures also seem to be irrecoverably damaged."

"In English, please?" I grumbled, half sarcastically.

"Hmm?" Came the grunted reply.

"I believe that he means for you to speak simple Low Gothic, Sergeant Vinters." A black armored woman said, rather timidly. "English is one of the most archaic of languages... I believe it originated from Terra itself."

"Oh. I see. Well, then here's some simple Low Gothic for you: We ruined his disks."

I gave a great sigh of anguish and frustration, and turned to look at the assembled armies behind me. In particular the ones who held heat-based weapons; flamethrowers, tube-like weapons that I learned later were called meltas, plasma guns, plasma cannon, plasma rifles and the long, thin lances of the red-armored Eldar (called Fire Pikes, I believe). Their respective owners quickly tried to hide behind larger allies, who kept shuffling out of the way. They didn't want to get in the way of a titan's wrath.

It must have been confusing, to them, that a giant such as me could wear a face of absolute anguish. I mean, my entire DVD collection! Years of time and maybe hundreds of dollars simply down the drain because of one errant shot! The classics in there; Jackie Chan, Charlie Chaplain, Bruce Lee and the Three Stooges, I mean... they were irreplaceable! Most of them weren't being sold anymore. I tsk'd in frustration, and a few of the soldiers assembled visibly winced.

"So, what have we learned here today, folks?" I muttered sarcastically, hefting the heavy fire extinguisher onto my shoulder. Quick consideration of scale here; the actual fire extinguisher was maybe two feet in length, six inches wide at most. On their scale, it would be the size of the orange part of the Space Shuttle. In other words; very large and very heavy. I looked down at the various troops, who had come along to see what the commotion was about, especially with the large blasts of fire-suppressant smoke.

I let my back hit the wall behind me, and I sunk to the floor, with hundreds of eyes and optical sensors tracking my descent. My mind pushed away the matter of my DVDs, they could be dealt with later. What I needed to do now was to keep these guys from hitting my TV, or computer, or the other precious and expensive things in my house.

"Leaders, I know who you are. Come here."

The characteristic leaders of the three forces quietly shuffled forward. I looked from one to the other, seeing a mix of confusion, sympathy, disgust and apathy.

"Okay. The fighting stops now. I don't want you guys ruining anything else."

Protests came up, but were quickly stopped as I slammed down the fire extinguisher.

"Second: I'll try and give you guys as much breathing room as possible, but what I say goes, understand?" I looked on, and it was the Eldar Farseer who spoke first.

"You do not dictate our actions, mon-keigh!"

There was a chill in the air as she stretched out her hand, and lighting crackled from her fingertips. I felt an unbelievable migraine pulse in the back of my head. I quickly realized that she was doing something to me. I slapped down, smashing the Farseer to the side. She gave a cry of pain as she was knocked into the nearby Tau Battlesuit.

The Shas'El staggered as the impact caught it unprepared, his burst cannon going off and glancing off the armored figure of the Space Marine. For a moment, I thought the fighting would end. But then, the commander howled in rage, charging forward in concert with his retinue, and knocking over a green colored Eldar with a chainsaw/sword weapon, who swung the long, slender sword wildly in response.

That chainsword cut off the augmented limb of a red-robed cyborg, who gave out a synthesized cry as he fell over backwards, a plasma bolt shooting off from one of his mechanical arms, and hitting a Grim Reaper-esque Eldar.

The slug of sunfire splashed over his heavy armor, blackening the bright portions of his black carapace. The Reaper was stunned for a second as his suit dissipated the heat, and he quickly prepared his weapon – a large, pen-like weapon that was fired from the hip. He returned fire, sending a hail of mini-missiles into the black-armored Canoness as 'Sanctioned Pskyer Ishabeth' threw herself out of the way.

The return fire went wide as the tumbling Farseer and Terminator Commander bumped into her, sending a ray of pure heat shooting past my head. I fell back, and got back up to see the Inquisitor pull out a pistol and start shooting red beams at the Eldar. Behind them, the various armies were now re-equipping themselves to get into a fight – a big one. The escalation was magnificient; from a single slap, I had re-started a four-sided war.

I had enough now. A blast of carbon dioxide sent all of the non-helmeted faction leaders into coughing fits as their lungs struggled to breathe, while the others were forced to stop because of the billowing white smoke. By the time it cleared, most were again calm and peaceful. However, the Farseer Zara and Eizak were already in combat again, so I brought down the fire extinguisher on them. There was a strangled cry as the two were mashed into each other between a plate of metal and the carpet.

"Jeeze, is this going to be a running gag or something!" I growled at them, looking from one face to another. With the Sanctioned Psyker, I saw that she was looking past my shoulder. I looked up to give the burning lampshade a blast of CO2 .

"Anyone else want to start a fight?" I growled, my temper long since lost. I hefted the bright red fire extinguisher. "None? Good! Now sit down. All of you!"

Almost three hundred asses hit the floor. Those who weren't able to or were already sitting were excused.

"You are treating us like children, mon-keigh." The Eldar Farseer quipped.

SLAM! The fire extinguisher came down beside her, who jerked up in surprise as the giant red tube slammed into the ground beside her.

"Do you think I give a fuck! You guys have been tearing my house apart for who knows how long! A~"

"My chronometer says we have been fighting for approximately sixteen minutes forty one seconds from the first shots thirty minutes ago, when we arrived." The one arm less (though not harmless, ha ha ha.) cogboy piped up.

"I really didn't need that, but my point still stands: you guys took less than twenty minutes to almost burn down my house! And after that, you refuse to keep still!"

"Duly noted, mon-keigh." The Eldar grated her will against mine, and I simply rolled the giant tube of CO2 closer to her legs. She shuffled backwards a little.

"Alright, guys. My house, my rules: No fighting, full stop. If you want to have a fight, then prepare for the consequences, which will be either big, red and tubular." I hefted the fire extinguisher again. "The other consequence really sucks, too." I sat down, careful not to crush anything important – like, maybe, an Ethereal – and looked on at the faces around me.

"We can decide the niceties of your stay here, but for the moment I want anyone who knows anything to try and figure out why the hell you're here, the rest of you can get to work cleaning up this place. I'm happy to help either job get done."

In the distance, out in the back-yard, I heard a rough voice shout out.

"Oi! Lookit ovver dere! Go tellz the boss, yer fat git! Movvit! HEY BOSS! I SEEZ DEM PINKIES!" There was also a distinct pause as the scout goggled at me.

"AN' A BIG WUN TOO!"

I recognized the rough pattern of speech as belonging to a ramshackle buggy-thing, with a large, green-skinned ork riding on top. I let out a groan of anguish. Here were the orks.

"Damn..." Picking myself up, I quickly jogged out to follow the scout. In my back yard, there was a rather large battlefield, which had shredded quite a bit of the grass. Craters and scorch marks were liberally scattered throughout the back yard. There was also a few eviscerated corpses of greenskins. It was easy to see what had happened; someone started a fight in the mob, then it spread throughout the ork contingent. What remained had been rallied and put under control, and were now heading towards me.

Running back into the house, I picked up my only weapon; the fire extinguisher.

"So, Michael, what have you found?" The Imperial General asked me.

"Green guys, lots and lots of little green things. Orks, I think."

The ranks began to panic. The shout of 'greenskins' began to run through the armies as they attempted to bring their weapons around to bear. There were several cries to halt, particularly from the Eldar. I looked at the leaders of the elfin race, who were almost grinning at me. Oh shit. They were going to play by my rules just when it would be the most inconveniencing for me. Damn.

"So I'm taking it you won't fight?" I asked them, bitter.

"No, mon-keigh, we shall not. We will abide by your rules for as long as you live and nobody initiates violence against the Eldar." Zara replied. It was the same kind of tone that you'd get from someone being bloody cheeky.

I gave out a long sigh. "Ugh... fine, I'll go take care of them myself." Picking up the fire extinguisher, wondering if there would be enough CO2 in there to take out the assembled Orks, I walked out into the dining room. The Farseer just sneered at me, daring me to take out the Orks single-handedly.

It's about this time that you'd like to know a little more about the layout of my house, particularly the part that was about to become a battlefield. Well, the living room was connected by a wide archway to the dining room, which then lead out to the porch, where the Orks were currently assembling. There was a small table, with various bits of clutter and art supplies scattered about. A large piece of canvas was leaning against a wall, which had various sketches of things on it – damn, I hope they don't get ruined – and opposite that was a simple, square mirror.

The green tide and my weapon of choice met just before the door at the porch. The lead ork was a big bugger, with plates of metal all over him. A sudden impact from my fire extinguisher left him a green and red smudge on the ground. And the four or so orks that were just behind him. I hammered away like that for a while as the Orks looked on, jaws dropping from surprise. They then got over it rather quickly and continued their charge.

"Stop, damn you, stop!"

A series of gunshots sent my limbs on fire; it was like getting stabbed with a hundred needles. I simply wasn't used to that kind of pain. I fell to my knees, since most of the gunfire was concentrated at my legs, and tried weakly to keep hammering at the greenskins. In the distance, I saw the largest one I had seen so far raise an axe. He roared, and was soon joined by the rest of his army.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

Slowly but surely, I was beaten back, trying to keep the stinging pain away from me as I swatted uselessly at the rocket-propelled orks that kept zipping past my head. They were going to bring me down with a death of a thousand cuts. One of those Orks slapped my nose with a little plate, which I managed to rip off and throw away before it exploded. A demolitions charge? I didn't have time to wonder as there was a series of pops, and a small swarm of missiles slammed into the greenskins around me, blowing them out of the sky. The Sky Ray missile gunship of the Tau lowered its twin pods.

"Gue'vesa'o Mi'kel! You have so far striven for peace with honor, and the Greater Good! We shall not abandon you to face the Greenskins alone!" The Tau were already marching out, their odd blue gunships hovering into position, deploying troops as the sound of the Ork war drums filled the air. The Tau's heavier battlesuits began stomping into the ground like sumo-wrestlers readying for a bout in answer. Large cannon glowed blue as they prepared to fire.

Behind me, there were the sounds of mechanical footsteps. The heavily modulated voice of the Space Marine Commander pitched in. "Michael, we shall also join you in battle." The booming vocalizations of Ultramarine Eizak reassured me, marching forward with his retinue, who were already grinning in anticipation, although with the fully helmeted Chaplain, I wasn't quite sure about.

"You may have harmed us, but it was for the sake of pacifying your home. For that, I bear you no grievances. And anyway, one less ork is one less trouble for us. So... ANGELS OF DEATH, PREPARE FOR BATTLE!"

I smiled at these two races, who were already putting aside their differences to fight a greater enemy, pepared to defend my house.

The Ethereal walked forward, a small device in his hand. Beside him was one of his bodyguards, who had a very large box mounted on his back. He turned to face away from the Space Marines, and it was there I realized what they were; a speaker and microphone combo. Behind him, someone had projected a simple battle-plan onto the wall. The Ethereal's voice was absolutely authoritative and a.

"Space Marines, if you would be so kind as to deploy in a staggered formation with our Fire Warriors, we will appreciate you to keep the greenskins from engaging our forces in close combat, we will strive to thin out their numbers from long range. And as Gue'vesa'o Mi'kel is more than likely to add, let us all attempt to keep environmental damage to a minimum. Imperial forces, if you are joining the battle, then deploy alongside our Fire Warriors, or in front of them if you are more inclined for close combat."

There was an almighty roar from the Space Marines, who all did a synchronized about-turn and began to march out into their battle lines, deploying alongside the Tau. From the Imperial lines, there was was some argument and quite a bit of pointing-of-storm-bolters-to-foreheads-of-Generals-and-assorted-officers, but soon enough and without need of executions they got the rest of the Imperial forces into the fray as well, deploying behind the Adeptus Astartes.

I got up, gave one final look to the bewildered Eldar, and joined the battle lines.

The coalition army advanced as one, the Marines spreading their bolter shots liberally across the front lines as the Tau whittled them down from the back lines. Missiles and beams of light – the hypersonic railguns igniting the air, I later learned – crisscrossed the room as I moved away from battle. There was an audible crunch as the two armies met, the revving of chainblades and the other, more exotic sounds of war echoed off the walls. I was still dizzy from the pain, so I picked myself up and looked on, half amused at the war in my dining room. The Marines were having the time of their lives in there, the blades and hammers and armored fists rising, falling, cutting, slashing and generally butchering whatever was green. The rear lines were lobbing artillery at each other, and I was thankful at the sight that my floor was standing up pretty well to the exchange.

Soon enough, I was able to join in by slamming the few Orks that peeled off from the flanks. It was almost comedic, how suddenly the battle would pause as a giant red tube would fall from the sky and smash a half-dozen orks. I was probably bleeding from a few dozen little holes, so I happily handed the battle over to the rest after a few of the extinguisher strikes.

"GET DEM, BOYZ! C'MON, YOU 'ITTLE RUNTS!"

The cries of the Warboss attracted my attention over the sounds of battle, and I briefly remember hurling the fire extinguisher in his direction. There was a moment of uncertainty as the Warboss was crushed under the weight of the heavy metal canister. Skidding across the slick blood, it rolled a few times, crushing this and that and knocking a few of their tanks over.

All of the orks lulled in their fighting as some cries going along the lines of 'the Boss is dead!' swept through the greenskin ranks. They all stopped for a second, before looking to the source of the large, red projectile that had smashed – no, smudged – their leader. A few front-line bosses looked from one to the other.

"Da big oomie did it!" One exclaimed. He prodded his armored companion. "Wot we do now?"

"Soz, if dat big oomie squidged the Boss, dat mean he'z da new boss now?"

"Naw, you silly git, dat wouldn't be orky!" A third barged in, his red eye aglow as his metal helmet/skull sparked from some exposed wires. "I'z the biggest Nob after the boss, soz I'm da new warboss!"

"Then eat my muzzles, Ork."

Justicar Amadeus, who literally appeared in a halo of light, dashed forward to punch the third Ork in the face, before unloading his double-barreled-automatic-rocket-propelled-armor-piercing-grenade-launcher into the choked maw of the big, red armored Nob. The greenskin's head exploded, for lack of a better description, sending bits of metal and skull – I'm not sure if the two were mutually exclusive – spraying into his friends. The stump that was left didn't have time to do anything but fall to the ground, where it got stabbed a few times with the glowing blue halberd of the Justicar.

"Any more complaints?" He asked the assembled Orks.

A fourth Ork Nob stomped forward, his armored claw clacking like a crab. "Yea, m~"

Anywhere between one to twenty flavors of explosive, armor penetrating, high velocity or extremely hot munitions were pumped into the Ork from every direction before he even got a chance to take a third step. When I had finished blinking the spots out of my eyes, there was a black smudge where he had stood without anything, even falling parts, to acknowledge his former existence. The other orks were simply awed at the display of pure, concentrated firepower.

"Now dat's lots o' dakka." One managed to say.

I grunted sarcastically. "Well, I guess there aren't any more, then?" My body was burning up, and I was so tired from both my college and from dealing with these guys that I had almost sounded nonchalant.

"No? Good." I looked at the assembled armies.

"Aun'ui Alva, please make sure the Orks are gathered up, co-ordinate with the others to search around the back yard to make sure that there aren't any more Orks running around. I'm going to go clean up." I looked at the remaining orks, maybe a little more than half of the initial army.

"Okay... you guys can stay, so I suggest you start learning manners, like not fighting. Start fighting, and you'll be seeing that thing." I pointed at the fire extinguisher. "Stomping on you. Understand?"

Overwhelmed by the firepower presented to them, the Orks were mostly smart enough to nod and bunch up. A few tried to WAAAGH! their way out, but were soon put down by the ring of firepower surrounding them.

"Now that that's sorted, lets get to moving you guys in."

Omake: Warped Spiders[edit]

"Exarch Arachnos, that last jump was off by three meters. Meters, Arachnos! What is the meaning of this?"

The Farseer watched on as the Warp Spiders adjusted their equipment. The mostly crimson colored armor of the Warp Spider Exarch shifted around as its owner's mind raced around the problem. His calm, modulated voice echoed through the bathroom. It had only been two days since their arrival here, in 'Belmont Steet'. But of more major concern was the fact that the Warp Spiders were missing by such a huge margin. The fact of the matter was, that the error of their jumps were mostly measured in centimeters, or even milimeters. But to miss by meters was simply impossible!

"The Warpways on this planet are disturbing us greatly, Farseer. We have not yet had time to calibrate for this new... factor."

"I have never foreseen such an event, Arachnos. Hurry, lest those mon-keigh catch us off guard. Especially the large one."

"So shall we focus on this temporal objective."

– - –

One of the more junior of the Warp Spiders, a certain Urual, was fiddling with his backpack. His Death Spinner sat beside him, ever ready, as did his helmet. He was blowing into the Eldar equivalent to a tin whistle/concrete mixer, a simple instrument of the Bonesingers. He had walked that Path, a long time ago. His first, in fact. The young Eldar was frowning now, wondering if he would be able to fix this error in his Jump Generator's complex mechanisms. He changed the pitch slightly, and that was enough to get the psycho-reactive wraithbone to shift around a little more.

There was a tube running from his suit. It was attached to the curved pack that housed the jump generator. It was this device which would rip a hole in reality to allow the Spiders to take a step at one place, appear somewhere else, attack with their monofilament Death Spinners, and withdraw back into the warp before counterattack was possible.

It made them the least trustworthy of the Aspect Warriors of Kaela Mensha Khaine, but also the bravest; only they among the Eldar faced the Warp at its most horrifying, unflinching with only a few centimeters of wraithbone separating them from the doom of both body and soul. Urual looked up as his battle-partner Nelas beckoned to him.

"Hey, Urual, have you adjusted your Gate yet?"

Urual gave a small nod in reply, his eyes focused on the small crystal mounted on the gate. The most vital component of each backpack was the miniature Webway Gate, which controlled the reality-rending pulse of Warp energy which allowed them t~

Several crystals hummed to life; they were activating! Behind him, Arachnos shouted out to him.

"Shut down that Gate, Warp Spider!"

There was the sensation of one's soul getting an electrified shock. Urual fell back and was plunged into the tunnels of the Webway. He stumbled around for a second, panicking as he looked from one tunnel to another. This wasn't meant to happen!

Shadows emerged, and some horrifying thing leaped at him. Urual discharged three of his Death Spinner's nets into the thing, watching the warp-spawn entangle itself in the mono-filament strings, tearing itself apart even as it spasmed in its death-throes. The mewling mess left behind was barely recognizable as having been living.

Turning around, he saw his flute on the ground. Hurriedly, he picked it up and checked his jump pack again.

Knowing that life or death would quickly be decided, he opted to tear into the wall of the tunnel with his suit, and jump through.

It was better to face whatever was on the other side of this tear – something in the real world - than to face the horrors of the Warp for too long.

Throwing himself into the bathing pool of the Howling Banshees Aspect Warriors... well, that made his earlier conviction more than arguable. With a splash, the young Warp Spider tumbled into the pool.

"Warp Spider. I do hope you have made peace with your fellow teleporters."

Ural was aware of something soft. Underneath him was the shapely body of the Howling Banshees Exarch. His armored hand was... somewhere near her shoulder. The Exarch – Lyndia – rose from the pool, her bathing robes falling to drift around her knees, her ink black hair clinging to her body, still wet. She was – like many Eldar – a tall, lithe beauty. But even among the race of graceful, elf-like beings, this woman had a beauty about her that was unmatchable to many. And along with that beauty came a fury to compete with it as her primary trait.

The Exarch – a being trapped in the Path of the Warrior - threw him out of the water with ease, her long, slim limbs belying her strength. The Warp Spider landed roughly somewhere at the edge of the pool, and then was suddenly the center of a ring of feminine rage. He knew that many men – human and Eldar alike - would kill to have a chance to be surrounded by half-naked women such as these.

Little did they realize that any one of these women would be able to cut him into neat pieces single handedly with their Mirror Blades. They were normally encased in wraithbone armor slightly lighter than his own, but now he could see them without such inhibitions.

Urual coughed. Blood leaked from his nose, yet he had never been struck in that whole time. One of the Howling Banshees bristled furiously, though she was unarmed, unarmored and even disrobed.

"Y-you perverted being! You still refuse to avert your eyes!"

– - –

In the distance, there was a scream of absolute anguish as the cry of the Howling Banshees went up. A former member of that sorority herself, Ranger Serafenn pulled back her camouflage cloak. She turned to face Boblee, the leader of the Ranger detachment, who was already crouched over his large sniper rifle.

"What was that?"

"It appears." He said, more than emphatically as he observed the scene through his scope, affectionately nicknamed 'the Oracle'. "As if an unfortunate Warp Spider has just appeared in the middle of the Howling Banshees... while they were bathing."

"Ouch."

"As a mon-keigh warrior would have put it; it must have taken cast ferric balls to try a stunt like that. Or a fool. Oh, they're wrestling him to the ground now... there goes his helmet... and the Death Spinner. The boy's putting up a good fight, though. He managed to get one of them, the lucky bastard."

"I see... Boblee, why is your nose bleeding?"

Chapter 3[edit]

Thought of the Day: "You shall not corrupt me, Chaos spawn, for my faith is armor proof against your blandishments, and I'm sure my Power Fist can pop your head open like a ripe tomato." - Terminator Virgil

"I SAID STOP, DAMNIT!" The large, barrel-like form of the rusted HyperVac 3200 slammed down onto the ground, crushing a squad of Terminators and the Seer's council, which had been locked in mortal combat up until a heartbeat ago. Now they were in mortal danger of being between a vacuum and a hard place.

It's been three days, now. I thought. And it's been... fifteen hours since the last unauthorized skirmish. You'd think that fighting together against the Orks would mean that they'd start getting along, but nooo.

Farseer Zara and Captain Eizak were again impressed by my display of combat prowess. Well, in the I-can-see-my-dent-under-your-hammer kind of impressed. I looked as sternly as I could at the twenty odd combatants, demanding explanation with sheer willpower as my communicator.

"He started it!" Zara piped up, thrusting her spear in the Space Marine's direction.

"'He started it' So that is all that the Eldar's highly evolved brains can come up with!"

The two made a threatening move towards each other. Their retinues all made two smart steps backwards.

SLAM.

"Ow... arg... Apothecary!"

"That hurt, mon-keigh!"

I sighed. "Go back to your rooms, and please don't fight on the landing again..."

I had quickly learned after two days of sporadic skirmishing and running around with the fire extinguisher (both for fires and for the skirmishers), that it would be impossible for the varied factions around me to stay in the still and calm for very long, so instead I had allowed them some battlefield time, which usually happened just after the afternoon lunch-rush; a quick battle for those who wanted to get it out of their system, usually in the back yard to the sound of me playing around (badly) on my brother's old trumpet the first time, to muffle the various noises of battle. Both the Ork and Imperial Guardsmen forces involved later complained that it was worse than fighting the Noise Marines of Slaneesh, and after a little research into that particular soldier type, I stopped.

The Orky comment about it sounding like a Squig being kneaded with tank treads was also apt.

Of course, tensions were still high among all of the four groups, but the fact that I had moved the factions into the various rooms around the house that I thought would suit them the best was cooling them off rather well. Right now, I was down in the kitchen, grabbing my coffee and checking up on them, jug of coffee in my hand. Normally I'd only have a cup, but it seemed like these guys liked the stuff.

Tau's Earth Caste – the builders and scientists of the Tau empire – had been hard at work, using some clay I had to make themselves some buildings. The curved architecture of the Tau were apparent in the corner of my living room. They had chosen this place specifically because it provided great lines of sight and therefore were advantageous to their own style of fighting. The long rifles of their basic troopers were stacked neatly against the makeshift barriers they had constructed as their perimeter, and the drones patrolling around the perimeter quickly parted to let me through. Sitting down, I watched as they put together a glowing power generator, which had been salvaged from one of their wrecked vehicles. I wondered – briefly – what it might do if it exploded in my living room, but then again I decided it was probably best if I didn't tempt fate.

The various vehicles they had brought along with them were named after fish, and the dark blue armor of the Fi'rios warriors contrasted darkly against the bright gleam of my whitewashed walls. There was something very simplistic about the architecture of the Tau warriors; there were no scrolls of prayer or devotional trinkets like with the Imperium, nor the complex plating of the Eldar. Just simple, utilitarian curves that would deflect incoming fire and keep whatever was inside safe.

As I looked on, a few of the Tau were already getting themselves familiar with a game of chess. To them, it was an interesting intellectual exercise, and they used the Fire Warriors – the basic infantry – to haul around the large wooden pieces. It was interesting to watch. Beside the chess players, several Tau were rambling on, apparently arguing like good friends about which was better among the aircraft listed on the book of Second World War fighter planes.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a Tau 'Crisis' battlesuit drift up on pillars of plasma fire. "Good morning, Shas'El Firestrike." I greeted, already used to the Tau's peaceful demeanor. Of the many races living under my roof, I was most comfortable with these guys; they were the most cordial, most tolerant of them all. But then again, they were also the ones who had banged heads with the cogboys recently. I looked at Firestrike, who was now climbing out of his battlesuit.

"Morning to you, Mai'kel." His odd, almost Chinese-like accent made my name sound rather strange as it leaped from his tongue into the air. I nodded in reply.

"Anything happen recently?" I asked him, indicating the fact that most of his guns were pointed at the basement door; the Orks were down there.

"Well, the greenskins have tried yet another incursion into the living room, but we have managed to hold them off... err, we might need more cleaning supplies, too, there's quite a bit of blood around." He reported.

"I see. I'll go down and tell that 'warboss' to keep his boyz in line after I check on the Eldar." I replied, pinching my nose again. The Orks were easily my largest headache, since they were probably the most eager to get into a fight – heck, they fought each other when they got bored, so it wasn't a great leap in logic to tell that they were more than ready to start fighting the others when given a sliver of a chance. Excursions from their home in the basement had lead to the other races banding together to keep them down there.

In fact, the Orks were that much of an annoyance that they actually helped the other races to bond and learn to trust each other somewhat. I sighed as I walked up the stairs. Well, time to get to the rest of them. The Tau were easy... the others were hard.

The Imperium of Man dominated the upstairs, taking over two of the three bedrooms. Imperial Guardsmen now camped out in lego-brick habitats strewn across the floor of one of those rooms. I opened the door to the welcoming party. A few Guardsmen looked up and saluted, or cheered and cracked into smiles. In the tough routine of the military, it was nice to see these guys unwind. I smiled as I poured out a large glass for their rations.

"Good morning, Guardsmen! Here you go, strong and black like you guys like it, right?"

"Absolutely, Governor Michael!" The General managed, still trembling. Having conversation with a skyscraper was rather scary, if you ask me. So was talking to someone who was no taller than your thumb. General Faust had apparently decided to entitle me with 'Governor'. Sounded much more... awkward. He looked around to speak to the Commissar, but that black-coated man had already hurried over to get first dibs on the coffee. The Sanctioned Psyker – a term for a licensed psychic, apparently – Ishabeth giggled from her perch in the women's barracks.

"I've never seen Tomas get so... obsessed over anything before." She had exclaimed the second day, when he had first gotten a taste for coffee. "Apparently, he calls it the Emperor's recaf. I like it as well, but... Tomas has standing orders that I am never to drink any recaf... or anything with simple carbohydrates. I go... funny." The actual temperature of the air around us seemed to sink along with her disappointment, and a few Guardsmen nearby were already running.

I had someone explain that phenomenon to me: Another Psyker, this time the Librarian Vasili of the Space Marines, explained to me that she was rather less stable than other Psykers, but her ability was on par with many of the Primaris – or top rank - psykers, albeit outside of her conscious control, hence her classification as a Sanctioned Psyker.

Well, back to the present, I was lazing off and chatting to the Guardsmen around me and looking across to see a Sentinel – a two legged scout walker – stepping gently on the remote control to switch channels on the small TV set in the room. The only way the Guardsmen could channel surf, really, since jumping on the buttons was too tiring. Those guys absolutely adored watching cartoons, although I'm sure they were familiar entertainment, but not like this. Apparently, Elmer Fudd was their favorite for his hunting of the tall eared xenos.

A small squadron of tanks passed by underneath my feet. I saw one in particular, and smiled.

I had returned their Leman Russ to the tank crew, the commander of which was named Thujan. He thanked me for its return, and then asked what the Space-Marine and Farseer shaped dent on the underside was about. I told him to ask his General. Now that Leman Russ was nick-named Mikel's Hammer, and became quite well known among the Guard. I was already getting a small following for using a tank as a club.

The Guard were a proud army, all maintaining themselves to the highest forms of discipline when in combat, but still managing to relax somewhat when they were off the fighting. It was like seeing a whole army of coins: sometimes you were seeing their heads, and their more mellow demeanor. It was interesting to see the more exotic of the Guardsmen, who regaled me with stories of deathly jungle planets, frozen ice worlds and weightless asteroid colonies. Their command squad was even more impressive; there were psykers – combat psychics – and priests, mechanical monks and hardened veterans. To see simple, unaugmented humans who could fight – and win – against the likes of the Eldar and the Orks was simply impressive.

The head Commissar – Tomas Sturm - was one of the four combat commanders of this unit, since the General too often lost his nerve in the heat of battle. Instead, the stocky General organized the troops and gave out general objectives. The other three were the Laughing Priest Jeremiah, Lieutentant-Colonel Salacia Marsch and Sanctioned Psyker Ishabeth, who always combined forces with Sturm. It seemed a rather odd way to command, so I asked.

In the words of the Commissar himself as he answered: "He handles the big goals, we make sure that nothing goes wrong."

I nodded in reply, and moved on as he sat down beside Ishabeth to chat.

Moving on, I dropped in on the Space Marines, who were exercising their morning close quarter drills on a cinder block, which the Marines were steadily pulverizing by wave-after-wave of synchronized shoulder barges. As it turns out, the Marines actually came from a multitude of different Chapters, from all across the galaxy, having been pulled together to fight as a crusade. The leaders of this Crusade were the Ultramarines, and they had been joined by the Salamanders, Blood Ravens, Dark Angels, Black Templars and the Imperial Fists. They were now drilling constantly to achieve unit coherency, as only ten or so Marines of the seventy strong force came from any one chapter. They had brought along with them a Dreadnought, the squat walking tank named Tankred. He was among their most honored brothers-in-arms, due to the simple fact that he had warranted internment in this majestic, fighting sarcophagus.

Like the Imperial Guard, the Marines also appreciated my ration of coffee. The overall force commander, Eizak, sat on the beside table as I sat on the bed itself. I surveyed their room as he tried to meet my gaze. They had a central 'highway', which wove around in such a way that it was easy for me to move across the room. It was almost like walking, except that if you strayed to either side, you'd probably squish someone and get an army of supersoldiers up and gunning for you.

"Brother Michael, a pleasure to see you this morning. I have just finished my sermon." The skull-masked chaplain's voice was deep and powerful, and I chuckled as I poured him a few drops of coffee. He was the only one among the Marines who called me by a name that I liked. Brother. It sounded... plain. Nice and formal yet plain. I liked it. The Chaplain looked at Eizak, who was now being rather childishly sulky. Maybe it was because of the impression I left on him... and the tank... and the fire extinguisher... and the vacuum cleaner... and the floor... yeah, you can get why he was angry at me.

I looked again at the skull-shaped mask. What would Father Tim – the local church evangelist – have said if he had met Chaplain Morteus? I looked on to the other side of the room as a breeze drew my attention; it was the Librarian that had waved his hand, turning the page of 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' over with his mind. Dang, that was cool. The Chaplain chuckled. Many of the Marines were now more relaxed. For many, it was their first chance in centuries to unwind for a moment.

"Show off." Morteus muttered as he removed his skull-shaped helmet, showing a heavily scarred face underneath. Okay, scratch that. Showing this face to Father Tim would be all the more funnier. I sipped my own mug.

"Good to see it's all quiet. I hate having to get the Adepta Mechanicus guys to repair all the shell-holes."

"Adeptus Mechanicus, Brother Michael. I hope that poor Genetor stops oiling his knee joints every time he sees another of your machines. It really is unbecoming of an Emperor's servant..."

"Bless these buttons, so that we may change channels..." I muttered, which got my drinking buddy to smile.

And that brings us to the Adeptus Mechanicus. The worshipers of machines. Red robed and I'm not sure which ones were man and which parts were machines. Some walked around in boots, others on tank-treads and a select few skittered around on spider-like appendages. One was carrying over an issue of Spider-Man; they were obsessed with Iron Man and Doc Ock. But besides our mutual fascination with comic books, that was about it: I had absolutely no skill whatsoever at fixing machines, except maybe the lucky slap that would get my lawn-mower going. They were a rather odd lot, with their odd cog version of the yin-yang symbol, but nonetheless impressed me by getting the old heater in the downstairs bedroom working again. These guys were the least troublesome of the many factions in my home, though a few of their actions really caused me concern; they prayed to my TV remote! And the microwave.

Oh good lord... the microwave! It was... spring loaded now. Like a toaster. Seriously... it spat out my food after it was done. Gave me and the Tau one hell of a surprise when that happened.

And speaking of toasters, where did mine go?

"Hahah. Well said, Brother Michael." The Chaplain's voice brought me back to reality.

"Yeah. Well, you have a fun day. There's some rats in the wall-spaces, so if you wanted to go hunting, feel free to eradicate them. But please, no high explosives, okay?"

"Rats? You don't mean those little sewer cretins that you find in the underhives?"

"Yeah, but for you, they'd be about this big." I held my hands apart approximately seven inches apart. That wold be about twelve, fifteen feet for the Chaplain, who just grinned like his skull-helm.

"Excellent."

Upstairs and into the attic, I was met by an oversized dual-barrel flamethrower – at least for their scale – being pointed at my face as I poked my head through the opening. A bright blue flame lit up my nose, making me lean back from the heat on my nostrils. But then again, that was only the primer for the main flame. The black armor, red drapery and white lines detailed the machine's origins from the Order of the Valorous Hearts. And the twin flamethrowers mounted on the Immolator class AFV really could melt my face. They were the ones responsible for slagging my trash can, too. And if I guessed right, my DVD case. I looked to see if I had identified her correctly.

"Canoness Samisha. Good morning... and... ah... please point that stove-lighter somewhere else."

"Stove-lighter? Are you making a slant at my gender, Michael?" There was the sound of promethium being dumped into the reservoir of the flamethrower. You've been reading my mother's books on feminist rights, haven't you? Samisha was a very touchy person, and that was before she had read up on feminism and decided to start teaching it to her sisters. I blinked a few times, and hurriedly thought things through. Well, I could apologize... my panic addled mind was very afraid of what that little flamer could do to my face. At such close distances, especially.

"Ah... No, I am not. I am merely pointing out that the primer flame reminds me of the one that I use." I replied, as calmly as I could. She raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry if it was insulting." I added on, and got a satisfied smile from the woman.

The turret – and the fate of my eyebrows to be burnt off by combusting promethium – quickly swiveled away, and I climbed up into the realm of feminism. While the Imperial Guardsmen and the Space Marines had set up camp in the bedrooms, the Sisters of Battle had opted for the two dollhouses that my aunts used to have, grand palaces of childhood as they were, up in the attic. A few short days of modifications later, those dollhouses looked far more... Gothic now. Repainted black, white, red and gold, with a large, three-petal flower painted in various places (I had given them access to some of the cheaper paints that I had as part of the peace treaty), the Cathedrals of Saint Linda and Mother Alicia were almost complete now.

I admired their work, and looked to the attics around me. The place had been stripped of a lot of the bits and bobs that had been around, mostly to be used as building materials. A lot of the machinery that had been up here now was used by the cogboys. The Inquisitor had been particularly interested in the sewing machine's repeated stabbing motions, but I banned him from testing it on anyone. So that was now Adeptus Sororitas property, since they were secluded, would notice anyone trying to carry off a sewing machine, and had the weapons to stop someone trying to.

"Everything alright in here?" I asked, pulling the little electric fan up with me. It was an old thing that I had put in one of the other rooms and forgotten about. Walking over to one of the four windows up here, I set it up to the plug nearby, and turned it on. Fresh air began to flow in, and I looked on, rather satisfied as the Sisters breathed in the fresh air flowing in.

"There. Is that better?"

"This air out here is almost as good as that at Tranquility." Samisha laughed, and smiled back.

"Tranquility?"

"One of our Abbeys in the Gothic Sector. It was a heretical agri-world before we went in. We completely purged the central continent clear; cyclone missiles from orbit, then Titan volcano cannon, then our purifying flames from the Immolators and Exorcists burned what was left, and then finally the Sisters themselves, with their meltaguns and flamers. After all that it was a very quiet place. We built a new Abbey there afterward, to train up a few of the natives, and called it Tranquility. Sister Meliya over there was one of them."

The shy battle-sister was masked by her helmet, which she apparently never took off, but nevertheless it was still a profound thing to see her slight nod. Meliya was one of the more prominent Sisters of Battle, as she was the only one who could understand the myriad of languages – she was a Sage, as they called her job.

"I see." I answered, ending the conversation. "Well, time to check on the xeno now..."

"Walk softly, Michael, and carry a big stick."

The Eldar were more mysterious, and altogether a little unsettling in that they had chosen the unused, but still clean bathroom downstairs. I never really used it, and wondered why the most advanced of the races here chose a toilet, but then again I guess the white ceramic tiles had reminded them too much of home. Several 'bonesingers' were already making progress with their bagpipes of creation, with Eldar structures popping up throughout the floor. The shower stall was now was a hydroponic garden of many colors, a motor pool for the various vehicles where the toilet had once stood, and various other buildings – most of them housing – building themselves up on the latticework around the room. It was almost impossible for me to move about inside of the room now. I sat down beside the door, the only clear space, as I looked on.

The musical tunes of the Eldar construction workers were much more melodic and easier on the ears than human construction, which – now that I had seen how the Eldar did it – I saw as very, very crude at best. However, I still smiled at hearing the melody of Iron Maiden in the background. The Howling Banshees were quite smitten by the band and heavy metal in general.

Think of it as the difference between a young child lumping sand together to make a sand castle, to the skill needed to building a skyscraper. I mean, the Eldar creates buildings by music.

"The difference is much greater than that, mon-keigh, but I will grant you that your analogy bears on the same principle."

I jumped on the spot from the sudden voice beside me. And the fact that it had just read my mind. The voice itself was distorted, feminine, and a little hostile. Standing atop a pillar of wraithbone, as I had come to know the building material, was the Farseer I had unceremoniously and brutally impressed upon the underside of Mikel's Hammer. She was dressed in her craftworld's colors of black and white, the former being predominant, with a green sash – her personal color marking, it seemed – wrapped around her waist. She had stowed the shuriken pistol – the curvy little weapon that had caused me no end of wounds that seemed like someone had surgically implanted a dozen splinters into my arm.

"Farseer Aldir." I managed to reply. Her gaze was... very disconcerting.

I hope she's gotten over trying to flay my soul apart. I've got enough migraines as it is.

Maybe it was about the sense of scale, but the Eldar Farseer had tried to rip my soul apart on the first day, when we had a bit of a spat. The psychic attack had failed miserably on account of the sheer quantity of soul which I had. Kind of like trying to shred a piece of paper, then doing the same with a phonebook. I had a migraine for about three hours later, though, while I was buying cleaning supplies for obvious reasons. The Eldar Farseer now looked at me, bemusement radiating from her gestures. She was reading my mind again, wasn't she?

"Yes, mon-keigh. Such unguarded thoughts are refreshing to listen to... however, I still wish to splinter your mind. But for now, you are more useful to us alive than dead."

It was seriously worrying me. I looked at the Falcon, which stopped to deliver a few of the 'Exarchs' These were – as I had been told – Eldar citizens who had become enraptured in the Eldar lifestyle of war, and had given into their warrior personalities. Now they donned armor that would forever become their faces, fighting for their Craftworld – their homeworld – until the end of their lives.

The first to arrive was surfing on one of the curved sides, the Exarch of the Swooping Hawks, Tameeran. Her aquamarine armor and glistening wings were all that anyone ever saw of her. A faint popping sound beside the Farseer revealed the presence of the Warp Spiders Exarch, Arachnos. They were teleporters, but had quite the trouble adjusting to this world; many a time, the Warp Spiders were teleporting into the (thankfully hollow) walls, and caused a small ruckus between the Eldar and the cogboys because of their sudden appearance in the fuse-box.

"Exarch Arachnos, I see that your suits are functioning again." I smiled, nodding my head to each of the Exarches as they appeared in their own ways. Most of them were inside the confines of the Falcon and the Wave Serpent vehicles, which were nearly identical barring the fact that the Falcon had a turret.

The red and black Exarch nodded. His voice was perhaps the most distorted of the myriad of voices that I had ever heard over the last week. It was... electrified, if anything else suited that description.

"Yes. I has taken us a while to adjust, but now we are fully materialized."

Materialized, I had learned, was the Warp Spider slang for ready.

"Good. Well, it was nice to see you all."

Now it was time for the Orks.

Chapter 4[edit]

Time to visit the Orks. Of all the forces here, they were the least controllable, so the others worked together to keep them bottled up in the basement.

The basement themselves were sparsely used, just four walls with a door leading up some winding stairs. Shelves were fixed into the walls, and all manner of junk was strewn about. The Orks moved in after I had removed anything vaguely valuable, dangerous, combustible or useable to create a weapon, so in essence I emptied out my basement – the shelves and cupboards excepted – to make room for the Ork horde that had to move in. It was only a small force, the fact that they had lost just over two thirds of their hundreds-strong force in the first day of scrappin'. But then again, the coalition of Tau and Imperium had only accounted for one third the total losses, The other two thirds would be because of the internal animosity between the greenskins themselves, especially after the confusion during the first few minutes of their arrival.

I looked at the encampment surrounding the doorway to the Ork domain. "Justicar Amadeus, Shas'vre." I greeted the two figures in command: a well decorated Grey Knight Justicar – the equivalent to a Major in this Earth's military rank, and the orange painted helmet of the Tau Shas'vre, the equivalent to a Lieutenant, or maybe Captain.

"Titan Michael." The Grey Knight stationed at the doorway said. The Tau and Imperium had both cooperated, and were keeping the Orks bottled up inside the basement. The Grey Knights, and Tau were stationed at the doorway, while the Sisters of Battle and the Cadian Guardmsen were keeping them from the window exits, along with the Space Marines spread between those two. I reached up, and grabbed the overhead pipe to steady myself as I missed the first step; that was where the Grey Knights were stationed, with the more fragile Tau units behind them. These guys got the brunt of the fighting, but I smiled to myself as I saw the ten Grey Knights sitting there and peacefully talking to the Tau. Armistices had never been so peaceful before, with the shared threat of the Orks below them.

However, one of them stood out. He had, for lack of a better word, a very large hat. It seemed to go with the theme of Inqusitors, so for the moment I looked on. This particular Grey Knight wasn't quite... standard. His weapons were a pair of bolters, their large, drum-like magazines about the size and weight of a man's torso. He waved one around like a toy, causing one Tau soldier to duck under an over enthused sweep of the arm as he tried to regale the stories he was no doubt spinning. There was a small, shared chuckle as the routine of the sweeping arms continued, and soon enough they noticed me. The Grey Knights – with one exception – snapped to attention. The hatted Knight just waved at me with his left arm, before realizing why there was a thump on the way up. A knocked out Tau soldier shook his head as he tried to blink the stars out of his eyes, his helmet cracked.

"Uh... hi." I managed to say, kneeling down beside the dazed Tau. The soldier took of his helmet, where I saw his markings around his armor's collar – unique among the Tau, almost, they were personal name-tags. This set belonged to a Tau Sergeant named Shas'ui D'lytir Nin'per... er... the name got a bit tricky. It meant 'Talon of... something', so normally we just called him the Gothic equivalent: Sergeant Talon.

"Good morning, O'Mikel... what just hit me?"

"This dude's bolter, Talon... why do you use a bolter, anyway, I thought Grey Knights used those wrist mounted things..." I looked at the wrist-mount, which had been shaved clean into a flat panel. The hatted Knight simply looked up at me. His face-plate and armor bore a lot of burn-marks and a corner of his pauldron had simply been slagged from a near miss with a heat weapon. Unlike the knight-like crusaders of the other Marines, resplendent in hearldry, this Grey Knight had little in the way of decorations, beside the hat and the bolters.

"What hap- "I DON'T KNOW!" The automatic response shocked everyone within hearing distance.

"Uh... the- "DONT EVENT THINK ABOUT IT!" I pulled my hand back as the mouths of twin bolters grinned at me.

"Alright then... Good morning to you..."

"His name's Silverite, from what I gather." The dazed Sergeant Talon said, pointing at the person who just broke his faceplate.

"O-kay... see ya."

And with that, I moved on.

"Mornin', gretchz." I greeted the outcast little goblins, who were tinkering away at a short, stubby Duracell battery. Though the rough equivalent to mechanics and repairmen, these guys often got the short end of the stick when it came to Ork society, and often were living in outposts at the fringes... or they could just have been the security teams, deprived of fighting while the rest of the Orks fought downstairs.

"Mornin', boss." They replied, wary of any whimsical punishment that might have come their way.

Now, with the Orks bottled up in the basement due to their inherent... well, the word for it would have been aggressiveness, although the difference between an orkish attitude and 'aggressive' was... vast. Like, from the Earth to the Sun kind of vastness. Although, thankfully, this attitude tended to implode when left in a small, enclosed environment. The large Ork 'WAAAGH!' had divided in their little underground basement. The mob had migrated into their respective 'clans': the 'Deathskullz', the 'Evil Sunz' and the 'Goffs', with their own color schemes and style.

The first were brutally cunning in their ability to mash two things together and make a vehicle or weapon, the second cunningly brutal in their speedy raiding and vehicular man/alien/people-slaughter, and the third were just plain brutality incarnate in in-your-face or stomping on your guts hand-to-hand brawling, with close combat weapons galore. They were fighting among each other, as I – their 'Big Boss' - had ordered them to stop fighting everyone else. An interesting loophole, but one that everyone was rather happy with having.

Descending the stairs and the jarring shocks that it shot up my legs reminded me of my injuries. My entire body was still sporting small scars from my skirmish with the Orks, which had made me look like I had been dragged through a garden of roses and shattered pottery. Actually... that would make a good excuse! I made a mental note to use that excuse for my appearances. Not wanting my house to be undermined by constant use of high explosives, I had told these Orks they were allowed to fight, but without anything that could punch through a tab of plywood at long range. That limited them to their axes and smaller caliber weapons. The heavier guns, the looted tanks and the rokkit launchas were right out.

Mind you, the black and white checks of the Goff's colors were very interested in my 'no big gunz' attempt at giving rules, too. They loved close combat. The Evil Sunz, red comets of the battlefield, were having a roaring party with their speedy vehicles, as the Deathskullz's blue facepaint and looted gear compressed into a dense formation as the two sides fought to get at each other.

Watching from the stairs, I was faced yet again with the reason why Orks were ignoring the others. It was simply that they didn't care who they were fighting. The three Greenskin factions were in a melee in the middle, quite happy to bash each other's brains in. The average Ork 'Boy' used weapons drawn from a very ramshackle arsenal; they used both home-made and looted gear, often from the larger of the Space Marines. The close quarters weapon of choice was the axe or cleaver/sword, collectively known as a 'choppa'.

The triangular battlefield was awash with Orks, all clambering over each other to get to an enemy, hacking and stabbing their large, heavy weapons. I quietly walked over to the underside of the stairs, pulling out a rusted old vacuum cleaner, affectionately known as a 'Sukka' by the Orks. I mean affectionately in the way a pyrotechnician would be affectionate to a pyromaniac. Plugging it in, I swept the long tube over the Orkish lines. A few of their still-living members were sucked up the tube, to be deposited into the vacuum bag. Wartrukks and buggies were knocked over as I slapped them with the tip of the HyperVac 3200. A few seconds of that, and the fighting had stopped.

One Ork looked up at me. A Deathskull Nob. His lower jaw was made of metal, a replacement jawbone of steel and whatever alloys they had cobbled together for him that was painted a deep blue. He held a drum-fed shotgun-type weapon, which he held as if a pistol, and waved the serrated blade welded onto the tip. A clumsily constructed dual-bolter arrangement was strapped to his back, which had all shades of blue in skin-pain painted on, and his left hand held on to the most stubby looking rokkit launcha that I'd seen. The greenskin turned around, bringing his rokkit up to launch at me.

He was promptly swept up into the tube that was my HyperVac 3200.

A Goff charged up to me. He was pretty young looking, still barely up to the chests of his seniors. Probably a young'un. He was introduced to the Sukka, and joined the Deathskull Ork that had gone up earlier on. A third Ork was booted as he tried to stab me in the ankle. Numbers four and five also went up the Sukka's gob as they came forward.

"Anyone else?" I asked, looking at the stunned Orks. There were no takers.

From the innards of the vacuum machine, though, there was a little clanging as a smaller scrap started inside. Picking up the heavy machine, I gave it a good shaking, jostling its contents violently. The screams subsided a few seconds later.

"Gork'n'Mork, that sukka's nasty!" A familiar voice echoed out from the innards of the 'Sukka'. I recognized it instantly, as the Deathskullz Ork that had too much dakka for his own good.

"Is that you, Gunna?" I said to one of the ventilation slits. There was a little scuffling around inside, before a shotgun-bolter-gun-thing went off, blasting a hole into the side of the Sukka. I had no doubts about it; the Ork was one of the 'Flash Gitz', an Ork who had it in for Dakka. He worshipped firepower and high lead-content in the air.

"Yep, 'ts me al-rite, boss!" The reply came. "'tho dere's sum sneaky smart'rses that're tryin' ta take me shoota!"

"What did I say to you earlier on?"

"A lie? You sez dat I 'ad too much dakka. Ain't no such ding as too much dakka, Boss." The voice protested, to the assent of many of his fellow Orks, both inside and outside the vacuum cleaner.

I sighed, and spoke again. "There is such a thing as 'Property Damage' or... how about 'Collapsing a house on top of yourself', Gunna. Too much Dakka around here, and there won't be anyone to fight, y'know. There won't even be a you, kapeesh?"

"Uh... soz does dat mean dere be no thing like too much dakka?" "Nothing is too much, but just point it in the right direction, okay?" "Okay, boss!" "Good."

"Uh... boss?"

"Yes?" "Can youz let us out now? It's kinda dark in 'ere."

Having pacifed the Orks for the moment, I quickly went over a few administrative stuff, namely: "Oi, boss, can wez make dat tin' goez boom?"

"No."

The Goffs chortled at this, as they were the Orkish clan that most preferred close combat, and therefore because of my rules they enjoyed themselves the most. Their 'ead nob was an Ork that used a massive powa klaw in combat, as well as a massive cleaver when - not if - it broke down. He was called 'ead-smasha for a reason, and a damned good one. The blue with black-and-white checkered trim banner waved about as he made his way over to me.

"Oi, boss! We'z gettin bored down 'ere! Can we go an' giv de'm el-dar boyz a liddle smackin'?"

"No, I don't want any more trouble with those guys... I'm getting enough migraines as it is."

"Oh... iz it okay to crump each other, den?" "Yes. I guess so. Try not to make too much of a mess, cuz you'll be cleaning it up."

Mounting the stairs, I went back up as the Orks re-started their skirmish without the Dakka.

As I was exiting the basement, I nodded to the hatted Grey Knight. He waved the torso-sized grenade launcher in one hand as I passed by.

My stomach rumbled, causing a few chuckles of amusement - even from the stoic Grey Knights - as I passed.

Breakfast time. I gently reassured my stomach that food was coming, so I began to make my way to the kitchen. This took me past my study room, of sorts: computer, books, all manner of reference materials, that kind of thing. Oh, mind you, I didn't study all the time. I sometimes played. The computer had been given all manners of upgrades, thanks to my tech-savvy friends. It also had CounterStrike and other simple multiplayer games, which let me play with them, on occasion. However... the Adeptus Mechanicus had also made this place their second home, as well as a small force of Imperial Guardsmen and Sisters of Battle. After all, the Cogboys were the ones who maintained their gear.

They had also found a little niche of Earth society in which they could find themselves comfortable.

"WTF! U n00b! Teh h4x0r in teh b0 1s n0t b3 4 l4m3rs!" The mechanical voice - I recognized it as a copy of the 'Microsoft Sam' program with a slight modification - mainly that it always had a rising intonation at the end, which made it sound like it was constantly asking questions.

"Huh?" A confused male female voice drifted to my ears.

"He says: What are you doing, you idiot. The computer is not for incompetents." A more bored, male voice intoned. I recognized the voice. Sohm Vekt, an Imperial Guardsman. He was a simple trooper with an interpreter's job back in his homeworld. The guy loved to pore over the more philosophical texts my grandfather had left behind in my care.

"Oh. Well, I'm trained in the Gestal pattern logic engine, which isn't too different from this... can you let me through, please?" The last word would have twisted many a man around its owner's pinky. The owner was... it was... Meliya, wasn't it? She was the Battle Sister translator, and the second voice coughed.

"Sure. STFU... no, wait... GTFO... is that right? Oh, here it is: 'GTFO t3h l337z way, n00b... uh, I'm not too sure... This neo-lexicon is confusing."

I chuckled, and suppressed my rumbling stomach in time for them to see me. The cogboy immediately went into ecstatic convulsions.

"PH33r teh 4w3s0m3! M1kk3y'z h33r!" He shouted in a semi-deadpan voice. It was disturbing, for lack of a better word. I blinked a few times, before turning to Sohm.

"Uh... What did he just... say?" I'm a casual gamer, sure, but I just had no idea what the bastardized language was supposed to mean.

"He says it's good to see you... I think." Meliya said, a loud whisper in the room. I nodded, and looked at the red robed tech-priest, and the smaller mechanical constructs that chittered around it.

"Tech priest?..."

"Nuuu! Mah t4g b3 h4x0r-c0gb01!" 'Hacker Cogboy' shouted. He had been a rather mature-sounding, very serious worshipper of the machine before he had found the 'Temple of Pentium IV'. Sadly, he had now fallen into l337-tardation. No offense to the real people who came up with it, but some people were just... stupid.

"Wow, you're really getting into this." I looked at the two other Imperials, one of which nodded her head and the other gave an exasperated sigh.

"Yeah, he's... l337 now." Sohm muttered, (deadpan snarker mode, on!). "They've been like this since they found that... CounterStrike game of yours."

"KEKEKEKEKE! Ph33r da wr4t|-| 0 da 3mpr4! L0l0l0l0l0l0l, pwnt!" A cogboy jacked into the modem cackled, typing away furiously at the keyboard sat on his thighs, his mouse was being operated by his mechanical fourth arm - the third was a plasma torch. I tried to ignore the madness for a little while.

"... somehow, this worries me more than the possibility of the Orks attacking." I muttered. "Is there anyone here still sane?"

"That would be me, your lordship." A deep, vox-enhanced voice spoke. It belonged to, by the looks of it, the demented, crack-enhanced machine-human combination which would have put Doc Ock to shame. The cowl was thrown back, the mechanical collar (the kind you'd have on as armor, not the leather band around the neck) pulled down. Loose strands of green hair were shaken loose. It was cropped close to the scalp, barely coming to the Adeptus Mechanicus' ears. It framed the face of a young woman. She was beautiful, in that aesthetically pleasant way, but like many of the Sisters of Battle and the female warriors of the Eldar, there was that sense of absolute confidence in her position and strength that gave them a very valkyrie-like fashion. Flippantly, she flicked a lock of hair from her face.

"Boys and their toys." She sighed, to Meliya's most empathic nod and Sohm's snort of amusement. Amisa 238041-194513 (normally in barcode-like format) was a Skitarii lieutenant, and for all intents and purposes a second in command from the Artisan - the foreman, in other words. Her mechanical appendages - servo arms, plasma cutters, chain-bladed rippers and various other tools of mechanical warfare - curled around her like errant strands of her hair. After all, there were a series of cables attached to a metal plate on the back of her neck, which ran into her backpack and the armored suit.

"Forgive the Tech-Priests, Michael. It's just... well... all these ancient technologies..."

"Hey, it's not that old!" Indignity laced my voice as I cried out. Most of my stuff was second hand, sure, but not ancient! Well... admittedly, some of it could count as ancient, but it wasn't that old!

"... again, forgive me, m'lord." She bowed her slender (and literal) frame, and looked back up at me. "It's just that... all these technologies have the hallmarks of pre-Here... no, pre-Crusade technologies... and even then, I'm suspecting them to be Pre-Dark Age as well. All considered, that would make this technology almost 30,000 years old."

"Hell no! My stuff isn't that old!"

DING DONG!

"3h! W00t, h33rz sum ppls!"

Oh shit. And I haven't even had breakfast yet.

"Yo, Mike!" A rather accented voice called out – Vincent! (Quick note: His given name was Vincent, he also had one in Chinese, but identified with Japanese more – anime otaku – and was born of Indonesian parents. It's complicated.) "... Hey, are you in there! I thought I heard voices... you know I can break locks, right!"

"Michael, ya in there! It's us!" A southern belle voice filled the house. Alice, one of my circle of friends. Tau and Imperials alike were running around, looking for direction.

OhshitohshitohshitOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!

Short Omake: Dawn of War[edit]

"What is this?" A CD was flipped over, and the cover art inspected. Force Commander Eizak peered at his Blood Raven counterpart. The Commander had... hair. He rubbed his bald scalp enviously. Turning to the Sister of Battle beside him, he pointed at the large, stone letters. They were merely printed on cheap paper, but nonetheless the effect was stunning. Such heroism captured in the heat of battle.

"I d-don't know, Force Commander Eizak." The white and black armored Sister replied, more than nervous.

"Dawn of War. I believe they use this program to simulate combat to allow for the training of a new generation of commanders." Sohm Vekt looked at a Cadian, standing there half-frozen in the snow. The Cadian 412th... he hadn't heard about that unit, and the Lorn V system was entirely unfamiliar to him. The two armored figures whipped around in surprise.

"How did you know that?" The Space Marine spoke first.

"It says it on the cover." Two sets of eyes were giving him confused stares. The Guardsman sighed "I read, I learn. My scholarium was based at the bottom of an ancient library, so we did a lot of reading into ancient texts, particularly how to read them. I learned how to read this... the Terran alphabet, when I was in my final year." He finished his little explanation with mutterings of how there wasn't any humor left these days...

"I see... and these?" Meliya looked at the other CD cases in the shelf. She peered at them as the Commander walked off to sulk.

"Those are the expansion packs, this one here is called Winter Assault, that one's Dark Crusade, and the other's SoulStorm."

"Ah, there's a Canoness from the Order of the Sacred Rose on here!"

"Yes, apparently the expansions includes data and the ability to lead other factions as well... it seems like in this particular expansion, the Sisters of Battle have been added, as well as the Dark Eldar." Sohm had also been a translator, back in his day, and would interpret all kinds of communications. So he was well versed in the myraid of languages – even more so than the rather sheltered Meliya. She crouched down beside him, looking at the blurb and 'system requirements' of the case.

"I see..." She murmured, leaning forward to look closer. A slight shift on the table – caused in part by the Mechanicus boys lifting a generator down and changing the weight distribution – caused the young Sororitas to tip backward. Hands reached out, and caught her before she could fall over, and pulled her forward. Into the arms of her Cadian counterpart. Both flushed red.

"..." Taking off his helmet, Sohm quickly separated from her. "My apologies, Sister."

"Just call me Meliya!" She grew red as her fleur de lis tattoo (it was on her neck).

"Alright... my apologies... Meliya."

She gave a small smile. It was... something he'd remember for a long time. Sohm scratched at the stubble on his jaw, looking back at the giant disk. He was getting a little uncomfortable when he looked at the white-haired young woman underneath the helmet.

"Fine. Now... how about if we see about playing this game?"

"I dibs the Sisters of Battle!"

"PWNT! j00 ju57 g07 0wnt b41 d4 c0gb01z!"

"... I think we'll have to get past those guys first..."

Omake: Farseer Days: Frustration[edit]

"I hate those mon-keigh." Zara fumed. "Stupid, barbaric primates..." She threw her shuriken pistol at the plush couch set into the wall of her room.

The slender pistol bounced off the backing, and then lay still where it came to rest. She stalked over to the mounting for her armor, setting her conical helm down on the head of her mannequin double. The Eldar Farseer sighed, her worn and torn cape unclasping from her shoulders, the psycho-reactive armor responding to her urges for freedom.

Zara caught the black cape, and threw it gently around the doll.

The mesh-like fibers of the doll was quick to catch the clasps onto the shoulder, affixing it into place. The armored wraithbone 'wings' came next, the mounting/backpack support and sensor systems that supplemented her already acute senses. They were carefully detached from her back, revealing the skin-tight suit underneath, and pressed the armored plates against the back of the mannequin. Those reacted to the mesh-skin of the doll just as her cape had, the two surfaces interfacing as tiny machines embraced each other with their eldritch adhesives.

Her armor began to slowly unravel, little seams appearing and separating, allowing her to shed the wraithbone plates without having to worry about missing or losing anything. She rested pauldrons, chipped and scarred from a thousand battles, and the breastplate, inscribed with dozens of runes, which had turned aside more daemon blades than she could care to remember. Of course, one blade was one too many for her. She continued to do this, removing sections of her armor slowly and meticulously, hoping that the almost ritualistic process and the prospect of her freedom afterward be enough of a reward as well.

Her frustration did not end with the sensation of freedom that came with being released from the skin-tight embrace of her armor suit. Zara ran a slender hand down her lithe figure, brushing off dust that wasn't there. A brush was snatched up, and began to work their way through her hair. Having shed her personality of the Farseer, Zara was now... Zara, the Eldar woman. She sighed, her comb tugging through her hair, searching for something pleasant in her life, as if grasping at straws.

Not even that worked, and Zara soon found her silky strands too smooth for any more brushing to help. She stood, and began to peel the thick layer of her undersuit off. The fibrous second skin was what kept an Eldar warrior comfortable in their form-fitting suit, as well as adding an extra layer of protection against impacts, the gel-like inner layers of the multi-layer suit helping to dampen blows. Now out of the suffocating black suit, she began to dig around her possessions for a robe or... something.

In the far reaches of her mind, her Farseer self screamed at the sulking woman to get up. Something is coming, you silly girl!

There was a disturbance behind her. Zara tensed as she turned around, her hand reaching out for the Singing Spear on the other side of the room.

Something came shredding through reality, landing in the middle of her living space as the Shining Spear heeded her call.

Her razor sharp (well... not razor sharp, since this blade had a cutting edge honed so finely to the point where a razor would be about as sharp as a sphere) weapon halted as its tip hovered scant inches off the nose of a bruised and battered young Eldar. Zara twitched an eyebrow.

His Aspect Armor denoted him as one of the warp-hopping Warp Spiders. Her memory dug up his name.

"Urual, was it not?" He flinched visibly, all trace of Eldar dignity and poise dashed to pieces.

"Don't hurt me!" Was his automatic response.

"What in the Warp happened to you!" She asked, twisting an eyebrow up in questioning.

He was muttering incoherently, his skin-suit showing damage equivalent to being clawed and twisted about in very painful ways. The only word she recognized was 'banshees'. Zara sighed, tossing her spear aside, and knelt down in front of the wounded Spider. Without his armor on, the Eldar had none of their Aspect Warrior selves to steel against the horrors of combat. The make-believe personality was what little mental protection they had from being consumed by the sensations of battle.

He looked up to the Farseer, the luminescent stone behind her framing her figure in a soft glow. "Uwah! P-please! No more hitting!" He tried to scramble away from her bared self, clutching his warp-piercing backpack along with him.

"Calm down, Warrior of Khaine!" She growled angrily. "What's wrong with you?"

"L-look, I'm sorry, okay? Please... just don't..."

There were the sounds of a stampede outside, and the door burst in two heartbeats later, a dozen half-dressed Aspect Warriors of the Howling Banshees shrine poured into the room. Lyndia the Exarch looked at the scene, and her face grew as red as the blood blooms in the Gardens of Radiance back on the craftworld.

"Farseer! Even you! You wretched, craven... grah! Nothing is sacred to you, is it! DIE!"

The pink haired huntress leaped forward, but her slap was intercepted by the Warp Spider's shoulder pad being raised in defense. The rest piled on, knocking over Zara's armored mannequin. The Farseer snapped as the rest of the Banshees dog piled on the Warp Spider.

"EVERYONE, OUT! THAT MEANS NOW!"

"Can't get any peace and quiet even in my own room... damn it... what the Warp was that boy up to, anyway?"

Zara continued to mumble as she walked beside the wall of the building, where the Seers and the commanders were housed. She sighed again as she played with the small brooch that held together her robes. Humans of Michael's civilization would see a resemblance between the robes she wore and Greek/Roman toga, but of a much finer quality. Like a cloud wrapped around a mountain (though she had none), they seemed to float as she walked to the gathering hall. A place where Seers would convene, where they could find friends to talk, to seek council and comfort.

"Something disturbs you, Farseer Zara?" A voice called out, making the Farseer turn around to face its owner.

"Warlock Yoza." She greeted, her ever cold facade melting. The older Warlock – he was maybe fifty years her senior - could have been a Farseer by right of skill long before she had even begun the Path of the Seer. But something had stopped him. His mind's parthenon of personalities had literally warred over the decision to become consumed in the Path of the Seer. The mind-war had become almost famous in the Ulthwe craftworld, as the powerful Warlock had exiled himself to an abandoned garden complex deep in the belly of the crafrworld, and the splinters of his mind had taken physical form to fight it out.

As evidenced by his still being a Warlock, he had obviously reached the decision to remain in the Path of the Seer, but not to become a Farseer. He made an excellent mentor and teacher to most of the Ulthwe Seers, as well as his reputation as an unparalleled spearman. She had experienced both first hand, ever since he had attached himself to her retinue as a bodyguard. And as the path of the Seer was the first Path she had come into, she had been taught... other things by him as well.

"Zara." He spoke her name again, concern edging into his usually detached voice. "Something troubles you?"

"Y-yes..." She was suddenly nervous as Yoza contemplated her facial expression, feeling like a child being scolded by her teacher. Of course, their histories considered, that was a more than fair analogy. Plus, since he had mentored her through almost six decades, he knew every quirk and tic of her subconscious. Zara regained her composure, and sighed.

"Then let us talk about it."

The Warlock gave a small gesture, completely physical, but Zara felt herself pulled towards him, falling in step with him as they walked off to a more secluded place. The meditation chambers for the Seers were perfect for that purpose.

Inside the Seer meditation vaults, they found a small room; white walled and circular with a large platform in the middle, which would facilitate the meditation of any Seers.

"The mon-keigh – the big one." She started as soon as the door had slipped closed. The security of privacy was comforting, and so was the presence of her bodyguard/teacher/confident. "He's... annoying. He doesn't act like the other mon-keigh. He's brash, he has an overwhelming desire to impress me onto various objects... yet he doesn't have that arrogance the mon-keigh we have known over centuries seem to call their 'rights'."

"However... he is not the real problem, is he?" Yoza queried. He never fluffed up conversation.

Zara gave a reluctant nod. The Warlock went on.

"The Imperials themselves have been shown in a new light, have they not? With the other Psykers, talk to them in their dreams, I have. That female psyker of theirs; little control, but much power she wields."

"Oh?" Zara looked up, half-confused. He spoke... differently now. The open-minded Warlock had changed since they had arrived into this place. She had faced the same problems herself.

"A pressure based dispenser, she is like. Expecting a small trickle, you turn the regulator, but a torrent you get. So turn it off again, you would, in"

"What is with that grammar, Yoza? I do not remember you speaking like that. Until... now."

"An interesting character, I saw. Yoda, he was called. Very entertaining, he was."

"..." Zara looked confused for a second, blinking a few times in disbelief. By a piece of mon-keigh drama, he was... wait! She was getting into that style too. Must avoid falling into that trap. So a piece of mon-keigh flat-screen drama had influenced him that much?

"It was a very good movie. One of the few that survived that errant shot from Fuero's Fire Pike. The Empire Strikes Back, it was called. A classic of a past age, as Michael had put it." The Warlock grinned, he looked surprisingly young when he did. Despite his centuries of age, most humans would not have put his age past the mid thirties. By comparison, Zara looked in her early twenties, and was only a century and a half old.

"So... back to the problem, we must go: Because the future is muddled, you are frustrated, yes? That you cannot see what is to happen? Confused, the futures have become. Out of a job, we Seers are."

"Warlock Yoza, please return to your old way of speaking, it is much less annoying."

"Fine, fine. So we've got a problem. To try and fix it, you need to relax. I've read into the depths of this space. She Who Thirsts has not touched this place. There seems to be a barrier of some kind. I believe that Macha's destined has something to do with this." The Warlock mused, again in a serious mood. The swings of his personae was obvious to Zara, who – like many before her – wondered for his sanity.

"In short, we can afford to be relaxed under Michael's care. That boy may well be a psyker. His influence, however, is more subtle. He persuades. We are at peace, are we not? Millennia of war has left our races bitter, but in one afternoon he has managed to bring us to stop. Annd create a treaty; an uneasy peace, but peace nonetheless. If I were to gamble on this, I would say he is a psyker.

However, this could also be a scale factor. Our minds are much smaller in size compared to his. He is, after all, that much more massive than we are. Therefore, his force of personality, however small it would be in his scale of things, is much more than ours. Other mon-keigh on this planet would not be affected, but... the more malleable of us – like the Imperial mon-keigh – would find themselves empathizing with him."

Yoza looked into her eyes, confiding in her. She looked back, her mouth agape. The idea that a mon-keigh could wield such power... she leaned back, against the wall. He stepped forward as she began to slide to the side, catching her and supporting her. His breath caressed her neck as he held her. Such comfort... Zara placed her hands on his forearms, supporting herself now. This man... he had always supported the leaders of Ulthwe, as a bodyguard and as a teacher and as more than just the relationship demanded of their Path.

What would have happened, had he lost himself in the Path of the Seer, or taken the Path of Command?

She gasped as he sat her down on the pad, a circular platform of springy cloth which provided a comfortable place to rest and meditate. Zara sighed as he sat down beside her, her breathing deepening as she contemplated the facts that he had presented her. So Michael was a psyker; at some level all living beings were, but him? In general, the concept was not well received: Michael was far too ignorant! Well, they had appeared in his backyard, and many daemons and other travelers of the Warp used psykers to guide them to their destination, so it was not a huge leap of imagination to think of what Michael had to be.

Yoza's face appeared above her, smiling gently. His hand began to tease her robes from her shoulders.

"Zara... relax." He whispered, lips inches away from hers.

There was, again, a faint popping sensation. Someone gave a squeak of surprise.

"Ack! Sorry, sorry! I didn't meant to interrupt! Those Banshees have been hunting me all day!"

The panicked Warp Spider was trying not to stare at the two figures on the platform, and was frantically fiddling with the warp jump generator cradled on his lap.

"You again!" Zara looked around, trying to find a weapon.

Yoza sighed as he casually tossed some wraith stones, the Eldar equivalent to tarot cards, to predict the future. They fell erratically, defying prediction. The Rune of Warning, however, landed side-by side with the Rune of the Present.

"As Michael would say: 'Oh crap'." Yoza quipped.

Banshees were close behind, followed by some rather uncomfortable Seers who had been caught up in the search. Yoza stomped on the ground, sending a psychic shock-wave that made everyone stop in place.

"Alright, enough!"

"So it was all an accident?" Lyndia eyed the Warp Spider, who was more than nervous at the prospect of being caught by her. Warp and Daemons be damned, an angry Banshee was far worse a foe!

"Y-yes..." He stammered in reply.

Yoza facepalmed, sighing in frustration. "For the love of dignity, Urual, please stop stammering!"

"Uh... sure!" Came the response.

"Now apologize to the Exarch."

"I'm sorry for teleporting into your bath-house! It was really an accident, but I ask for your forgiveness!" The Warp Spider bowed to Lyndia, who was now dressed in robes similar to that of Zara, rather than the hastily wrapped towel.

"Good boy. Now... Exarch Lyndia. What do you have to say?" Zara asked the Exarch.

"Sorry for assuming you were a depraved, teleporting pervert." She droned.

"And..." Yoza added.

"..."

"Something to do with why you were waving your Power Blades around." He hinted.

"And sorry for trying to cut you into small pieces."

"Good girl. Now that that's all sorted, lets just shake hands and get this over with."

Before the two could reconcile, however, something massive happened.

"GOOD MORNING, ELDAR!" Michael cheerfully boomed, throwing open the door. The gust of wind it generated threw light objects everywhere, including the rather airy clothes of the Eldar women.

Urual blushed as he tried to cover his eyes as Lyndia tried to push down her robes. "They're pink!" (1)

She flushed bright red as her clothing settled back to their place. That stillness that followed lasted but a few heartbeats as Lyndia exploded.

"YOU IMMORAL, DEPRAVED, PERVERTED HOUTAN!(2)"

[A/Ns: (1): He was not referring to the color of her undergarments.

(2): A Houtan is a type of primate native to a jungle world named Sumatra IV, often visited by the Ulthwe for supplies and jungle warfare training. It is well known for its mischievous playfulness and habit of stealing small shiny objects. Imperial forces in the area are therefore banned from polishing weapons and uniform in a unique exception to dress code regulations. Infractions are punished with the offender being deposited into one of the many local mud pools.]

Omake: Resurrection Destruction[edit]

In the dawn of time, the Necrotyr had always been a rather sad race. They were burned by their own sun, and their lives were short. The race of the dead had always seen the constant reminder of their own short lives. Bad luck and the Necrotyr race traveled hand in hand. Until the C'tan arrived, they knew little of what happened outside of their system, their science focused only on lengthening their paltry lives under the harsh glare of their sun. Gods of the Stars, they offered the Necron immortality, but as always, there was a price: Their very souls, their personalities.

Encased in living metal, they accepted this terrible price, and became the Harvesters of Souls, bent on eradicating all life in the materium. Billions died on millions of worlds as the war between Gods raged. In the end, the C'tan were beaten back by a third force created by the malevolent use of the Warp, and soon they decided to slumber, to weather the storm beneath the crusts of worlds spread throughout the galaxy.

Aeons later, the Necron rise again...

Scrape.

Scrape.

Scrape.

The hard dirt moved aside easily as the Flayed Ones sliced with their finger blades before pulling out the neatly sliced black rocks. They were impatient, if that emotion was able to be felt among the race of the dead. Their green eyes glittered as their fingers moved aside dirt. Around them, small scarabs the size of their palms picked up chunks of rock and moved it further away from the excavation. Emotion held little sway over the Necron, but if anything they could feel hate. Hatred and hunger. For the souls of those who were still alive, while they were cursed with such undeath.

The Necron Lord overlooked their progress as his warriors began to rise. Swathed in a black cloak, his decorated body of living metal glowed as he paced forward, rolling a green orb between his hands. The golden masked flared as it picked up a signal from the army around him. They were rising... they were rising.

Arcs of green energy danced between faded grey metal as the soulless machines staggered to their feet, ancient fingers grasping at ancient weapons. Some picked dirt off their metal bodies, while others shook aeons of dust and grime off. The green tubes of the gauss flayers came to life, and joined the Flayed Ones as they tried to dig their way out of their tomb. Behind them, a pyramid much larger than themselves shimmered to life, the green crystal mounted atop the giant structure glowing to life as its four turrets began to swing around, testing the limits of its motion.

All throughout this, small, miniscule spiders and scarabs moved between the rising Necron forces, assisting a Warrior here, assembling a Destroyer there, and pulling a Pariah out from under a seam of stone. Irritation's imiation pulsed through the mechanical processes of the Lord. Their teleporter had yet to be awoken in the Monolith, so they would have to get out the slow way.

Scrape.

Scrape.

Scrape.

A parody of joy broke out, the shadow of elation spread through the ranks as the wall crumbled through, revealing an entrance into a second cavern. It was rough but almost circular, and the faster Necron – the Wraiths and the Flayed Ones – stumbled out into this new space. Most had barely enough room to move about, it was like a sewer. The Necron's abstract feeling of triumph did not last very long, as they realized that the darkness ahead was sealed.

They moved forward, the Necron Lord joining them.

Reaching out, a Flayed One pushed his claw against the seal. It was a brittle material, it realized. A collection of carbon fibers that were bound together by pressure and a crude bonding agent. The material tore easily once a tear was made. It was a dark, gritty red, but on the inside it was the purest white that they Necrons had every seen. Continuing to tear jagged triangles off the material, they found that it was a container: Now they faced another material, this time it was almost fluid: At the touch of the Necron blades, it seemed to absorb the blades, a dark pit leaving it. A very pliable, soft material. It was grey, although a lighter shade than their own metal 'skin'. A scarab went up to the wall of pliant resistance, and bit off a small section.

Analysis confirmed it as C7H5N3O6 , a semi-organic substance.

The Necron felt confusion for perhaps the first time in millenia.

What the hell was this stuff?

A sealant?

The Necron Lord waved for his minions to dig around it. The newly activated excavator scarabs swarmed, moving forwards now and digging around the pliant material.

Vestiges of emotion surfaced in the Necron Lord. His purge would soon begin. They would soon break free... A siren cut through the air.

"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" All of the Necrons froze in place, their weapons raised. Scarabs chittered as the voice boomed out.

"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" The second shout spurred the Necron Lord into a charge. The rest of the Necron tomb advanced, looking out at the bright tunnel. The cavern they had dug out into was massive... it could have easily accommodated a starship.

"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" He was suddenly aware of the big red pipe running from the pliant obstacle and out over the edge of the cliff.

The Lord turned back, a small section of his logic cortex pinging a very disturbing message.

C7H5N3O6 was the chemical formula for the explosives used many, many aeons ago, to blast out their tomb worlds.

The whole cavern lit up in a massive expansion of gases. The very air ignited as 200 pounds of C4 detonated in the enclosed space.

Foreman Dave Bernly pressed down on his hat as the explosives kicked in, ripping a massive chunk out of the mine. The wave of pressure slammed into the gathered team, buffeting them with a millisecond's worth of supersonic wind. Half the crew knelt on the ground for stability.

Dust rained down as the few who saw it cheered, whooping in pyromaniacal joy.

Beside him, Matthew Nickel chuckled as he stood up from the detonator. His short, curly hair was strewn all over his face as he cackled with laughter.

"Never gets old, does it?" The youngest member of the team, Henry, asked. He stood up, pulling his hard hat off as chunks of coal rained down from the sky. He walked over to the laptop, where cameras had recorded the explosion from far closer than it was possible for the humans.

"Never does." Matt agreed. "C'mon, lets get the diggers in. Whatever was in there's been blasted to bits. Lets go clean up."

"Okay. Vincent'll love this." Henry chuckled, quickly scanning through the recording. A few seconds before detonation, he stopped.

"Hey... hey, guys... look at this."

"Hmm? What is it?"

"Look there. A flash of green."

"What the hell was that?"

"Dunno."

Chapter 5[edit]

The banging on my door got a bit more anxious in its pitch.

Oh crap! If Vincent and Alice see this... shit! All hell would break loose... well, at least for them.

I burst out of the study, leaving the three Imperials behind and stepped out into the corridor. The front door was only a few meters away, but already the Warhammer 40,000 universe's denizens were already hauling their 1/56th scale asses, trying to get moving and were mass-migrating back to their rooms. They weren't stupid, and they knew what it could mean when the titan-sized friends came along. The Eldar were – for once – cooperative with me when I said that secrecy would be priority. Skimmers were used for this rapid evacuation, and it was surprising to see Space Marines boarding a Tau Devilfish troop carrier without complaint. Unsurprisingly, the heavy Power Armor caused one side of the troop carrier to dip down, the pod-mounted gun-drone scraped the carpet as they bugged out.

Chimera and Rhino APCs, the carriers of the Imperial Guard and Space Marines, rolled in formation with Kroot – Tau auxiliaries that looked like a walking, featherless chicken that could rip your head off - hanging on to the pintle mounted weapons. Others were more passive in their hiding, the Tau Stealth battlesuits running to the potted plant and activating their active camouflage system. Eldar Rangers were following suit, their 'cameleoline' cloaks shimmering as they raced across the floor out to the patio.

My head throbbed as an Eldar Wave Serpent hovered past.

Those headaches that I got more and more often were unbearable. Zara had made a habit of attacking not only my mind, but my very soul as well, trying to shred it into pieces and sending them into the Warp. It was just the sheer difference in size between us, with me being extremely large and her being so small that saved me. My soul was simply too large for her to shred; from what Justicar Amadeus and Librarian Vasili had told me, it was like trying to use a paper shredder to try and shred a phone book all at once, rather than a cheap paper business card.

Well, back to the rushing around.

The Space Marine Dreadnought lumbered past, his stubby legs propelling him in the manner of a bull-charge. The venerable veteran was maybe twice the height of a Marine, but was more the shape of a half-brick that had marshmallows for limbs. That made him a little less mobile than the others, although to be honest they were far more stable. He followed up the backwards charge of Space Marines.

"Guys!" I hissed as quietly as I could. "C'mon, c'mon!" I picked up Tancred and pushed him along, setting him down in the corridor, where he could make his own way. It wasn't much for us, but it had cut maybe a minute or two out of his travel times, though.

"Michael! We can hear someone in there! Don't try and hide from us, okay?" Vincent chuckled as he banged playfully on the door.

"I'm coming!" I turned around as a boxy Chimera APC sped past, ready to pick up its complement of Guardsmen to evacuate. I stepped down on it as it went on underneath me, and it shot off from under my foot as Father Physics did its job: namely, the tracks did not provide any traction whatsoever as they shot forward, taking my foot with me as socks were tangled with pintle and side mounted weapons. The fact that the treads were exposed at the top as well were no help. I gave a yelp as my leg kicked forward, and slipped.

Darkness swallowed me as I felt my head hit the floor.

I looked around, and saw that this was... a room? The light began to shine again, re-defining the new space that I was in. It was extravagant, to say the least. A richly decorated room with regards to the decorations, which were slightly over the top but still had some vestige of taste. Posters of singers and celebrities, a neat stack of teen gossip magazines mixed in with an expensive looking computer. Half the room was devoted to vanity.

I turned to the middle of the room, where a figure was sitting on the ground, her legs splayed out like a 'W'.

Blood leaked from her cuts.

She had cut herself more than once, the angry red lines crisscrossing her wrist, letting the blood slowly dribble along the grooves. A razor was held loosely in her other hand. She looked like a mess; brown hair fell to her shoulder blades, and rather pasty skin made her look like someone who had just gotten into hospital or something. Her body was slim, like a dancer or a gymnast. She was, to be frank, rather plain looking; neither beautiful nor ugly. Well, could have been leaning towards 'pretty', had it not for the fact that she had streaks running from her ears to her jaw, mixing makeup with tears.

Blood ran along the grooves.

Grooves that had been carved into the hardwood floor of her room, inscribing a circle just a little too small for her to lie in. Eight lines splashed out in even intervals, their random lengths ending in arrowheads.

I realized that she had been losing blood steadily over a long time; the grooves were acting like irrigation ditches, channeling the blood. It had filled most of the circle and spokes of the wheel already. She saw that her blood was beginning to thicken, to slowly heal the gash on her wrist. A quick slash let a fresh spring burst from her skin.

Eyes flickered up, meeting mine.

I froze.

"W-who?" She managed to stammer, in a hoarse whisper.

Her blue eyes were unfocused as she suddenly mewled like a newborn kitten, curling up in the middle of the circle. An invisible hand wrapped its fingers around her throat, and she choked out a whimper as I saw raw Chaotic power begin to take hold. She began to tremble, shaking uncontrollably as something took a hold of her.

Her blood offering began to boil. Not metaphorically, literally; steam was rising from the edges of the Wheel of Chaos. She shuddered, arching her back. Her bleeding wrist seemed fixed to their spot as she convulsed in front of me.

Her mouth opened in a silent scream.

I saw her change before me: her teeth sharpening into fine points. Her eyes were alight in pained despair as the blue irises changed to red. Fine hair tangled as she writhed on the spot, convulsing in silent agony as the forces of Chaos shook her body. Whatever was happening to her, it was happening fast.

Unnatural spasms spilled blood everywhere as she struggled to speak. Her hair had now turned black, and now changed to a bright purple as the Warp took it toll from her body. Around her, shadows began to solidify. Eyes fixed to mine, her red irises locking onto mine. She whispered into my soul, her own essence grazing mine.

"Kay... Kay-ohsssss... isss hee-eer." She said. I struggled to comprehend... Ch-Chaos... is here?

The wall imploded as reality shredded, and my body felt like it had spontaneously combusted. I screamed from the pain, the absolute agony of reality being rent asunder in front of me. The circular portal was a blood red maw of unreality, mixed with white points of light, and I saw it as what it was; a gate from the Eye of Terror itself. Falling onto my astral knees, I gasped for breath as it was sucked from my lungs, hearing the chuckles and the cries of the daemons around me.

A figure stepped from the shadows, its horned helmet swinging this way and that. Crackling energies splashed out from his fingertips as he looked behind him. The Chaos Sorcerer, one of the Thousand Sons of Ahriman, looked around his new world.

A crimson-armored amalgamation of Marine and Techpriest stepped out beside him, a Techmarine. He had with him armored servo arms similar to Amisa's, but more bulky and battle-scarred. His entire left arm was wrapped in an interface of some kind, as was his right shoulder. Servitors – nearly identical to the ones that the techmarine living under my roof had – spread out around him.

The mottled armor of another Chaos Marine showed me that the next Marine had arrived, followed closely by several dozen more Marines. Severed heads were mounted on a series of poles on his back. Tau, Eldar, human, Ork. Faces that I would never know. Some were trapped in eternal agony, others were ashen and blank. His daemon blade glowed with ethereal fire, and as he brandished it, the eye set into the crossguard blinked, looking around the room.

Obviously the leader. He looked at the Sorcerer.

"Why the hell are we so small!"

A bright pain flowered on my nose.

There was only darkness.

  • STAB*

"Did it work?"

That voice belonged to Sohm.

"It appears not... shall I try again?"

Zara was a little too enthusiastic about the prospect of trying to... wait, my nose...

It was really, really hurting. Reflexes kicked in.

"AAAAAARGHWOWOWOWOWO~ARCK!"

"Yep, it worked." Came Sohm's satisfied voice.

You're going to pay for that!

The sharp spear of Farseer Zara was still driven into the tip of my nose, but more concerning was the fact that she had been standing on my lips when I screamed, opening my relatively huge maw.

Gravity did the rest of the job.

The Farseer dropped down into my mouth, screaming along with my choking as I sprung upright, throwing probably two-dozen concerned miniature warriors around. Others backed away, others ran. I reckon the latter were smarter.

I gagged once.

"PHTOOEY!"

Out the Farseer was spat. She bounced off the floor I had ejected her onto, her robes were slick with my saliva.

Most of the surrounding watchers gave a collective "Ewwww."

"That was utterly disgusting, mon-keigh!" Zara picked herself up, livid with rage, and promptly slipped and fell to her knees. She got back up, hissing with rage. 'Boiling kettle' was a rather good metaphor here.

"You tried to eat me, you overgrown, barbaric... rrrrgh... mon-keigh! Not event the most articulate words will express my rage!"

"Who in the hell told you to stand over my mouth, anyway!" I retorted, spitting out one of her shoulder-ornaments. Zara blustered as I tried to pick a shuriken pistol out from between my molars and my cheek without sending monomolecular ninja stars down my throat.

"Um... Gue'O Mi'kel? You still have a spear sticking out of your nose... its wound is bleeding quite profusely." Shas'ui Talon helpfully informed me. Dang, I hadn't realized it was there. I spat out Zara's little ninja-star-pistol, and then reached up to my face and pulled it out the spear - painfully – to throw it back at Zara and accepted a tissue given to me, freshly torn from its stand in the kitchen to stem the bleeding. My head was in absolute terror as it tried to suppress the pain... jeeze, what the hell happened?

"Mon-keigh, I am talking to you." The Farseer sternly intoned. She reached out, and tickled my brain with her powers.

"Okay, okay, and stop doing that already, I ran out of Panadol™ yesterday!" I shouted irritably at her, waving my hand dismissively. There was an 'I want attention' cough from behind me.

"Uh... Michael... when you're not busy with the Farseer, can you tell these guys to lower their weapons? I'm not looking forward to seeing what a meltagun can do to my face." Came a rather nervous plea. I looked up, suddenly aware of my visitors.

Vincent and Alice sat in a corner. Knees tucked up to their chins, and hands resting on top of their heads, they were surrounded by some of the largest land based weapons of the 41st millenium. Leman Russ MBTs, Hammerhead heavy gunships, Falcon grav-tanks, a Land Raider... well, you get the idea.

Oh, I should introduce them now.

Vincent, the rather stocky Asian, had a long mop of raven black hair that touched his shoulders, and glasses that framed his deep brown eyes. His awkward smile – absurdity in the face of adversity – looked rather slapped on, and could slacken into panic at any moment. He was wearing his usual blue denim coat over a short sleeved undershirt, and long cargo pants, with heavy boots. His ubiquitous 'Bag of Holding' was resting against his toes. He had a Space Marine with a Multi-melta on his knees, pointing the barrel of the literal 'heat ray' at his face.

Alice, brown hair and green eyes, tall and willowy, was a Southern Belle in appearance, but her manner was completely opposite. She wore a sleeveless turtleneck and jacket, paired with jeans and some high boots which scraped her knees. Her handbag was at her toes, and her bangles jingled as she rested her hands on her head. She had an Eldar Fire Dragon – anti-tank specialists – pointing a long barreled Fire Pike to her throat.

Both were looking rather unsettled at the moment, but Vincent was taking things rather well, comparatively speaking. The guy could accept anything, because of his rather... philosophical approach to things. His collar, however, was visibly singed.

The commanders of the prisoner detail – Commander Firestrike, Sergeant Vinters, the Dark Reaper Exarch and Commissar Tomas all looked at me for instruction. I gave a small sigh of frustration.

"Guys, point those things somewhere else." I said, and they obeyed over the next few seconds. Alice relaxed with a sigh. She looked like she was melting as her tense muscles uncoiled. Vincent was doing the same thing. He helped the Devastator Marine down, and leaned forward to look at a Leman Russ tank that had been threatening him earlier on.

Alice took this moment to absolutely freak out.

"WHAT THE HELL ARE THESE THINGS!" She screeched. Vincent, surprisingly, stayed calm as he explained things to her. Mr. Exposition was a good nickname.

"They're people from Warhammer, I think." He mused, shifting gears from hostage to nerd. "1/56 scale models that people in the UK make to play a game. But... these guys have come to life."

"What! So we were being held hostage by a game!

"Not anymore, it looks like. These guys are the real deal. So, is this why you weren't around on Saturday, Michael?"

"Yeah. They arrived Friday."

"I see."

Vincent stood up, blinking. He looked calm, but I could see his mind going 'ohshitohshitohshit' underneath. How? I don't know... it was just a feeling I had. My friend knelt down beside the Leman Russ that had been taking him hostage. Thujan looked back up at him.

"'Malleus Michael'?" He read off the side. "Michael's Hammer... did they name this after you?"

"Yep." I answered, rubbing my lips as I looked at Farseer Zara, who was launching into the second chorus of her lecture-hymn. She was going on about things I did not understand, so I ignored her.

"Why?"

"I hit the Force Commander and the Farseer with it. You can still see the impression underneath it."

"Cool... can I see?" Vincent tried to lift the tank, but was quickly discouraged by the heavy stubber – a heavy machine gun – that was swung in his direction. He quickly backed away. "Uh... okay, never mind."

"O'Michael." That was Firestrike speaking. I turned to face the Tau commander. "What shall we do now? Even I see that the Greater Good requires these two to remain in secrecy, lest the local authorities decide to involve themselves."

"Alright, guys, go back to your rooms for now... and if someone could bring me some water, it would be appreciated... I got a funny taste in my mouth."

"How dare you!" Zara screeched. She reached out for my mind... again.

My brain exploded in another migraine.

It was the girl's room again. A quick look around showed me that not much time had passed; The shadows of the room were still in the same places, and that same rift of reality was there as well, except now there were a dozen or so new Chaos Icons, which made my eyes and very being ache from just looking at the alien geometries. Bodies mounted on pikes, some still struggling to get off, hung on each of the eight points of the giant Chaos Wheel in the middle.

The room itself was occupied by the upper echelons of the Chaos force that had no doubt just arrived here; the door had been given a few neat holes, and no doubt cultists had spread out throughout the house. I prayed to whatever God would help the family that lived here.

"P-pl-pleeshe! Hwee deed hwot yuu chol' ush choo!" A mewling voice cried out, her tone... pleading. Desperate. My internal translator again gave an almighty sigh. I wished for subtitles, but I guessed anyway: 'Please... We did what you told us to do'. I felt sorry for her instantly, even if she had intentionally summoned Chaos. They were standing in what had been the girl's bedroom, which had changed dramatically. A smashed mirror spread its shards around the floor. The eight spokes of the wheel of Chaos was a charred valley now, carved forever into the wood of her home. Their life-sized cultist was curled up defensively in the corner, and had gained many more wounds and slashes since I had last seen her.

"Did you think that would be all of it?" A rumbling voice teased her. "You give us a little blood, and we make your life perfect?"

"Hwee hat a deel!" We had a deal! She begged. It was not easy to understand her words. They were confusing, at best. I looked at her, and saw... well, it was hard to describe her. She had covered herself with the white sheets, stained red with her blood. The figure she was begging to was not visible. That figure stepped out of the shadows, the Sorcerer of Tzeentch.

"I am altering the deal. Pray that I do not alter it further." The voice continued on. "You have chosen to worship Chaos, mortal. For that, we have given you what you have always wanted. Change. The Thousand Sons of Ahriman and the Lord of Change has provided you with change. You wanted to be free of your father. Well, he is... gone. And you wanted to be different." He laughed, maliciously enjoying her despair. "Now... you are most certainly different."

I got a good look at the girl now. She had changed completely from the girl that I had seen before. Besides the change in coloring, her clothes had, for lack of a better word, been destroyed; now what was left was a tube top with too many holes to count, and a shredded excuse for a skirt, held up by a belt. The mark of Tzeentch was literally branded onto her right thigh, and was still smoking.

She had bound her arms in bandages, to stem the flow of blood; crimson streaked the white fabric and across the black tape that were used to secure the dressings to her scarred limbs.

"Hwee vanteed choo ve phrecchi! Nawt... nawt dis!" We wanted to be beautiful... not... not this! Her sobbing restarted, her hands cupping her face as she heaved in despair, her dark skin stained with tracks of tears.

His mocking laughter rang out, strong and clear.

"You pathetic, naïve little fool. Praying to the Warp, the Gods of Chaos for something as petty as juvenile vanity? Pah!"

"Bastard." I breathed, unable to stay silent. I stepped back as heads turned.

"WHO'S THERE!"

"Hwat!" What! The girl's eyes looked up, and met mine. "Heelp m-"

"SILENCE!" The sorcerer roared, and at once her mouth closed. There was a breath at my shoulder, and something bony and clawed slashed across my back.

I hit the 'ground', and turned around to see a drooling mess of a daemon, its mouth making up fully half of its mass. It reminded me of Courage the Cowardly Dog, except with fangs and actual claws. The daemon howled as it leaped forward, and I managed to roll out of the way. The thing was surprisingly slow, and it growled in anger as it saw that it had failed to draw more blood.

"Hmm... It seems that His protection is helping you today." The sorcerer mused, but I was a little too busy trying to get away.

"ANYONE! GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE, NOW!"

The daemon grabbed me by the throat, choking off any more words.

Again, darkness fell.

  • STAB *

"GODDAMMIT, STOP DOING THAT!"

I reached up to the source of burning pain in my nose – yet again - and threw off Farseer Zara, out into God knows where, and clutched at my bloody (literally this time) nose again. Looking around the room, I saw that Vincent had managed to convince most of them to head back to their rooms as ordered while the Asian had bodily hauled me over to the battle-scarred couch. There, I saw that he had followed instructions from the Grey Knights in making simple hexagram seals, like the ones that were pasted all over their bodies.

He looked at me, quite the picture of concern now.

"Michael... what just happened? You were... well... half the Psykers freaked out when you went KO, and... well, most of the Imperials tried to kill Zara."

I looked around the room: the Grey Knights, minus the hatted knight, were assembled, as well as the majority of the psykers in various places. The ones closest to me were the Tau and the Imperials. No Orks, though. We still kept them bottled up in the basement. I looked at Amadeus, who gave me a blank stare back – the faceplate of his helmet seemed especially good at doing this. I shifted my gaze to see other psykers; Vasili was sitting down, brushing his forehead with a cloth (Hey! That was my painting canvas!), sanctioned psyker Ishabeth was passed out under the watchful eye of Commissar Tomas, with a pair of other guardsmen nearby, cleaning up her vomit, and fully half the Seer council were limp (I later found out that they were only unconscious), and being administered to by the other half. Some of the Sisters of Battle were also down.

Chillingly, I saw that the other Sanctioned Psykers of the Imperial Guard weren't doing as well as the more mentally robust Psykers of the Eldar and the Space Marines; two were dead, their heads not even there anymore, and one was being given his Last Rites posthumously. Still, one other had survived relatively unharmed, but had half of his blood supply replaced by 'alchemical compounds designed to stabilize the psyche of the subject'.

"What happened?" I asked. Stupid question, I know.

"You managed to access the Warp, Michael." Justicar Amadeus said. His breathing was labored and laced with pain. "We knew what could have happened, and we didn't want you to have turned into a daemon, so all the Psykers pooled their power through Zara, and she hit you with the spear. We thought you were being possessed, you see..."

Looking from one to the other, I sighed as I rubbed my forehead. Alice gave me a glass of water, taken with a nod of thanks, and I gulped down a PanadolTM given to me by Vincent, who – sure enough - was holding one in his hand. The guy was Crazy Prepared, let me tell you. He had a freaking medical kit in his Bag of Holding. Zara was complaining – when wasn't she? - and brushing my blood off her spear. I looked at her.

"What is it, mon-keigh?"

"Would I really have become a daemon if you had not stabbed me?"

"The risk was great that you would have been so, yes."

"Then..." I paused, struggling for those two words. "Thank you. For helping me."

Zara looked as if she had been slapped in the face. With a wet fish. A wet fish the size of a truck.

"I didn't do it for you! Don't get me wrong, mon-keigh: a titan-sized daemon would have caused a lot of problems!"

I looked at Amadeus, and sighed.

"Gather up all the psykers. I need them to tell me what I just saw."

Omake: c0gb01[edit]

It was late evening as Techpriest Ulrich 293384-491832 wandered the house, his roving band of servitors and lesser adepts of the Cult Mechanicus following him closely as the three combat servitors swung their heavy bolters warily from side to side. No telling when the xeno might attack them, despite the treaty of peace with Michael. The sound of a humming fan perked his aural sensors, and he quickly swung around to see Titanicus Michael step from a room and wander off. He was mumbling something about his injured legs and too much... warcraft? Was he secretly a commander of some sort? All indications of his pacifistic qualities did have an underlying hint of a strong willed leader, but so far he showed little to no military intelligence; after all, trying to simply smash orks with a simple pressure-based fire suppressant device was utterly stupid, even by biological standards... well, maybe with comparison to the Greater Barking Toad of Catachan [1] it was slightly more intelligent.

[1: The Greater Barking Toad of Catachan is a roughly van-sized frog, normally docile but when surprised it triggers a self defense mechanism that would cause an explosion capable of leveling entire Death-world grade forests for miles around – the only clearings in the Death World of Catachan are known to be the blast sites of such surprises (no doubt for whoever surprised the Toad in the first place)]

Attracted to the sound of humming electronics, the band of mechanical priests stepped into his study. It had been a study, until it had been converted to the purposes of a gaming room. A large (24 inch) 2D projector dominated one corner of the room, with various wires and blessed electron pipes running feeding the Machine spirit. Surprisingly, it had no devotional decorations at all. Ulrich's heart – had it not been replaced with a more efficient mechanical replacement – would have stopped at the sight of such disobedience to the Rites of Activation... as well as perhaps a thousand other rituals.

"What have they done to this place!" Asked an adept, who had far less blessed augmentations and of course was more susceptible to emotional outbursts.

"Shhh!" The Skitarii bodyguard hissed, tapping away at an interface on her wrist. "I'm voxing the Magos. He will most certainly wish to hear about this mother lode of the Machine God!"

The team advanced, fanning out from the entrance and exploring around inside of the cavernous room.

The study was perhaps the nexus of Michael's wealth; it had a few decent gaming systems (although most of the games were loaned or traded) and a well to do computer on either end of the room, with a veritable library of tomes and polymer cases much like the ones that they had destroyed in his recreational space. Grappling devices (read: a thrown servitor) soon reached the top of the table, and lowered down a rope to allow the others to make their way up to the top.

"More permanent lifting systems will be most desireable." Ulrich noted.

The massive screen before them showed a pair of primitive Arbites, with short autoguns, snub pistols and flack jackets. Featureless faces hid behind masks and goggles. They looked cold and fearsome, despite their plain appearances; perhaps the lack of individuality was what made them so intimidating. Faceless legions. Anonymous and uncaring.

"Is this the army of this era?" The adept asked.

"Possibly. Can you decode this text?"

"Yes, the text is simple English, a language which derived Low Gothic many years ago... before the Emperor's Crusade."

"I see... shall we get started, then? I wish to explore the Machine Spirit's capabilities."

The lexicalogist muttered the Litany of Communication as he opened his eight eyes at the giant screen.

Ulrich grinned. "Let us consecrate this holy machine, so we may operate it without incurring the wrath of the Machine Spirit."

- - - - - Server 'P1', 2 hours later - - - - -

The terrorist labeled 'Vector' rapidly tapped on the keyboard, and threw away his not-very-needed gun away. He surveyed his teammates. The terrorists were all in their favored skins, with balaclavas and snow-camouflage pants. They all wandered around on the 'testing ground', a custom map thought up by the local programmers for testing out new guns, tactics, equipment or just to get used to playing again. On this Saturday afternoon, the self-proclaimed gamers were sitting together and playing on some CounterStrike for the weekly 'tournament' held at this particular server; anyone in the city who wanted to be considered 'l337' was in (although some were using the internet to connect to this game). This time, they were here to protect/hold the hostages stored inside of a warehouse's control room, and for that purpose the fifteen strong team had quickly organized into five man fire teams.

Among the veteran terrorists, twelve in all (there were three regulars), a newcomer stepped up, in his green sweater and brown pants to contrast with their Phoenix Connection skin schemes, running into walls, reloading and switching weapons, jumping... and... well... everything. Several weapons dropped to the floor, including a rather expensive sniper rifle. Eventually, that process stopped with a USP .45 in his hands, then he began to jump around like an epileptic on a pogo stick. To everyone around, it looked like the guy was simply banging away at the keyboard like a monkey at the proverbial typewriter.

"WTF! R U 7r1pp1n b01!" [What the fuck! Are you doing drugs, boy!] "R33d d4 m4nu4l, n00b!" [Read the Manual, newbie!] "Th3r3 15 n0 m4nu4l, _DRAGON_." [There is no manual, _Dragon_] "0h. 3h... l33rn 2 pl41, n00b!" [Oh. Eh... learn to play, newbie!]

"lol, ph41l." [Haha, fail.]

In the real world, the gamers of 'Team 3' looked with at each other with very worried expressions. Thankfully, this was only the friendly 'practice' round to let everyone stretch their proverbial legs. The real round was starting in ten seconds' time. C0gb01 was still jumping as he tried to break through a hole in the concrete.

Vincent (alias Vector) sighed, carefully removed his glasses, put the keyboard safely away and applied his head to the desk in a perfect 60 bpm tempo; bang – pause – bang – pause – bang – pause, rinse and repeat.

"This might not end well." Jarred (alias Tailcracker) croaked. Damian (Macadamian) nodded in agreement. The rogue terrorist among rogue terrorists was now out in the catwalks, jumping up and down. In the headphones, they could hear Microsoft Sam chuckling away.

Henry (ÆON) moved through, and quickly crouched down to exploit the shortcut. Seeing what had happened, the player marked as 'c0gb01' and Colwyn (Saravock)

Cyrus (alias Vladmir) nodded his agreement. "Who the hell is this... c0gb01 anyway?"

"Round starting!" Luke (Mr. Spot) warned. Everyone hefted their newly purchased weapons.

They waited for the Shakespeare.

- - - - - 1 minute, 28.294 seconds later- - - - -

"Vent tunnel, to the control room!" Vector warned over his mic from his post in the 'control room', spraying bullets in short, two-shot bursts from his weapon of choice, a Kreig 552, at the metal tube which linked the roof to their hostages. Two kills showed up on his screen. He chuckled with the success, only to yelp in panic as something drained his body armor and clipped his health bar down to 34.

"Everyone down!" Mr. Spot leveled his P90 and fired over the shoulders of the now-crouched terrorists, spraying bullets everywhere. He managed to pick off the surviving CT squaddie in a burst of 5.7mm death as he dropped down the busted grating. He returned to his task of making sure that the three sharpshooters weren't ambushed.

More counter-terrorists burst into the loading bay, to be met with crippling return fire from the terrorists camping on the catwalks. ÆON quickly racked up a headshot with his AWP. They lost Saravock and Tailcracker to a burst of Maverick return fire. Action was fast paced and brutal, with everyone losing teammates quickly. Vector ran behind into the room, his main weapon depleted. He picked up an AK-47 from a fallen teammate, and hurried over to join the rest of the combatants. A hurled frag grenade quickly ended that notion.

Then suddenly, c0gb01 was in among the Counter Terrorists, having jumped from the catwalks.

"n00b!" _DRAGON_ cried out as he ran across the catwalk, jumping and crouching randomly as he avoided the return fire from his liberal use of the machinegun. His legs were scythed out from under him as a shotgun was unloaded into his kneecaps, and a second blast brought his health down to 0.

There were ten gunshots as c0gb01 spun around on the spot, firing his USP .45 wildly.

Five bodies dropped to the floor around him, all gibbed beyond recognition.

The kill screen tallied up five head shots.

"Holy..." "WTF!"

"N0 w41!" [No way!]

A surviving CT player capped c0gb01 in the head with his UMP at point blank range, but his triumphant 'hah!' was cut off by his head exploding from the magnum sniper rifle.

The round ended, but instead of returning, c0gb01 had left. The players of Team 3 looked at each other, as Vincent again performed the Bows of Frustration.

"Who the hell was that!"

Ulrich flexed mechanical limbs in a gesture of irritation, looking at the Skitarii who had commandeered the rodent, the struggling servitor which had been operating the optical movement sensor beside it trying to get up onto its tracked 'legs'.

"D4 fr4k j00 d0, n00b!" [The hell did you do, fool!]

"I... I... I'm not sure... something just... t00k 0v4 m3..."

Chapter 6[edit]

Thought for the Day: "If not accuracy, saturation." - Primary Doctrine of the Dakka Offensive Stratagem

As the miniature armies moved around, unsure of what to do, I rubbed my temples as the Panadol™ took a hold of me. I had a headache, again. Those headaches were often the cause of the residents of the Warhammer 40,000 universe sitting inside my house, more often than not the Imperial Guardsmen say that it's because of the psykers that I often had to pacify. Especially the Eldar Farseer Zara. I had seen her without her helmet once, and if she wasn't such a bitch (and not a 1/56 scale miniature woman) I think I could have liked her. But then again, even at her scale, she had enough bitch-ness to cover an entire highschool cliche.

"I heard that, mon-keigh." Her voice snapped at me, inside of my head.

"To be fair, you arepretty bitchy." I thought.

"Had there not been a danger of summoning a daemon if I were to attack you, mon-keigh, your soul would have been long ago fed to the Warp." The essence of her hate seemed to needle at my brain – literally – as I rubbed at my temples.

"Alright guys, listen up." I called out verbally, looking at the assembly before me, focusing my mind. Zara slipped out of my mind as her physical form turned to face me.

The psykers of the Imperium and the Eldar gathered around me. To my right stood the armored form of Space Marine Librarian Vasili, of the Blood Ravens Chapter, who was at the head of the Imperial psykers, along with most of the Grey Knights, the Sanctioned Psykers who had not died, and the pet psyker of the Inquisitor. To my left was Ulthwe Eldar Farseer Zara and her retinue of Warlocks and Seers, who were mostly recovered from the psychic shockwave of my interactions with the Warp.

My actions – whether conscious or not – had injured a fair few of them, especially the more sensitive of the Psykers. One had literally cried tears of blood as his mind was ripped apart by the Warp. Others had simply lost control of their powers; the combined might of the Seer Council going mentally berserk had led to a fair few objects overturned or thrown against walls. I gave a hollow stare to the gathered council.

"Okay, first we recap; what the hell just happened?" My voice was audibly dry, and I coughed a few times. I was shaking like the proverbial dice in the cup. My hands were unresponsive; Vincent told me later that I didn't have the animation of my usual conversations, I used to wave my arms around and generally accompany any conversation with those actions. But not today.

Four dozen voices rose up at once, either demanding explanation or trying to give one.

"Hold on! Shut up!" The voices died down as my hoarse voice smashed their shouting. Hey, being fifty-six times larger than they were gave you a huge advantage when it came to lung capacity.

"Can't any of you get along for a few minutes?" I pointed from Space Marine to Farseer. "Lets see... Zara, you got anything?"

Even through the faceplate of her helmet, I could see her intense glare, the sheer maliciousness of her gaze.

"As stupid as you are, Mon-keigh, you do have some of the traits typical of psykers with you. I must say that constant contact with Eldar pyskers has rubbed off on you, especially with the... intensity of some of those contacts."

"So you trying to shred my soul did this?"

"N-not like that!" She blurted, her composure cracking immediately.

Before she could lose it, however, a Warlock stepped forward, holding up his hand in a pacifying gesture. He was dressed – like the others – in a black robe with bone-white decorations, and oval gemstones set into the wraithbone of his armor.

"Psyker potential, all mon-keigh have. Amounts to little, these abilities sometimes do. Faster reflexes and a big mouth, some have. Others, move little objects, perform magic they can. By contact with us, increase your powers you have."

"... uh... thanks, Yoda." I drained my glass of water, feeling dizzy as I turned his words over in my head, trying to make sense of them. His words were confusing, and I began to wonder if my borrowed copy of the original trilogy had been a good idea.

"Yoza, is this one's name. Little greenskin midget, I am not."

"... right, back on topic. So what you're saying is that being around you guys has increased my latent psychic potential?"

"Little power, latent potential means not. Strong, you have been. In your house, why else have we appeared?"

"It stands to reason that your latent psyker abilities has lead to you becoming a magnet for our appearance." Vasili rumbled from my right. The Space Marine librarian hefted his force-weapon, a well-decorated staff, and set it down again. "After all, we could have all been scattered throughout the entire planet, yet your abilities have drawn us to you, almost like bright-flies to a flame."

"Correct. And just as easily, his lack of ability could have distorted our entrance, making us this small." Justicar Amadeus joined in, his silver armor glinting off his helmet.

So that's why... Well, I wondered why it had been me that had half a dozen armies deposited in my living room and... I 'hmm'd thoughtfully. 'Destroyed my DVD collection' was a short entry in the long list.

"So you're saying I've always been a magnet for Warp powers?" I asked the Eldar Yoda.

"Not so much a magnet, but more a channel. Think of a drain in a liquid reservoir, like the one you deposited Madork Gunna in when he almost killed that 'Talon' xeno. The water is an apt metaphor for Immaterium: psykers would be drains, all drawing power – water – from the Warp. Your drain is much larger than most others, and so therefore are much more likely to have an ork stuck into the grill."

"... I see..." The bespectacled Asian rubbed his jaw thoughtfully, crouched down behind the Imperial Psykers. "So basically Michael's head is a big hole in reality?"

Ishabeth piped up to join in the conversation, the two strips of red running from her eyes showed how much she had suffered from my mistake. She had literally shed tears of blood. It was a fairly common reaction to Warp overload, and it was fortunate that she had survived... I would have hated to have had Commissar Tomas' wrath upon me.

"Yes, cor-WHOA WHEN DID YOU GET THERE!"

"At about 'more a channel'." He replied, sitting down. We had been so absorbed in the conversation, that he had been able to ninja us in typical fashion – this guy loved to surprise people and mess with their concentration. I sighed in frustration, and gave Vincent a flat look.

"My head is not a black hole. No robot arms are going to be jumping out of them, okay? I have not had a psychotic girl hit me in the head with a Rickenbacker." I pointed at my forehead for emphasis.

"You watched that show? Anyway, doesn't the good Farseer Zara count?" Vincent did have a good point there.

"... Fine, have it your way. Okay... I almost turned into a Daemon portal. Can we stop this from happening?" I asked the Psykers.

The Inquisitor's pet Psyker raised a hand. "A simple mind-wipe operation coul-" I held up a hand to interrupt him.

"Let me rephrase that; could we stop this from happening without getting me killed or brain-dead?"

Mini-Yoda stepped forward. "Yes. If you allow me to cast a simple rubric, I can show you how, mon-keigh. It is the way we Eldar shield ourselves from a similar fate; a training of the mind... we shall simplify it. You do not need to replicate the lesson, only the results. I do not believe you would understand more than half of it anyway."

Justicar Amadeus voiced his protest. "Governor Michael, you can't simply let the Eldar cast a spell here! Who knows what results it may have on your home!"

"If we don't, Grey Knight, we'll end up with a titan-sized daemon in Michael's living room." Vincent said, voice deadpan.

"Yes, but we cannot simply allow the Eldar to cast whatever witchcraft they wish to cast! For all we know they would simply eliminate Michael to re-start a war!"

"Foolish mon-keigh! You think we are that fickle? It serves our purposes greater to keep that mon-keigh alive! You, however, we can gladly throw out!"

The Farseer and the Librarian met in a force of wills and weapons, her spear sending flashes of lightning off as his staff burned with the fire of his soul. Vincent sighed, reached behind the kitchen counter and tossed me the object that was most needed at the moment.

BLAM!

The fire extinguisher stayed down on Vasili and Zara, who were both struggling to get out from underneath.

"Y'know, I'd have thought that two leaders who lead some of the most capable armies in the galaxy would be a little more mature!" I growled, grinding the fire extinguisher into the two combatants. Protests and pain filtered out from underneath. The Imperial and the Eldar Psykers both looked on in morbid interest.

"So, in short: no more fighting." Vincent chipped in, his voice dripping with faux sweetness. "Do you both understand that?"

"Mmghmm..."

"I didn't hear you, Zara."

"ALRIGHT ALREADY!"

"Okay, Michael?"

I let them go, lifting the fire extinguisher and setting it down beside me. The two psykers gave an almighty inhalation, and flopped over on their backs, breathing heavily. It must have been stuffy, squashed together underneath the curved underside.

"Repetition, we must avoid. Wiser it is, to form a truce, it is." Yoza said as he knelt down to check on Zara's condition. Librarian Vasili nodded as he looked up at the sky.

"Can we agree that nobody takes a hostile stance to each other for the duration of our meeting?" He said, wiping sweat from his forehead. I wonder how he did that with a ceramic sleeve... maybe the Marine had a little cloth somewhere there?

"Deal." Zara replied, helping herself up by her spear.

I leaned forward, to face the two. "I'd rather you stop trying to kill each other altogether, but that's just fine with me for now." Hey, I felt like I had to contribute to the peace, if only slightly.

The assembled psykers looked from one to the other, and then back at me.

"Warp, no! We like fighting each other. Just for the meeting's duration."

I sighed. There just wasn't helping some people, were there?

"So, what are we going to do about this daemon problem?" I asked. "If what I saw was true, then we have at least one force of Chaos here, and another Earth-scale human is under their control."

The entire room turned around to stare at me, a few squeaked in surprise. Emotions ranged from disbelief, utter horror or simple shock.

"WHY DIDN'T YOU MENTION THAT EARLIER!" Half of them raged. The other half were still dumbstruck.

I held up my hands defensively. "Hey, you guys never asked!"

"... this is serious." Librarian Vasili concluded. I had just finished my story of what I had seen in the vision.

"No kidding." I sighed, rubbing my temples as I tried to wonder what was happening to that girl now. The Cultist was probably going through a living hell right now, and considering where the Chaos forces had come from, I was more than willing to bet on it that she was. My stomach churned at the simple thought of what the Chaos Sorcerer could be putting her through... it was entirely possible, however, that the scale difference could protect her, just as it did with me.

"You worry about a girl that you've never met, mon-keigh?" Zara asked, looking at me squarely, which was quite an achievement, considering the shape of her helmet. We had moved our conference along to the couch, where hey could talk to me at more-or-less eye level as I explained what had happened.

"Of course. I saw what happened to her... how she suffered. How could you not worry about her?"

"You mon-keigh will never cease to confuse me." She quipped, before turning away to re-join the council of Seers and Warlocks.

"As your apathy always shall continue to disgust me, witch." The Librarian Vasili replied. Zara flashed him a glare that I could bet would have killed, and then turned away. He looked at me, as if contemplating what to say next. I looked back, rather confused. Over the days since our arrival, we had gotten to know each other relatively well

Yoza, however, remained on the coffee table, having prepared it in a way so that several gemstones were arranged in a rough symbol... it was like playing connect the dots them; I recognized it as one of the runes sewn into his robes.

As I settled down on my lazy boy, I saw that Vincent had returned from his chatting with the Space Marines and the Imperial Guard. Knowing the half-crazy nerd that he was, the guy as probably enjoying himself. Alice was nowhere to be seen, but as he settled down to give me a drink – hey, who said you could take my coke? - Vincent was telling me about how Alice had encountered the Sisters of Battle, and that they were getting along quite nicely now. Sister Samisha was very excited to meet her.

He turned to me, his voice grave as he spoke. "I have prepared the soul-stones, mon-keigh. Are you prepared for this?"

"Sure." I looked at the arrangement. Occult was the only word that could describe the feeling I got from the shrine. It had the mystical quality to it, and I found my fingers trembling at the structure, which could be covered by my palm. Oh well, scarier things existed in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

"A place where you can't hurt yourself, sit down, sit down! Mon-keigh Vincent, watch over him, must."

"No problemo, Yoda."

"Yoza. Yo-za, my name is."

"Like I said, Yoda." Vincent gave me the 'dude, I am so enjoying this.' wink.

"... see into your mind, I can. Enjoy my frustration you will not, mon keigh." He deadpanned.

"Continuing on..." I muttered, looking at Yoza. "Shall we get started?"

"Of course... Michael."

"Governor Michael, surely you cannot willingly enter the ploys of the Eldar!" Vasili and three-dozen voices shouted out, more or less in that tune.

"Our causes are parallel in this moment, so it is in our best interest to cooperate with the large mon-keigh."

"That doesn't mean we can trust you, witch! Xeno never have the same goals as the Imperium's finest!"

"Of course, mon-keigh. You are – as always – unable to comprehend simple concepts such as common interests.

"SHUT UP!"

I slammed down the fire extinguisher in my hand, and glared at the Imperials. "Look, I don't want to turn into a titan sized daemon here, so why don't you just shut the fuck up! Unless you guys got a better idea. Look, the Emperor has not ascended to the Throne yet, as far as I can tell, so hell no you guys won't be able to pray to him... I'm sorry, guys, but the Eldar are my only choice here. But look at it this way; if she tries screwing with me, Vincent'll let you go cut loose on the xeno, understand?"

There was silence. Zara reasserted her authority now, and looked up at me. "I believe they would have done so anyway, mon-keigh. I agree to these terms. The mon-keigh book-keeper here still cannot understand that the Eldar have no wish to see a daemon manifest in this era."

It's hard to describe what happened after that, since my perception of passing time was... vague, at the most. A hundred years could have passed, and I would not have been the wiser. When my senses returned...

"...whoa."

I was in a... void. Colorless space of pure white stretched out in every direction. The endless area around me was... pure. I reached out with my senses, but I could not taste, nor smell nor touch nor see or hear anything. Even looking down, I could not see anything; it was like those First Person Shooter games, where you couldn't see your own feet.

"Where am I?"

"Absolute Territory, this place is. Your Absolute Territory, the holy ground of your soul. This is where a daemon will attack." Yoza's voice was out there. I could sense more now, the void was retreating, defining itself in vague shadows; patches of darkness staining white. "You, this land is."

"... I am not a blank sheet." I answered, my voice returning.

"Blank sheet, it is not. But undrawn map. A place to be explored, its true shape... defined."

"A journey of self discovery." I sarcastically replied.

"Precisely, mon-keigh." The Warlock replied in a flat tone.

The black-robed psyker stepped from 'behind' an invisible wall. He had removed his conical helmet, and seemed rather older than he had appeared; the wizened older man had greying hair, still dark but speckled with salt-white strands. However, as aged his hair was, his face showed none of it. Features still sharp enough to cut on, and built just like that of a wily fox.

"Yoza?"

"Yes, mon-kiegh?"

He stood, looking down so as to meet eye to eye. The Eldar Warlock eclipsed me by at least a head in height. His robes were reminiscent of Japanese kimono, a robe-like arrangement which had Eldar designs swirling all about them. I think it may have been made of wraithbone, because it looked quite solid before he moved around, which them made it appear almost liquid.

Soon enough, we were about five feet apart.

Dang... Eldar were tall.

"You're... larger... I mean... like... normal sized."

"To respect scale, our minds are not restricted."

"... Uh... what?"

Yoza gave a sigh as he raised his right hand, and palmed his face. The Eldar was soon shaking his head as his other hand went to cup his elbow. I pinched myself, just to make sure this was real. Eldar facepalming... dang, I wish I had a camera here.

A bemused cough made me turn around, and this time it was a 1:1 scale Zara that was in front of me. She wasn't clutching her gut in laughter, but I could tell that the black-haired woman in front of me was clearly enjoying herself as she watched me try to understand the situation.

"I can be as big as I want to be, mon-keigh." She stalked – I kid you not, she stalked – over to me, her limber frame wrapped in the robes I had seen the Eldar wear when not at war. They were like kimonos; hers was a dark grey/black, which looked like a bathrobe made of fine silky material; it was almost like fluid, and seemed to dance around her legs as she walked forward, giving me hints at what lay underneath before teasingly curling off.

I shook that distraction from my mind after I saw her coy smile. She was definitely enjoying teasing me.

"Okay... so then... what's the lesson?"

Omake: Christmas 40,000[edit]

Thought for the Day; "Jingle bells, jingle bells, CRUSH THOSE TRAITORS TO THE GROUND!"

"Good morning, Governor Michael." The soft voice of Sanctioned Psyker Ishabeth made me open my eyes a crack. As always, she was dressed in her parchment brown robes, with a green sash wrapped around her torso, its fabric emblazoned with the pillar-and-eye insignia of the Scholastica Psykana. Her two-inch long staff carried a similar symbol, with an eagle perched on top, poised to fly. The sound of her melodic voice was marred, however, by the constant beep beep beep of my alarm clock.

I turned to face the electronic offender, but laziness and sleep tired me down, so I only managed to get far as the ceiling, which still sported the flash-burn of lascannon misses. It had burned a neat hole just above my bed, and if anything happened in the night it was enough reason to send a small trickle of black dust down onto my face. My mind stirred around for the date. I remembered yesterday... it was the 24th of December today... huh. The little alarm clock that resided on my bedside table continue to put out its monotone beeps as it hit 6:31 am. I grumbled softly in my half-sleep, and gave the 'Sleep' button a slap.

"Owch!" The flaming torch/brazier thingies that decorated the top of Canoness Samisha Ludmilla's power pack bit into my palm, as well as giving them a good singe. The beeping stopped as I used a female warrior to press down on the snooze button, but soon enough I was having to deal with a much more violent kind of alarm.

"What in the God Emperor's name was that about!" Samisha raged as she hefted her pistol-sized flamethrower. I kid you not, that thing was pretty much a tube, lighter and fuel supply, which was mini-fist sized tank that could shoot out at maybe six-inch ranges. That weapon was truly representative of the woman that wielded it: Volatile contents under pressure.

"Ah... Samisha... should you really have been sitting on the 'off' button for the alarm?" I quirked an eyebrow at her.

"It was?" The woman stood up, and made herself busy with looking down at the table-sized button that she had been sitting on, and by result of our little impact had also impressed slightly with her armor skirt. Brushing herself down, she quickly made her way off my alarm clock.

"y34, i7 w4z, g1rl13! U n0 d155 d4 m4ch1n3z!" [Yeah, it was, girlie! Don't disrespect the machine!]

The rising intonation, the l337... it could only have been c0gb01. I turned to see the twitching form, reminiscent of a mechanical squid in red robes, which was right now making its way across the aforementioned table. Behind and around them, various other characters were casually wandering around my room, weapons at the ready. Oh bugger. Usually, they stayed out of my room in a vestige of respect in the way of privacy, but now...

"... What's happened?" I asked, grumbling out of bed. "Orks? Eldar?"

"Nothing, mon-keigh, all is quiet on the home front. Although I do note that your neighbors are much more active today... they are leaving, mon-keigh. Could it be something you haven't told us?"

"Huh? Oh, it's just that it's Christmas Eve, is all." I muttered, before regretting it instantly. These guys had a curiosity that was practically insatiable.

The Imperium wanted to find out more about what this place was, since this planet was what would eventually become Holy Terra, for them it was the center of their faith, so it was understandable. Of course, the Adeptus Mechanicus had their own obsessions, and were clocking up quite the hours on my machines. I think they would break them sooner or later, I might want to bring Luke (a tech-savvy friend of Vincent's) over to have a check on my computer.

The Orks, of course and as always, wanted something new to fight, whether it be willing to fight back or not. Their philosophy of anything bigger than them. The resulting mess usually got me in a scrape with the cops, although to be honest, Vincent's antics with fireworks earlier on this year had given us more than enough excuse to do crazy things and get – more or less – away with any unbelievable explanations.

The Eldar were as mysterious as ever, though, their curiosities just as aloof and distant as their own selves. I wondered often, how they managed to do this kind of thing. Honestly, I don't think I wanted to know the thought processes of the Eldar. It might be the same as some certain highschool 'goddesses', and I knew what she was like.

"I don't believe we are as confusing as that, mon-keigh."

Stop reading my mind, dammit!

"So... do explain this 'Christmas Eve' that you speak of." The Imperial Guard's senior pastor – the chainsaw (read: An equivalent to a 6 foot chainsaw designed to cut through tanks, known as an eviscerator)wielding Jeremiah, aptly named the Laughing Priest for his laid-back attitude in battle and when in good company.

"... huh?"

"Eve suggests something is about to happen, does it not?" Now came the voice of Librarian Vasili. "A Christmas... do explain what it is, Michael."

"Well... it's about..."

I paused. What was Christmas about? Sure, there was the obvious religious overtones, of the birth of Jesus Christ and his fate as the Messiah and the Savior of Mankind, and there were also the new meanings, of giving presents and of cake and turkey and Santa Claus with his reindeer and...

"I see your mind is clouded, Michael." The black-robed figure of Yoza mused, sitting on a nearby desk. I took a quick look around me as he spoke. "Christmas is a word of many meanings, it seems."

I finished counting. There were more than three dozen of the Warhammer universe's most deadly warriors sitting around and having a chat to me about Christmas.

"Will you guys just stop appearing out of bloody nowhere!" I half-screamed.

- - + The Study, 9:00am + - -

"Christmas is a celebration?" Father Jeremiah quizzed. "Of what?"

"Various things, nowdays." Vincent answered, sitting at my chair. I had invited this info-obsessed friend of mine over after I had gotten some breakfast into my stomach, as well as those of the nearly 400 strong army running around in my house. Luckily, it was a very small scale army, and a grain of rice was equivalent to a loaf of bread for most. The orks, it seemed, were insatiable.

"What do you mean by that, Vincent?" Tau Ethereal 'Aun'ui' asked. He, alone among the rest of the races, had never gave me his given name, only his rank in the Tau Caste System, which indicated him at the rank roughly equivalent to a Corporal or Sergeant... I believe it had something to do about his own belief in The Greater Good or something, that his individual identity was not worth mentioning when it came to that singular purpose that drove the Tau.

"Originally, Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, a major figure for the Christian faith." He tapped through my computer, ignoring the huge number of URLs leading to different CounterStrike: Source servers. In the end, he had a large image of

"I see... 'Christ-ian' here indicates that he is central to the faith, is he not? What did he do?"

"He is a person of divine conception, known as the Son of God for Christians, and among the many miracles he worked in Biblical times, he also sacrificed himself to atone for our sins."

"Uhh... how'd 'e dun dat, four-eyes?" Madork Gunna asked.

Vincent drew a crude picture of the Christian cross, and showed it to the assembled Warhammer 40,000 denizens. I looked on as well as he began to explain, picking up a Guardsman – I learned later that his name was Colonel Jimnaeus Angruss, of the logistics corps - to show how it was done.

"He was crucified on a Cross like this one... I won't go into details, but it involved hands and feet being nailed to a wooden structure, and commonly this would lead to suffocation and death because of internal trauma collapsing the ribcage and the lungs."

He had a very large interest in the gorier bits of history. It was the most interesting parts, he told me.

The festive atmosphere of the Christmas celebrations outside seemed to blunt the point of this lesson. Vincent sighed, and cupped his face in between his hands.

"Oh, but that's celebrated in Easter, Christmas is all about beginnings." He smiled wryly as a group of merry neighbors walked past the window. Across the street, Viaan – the kid from across the road, who I sometimes taught how to draw – grinned back at us as he shoveled snow into a wall, getting ready for our annual across-the-street snowball fight. Danica, his sister, threw a preemptive ball, which splashed in my half of the road.

Vincent's ramblings brought me back to the conversation at hand. I quickly sent a gesture of apology as I turned away from the window.

"But as well as that, it is the celebration of our friends and family, where we show appreciation for their relationships by sending each other cards and presents."

"Uh... Vince?"

"Yeah?"

"You forgetting someone?"

I pointed at Angruss, who was rather weakly trying to make himself more mobile as he struggled within Vincent's grasp.

"Oh."

- - + The Attic, 10:00am + - -

The attic was a lot more clean now that the Sisters had moved in, and I helped make sure of that every few days or so.

"Michael... is this truly embarrassing..."

"I'm sorry, Samisha, but I really couldn't resist..." Alice called out from behind the 'changing room'. She was apparently tying up a Sister of Battle's ribbon-belt.

Samisha twisted the Santa hat around between her fingers. She was standing there, resplendent in a Ms. Claus outfit. Her costume had been custom-made for her by Alice, who was really getting into this. She was a designer for a small boutique in the central mall area, and had absolutely loved having miniature models for her more expensive projects.

The canoness of the Sisters of Battle had a costume made of red fabric and trimmed with white, that came down to her knees. Her long, slender legs were wrapped in red stockings (I'm sure there was someone to help Alice this, there were no traces of stitches) and a pair of white leather boots came up to her calves. She looked like a red satin bell, or a very angry nun with a pistol-flamer.

"Uh... you look nice, Samisha..." The other Sororitas were dressed in similar clothes, showing the evolution of the design. A few were – like Samisha – wearing plain red costumes. Others were more decorated; some had ribbon-bows placed on their costumes, such as with Meliya, who had one as her belt. I chuckled to myself as I saw that her face was as bright red as her dress as she sat down beside a box of old toys, talking to Sohm. The other Sororitas which I could see had bells on them, mostly as a replacement for the white pom-pom at the tip of their hats, little angel wings (a very popular accessory, especially among the press-ganged Seraphim, it seems). Behind them, Alice chatted away with a pair of other Sororitas, talking to them about the design. She too was dressed in a Ms. Claus costume, which came down to her knees as well.

From somewhere, a Sister Repentia stepped from the changing rooms, her usual parchment clothes replaced by what can only be described as a candy cane cosplay. Her slim body was wrapped in overlapping ribbons of crimson and white. She looked at the Canoness, and then squeaked as she saw the rest of us, before diving for cover. The other Sisters of Battle were alarmed by the sudden cry, and whipped out their various weapons, ranging from rocket-propelled-grenade launchers to flamethrowers.

Oh jeeze... an army of Miss Clauses...

I looked at the reactions from the male characters, and almost snorted when I saw the unshakeable Commissar Tomas Sturm, who was literally trying to fix his jaw back into his mouth as he tried to recover from seeing his comrade, the Sanctioned Psyker Ishabeth dancing gleefully around in her new costume, a color-inverted version of the Miss Claus costume. Arms spread out for balance, she danced gracefully from foot to foot, twirling around as if dancing.

Justicar Amadeus suddenly gave a groan of spiritual agony as another figure came into view.

"For the last time, Silverite. Put. The hat. Away."

"Aww, but... c'mon, I already took off my other hat for you!"

I turned to see a rather flushed Sororitas Seraphim, complete with angel wings and Miss Claus suit, standing rather woozily by the side of the ever unorthodox Grey Knight Silverite, his helmet now topped by the white fluffy crown and red pointy bits of his new hat. The Justicar's dark-brown skin was livid with rage. He kind of looked like a bust carved from chocolate infused with raspberries.

"But that doesn't count!"

"Does too!"

"DOES! NOT! COUNT!"

"..." Vincent and I – plus the rest of the present Warhammer 40,000 characters and Alice – stared in shock and disbelief. Alice helpfully reached out and pushed my jaw shut. Two of the Grey Knights, among the greatest of the servants of the Emperor, bickering like little elementary kids?

Amadeus made a grab for Silverite's hat. The Justicar missed, tripped, and was treated with a face full of cherry-red blouse, which belonged to the aforementioned Seraphim. Both tumbled to the ground, although thankfully the Justicar managed to stop himself before his heavy armor crushed the Sister of Battle.

Samisha and a half-dozen Seraphim were on site immediately as the Justicar tried to extricate his many decorations from the extensive lacework of his impromptu crash-mat.

"Well, the only way we can top that is if we grab some Eldar and make them wear these costumes."

Silverite was now fending off a half-dozen still-armored Sisters as he cheekily avoided their grabs, sometimes slapping a humorously carved purity seal onto their armor (it was a crude smiley face). The Tau Shield Drone (which had his hat) was spinning around above him, chattering and beeping excitedly.

"Stop giving me ideas, Vince. Even good ones."

Space Marine (of the Salamanders) Mas L Jansock shook the ground with his vox-enhanced voice.

"I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THESE FRAKKING ARGUMENTS IN THIS FRAKKING ATTIC!" And hefted his multi-melta, which dislodged the santa hat from his dark-skinned head.

I pulled Alice from the line of fire, and the three Earth scale humans sat back as disorder ensued.

"... Hey, Alice! You make those costumes for any of the Eldar?"

- - + Eldar Base, 12:46pm + - -

"You will die, Mon-keigh, do you hear me! The Warp shall freeze over and be still and your stars will turn to dust and die long before I wear that costume!"

I was experiencing gut-busting laughter at the mere thought of Zara wearing a rather racy Miss Santa Claus outfit, which apparently she could see the mental image of it. The Eldar woman's helmet-less face blushed to a bright red as she did.

Normally, I had the mental presence to at least obscure my thoughts, which wasn't hard when you were at least aware of the dangers, but total denial of mind-reading could only be achieved by either having one of a variety of mutations such as being a Pariah, or by having no brain like some . Since, I was neither of the above, I had to resort to the fact that my mind was usually in a jumble when I was laughing my ass off.

"STOP LAUGHING, MON-KEIGH~!"

Vincent squeaked. "She's gonna use Mind War!"

The white void was somewhat familiar to me. I stood up from where I had landed face-down, and began to walk about.

A screech bounced off the nonexistant walls of the space. The scream of a woman in terror. I sighed, and began the short jog through the porcelain mansion that had formed around me. The place was neither Eldar nor Human, but I found my way through it easily enough.

"Who's there?" A weak voice croaked

I peeked around the corner, to see a full-scale Zara, sitting in the corner with a very suggestive costume. It was a simple tube of red fabric, with white trimming. Simple black shoes and the typical santa hat completed the costume. She looked like a young girl ready for a Christmas party, were it not for the rather insecure vibes that came from her. Curled up in the corner, she had her knees drawn to her chin, and her head buried in her arms.

Eldar fostered and maintained multiple personalities over their long lifetimes, and the face they wore in front of friends and the faces they presented to enemies were totally different. It also served to save them from the trap of becoming too emotional and being consumed by 'She who Thirsts', by splitting their emotional attention to other ventures.

Yoza's lesson taught me something else: These personalities literally split when in a mindscape.

"Zara?" I asked, bewildered. This one in front of me was most definitely a part of Zara, her features identical yet completely different as she lifted her face. The black haired Farseer was much younger-looking now, almost as if in her late teens. The personification of all her insecurities was sniffling as I sat down beside her.

"Zara... how did you get into that costume, anyway?"

"I... I-I... I don't know... I just..." She hiccuped, and began to break down again. Wow. This caught me completely off guard. Such a vulnerable girl. Quite unlike the stoic if rather opinionated and outright violent Farseer I had seen before. I pulled myself closer, and was again surprised as didn't give me a biting remark or... anything. Just sniff sniff and a hiccup. I patted her shoulder, trying to be reassuring.

"It's okay, it's okay... look, I'm sorry for saying those things to you..."

The splinter of Zara's personality snuggled closer, tucking her head between my neck and shoulder. It was a really sweet gesture, and I couldn't help but place my arm around her. So, Zara wasn't quite such a mean bitch as I thought she was... interesting. I reminded myself to treat her a little more gently from now on, to see if she could show her more friendly side, if it existed. I looked at her again, and realized that the soft whistling sound that I was hearing was coming from her, and that she was asleep. I chuckled as I looked on. Her sleeping face was so peaceful. Smiling to myself, I idly stroked her hair, pushing the ebony strands from her face.

A door opened, I turned around.

Three Zaras stood behind me. I almost lost control of my bodily functions. The lower digestive area, specifically.

"Mon keigh, I do dearly hope..." A short haired version wearing the armor of a Howling Banshee whispered.

"... that you have not been taking..." Another said, hefting the shuriken pistol and staff of a Warlock

"... ADVANTAGE OF MY OTHER SELF." Said the third. Her voice was like lead slabs falling down onto a marble floor.

I was ghostly white as I managed to drag my eyes to confirm the thing I was seeing, to see that the third was a red-skinned, lava veined monstrosity. Her eyes and mouth glowed with amber fire as she spoke.

Oh. Shit.

"L-l-look, it's not what it looks like!"

Three voices joined together in concert.

"DIE!"

- - + Ork Encampment, 5:29pm + - -

"Boyz, ge' up, ge' up! Da Big Boss iz 'ere!"

I sat on the oil drum that had become their reservoir for water, since I was tired of them 'tapping' (to be exact, blasting holes in) the water pipes that already existed. Seriously, the hot water pipe and the explosive sewerage incidents were never to be repeated ever again.

My brain still hurt. From what, I do not know. I vaguely remembered it being connected to Zara, though. Later on that night, I would be haunted by an army of Zaras. I sipped the glass of water I had brought down with me, and looked on at the greenskins.

The Orks managed to pull off a parody of Imperial parade as I looked on, but then again it was a simple parody; their 'companies' were mostly circular as the orks just bunched up around the Nobs that were arranged in a vaguely grid-like manner. I looked on as Nob groups 2-3 (second row, third from the front) and 3-3 (same, except they were the third row) began to brawl with each other.

I reached out to catch Madork Gunna before he could join in, but alas, the rest of the Orks quickly fell, jumped and Waaagh!'d in. The Flashgitz Big Nob was waving his six-barreled machinegun(s?) around as I held him by his crude Bosspole, his rough, guttural voice (which – if full scale – would probably have reduced many of my bones to jelly) had been reduced to pleading me to allow him to join the battle, albeit 'pleading' in Ork terms really meant getting someone to do something without harming them or threatening to do so.

"WE'Z MISSIN OUT ON DA FUN STUFF, YA MIKKY!"

I sighed. "What... the... hell." I reached for the doorway, and hefted the 'BIG RED III' (The other two of my extinguishers were stored in the kitchen and by my bedroom doorway, respectively for I and II) and gave the Ork horde a liberal blast of the CO2.

"Aww, zoggit. Y'gits never let me 'ave any fun." Madork grumbled, hefting his big choppa.

"For the love of... can't you guys stop fighting for... will you just..." My brain caught up with my mouth, tripped it up and gave it a good kick. "Well... never mind..."

Hell, these guys couldn't even sleep in peace. I sleep with earplugs these days just because of the snoring.

"Alright, alright... so why did you call me down here?"

"We'ze got somethin' for ya, boss! Dat four-eyez oommie waz tellin us 'bout krissy-mas, soz wez gon 'n made'z ya sumthin'."

Something was brought forward. It was hard to describe, as I think there are few words in the English language to describe the mishmash of bizarre materials and machinery before me. There might be on in Eldar, though. They're assholes like that.

Vincent slapped himself in the face once, and stopped the Ork from trying a second try. He blinked a few times, pulled of his glasses, cleaned them very thoroughly, and then looked again.

"What the fuck is that... thing!"

Ah, that's a good word for it.

Chapter 7[edit]

Thought for the Day; "Frak this, for my faith is a shield proof against your blandishments"" -Alem Mahat, The Book of Cain, Chapter IV, Verse XXI

Inside the white void that was my newly-discovered, un-landscaped dreamworld, I sighed.

My heart was almost audible as it thumped away in my chest. I gulped down my nervousness, and looked at the Eldar before me. Standing tall with her blue eyes shining, Zara was as haughty as ever, and even Yoza was giving me a smile that showed that he was really enjoying my confusion. I let out my breath through clenched teeth.

"What's the lesson?" I repeated, looking up at the tall, lithe figures.

Their grave voices were all I needed to reassure me that they were now being serious.

"Do not worry, mon-keigh. We know we must take this seriously."

"Many lessons, you have yet to learn. A simple one, we start with. Explore this place, you must."

The black-robed Eldar positively grinned at me as his partner smile haughtily. He then gave a small bow, and stepped back into the white mist to disappear from my mind's eyes. Zara did the same, but with more flourish as her featherlight garments wrapped close around her shapely body, and then unraveled to show thin air.

Now I was alone, in my own soul... this was certainly going to be interesting. I stepped forward, and tried to feel my way around the obscenely bright space around me.

"You have got to be kidding me..." I sighed as I ran a hand over the ground. It had little in the way of texture, and was hard to describe. It was almost like a carpet of some kind. A piece of my mind told me that to fight effectively, you needed to know where you were, so this kind of made sense to me... but how the hell were you supposed to 'explore' a bright, empty room!

Explore. First lesson my ethereal ass. Yoza was just playing fetch with me.

Turning around, I began to walk in a random direction. I began to try and talk to myself, as crazy as that was.

This place was my soul, isn't it?

Then... why was it so blank?

"Could it be because you have nothing in your head in the first place?" Zara's mocking tone chirped over the empty void. She was there, a good distance away; at least two hundred yards, if I was guessing distances right. Ducking my head down, I began a fast jog to join her. Zara was still standing there, practically laughing at me as she danced about on the spot, and again disappeared like fading smoke. She was clearly enjoying this too much for my own good. Soon enough, she was standing atop a platform, like a catwalk, and beckoning at me. Like a living statue of a goddess, she smiled as her slim hips idly shifted from side to side.

Dammit. She was playing with me. I focused in on her, and began to take a step forward, running at her again. As I came within a half dozen yards of her, however, she quickly stepped back into the fabric of her clothes, giggling as she left me alone again. I began to sprint in a random direction, sure that she was following me. My eyes were dazed by the brilliant light of the surrounding halways, and I wasn't able to see anything.

So when I hit the front door of the massive whitewashed house, it quite literally came from nowhere. I slammed into the surface, which was as smooth as polished glass up until my face smashed into it. Now it had bits of me all over it. I peeled myself off, and stumbled to my knees. Before me was a giant house – a mansion – and it was stupendously simple in design. A white marble brick with windows and doors, if I didn't know any better.

Finding the door, I gave it a hard push, throwing the heavy white panels inwards.

I looked around the atrium of the large house – more a mansion – and , which was decorated in a rather plain manner; simple white pillars supported a blank sky of equally white plaster, and the walls were obviously made of the same kind of material. The place seemed like a house that was under construction, rather than one you'd live in. When you focused in on the edges of the surfaces, they seemed scratchy and unrefined, looking like they had been drawn by etch-a-sketch.

However, there were a few splashes of color in the next room, a square space with a gallery-like feel to it. The walls and the lines that defined them were even less refined now. Not even etch-a-sketch was this

Arranged around this room were pictures and paintings, which I realized were all drawn by my own hands: All that I considered my 'masterpieces'. A young woman sitting by a stream, a blazing sun in the hands of a smiling statue, Mark and Xiao Yang (two of my friends) sharing a seat... oh, and a few crayon doodles from when I was in elementary.

There were also photos, from my brief stint as a photographer. Smiling faces of my family and friends, or the intense gazes of the few models which I had been fortunate enough to work with. I looked at them all, the memories rushing back in. My soulscape, the world in my mind... was this what I was?

A small giggle came from somewhere in the vast room.

I turned to face the source of the voice, but only found a bust of a potato. That was smiling at me. With buck teeth. Grade 2 arts and crafts were kind of like that. I smiled at the old memory, and turned to look at the way I had come.

"Yoza... where are you?"

"He is gone, for now, young psyker."

I turned to see that the black-robed Zara had walked out from behind a pillar. Warily, I faced her. What was she up to? Having been given enough time to here was little doubt that she was about to test me... when and what and where, that was the thing I needed to know.

As I faced her, she allowed her face to crack into a smile that curved her lips, brilliant red ruby eyes shining. It was just as confusing in its meaning as the other Eldar of her race; both full of a fierce joy and also a tinge of arrogance; she and I both knew that she was holding something back from me.

"This is one of the things that you hold most dearest?" She asked, running a hand over a crude crayon drawing. "For such a thing to appear inside your mindscape, it's obvious that you hold strong sentimental value for it, Michael"

My ears burned as my name slid off her tongue. It sounded alien to me (and not just because it was an Eldar saying it). Admittedly, those little works of toddler art were among my fondest memories, but still, to an outsider – Zara especially – this was humiliating.

"Can't we get back to stopping a daemon from bursting out of my brain, Farseer?"

Zara's bemused smile turned from the crayon sketch to me. "Of course. But first.."

She walked over to me, her legs shimmering under her robes as she came face-to-face with me for the first time. The other times, it was when she was the size of a miniature and had to climb a small building's worth of shelves to reach my nose. She was about the same height as I was, if a little taller, and while she wasn't as well endowed as most women, she was strikingly beautiful when she got up close. Like a dancer... a very powerful one at that. I found myself swallowing spit just to keep myself in check.

She didn't stop at two feet, though. Zara's face was plastered with a vampish grin as she practically walked into me, her leg stepping between my knees as she saw me backing up. Another step from her resulted in another two steps from me. My legs propelled me backwards as she continued to advance, but our chests kept bumping together as she pressed on.

Soon, I had run out of floor and she was pressing herself up against me, her loose fitting gown giving me quite the view as she chuckled at my plight. The woman before me knew how uncomfortable I was, even though it was a place where a lot of guys would have killed to be at. Zara's smile widened as she looked into my eyes, her right leg curling around my left, her ankle hooking around my waist.

"I suppose I should thank you for that compliment, my dear."

"Look, I only agreed to going in here because you'd teach me how to fight off daemo-ack!"

She threw us sideways, sending the both of us tumbling to the ground as she straddled my stomach. Her breathing was already ragged and shallow as it washed over my face, filling my nose with her dizzying scent. Zara grinned as she leaned down until her body was pressed against mine, her red eyes alight with daring as she looked up at me. The Eldar Farseer was grinding her hips against mine, and my ear felt like it was burning up as she kissed it.

A few things clicked into place in my mind.

"Zara?" I was breathless in her delighted state, and was happily beginning to claw at my shirt, her hips bucking excitedly as I gasped for breath. She wasn't heavy, but she was crushing my ribs with her knees, dammit! I looked up at her twisted smile.

"Yes, Michael?"

"You're not Zara, are you?"

I twisted my free arm, and swung it around, connecting at her left temple and forcing an immensely satisfying yelp from the thing on top of me. I was surprised in that my punch was managing to stun her that badly, so with that in mind I began to wriggle and shove, so I could get out from underneath her. Grabbing Not-Zara's waist, I heaved it off, sending the slim, female figure tumbling to the ground.

The Zara lookalike looked up at me, and blinked a few times as it re-set its neck. It was a bone-white liquid for a heartbeat, before resetting to a flesh-like pallor.

"First lesson, expect the enemy to take any shape and form." Yoza's voice called out to me. I looked around, but could not find him as I backed away from the Not-Zara

"Daemons will pick the forms of your friends, your family, those you love and those you hate... I'm not sure which I am, mon-keigh, but I do hope you learn this: to cut off something's influence to a dreamscape, you must kill its representation."

The half-sane incarnation of Not-Zara arched its back as it tilted its head, a jaw half-open with craven delight. Its foosteps were chaotic as it walked unsteadily towards me, and I began to look around, hands searching the various walls and displays.

Weapon... I needed a weapon.

I saw a little red box in the distance, inside of which was a trusted weapon: A CO2 extinguisher.

Not-Zara followed my gaze, and hissed.

We both broke into a full out sprint as I legged it for the box. Odd, that I hadn't noticed the fire-engine red box before. Again, my mind popped up with the explanation: This world was mine to make. I was the deus ex nox. The God in the Dream.

If so...

"Burn!" I waved an arm in the direction of Not-Zara's running form, my mind's eye imagining its entire body igniting, burning the Not-Zara into a crisp. That in itself would become a fondly remembered thought later, but right now, I focused less on thinky, more on burny.

But the Not-Zara wasn't burning or... anything. In fact, I think it actually got its black-haired head down and sped up from hearing my shouting.

Dammit.

The Not-Zara reached the fire extinguisher first, grinning madly as it twirled on the spot and stanced itself to block my way. I panicked for a second, before realizing something from my early years of Physics with Mr. Nickel. Kinetic energy equals half mass times velocity squared., or Ek = 1/2mv2. I was at a dead run compared to Not-Zara – who was standing still - and at more than 150 pounds, I was probably a bit heavier than my attacker was, since I had the chance of having it bouncing about on my stomach, I guessed that it was at 100 pounds soaking wet. Therefore, I had a lot more kinetic energy.

In other words: If we collided, it would be far worse off.

My left shoulder slammed dead center on its torso, throwing Not-Zara into the wall. My momentum carried me into her, slamming into her a second time. I felt a spinal disk pop out of joint as its back hit the edge of the emergency toolbox. Feeling her recoil, I reached out to smash the glass of the fire extinguisher. My fist went through the thin glass panel, shattering the clear pane into a thousand cubes, but as my hand stretched out to grab the red cylinder, a strong arm coiled around my neck.

Limber legs wrapped around my waist and squeezed the air out of my lungs before I could scream. Not-Zara had recovered from being run over, and had jumped on to my back. I gagged in the stench of its sweat and blood, and tried to shake it off. The malevolent carbon-copy (Then again, had the original been benevolent in the first place?) had run an arm around udner my armpit, keeping that arm pinned. The other was flailing uselessly as I staggered about, trying to grab its hair.

With a roar of defiance, I stopped, steadied myself and jumped over backwards. Air rushed out of Not-Zara's lungs as I landed on it. It went down, and I manged to get up on my feet for long enough to regain my balance and give Not-Zara a much remembered kick to the jaw. Scrambling over to the emergency box, I reached in to find a replica of Big Red IV, the fourth fire extinguisher that I had bought to keep the armies (and their fires) suppressed.

Behind me, Not-Zara hissed.

Hefting it, I brought the full fifteen pound cylinder down on Not-Zara's head. The etheral doppelganger kept on moving, trying to claw at me, so I repeated that motion again, sending the red tube down on its mouth. Bloodied teeth skittered across the floor. Again Big Red went up, and again the red cylinder came down. Something audibly cracked. Up again, down again. Again, again and again. I don't know if it were spinal reflexes or conscious pain that jerked its arms and twitched its legs, but I kept on going until the body stopped moving.

The results were... messy. My fingers were slipping on Not-Zara's blood when I stopped, and looked down at the results. Her face had been smashed right in, and... well... I'll spare the details here. I reached down and grabbed a clean section of her robes to wipe off the bits stuck to Big Red IV. As I was doing just that, a voice came from beside me.

"I think you enjoyed that a little too much, mon-keigh." Came Zara's rather shaky voice.

I turned to face Zara and Yoza, who were both looking at the results of their tests. Yoza was goggling at the near-decapitated body on the ground, and Zara was trying not to stare, with her blue eyes dark and brooding. I looked from one to the other, and pointed Big Red IV at them.

"Your fault. You sent this... thing to vamp me."

"An illusion, it was. A lesson, you learned." Yoza sighed, and waved his hand. The illusion of Not-Zara disappeared, and I found myself sighing in relief. To my surprise, Zara reciprocated the gesture.

"We'll call it 'even', as you mon-keigh say."

"Alright, fair enough. So, what was the lesson here? Is it that all Eldar are this weird?"

"No. The Dark Kin are, in some ways, worse." That statement from Zara sent shivers down my spine. I looked at where Not-Zara had 'died', and again shuddered from the thoughts of what might be 'worse'.

"O-kay... besides that, I'll guess that another lesson here is that nothing is fixed? I never spotted the fire extinguisher until I needed it." For emphasis, I hefted Big Red IV's ethereal copy, and sat down on the ground. There was a temptation to wish a chair into place, knowing that I could change reality. God of this place... wow. I smiled to myself, wondering how I could find this place outside of Yoza's spell-circle thingy.

Zara nodded and looked around her, where the brickwork of the walls were now visible; red brick with white mortar inside. When she spoke, her voice was grave as she explained the nuances of this place.

"That is correct. As this is your soul, its contents can be just as dynamic as yourself. If you are a what your society may call a 'douche', then the place will be set like stone, unable to change nor adapt. You, however, have some flexibility in you, so you can influence and change the flow of reality in this plane."

Yoza stepped forward, and picked up Big Red IV from my unresisting fingers.

"Dangers, such changes hold. Careful, you must be. Change your soul, constant influence creates. Chaotic, your inner world will become. Easy to change, easy to corrupt."

I looked at Yoza, and nodded. Of course, never was anything that easy, even if I were a god in this world. I stared at Big Red, and placed it on the ground. "Alright, so this mindscape is going to be a bit tricky to defend. I can't change whatever I want without repercussions, right?"

"Correct. Explore this place as you wish, go and dream of a world that you will protect with your life. Constructive changes are just that, mon-keigh; they will help build you up. As well as that, a part of us will stay, and be on call to help you when you need us, mon-keigh."

As if on cue, which they probably were, the two shadows cast by the Eldar psykers detached themselves from their sources. They were both obviously copies of the two, yet had a less serious feel to them. I looked from one, then to the other.

"I sense a 'but' coming up here..."

"How perceptive, for mon-keigh." Zara smiled. She seemed more comfortable now... I guess it was because she had been talking to a skyscraper earlier, her ego blunted by the fact that she didn't come above my ankle. She looked at me now, her eyes bright with arrogance. Yoza stepped forward and patted his shadowy doppelganger on the shoulder.

"Severely limited, we will be. Substantial help, we cannot provide. Only advice, we can give. Fight for you, we cannot."

"I understand... mostly..." I replied, throat dry. Dammit, I didn't want to have to fight alone... or fight at all, really...

"For now, enough it is. Rest, we must."

Again, we were in a world of white. In the distance, though, I saw my mind's mansion. Staring at it, I sighed as I found my body exhausted. Turning to face the two Eldar, I again saw them hazing from existance, and looked down to find my own body doing the same thing.

I blinked, seeing the ceiling of my house. I blinked again, and decided that now I was awake, and so looked down (past my feeth) and saw Justicar Amadeus, Librarian Vasili and the majority of the Grey Knights standing between the Eldar any myself, their many and varied psychic weapons and oversized automatic rocket launchers poised to strike at the Eldar, who were similarly stanced with their own wierd and wonderful weapons. I gave a loud cough, turning a few heads.

"Easy, guys." My voice sounded off, squeaky. Like when you pinched your nose while talking. I realized that my nose was plugged up wtih tissue.

"Michael! You're unharmed?" Amadeus asked, turnning to face me, although his dual-barreled storm bolter were still aimed towards the Eldar.

"Fine. Better, even." I waved off his concerns, and looked aroudn for the others.

"We were certainly worried when your nose started bleeding." Vasili reported, hefting his force staff. I realized that the tissue 'bullets' were tipped with my blood, and I quickly tossed them into the small wicker waste basket. My ears burned as I looked at Zara.

"It is simply the after-effects of our training, mon-keigh. I trust we were not away for too long?"

From behind me, Vincent shouted out.

"Nah, you weren't gone for more than half an hour... Uh... Michael... do you know anything about this hunting hobby the Chaplain has?"

Vincent was in the kitchen, dangling a decapitated rat from its tail, and holding open a plastic bag to drop it down into. A rather guilty-looking and bloody-chainsword wielding Chaplain Morteus sitting down on the kitchen counter-top, his body language radiating a rather dejected vibe about it. I gave a sigh. He had been hunting rats since day three.

"At least let me keep its head to mount on the wall..." He looked up and asked, hope lacing his voice.

"For the fourth time, Chaplain Morteus: No. I'm pretty sure that Michael would not like a rat's head mounted on the spare bedroom door!"

"Emperor's Pauldrons, you're a stubborn one!"

Chapter 8[edit]

Thought for the Day: "Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate." - Murphy's Laws.

Crazy. The two boys were totally batfuck insane! Little miniatures, all running around the place with functional weapons! Alice was curled up in the corner of the living room, sitting beside the charred and looted remains of a cabinet. Michael was passed out on the lazyboy a few yards away. She looked on into the kitchen as Vincent seemed to accept the new arrivals, except with some of his usual 'obsessed nerd' mannerisms. He was attracting a lot of attention from tank turrets.

"Hey, I'm only looking!" Backing away from the command chimera, he held up his hands as the commander of the 1337th Logistics Corps (It was printed on the side of the tank, in vaguely alphabetical symbols) pointed the pintle-mounted gun at the skyscraper sized nerd.

"That's the entire problem, boy! Stay back from mah tank!" The man screamed up, his voice enhanced by the vox-caster.

"Aww, c'mon! I mean, I've seen some decently painted Chimera before, but this is the real thing!"

There was the sound of movement, the subtle rustle of clothes as Vincent squatted down and reached out. A quick whine betrayed the charging of energy cells, and there was a hiss of gasses escaping their vents.

Zip-zip-zip! The multi-las made a rather odd sound for a heavy support weapon, and there was a yelp from the younger (but much, much larger) boy.

"Ow!"

Cooling machinery smoked out their wrath at the boy, who had tumbled backwards in his attempt to avoid the attack. The sleeves of his jacket were thick enough to save him, but there was a cauterized scar on his left ear, and a nearby part of his hair was still smoking.

"Be thankful that it was on minimal strength!" The commander shouted up at him, before shouting some more at his crew.

The squeal of tank treads on polished wood ended the conversation as Vincent turned around.

"Cool, Land Raider."

Alice sighed. Totally insane. All of them.

She was curled up in her tight ball of transparent security, when a voice called out to her.

"Are you feeling alright, Gue'la?"

Alice flinched, turning to see a blue-armored warrior, with orange markings. Unlike the other races she had seen so far, the only decorations on its armor were simple painted strips, and the large, circular symbol on its massive left pauldron. Its helmet was marked with orange, and cracked on the left cheek, although it seemed to be mostly repaired. Save for the little sensory cluster on one side of the face, the rest of the helmet was a featureless, smooth surface.

The warrior, gun, helmet and armor, was no bigger than her two slim pinkies put together. The Tau soldier set aside its long pulse rifle as she looked at it, thoroughly confused. Alice took a few more moments to piece together coherent thoughts, apply them to her logic and suppress her disbelief, and then form a question.

"Who?"

"Ah... not familiar with Tau class system. 'Gue'la' is 'human'." The little warrior said, as similarly armored warriors loped over to look at the giant young woman. She felt like that gigantic girl from a recent movie.

"I see..." Alice mused, disbelieving that she was having an almost-casual conversation. Oh, and to buy more time for her brain so that it could get another question out. I hope I don't regret this. She thought.

"... and you are?"

"Shas'ui Fi'rios Yon'anuk Eldi'myr." The Fire-warrior recited, as if reading a label.

Silence reigned.

The syllables and apostrophes tumbled around inside the already traumatized brain of Alice O'Grady. The 'Shas'ui' and his squad mates looked up at her face, which had fallen into a blank expression of complete overload. Gears were metaphorically turning inside her brain, then hitting a metaphorical snag and metaphorically grinding themselves into a halt. Alice's eyes flickered slightly as she tried to process the information given to her.

I'm regretting this!

Desperate to keep up appearances, her mind managed to push and shove a single word to her mouth, where it then leaped off her tongue.

"Huh?"

Even to her, it sounded awfully lame as it dropped. The single syllable picked itself up and limped away from the scene of the awkwardness.

There was a sigh from the short Tau soldier.

"In Gue'la language, I think it translates to 'Fire caste Team leader of the Fi'rios colony, the Hunter-Bird's Winged Knife'."

Alice blinked a few more times. Her brain had ground to a halt as she tried to understand the choppy English that was coming from the tiny warrior.

Another sigh echoed through the helmet of the short, blue-armored warrior.

"If easier, I can be called Sergeant Talon; the other Gue'la already call me that."

"Why didn't you say so in the first place?"

"Probably because he wanted to see your face when he said his name." His teammate chuckled, tapping a control panel on his left ear, and tossing a small chip – presumably something like a flashdrive – to the lead Fire Warrior. "I got it on combat recorders, Shas'ui."

The Sergeant eagerly slotted the data chip into his combat recorder, and began the playback, routing the others to the signal so that they could watch her face slowly transform from worried to utterly confounded. There were a few chuckles, others just began shaking in their armor and more still just howled like epileptic hyenas.

"H-hey!" Alice felt her cognitive functions return and flush her cheeks bright red, which only elicited another round of laughter from the Fire Warriors.

"..."

Prod. Prod. Someone was poking her toes. Alice grumbled, and shifted position. It was almost like her younger brothers trying to wake her up in the mornings, only with much more lethal prodding sticks.

"Forgive me, Gue'la..."

"..."

There was some frantic shuffling around as the Fire Warriors scurried about.

Shas'la Wu'bie elbowed his squad mate as Talon tried to attract the attentions of the giant Gue'la.

"How do we stop her from sulking in the corner?"

As Alice sulked, she could hear Vincent, who seemed like he had decided to relieve himself, and from the noises coming from the downstairs bathroom, he had also found out where the Eldar had been billeted. Screams of panic and the rumble of footsteps lasted for all of fifteen seconds before peace again took its place.

"..."

The assembled Tau and human girl looked from the corridor, where Vincent was profusely apologizing to the Eldar, to each other.

"... Uh..." Talon thought quickly and decided that some conversation might do the bewildered young woman some good.

"So... Gue'la... I'm curious about Gue'vesa'O Michael..."

Another confusing word. Alice hid her face as she pondered the meanings behind the word. Obviously this guy was either oblivious to his use of those words, or trying to get more pictures of her 'huh?' face. A lot of her friends had the same habit, so... yeah. She probably had an interesting confused face.

"Hmm? What's this Gue'seva... Oh... I got it wrong, didn't I?"

"Gue'vesa'O." The Sergeant patiently repeated. "It is much like Gue'la, but for someone of a much higher rank..." Talon explained.

Alice nodded her understanding, but also confusion: Michael wasn't any higher ranked than she was. The Tau seemed very wrapped up in their concepts of rank and one's place in society.

"I see... Michael's the same as us... I mean, Vincent and myself. We're just... mostly normal people."

"Oh? He is... normal?" The Tau around the Sergeant were also looking at each other. For them, Michael seemed to be a titanic figure of awe, and the source of red, cylindrical doom from above when one acted against his decrees of peace. Not anyone you'd consider 'normal'. Perspective was everything.

Talon posed another question.

"What caste is he?"

"... huh? What's this caste thing you guys have? You said Fire Caste earlier on... does that have something to do with that?"

"Correct, Gue'la. The Fire Caste is the... I suppose the equivalent to the Imperial Guard of you humans. The Fire Warriors of the Fire Caste – the Shas - protect the other three castes, we are their warriors and their guardians. We are there to step in if and when others are too blind to listen to the Water Caste – the Por - our diplomats and merchants. Everyone is watched over by the Air Caste – the Kor - our pilots and ship-crews. All of our tools – for war, commerce and transport – come from the Earth Caste – the Fio. They are builders and scientists, they develop new technologies to further Tau'va."

"Tau... va?" Oh goodness, this was starting to feel like a Wiki Walk.

"The Greater Good." Talon translated solemnly. Heck, you could feel the capital 'g's in his words.

"... Do I really need to say it, Sergeant?"

"Your face speaks for itself, Gue'la. No 'huh' is needed." Talon chuckled.

"The Tau'va – the 'Greater Good' – is the philosophy which drives the Tau Empire, from a lowly line trooper like me to the greatest of the Ethereals." Talon seemed as if he were reciting something. "The concept of this philosophy, Gue'la, is that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, the individual." To emphasize this, he pointed first at himself, then spread his arms to encompass his squadmates in his broad gesture.

"We all strive for the betterment of the Tau as a whole, and for that we have come all the further."

"From the end of the Mont'au... the Age of Death, of civil war... the Tau have embraced this concept, thanks to the guidance of our beloved Ethereal Caste, and it has driven us forward into the Age of Expansion, the age of the Tau united."

"This philosophy is not exclusive for Tau alone. Anyone can become a part of the Greater Good without penalty, so long as they are willing." His partner added, pointing at Alice. "No matter what you may have done, if you embrace the Greater Good, we shall not refuse you."

"Of course, if you refuse the Greater Good..." The pulse rifle was hefted onto a shoulder. "... that is why we have Fire Warriors."

Alice looked on in awe. The concept of the Greater Good... it was simply one that was past human ideology... past human naivete, if she were to know the people that she had seen in the streets and in her own school.

"Well... that's great. But... what caste would I fit into?"

"That would depend on your talents, Gue'la. Michael would most definitely fit into the Fire Caste, although the fact that he uses a Fire Extinguisher would make the philosophers rather worried." Talon chuckled.

The human – a 'Guardsman' as Alice recognized – walked up to the Tau squad. He wasn't alone, there were maybe a large group of the humans approaching. However, two peeled off from the main group, who were telling the Tau that they had been put here as overwatch for Michael and his little mind-experiment.

The leader of the two – it was obvious that he was the more confident one - was dressed almost typically for any human soldier in history; on his head, he wore a rounded green helmet with a winged skull engraved onto the forehead panel. His breastplate had a similar marking, as well as '918' emblazoned in white numbers on the subdued green armor. Under the rugged plating was what appeared to be a dirt-brown overall, well kept and with a multitude of pockets. He had numerous pouches hanging off his waist and heavy-set boots. Between belt and boots were a pair of rugged pants and armored kneepads, by the looks of them worn and chipped.

The man appeared as if to be about thirty-ish, comfortable with the company about him.

"Greetings, Gue'vesa'la." Sergeant Talon turned to face the newcomers.

"Shas'ui Talon. For the fourth time; its Sohm. Or Trooper Vekt, if you must have my official designation." The man chuckled, extending an arm. Talon and the two humans shared a knowing smile, and it seemed like the usual routine for them to act like that, a routine for the three warriors. Well, it was a safe bet: All three held a weapon of some kind.

"Of course, Trooper Vekt." The two soldiers grasped each other's forearms in a bizarre variation of a handshake, and released at the same time to give each other a quick, friendly punch on the shoulders. Talon, being rather shorter and of a lighter build, staggered at the man's blow. But this seemed all in good fun, so he simply laughed it off. Turning to the fairer of the two, he executed a short bow.

"And greetings to you too, Gue'vesa'ui."

"Please, Sister Meliya will do just fine, Shas'ui."

Beside the human soldier was a woman, of the same height. However, her armor was much more intricate, looking more like a medieval knight's plate armor than his 'soldier' look: interlocking plates of black-painted and gold-trimmed armor covered her entire body. Instead of disguising her gender, however, the armored plates seemed to enhance the more feminine features, and there was more emphasis on decoration than the Guardsman beside her: her pauldrons were fixed with red fabric sleeves, which covered her arms up to the wrist. They were stained with various inks, and judging by the way they were done, it was devotional prayers that covered her arms. A large book sat on her left hip, and many small chains wrapped around her waist and looped through her armor, supporting many more trinkets – a stylized pillar, a gold human skull, a double headed eagle and a fleur-de-lis – which occasionally bumped against the parchment-and-wax seals, also covered in prayers to her deity.

"As the Guardsman Lieutenant has said: We are simply here to ensure that the Eldar do not try to escape, if they try anything malicious to Michael."

Alice's thoughts were again broken by the woman's soft voice. Her white hair wasn't an indicator of age: her voice was that of a young woman, maybe just past her late-twenties in age.

"Very well, Sister Meliya. It is pleasant to see you two again."

"Uhm... Nice to meet you?" Alice ventured, looking over her knees down at the three miniature soldiers. The three almost jumped in surprise: What the hell were they up to, forgetting about the hundred-meter tall giant sitting right next to them!

Meliya and Sohm looked up, with the latter smiling and giving Alice a wave as the former kept herself at a simple bow. They were used to giant humans, with Michael running around and all that. Alice looked on as the two gave their salutations.

"I'm Trooper Somh Vekt of Cadian Nine-eighteenth, pleasure to meet you, miss."

"Sister Meliya, of the Order of Our Martyred Lady. The same for me... uh..."

"Alice. Alice O'Grady." She responded. "Well... its a pleasure as well..."

Pleasantries aside (it seems like 38000 years did little to mar simple greetings, no matter how awkward), the assembled troopers soon got into camp, the Imperial Guardsmen – Cadians, it seemed – setting up their equipment and pointing them mostly at the coffee table.

A few minutes passed in awkward silence; Talon was either unwilling to continue his explanation of Tau society, or unable to because of the fact that Alice was now looking at the new arrivals, who had a much more familiar look to them, and therefore more pull.

"Ah... sorry about earlier." One of the men loading a rocket into a launcher-tube shouted up at Alice.

"... could you explain?"

"I was part of the heavy weapons team that pointed this..." He gave his rocket launcher a pat. "... at you. We fired the warning rocket, too."

"At Vincent's face?"

An awkward silence filled the air as the Cadian Guardsmen looked from one to the other.

"Yeah... a warning shot, right?" The man shifted nervously from one foot to the other, a 'krak' rocket still in his hands "He did dodge it, didn't he?"

"..."

"My apologies." It seemed like the only words that could save him from the look of pure, refined, feminine wrath that was being directed at him. Finally, Alice had found something to torture, something to focus her malice on. And then there was laughter.

A Sister of Battle, armored much like Sister Meliya but with far more decorations (if that were possible) and wielding a pair of flamethrower-pistols, stepped forward. She looked up at Alice while grinning, a 'just between us girls' kind of grin. Alice returned the gesture in a more subdued manner, and waved back.

"Uh... hello? You are..."

"Sister Herja, its 'Hey-er-ja'. Its good to see you." There was some looking up and down of Alice's appearances. Herja's grin grew wider. "Very good to see you. Alice, was it not?"

The brown haired girl smiled back nervously and nodded. The Sister had a very superior mood about her, and it seemed like she had really enjoyed seeing the Guardsman sweat under Alice's frown. From that, and having known Michael's aunt and the older woman's circle of friends, Alice could immediately label Sister Herja as a feminist. Who carried around a flamethrower on either hip.

"Good to see you too, sister." Assuming a more subdued, easygoing persona, Sister Herja rested her hands on her hips. "So very good..." Her grinning eyes disconcerted Alice, and the Guardsmen too, since now those troopers were busy inspecting the bottom of their canteens.

Alice sighed, and sat her head back, looking at the charred and battle-scarred ceiling. Certainly, Michael knew how to get people to redecorate. She turned to look at the Sisters of Battle, looking from one battle-worn face to another. They were strong. They were interesting. Alice found the one that had greeted the Tau earlier: Meliya, wasn't it?

"So... Sister Meliya? Do you mind telling me about yourself?"

"O-of course... where should I start?"

As they relaxed, the Guardsmen began to do what all social men did when they saw one of their number with a woman.

Sohm was jolted out of his caffeine high by an elbow to his ribs. Beside him was a Guardsman, and Alice listened intently as she heard his hushed tones.

"So... eh, Sohm. You and that Sage-girl were out pretty late last night."

More heads turned. Guardsmen began to come along closer. This was going to be interesting.

Sohm gave an exaggerated sigh. He looked up at his fellow Guardsman. Idiots, one look from a girl, one night spent poring over communiques intercepted by their vox and... well, half the regiment wanted to know if a Guardsman had managed to get a Sister to 'loosen their rosarius'.

"No, Web. We were processing this transmission... it was a flatvid, comedy entertainment. Yellow skinned caricatures."

"How about other kinds of entertainment, Sohm? By the Throne, you spend a lot of time alone with that girl. And she ain't no flatvid, either."

In the background, there was the revving of chainswords and yet another yelp from Vincent.

"What the hell... a rat!"

The Guardsmen's interest lasted only as long as the commotion went on, which ended in the Space Marine Chaplain's cry of anguish as the rat was hoisted into the air.

"With all due respect, Chaplain Morteus, Michael would not want a rat's head nailed to the wall!"

"Why does 'With all due respect' sound like 'frak you', Vincent?"

Alice couldn't help but snort as she overheard that. A very unladylike gesture, sure, but one of amusement nonetheless.

"Because the rat's head is going to stink, that's why!"

Chapter 9[edit]

Thought for the Day: "Wait, where did that Baneblade come from? HOW DID IT JUST APPEAR IN THOSE SEWERS! It must have taken a tactical ge-

CREEEEEEEEEEEEED!"

- Assorted Enemies of the Cadian 8th

"Michael, we are out of food rations... and recaf." Commissar Tomas pulled his hat down, face flushed with frustration. "Our foragers report that they have little to no food left to find. Only those 1337th pack mules have an abundance of food, and that is your grass." He sighed, his hand instinctively searching for the flask of recaf that he usually had slung at his hip. Commander Angruss from the Logistics Corps was also haggling me for more supplies, but being the equivalent of a Quartermaster-General, it was expected that he worry for his soldiers' nourishment.

"My warriors are running out of consumables, Michael. The loss of the rat to your friend was... a waste. It would have made good food. The Chaplain is still anguished at such a loss." Eizak looked up, palming his helmet as his solid stare looked up at me. "They cannot fight on empty stomachs, Space Marines they may be." His voice grave, the Space Marine Terminator turned away.

"Gue'vesa'O Mi'ka'el, we have stretched out our supplies, and we need more. How may we help you?" Commander Firestrike cocked his battlesuit's mechanical head, no doubt from the neural tic that he had. Already, Devilfish troop carriers were hovering with their cargo rigs, ready to help.

The slimly built Kroot Shaper – a tribal chief that looked like a cross between a falcon and the Predators from the movies – growled in agreement as he nodded his head. "My hunters are hungry, Michael."

"Thanks for your offer." I smiled. I liked these Tau, they were actually helpful. "But I think running around in the middle of the city would be more trouble than its worth..."

"Mon-keigh, perhaps you wish to starve my people to death?" Zara had her hands on her hips, in classic high-school bitch mode. She gave me a burning glare as I thought of that idea, before continuing the rant. My mind wandered as she rumbled on. "Is that a new tactic of... what are you thinking, that might be a good idea!"

I stepped out of the upstairs toilet, brushing the last of the vomit from my cheeks. Dammit, Zara, wasn't zapping my mind a bad thing to do?

Grrrrmmmgrrr...

Great. Even my stomach was rebelling against me.

"Oi, boss!"

"ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, I KNOW WE NEED MORE FOOD, OKAY!"

"'tually, we woz wonderin' if we'ze could, y'know, blow summat up..."

"Oi, boy! You have a call!"

Vincent swung around on the swivel of his Gamer's Throne, and tapped on his cell phone, which was blaring its new ring tone – the recording of an Imperial Guardsman shouting. He tapped past the face of Alice's hilariously confused face – given to him from a Tau Stealth suit Shas'vre – and pressed the cell to his ear.

"Hello?"

"Uh... Vincent? Michael here."

"Yeah? Something happen?" The Asian boy sat up straighter in his chair.

"Nah, its just... could I borrow your car for a couple hours? I need to buy some food."

"... Sure. I'll help you out, if you want. I need to get out of the house and stretch my legs."

"Thanks."

"Be there in ten. See ya."

"Here we are." The nerd driver announced, kicking into neutral as we coasted into the parking lot.

Pulling into the supermarket, Vincent's old but still functional pickup truck rolled into the parking lot. The engine died at his touch as we slotted in between the trolley stand and a silver convertible.

Vincent pressed on the brake, jolting my satchel forward. It slid off the chair, and crashed into the footwell.

Instantly, muffled voices cried out in discomfort.

The two of us looked at each other, the color draining from my face as soon as Vincent began scrabbling for the underside of his seat. I arched an eyebrow as Vincent pulled out a rather battle-modified looking wrench – it read '18" Stainless Steel Drop Forged' on it, and had grip-tape wrapped around its handle – and prodded the satchel.

Hurried whispers called out for other people to 'Shut the frak up before he hears us'.

Vincent gave the satchel a whack.

More cries, less muffled voices rose up in answer.

My hand darted forward and upturned the satchel. A pair of 'Blood Raven' Scout Marines in their bright yellow armor (What the hell? Scouts in bright red armor?), a squad of four Stealth suits that shimmered as they stood back up, three Eldar Rangers in their dark green cloaks and a fire-team of five Imperial Guardsmen swathed in cameleoline cloaks tumbled out onto the floor.

"Had to expect that one." Vincent muttered, breathing a sigh and Bowing to his steering wheel. It seemed – to me – like a gesture of 'I don't want to deal with this, it's all yours.' - and soon enough Vincent was just lying back.

I picked up an Imperial Guardsman by the back of his cloak as he tried to skitter away. The rest scattered and disappeared into the footwell.

Vincent was quick, and being as large as he was in comparison to the others and the fact that he knew almost every nook and cranny of his car made their own stealth ability moot. He had gathered up the others in short notice; The Eldar Rangers were the last to be retrieved, and soon we had some very embarrassed guys standing there in front of us.

"What. The. Hell." I stared from one embarrassed scout to the other.

"Well, I can expect curiosity..." Vincent sighed, leaning back against the door of his car. I looked up at him, then back down at the toy-sized soldiers.

"But they still disobeyed me and followed me! Look, I can't have you guys coming along! What if someone sees you?" I shouted, and saw that even Space Marines flinched at my voice. I gritted my teeth.

The Asian boy sighed, and flicked on the radio, and fixed me with his blank stare, his eyes giving me all the communication that was needed. I was too loud.

Oh. Right. I was shouting; someone could had heard us. Dammit...

I cleared my throat, and stared at the assembled scouts, who were now shuffling their feet, wondering about their fates. Looking from one face to the other, I sighed.

"Okay, you guys stay here, in the car. You should be able to hide underneath the dashboard and not be seen."

"Uh..."

"I'll take it as a yes... look, if someone found out about you guys... things are going to get worse for us if they do."

"With all due respect, Gue'O, but we are scouts. We are trained to not be seen or heard, nor tell of our passing."

One of the Rangers coughed. "As well as that, mon-keigh, Farseer Zara is one mean b... witch, as you call psykers."

"... Fair enough."

"What's that, Gue'O?" A markerlight placed a bright green dot on a box of cereal. I quickly jiggled my satchel, throwing them off balance.

"For the fourth time, I said stop doing that! Just save it to a recorder and I'll tell you later!"

Vincent's elbow dug into my ribs as he hissed a warning.

"Michael, down the aisle..."

I turned to see a woman was staring at us, her son tugging at her sleeves. "Mommy... mommy... what's the weird man doing?"

The woman's implacable stare made us start sweating. Shoot... if she reported us to security...

"Ehehe... heh..." Vincent smiled in a crack-happy grin, waving at the woman. Hey, having served a stint as an actor didn't do much to impede his ability to creep people out with a smile worthy of the Joker. His almost bugged out of their socket, and he flashed his teeth as he grinned.

The mother's eyes widened in shock as she was presented with a view of Vincent's insane Asian facade. Mother and son double timed it out of the aisle while still trying to keep a parody of dignity.

We exhaled a collective sigh of relief when they disappeared around the corner.

"Blue-skin? Do not do that ever again." The Eldar Ranger sighed.

"Frakkin' xeno never learn, do they?" Quipped an Imperial Guard.

There was the sound of a bolt pistol being chambered.

Dammit.

I gave the satchel a good shake, which caused all occupants to tumble about helplessly as I thrust my hand in and rummaged for a non-existent shopping list, bumping into the various human and not-so-human scouts inside as I did. Vincent busied himself with checking the price difference between bran flakes and corn flakes.

"Guys, just stop it already!" I hissed into my satchel, looking at the dazed scouts below me. The group were now all confused and very much unfit to do combat with all the shaking around, or otherwise had wised up to the fact that I didn't want them fighting.

It felt like I was trying to keep a group of irresponsible kids with guns to try and keep still.

"Finished?" Vincent asked, leaning backwards to talk to me. "The stackers are getting worried."

Sure enough, a quick glance around showed that two of the employees had made their way over to us, and were now very slowly unpacking and repacking boxes of foodstuffs. I sighed as Vincent hefted a box of Sugar Rings.

"Alright, let's hurry this up."

We moved quickly now, with the boys in the bag behaving as they satisfied themselves with popping optical scopes out the top of the flap and seeing the world outside as it was.

Vincent and I went about collecting a lot of coffee and cereal from the aisle as we were watched by the two employees, and we managed to slip away without any trouble. The cereal was good, since we had small bits that didn't need cutting up to feed the minis, and then were also filling enough to get these warriors through a day. A bottle of milk made its way through when I talked to Commissar Tomas about additives to the coffee.

Quick detours down to the snack foods aisle yielded Kettle chips, special order from Justicar Amadeus. But since the messenger was Silverite, I doubted that was true, but got them anyway. A cruel part of my mind wanted to tie Silverite to an immovable object, and the~

  • CLANG*

"What the hell was that?" I blurted, jumping up from my thoughts. I turned around to see Vincent grabbing a can of spaghetti, which had hit the metal bottom of the shelves.

"S'rry..." Vincent muttered, tossing the can back into place, and almost dropping another half-dozen. My bespectacled friend began to pick his way through the other cans, checking labels and wondering about their heft. His glances at the mini-Warhammer 40k characters did nothing to help with my imagination. The guy weaponized everything as a freaking hobby. I just guessed this guy was just bored, if he was thinking of using cans of spaghetti to fight off miniature soldiers.

"Gue'O Michael, what was that?" The voice from my satchel asked. Most likely the Tau Shas'vre.

"Just a can of spaghetti."

"Spaghetti?" The Space Marine Scout – I later learned his name was Iroquois Plisskin - looked up at me. "You mean those yellow magma worms from Roma II?"

"No. Its something you eat."

"You eat them?" Scout Sergeant Plisskin pulled off his eyepatch in disbelief, although he seemed more curious than disgusted. Maybe he wanted to try some out... I chuckled.

"N-no... its not like that. Spaghetti is just Italian pasta."

"... you eat industrial adhesives!" The Imperial snipers chorused.

I facepalmed.

"Seriously. Its just... food."

The gathered scouts looked at each other in a mix of disbelief, terror and curiosity. I just about Bowed in Frustration, but kept myself from doing so. Turning to the shelves, I quickly picked off a pair of cans – baked beans – and set them into the trolley.

Vincent was trying not to laugh as he grabbed an undamaged can of magma wo- spaghetti and throwing it into the trolley. A packet of flour followed, he needed some for himself (Vincent had also thrown in several packets of microwaveable meals and another packet of rice for himself).

"Yeah, and next is the packets of raw gravel." He chuckled.

"Vince..." I sighed.

"What? Seriously, you'd think so with the stuff they put in the candied popcorn."

As we moved on from the snacks aisle, we picked up several packets of twinkies (The Zombieland movie that I had picked up off Trent – another of my friends – had sparked both humor and curiosity, seeing as how – to quote Inquisitor Danilov - 'that man appeared to be more devoted to consuming that 'twinkie' than serving the God-Emperor in cleansing this vile infection'), and sno-balls just for laughs (Consistency, they say?). Popcorn seemed traditional for any future movie-going events, so I was throwing that in as well.

Besides the objects of curiosity, I also threw in a few random items for them to test out (but nothing sugary for the Orks. Madork'z boyz trippin' on Waaagh! was bad enough already. I didn't need them trippin' on sugar and energy drinks).

Vincent quickly decided on a little bit of ecological irony and opted to see if he could find as many fungus based foods to feed them – mushrooms were a good start. Also, fruit and meat. A lot of that went into the trolley, most of which were from Vincent throwing them at me.

Staple foods that didn't bleed or wasn't naturally green colored were bread and the various packaged meals that I had picked up, but then Vincent tossed me a five kilogram sack of rice, and with a promise of teaching me how to cook them (with a rice cooker, of all things).

"Let's see how that goes." He chuckled, leaning on the trolley. It rolled back, of course, and one corner slammed into my satchel as I moved out of the way.

"FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF~"

"Sorry, Sergeant... really, I'm sorry about that..." Vincent and I were walking through an empty section of the supermarket, with the former of us doing a lot of apologizing to the Imperial Guardsman. Sergeant Taum McTavish irritably nursed his left arm, which had been severely battered by the misfortune of being between a steel trolley and my thigh.

"Ngh... could have broken something, you know." He finished with checking his left arm, and moved on to the nasty bruise that was forming on his forehead – standing beside the Stealthsuit during that event had gotten him a few more very prominent marks.

"Like your brain, mon-keigh?" The Eldar Ranger asked. "I would have thought that you would have cracked that a long time ago, your intelligence considered."

"Y~!" The Guardsman moved to attack the Ranger, who immediately drew his shuriken pistol, but I beat him to the punch, so to speak. Lifting the Eldar scout up by his cameleoline cloak, I gave him a brief shaking to completely disorient him (although, to his credit, the bugger didn't let go of his pistol), then threw him into one of the side pockets of my satchel, before zipping it up.

"Dammit, behave, will you?"

"Uh... heheh..." Vincent was giving another of his cheesy/nervous grins down the aisle, indicating with a small gesture to a girl standing there staring at us with a very confused expression.

She looked normal enough, with her long black hair coming down to mid-back, and a simple, oversized black t-shirt over a purposefully tattered pair of jeans. Slim and gracefully built, she looked as if she were a dancer – I was reminded of the Howling Banshees and the Seraphim of the Adepta Sororitas.

But when I saw her face as she grinned at us, I froze.

Sharp teeth, as if filed down to their shark like, triangular shape. Wisps of unnaturally purple hair waved around as she pulled back her veil of hair to see us properly.

Deep red eyes peeked out, which seemed to transfix my friend and myself as she gave us a grin of pure psychotic glee. The girl's expression changed, to one of malevolent joy and excitement. She seemed like a small child that had just found out she was getting a rabbit for her birthday... or the cat that had just eaten the canary.

"Hwee haff foud hyuu!." She giggled, clapping her hands together. The girl seemed almost on the verge of joyful tears. "Nao... hwee arr sorreh, but hwee haff to keel hyuu... hai vant chuu bee fwee."

Dammit. What kind of deal had she gotten herself into now? Find me, kill me to be free! What the hell was with that girl?

She reached into the tattered satchel she had at her right hip, and drew out a knife. It was a weapon made for flashing: The serrated teeth told me that much.

Well... shit.

The Chaos Sorcerer known as Tzarvos the Shadow-caller tsk'd in irritation as he looked out at the scene unfolding before him. The marble turned scrying sphere cracked in his hand suddenly, before falling to pieces in his hand. His latest daemonic gift – batlike wings - flapped irritably, then folded behind him. He could be there in mere minutes, with his new ability to fly, but for now he could not see how he could stop the girl.

"Not as planned." He observed. False hope was one thing, but killing a potentially powerful thrall? Not. As. Planned.

Omake: Ordo Vermin[edit]

"... You. Are. Joking."

Zara's plasma-hot gaze literally seared my soul, and I instinctively flinched away from the very aggravated spear-wielding space elf sorceress." Mon-keigh, of all the stupid things that has come out of your cavernous mouth, this has to take the lysse leyreth."

The other leaders of the miniaturized warriors – Space Marine Commander Eizak, Inquisitor Danilov of the Ordo Malleus, Justicar Amadeus of the Grey Knights, Canoness Samisha Ludmilla of the Order of Our Martyred Lady, General Ulrich Faust of the Cadian 918th, Regimental Commissar Tomas Sturmm, Sanctioned Psyker Ishabeth, Father Jeremiah Bennedict, Shas'El Firestrike, Aun'ui, and the two-dozen Eldar Exarches that followed behind the Farseer (that was quite a list) -

"Lisa Lereth? Who is that?" Sohm Vekt was poring over his dataslate in frustration.

"Sweet-bread... it translates to 'cake' in your language, I believe." The Eldar Warlock named Yoza calmly answered. Talk about mood swings.

"Oh. Then why didn't Farseer Zara say 'cake' in the first place?"

Two blank faces – one of a beautiful psychotic psychic warrior and the other of a plain faced interpreter conscripted into a soldier – stared at each other for a moment as the more rowdy Guardsmen roared with laughter.

"... Back on subject. Mon-keigh, are you belittling my warriors?"

"N-no, I'm not. Look, I'm running out of money for food, and... well... yeah. You guys are the main reason for it."

"Before Gue'vesa'O Mi'kel is... er... attacked. Can you please clarify exactly what we have to do for this... venture?"

"Hunt down rats and other crawly things... y'know... the stuff a regular exterminator does. Except for you guys, rats and mice would be pretty much... hunting grade stuff. Even a cockroach would be the size of a surfboard for you guys."

"Surfboard, Governor Michael?" Commissar Tomas arched an eyebrow, no doubt wondering what the hell was a surfboard.

"A large, flat board used for recreational sports." I replied. Recently, I've had to stop using 'local' words. Words like 'fun' tended to have different meanings among these guys: For an Imperial Hellhound tanker, it meant setting things on fire. Others found their solace in sleep or in socializing. Space Marines found their peace of mind in meditation and in maintaining their weapons. The Nuns with Guns had theirs in choirs and in meditation. Eldar in their crafts, music and – for many – dance: gentle curves and thought-provoking artwork, fluid dances and delicate, enchanting music that put the best of human artisans to shame. For the Tau... err... best not to get onto that subject too much. For such a community based society, they enjoyed their time alone a little too much.

"I see, and how big are these... surfboards?"

"For me? Most are taller than I am."

Among the more imaginative of the miniaturized warriors, this news was met with some enthusiasm.

"So therefore, the 'pests' that you'll be tackling would be the size of hunted animals. This has got a few advantages: One; it'll get us money for food." I ticked off one finger. "Two; you guys can let off some steam, since you'll be killing things the size of small elephants when you find rats." Finger two ticked off. "And three, it'll get you guys to be able to explore somewhat, since we'll be going to other places if you do take the job." I held up the three ticked off fingers.

The assembled leaders looked at each other, their helmeted faces passive as they looked from one to another, in silent conference.

The door 'ahem'd and there was a knocking sound.

"Its open." Buck grumbled, not looking up from the not-so-small mountain of paperwork inside of his room.

"Hey, Buck. We got ourselves a rookie coming in today." A flop of papers stirred the grizzled veteran of vermin extermination.

Great. More paperwork. The man got his socked feet off the table and began to look through the various folders. Requisition of chemicals, property modification... who ever knew that running a simple business in clearing houses of vermin to be so intensive with paperwork? If he had known this was going to happen, he would have been happier off with the police or something. At least it was fun.

"Alright, Dutch, so what's he like?"

"Seems like an alright guy, I say. Nothing much to him, really." Dutch scratched the stubble on his chin. "Used to be an artist, he said. Gonna have a nasty surprise when he gets there, I think."

"We all get nasty surprises on the first day." Was Buck's clipped answer. He picked up a file, and flipped through it. "Send him over to this one 'ere, lets see if he's got any guts to him. Somethings been bugging Jenkins here, he can't seem to get rid of the rats, they keep comin' back."

"Alright, I'll get the rookie a van, then I'll just drop in on him after an hour, show him the ropes or pick up what's left."

"Just don't let him run around like that Adam we had last week. The guy almost burnt down half the building we sent him to."

"... sure."

"'an if he survives Round 1, roger says we'll need two crews to take care of this... le's see... says its a termite infestation out in the 'urbs."

"A'right, Buck. I'll get him a van and we'll be right on it."

"Ugh... the smell is atrocious..."

"Just turn on your atmospheric filters, Brother Jerrus. This shouldn't be different from cleaning out that Nurgle infestation on Primunda VII."

"Or that Space Hulk off Belaria. Remember that, Brother Alrus?"

"Yes. Now never mention that stinking, festering slime ball again, unless you wish for me to repeat that incident on Delfis Prime."

There was a few chuckles over the vox. I smiled as well, thankful that the Adeptus Mechanicus had finally re-wired that Bluetooth headset that I had picked up to tap into their vox channels. And with a few more modifications to the blessed Tooth-of-Blue, I could speak with most of the miniature armies.

And listen. Before, these guys had been faceless armies with only their leaders having names and personalities. Now I listened to a whole new depth of voices and names, people and places. The Imperial Guardsmen were the most colorful, with their mashup regiments and their very irate officers. I had spent many hours talking and listening to the Guardsmen, of their tales of foolish officers and their own non-lethal mistakes. I had never known

"Concentrate, guys. We have a job to do out here... lets focus and get it done quickly, alright? Chaplain Morteus, you're next, then we're moving on to the bathroom for the Stealthsuits and Pathfinders."

I sat down beside the crack in the wall, crowbar in hand. I was widening the gap used by the rats to allow Terminators access into the labyrinth of inner walls.

The black-armored Chaplain strode forward to join the Terminators inside, his chainsword and Rosarius buzzing with energy. The fighting priest seemed set on claiming another rat's head. I chuckled, and eased the crowbar forward, letting the wall panel stretch closed again.

"Oh... and Brother Alrus?" I queried over the comms.

"Yes, Michael?"

"What happened on Delfis Prime?"

"Brother Jerrus has a cybernetic arm." Was the cryptic answer.

"Alright." I turned to the command-and-control area, where we had set up inside of a toolbox. All the communications equipment of the various races were co-ordinated here. General Ulrich Faust was 'Organizer' of this expedition, and would coordinate the various armies in clearing out the house. I would do the 'heavy lifting', but would still be under his organizational jurisdiction. It was a nice term which meant that the other forces were only obliged to follow his 'advice', and did not fall under his command. As such, however, failure to oblige to advice would result me in 'insisting' that such advice be heeded. All in all, everyone got to keep their dignity, and I wouldn't have to deal with four armies running around the house.

I sat down beside a command Chimera that Tomas was sitting on. The Commissar was nursing his mug of hot coffee as he ordered his Storm Troopers into position for insertion just across the hallway – but into a whole new set of spaces from the Terminators.

As expected, he had abandoned the use of his hell-pistol for a auto-carbine, a weapon that looked very much like a Uzi sub-machine gun.

Standing orders among all armies coming with us was to use either close combat weapons or solid munition weapons – I banned the use of everything except for lasguns because I didn't want to set anything on fire. Therefore, everyone except the Tau embraced this as a whole new exercise in close combat – especially the Orks - and the remainder were justifiably miffed.

The blue-skinned aliens' whole combat philosophy was to engage the enemy from as far away as possible, and only close into hand-to-hand fighting if absolutely necessary. That meant that I had to relegate them to the open areas – along with the Eldar – to hunt down anything that wasn't hiding in the walls.

He noticed me, and I gave him a questioning look. He tapped the comms officer on the shoulder, who whipped around – nearly strangling himself on the wires – and stood to attention. A quick conversation followed as the comms officer went blue in the face. Tomas tapped his throat-mic.

"All signals clear?"

"Yep. Your comms officer just passed out, though."

"You! Grab a medical orderly, and see to this man."

I grinned as I walked over to the opposite hallway, spinning the crowbar around my fingertips as I did.

Of course, it slipped.

Storm Troopers looked up as I cried out in surprise.

"INCO~!" CLANG!

The Storm Troopers scattered as the giant whirling Iron Crowbar of Doom slammed into the ground, bouncing along as it skipped across the hard wooden floor.

"Sorry!"

"Brother Morteus, your prayers have been answered." Brother Jerrus chuckled, settling down in his suit. The black armored Chaplain strode forward, his every footfall oozing anticipation as he advanced to join the two Terminators.

The two five Marine Terminator squad had dispersed into three man teams, with these two joining brother-Chaplain Morteus in his quest for a head of Rat, and the other two remaining being joined by Captain Eizak as he decided to go hunting for the Tyranid-like 'cockroaches' that he had been presented with.

"Report, Brother Jerrus." The Chaplain's clipped tone was gilded with an almost juvenile glee..

"There's a whole nest of 'em." Jerrus replied. He fed the recording of his suit into the Chaplain's helmet screens, which earned the Terminator a rare laugh from the elderly priest. It was almost disconcerting to see the sagelike, fatherly figure of Chaplain Morteus turn into a more childlike persona, full of glee. Like a juvenile hiver boy that had just received a toy Bolt pistol for Christma- Emperor's Day. The Terminator checked himself, and sighed. He was getting too used to this world. It would be hard to readjust to the constant battle and turmoil that was the lifestyle of a Space Marine.

Meanwhile, Brother Chaplain Morteus smiled at the video feed projected into his retina from the little projector inside of his helmet. Two larger ones were arranging themselves a nest, which was dimly lit at best. Around them, relatively smaller rats scurried about, gnawing at the very foundations of the house they were assigned to protect.

Chaplain Morteus grinned. He wondered if he was taking too much pleasure from his hunting, and fought to keep his bloodlust in check. The desire was almost overwhelming him.

"CLEANSE! PURGE! KILL!"

The black armored Space Marine's grinning skull-like helmet seemed to smile for him as his chainsword bit into flesh. Following his trophy hunting trail of decapitation (and keeping quite a distance away), the two Terminator 'bodyguards' indulged in a quick game of Fist, Shield and Lance.

It was a game played by their free hands, involving three elements: the aforementioned fist, shield and lance. The Fist shatters the Shield, the Shield deflects the Lance, and the Lance outreaches the Fist. It was a simple game found in many worlds – of course, with many variations in name – to reach a decision. The single finger extended to point at the closed fist.

"Hah!" Jerrus laughed, pointing the finger at Alrus. "Lance beats Fist, Brother Alrus."

"So it may be, Brother Jerrus." Alrus agreed, giving the best impression a Terminator could give for a sage stroking his beard and nodding his head. "But I believe that best two out of three is traditional."

"Only with younglings, Brother Alrus. For us Marines, there are no second chances."

"Well said, brother. Well said."

The defeated but amused Terminator walked over to the first head, and picked it up as delicately as he could with his power fist.

"But you're carrying the next lot!"

"Commissar Tomas, sir. We have prepared our positions." The Tanith Scout known as Sergeant MacTavish reported, his cameleoline cloak masking his figure. They were underneath the floorboards now, in the foundations of the house. And they had found themselves the perfect killzone.

The Storm Troopers had been assigned with the Scouts for the specific reason that the Tanith scout-snipers – known as the Special Advanced Snipers to the Departmento Munitorium – were the best for the task of sneaking around undetected in the dark and dingy caverns created by the Homo sapiens titanicus.

They had found the ambush point, and had co-ordinated the Storm Troopers to set up their heavy stubbers and solid-slug weapons into their current formation. Even the grizzled Sergeant Folay couldn't say he would have done better.

"Sensor cntact, 9 o'chrono. Counting twenty and four of the surfboards, approaching our killzone."

"Tertarius, in position."

"Secundus, in position."

"Let them come..."

There was a squelch on the comms, indicative of one of the Storm Troopers had just seen one of those surfboards Michael had mentioned. It was insitinctive, that when in sight of the enemy yet still hidden that the Storm Troopers would avoid using their voices, instead simply pressing down on the 'send' stud to squelch the channel.

A rapid three squelches pulsed through the comms channel. That was the signal to fire.

The ripping report of the autoguns filled the air as the creatures were cut down by the heavy slugs, their carapaces as if paper to the armor piercing rounds.

The gunfire stopped as Tomas broke cover, his demeanor oddly silent for a Commissar. Instead of roaring defiance to the enemy or threats to his men, he simply lead by silent example, his head ducked low to aid in his sprint and his power fist crackling as it trailed behind him.

Tomas leaped into the air, fist rising in a deadly arc.

His crackling, rust-red gauntlet crashed into the head of the living board. The solid mass crushed its face, popping eyes and breaking the mandibles on its jaw.

The creature kept on moving, however, and Tomas jumped back as a clawed limb slashed blindly. He dropped to the ground, and rolled back.

"Fire away!"

"Ramez! Get on that stubber and take that thing out!"

The dull, heavy thumping of the large caliber was punctuated by the sickening wet crack of the rounds hitting the carapace of the animal and punching right through. Ramiez sat silently behind his weapon as the creature fell, the trooper beside him almost grinning in disbelief as e held the belt of munitions in his hands.

Tomas picked himself up and dusted off his greatcoat and blood red sash, and looked at the devastation around him. There was perhaps more damage to the surrounding environment than there was to the creatures that they had encountered. He sighed in frustration.

"Good job, people... but seriously, where did you learn to aim? You missed just about every other shot, look at the place... You're Imperial Storm Troopers, your marksmanship is remarkably inaccurate for the given situation."

"Fire Warriors, in position."

"Stealthsuits, ready and waiting."

"Shas'la Wu'bie here. I'm uh... lost. I got separated from my team. Command and Control, can you advise?"

Half of the Fire Warriors sighed in frustration. This was always happening!

"Just find a safe location and wait up there, or you can guide yourself to the markerlight, Shas'la. We'll send someone along to find you when we're finished here."

"Alright, moving to a safe rally point... Its kind of wet in here... augh! That's just nasty! These 'Rats' seem to gather their excrement into one of these passageways..." There was a whimper of disgust. "Ethereals help me, I'm going to drown in excrement! Ugh..."

Up in the Command and Control center, the operator palmed her face.

"Shas'ui Eldi'myr, would you kindly detach half of your Fire Warriors to find Shas'la Wu'bie?"

"Oh dear Ethereals... the smell!" There was the sound of a Fire Warrior vomiting through the inside of his helmet. Every Fire Warrior that had previously experienced such an accident immediately checked themselves.

"He forgot to activate the toxin filters, didn't he?" One Fire Warrior sighed.

"Please do not clutter up the comms channel, Shas'la." Command-and-control reassured. "We are sending Fire Warriors to... extract you right now."

Shas'ui Eldi'myr was already on his way.

"Its seeping through my armor weave!" Screamed the panicking Fire Warrior. "Just what do these Earth vermin eat!"

"Panicking Fire Warriors, Shas'la." Chuckled a Stealth Suit leader.

"Shas'vre Mee'ni!" Shas'El Firestrike barked warningly.

"Right... err... sorry, Shas'El."

"Shas'la, your support is coming, hold still and try not to struggle. I hear it only makes it worse. Back on to our mission, then. Stealth Team On'hua, do you have our targets?"

"Confirmed, Shas'El. Counted three and two eights rats."

"Smoke 'em out, Shas'la. You know the plan."

"On my mark... fire!"

Shas'El Firestrike thumbed the timer.

The suppressed bursts of plasma fire splashed across the ground, jerking heads around in surprise. The camouflaged Tau Fire Warriors strode out of cover, the Gun Drones spraying sunfire at the nest of creatures. It was a huge nest, maybe four dozen or so, inside of the basement.

Stealthsuits activated their 'haywire' programs, sending their stealth fields into a wonderful show of light. To the normal humans, it might have accounted for half of a rave's strobe lights packed into one small package. To the rats, it was pure terror.

They panicked and fled from the two teams of stealthsuits, sending them down the last remaining passageway.

"Kroot, your time has come!"

The Kroot Carnivores jumped from their hiding places, their long rifles blasting a series of metal slugs into the fleeing rats. A dozen fell immediately, before the Kroot closed into their specialty; the brutal hand-to-hand fighting of their barbaric origins. The twin-scythe bladed long rifles whirled in blood-traced arcs as it almost surgically butchered the rats. Limbs and heads fell to the ground as the Kroot descended to the final stages of their combat doctrine: The assimilation of the enemy genes to the Kroot genome. The Carnivores gorged themselves on rat meat, which was carefully ignored by the other Tau.

The third eighth – equivalent to twenty human seconds - ticked off the timer.

"Well done, warriors."

The Tau Fire Warriors nodded quietly to each other, each giving the others praise for marksmanship or kill count. A Kroot Carnivore gave an almighty burp in celebration, which sent the others into a cackling cacophony of laughter.

Over the comms, Shas'la Wu'bie tapped the channel.

"Okay... still alive... can someone get me now?"

"We are in position, Farseer." Warlock Yoza reported.

"I can See that, Yoza."

She could practically feel his radiant smile as he chuckled.

"Having a lot of pun, aren't you?"

Her spine tingled at his psychic whisper, and she quickly broke the mind link as more matters came up. The sheer number of vermin inside of his house was disgusting, almost living up to her expectation of mon-keigh. Vile, dirty living quarters indeed. She would rather have stayed at home, but Michael was right: her troopsm especially the Exarches, found their warrior personae to be irritatingly unsettled and aggressive. If she did not provide them with release sooner or later, then they were going to explode with the pressure. Striding up to her command Viper, Zara's elegant leap settled her atop the battle platform.

"Move swiftly, and let us be done with this vile work." She prepared herself to spit, realized her head was encased in a helmet, went through the fiddly process of removing it, and spat.

"Hey!" Came the warning from a Dire Avenger beside her.

Zara quickly apologized as she re-did her helmet.

There were rats all over the kitchen.

"Clean this filth." She ordered.

The Ulthwe Craftworld's forces moved out, their weapons gleaming as they fell upon their prey.

"Dutch, this better be worth it!" Buck strode out of his car, and walked over to the crouched over figure of Dutch. The veteran exterminator turned around, and pointed at the rubbish bag he had been inpsecting.

"You should have a look at this, I think." He said, pointing the bag at his boss.

Buck peered inside, and was assaulted with the scent of dead vermin. Dozens of rats, and even more cockroaches. They seemed... thoroughly destroyed. Not poisoned nor trapped, but it seemed like each had been individually killed in combat.

"Uh... rookie, come here."

I strode over, rather nervous about the meeting. I mean, he was my boss, after all. And inside the van were four very satisfied armies, all excitedly going over combat recordings of

"Yes sir?"

"Did you do all this?"

"Um... yes? I mean... yes, sir."

The man arched an eyebrow, and put rugged hands on his hips. Hands which could easily break necks if he so chose to.

"You're not even messy." The man observed. "I see scuff marks and all that, but not nearly as much mess as I'd expect from you."

"I wore gloves, sir." I quickly explained.

"We're not in the military, you know. 'specially the Marines." The man reminded me, and despite his statement still wore the bearing of a drill sergeant dressing down a recruit. I was sweating for an answer.

"Just being respectful, I'd say, Buck." Dutch chipped in.

"Uh... that's right, s- uh... boss?" Dutch was standing behind Buck, and furiously nodding. "Yeah, boss."

The veteran exterminator gave me a grim look for another heartbeat, before giving me a rough smile. An employer pleased with the job his employee had done.

"I'd have to say that was a job damned well done, Rookie." He patted me on the shoulder, and chuckled. "Trade secrets for you, I suppose, so I ain't gonna complain. You'll do fine for us." Buck grinned, and shared a grin with Dutch.

I allowed a smile to creep onto my own face, only to find that both men had stopped grinning.

"Now start cleaning up, Rookie!"

"Its okay, Brother Morteus. You can get your rat's head sooner or later. Maybe next time."

Chapter 10[edit]

"Hyoo mahst dai nao..."

"W-what are you talking about!" I looked at the girl in front of me. The sudden declaration of 'you must die' was certainly a way to throw a person off. But really, what threw me off was not what the strange girl had said, but who she was.

The unfortunate girl was as I remembered her, in that dream... no, in that vision. She was divinely beautiful, with a flawless form, her hair swung in silken strands of purple that danced over smooth, light brown skin. Her body was wrapped up in simple clothes, with a jet black shirt and blue jeans with some sneakers. She could have been a goddess of teenage desire, but... I got the feeling of her being almost ashamed of her self, or simply too shy to show it. Her arms were crossed over her body, hugging herself as she advanced.

"Hai mahst kheel hyoo."

Her murmured and badly mangled words were almost inaudible.

Vincent was slapping the side of his head - in a twisted version of percussive maintenance - to see if he could hear her right. He looked at me and caught my eye, then pointed all five of his fingers into a 'beak' of sorts, and waved it back and forth, his fingers pointed at his mouth. Italian sign-language for "What the fuck?". Russel Peters, thank you for that addition to Vincent's non-verbal communications repertoire. I shook my head in response to that. No idea.

"Uh... why?" My voice was shaky – afraid – and working hard to try and get something intelligible out.

"Hy hwan choo kou bhak." She sighed in her butchered English, her whispered voice almost in despair as she advanced towards us. "Haai hwant choo gho baahck." Needle-fine teeth showed as she spoke.

The girl swayed on her feet, as if delirious and about to collapse, although I could see that she was strong: Both her hands were clutched to her chest so tightly I could see the white knuckles through her light brown skin. One delicate step placed her at less than ten feet from Vincent, the miniature scouting party in my satchel, and myself.

The Imperials had ducked inside, and were now cursing and reciting litanies in their 'High Gothic', while the Eldar were scrambling up and trying to get their sights on to her. The Tau were confused at the excitement, probably because they had been stuck in a corner since the Markerlight incident. Vincent didn't seem to be bothered by her (apart from the normal confusion of seeing her start to whimper now), the packet of flour still in his hand as he tried to identify her.

I was entranced.

This purple haired slip of a girl moved with an unnaturally graceful gait, much like the Eldar that I had met in the past, but her footsteps sent my skin tingling. Everything seemed to haze around me as something akin to a strong smell hit my senses. My nostrils flared in the sudden assault to my senses, I was forced to squeeze my eyes shut as they began to water and throb, and I felt bile rising in my throat. Instantly, as if a small voice had whispered in my ear, I knew why this was happening.

Chaos. The Ruinous Powers that Be.

Vincent glanced aside as I gasped for breath, seeing the girl take a few more tentative steps closer. We were both backing away. His stance was lower now, centering and lowering his center of gravity for a fight. The Imperials in my satchel swore on several of the Emperor's anatomical features and armor parts (for the Guardsmen and the Space Marines, respectively) as the satchel swung around behind me.

"Uh... Michael... you know this girl?"

"From that vision. Sacrificed to Chaos." I managed to gasp. Vincent's reply was a faint 'aw...shite'.

The girl was in tears now as she passed by the shelves of spaghetti. MacTavish was howling at the vox, calling for backup.

"Hym sho shorreh..." She sobbed. The girl pulled back her white knuckle hands, to reveal a dagger.

Well, sorry my ass. Sunlight reflected off the mirror-smooth blade.

My eyes were forever burned with the shape and form of that weapon. It was a simple blade, straight edged and tapering in an exquisite curve to a fine point. The guard of the dagger looked like the typical Chaos symbol of an eight-pointed star, but in the center this time was an eye. The apologetic attacker's hands were covering the rest of the weapon, but I didn't need the rest to completely terrify me. The guard was enough, resting in the middle of the weapon. That eye blinked at me.

Cold terror filled me. It wasn't like in the movies that I watched. That fear seized up my limbs. I wanted to scream, but I choked. Fingers shook and clenched uncontrollably, my feet felt like they were welded to the ground and my breathing as fast as hers.

She ducked her head down into a run, her feet carrying her across the floor. I was too slow to dodge her tackle. The cultist hit me high in the chest, sending both of us down into the ground. My satchel was ripped off and cast away as we struggled on the ground. I was bizarrely reminded of Not-Zara's attack, although that time the attacker had been a lot more... composed. She was sobbing and crying as I tried to wrestle the knife out of her hand. Even with her one slim limb against both my hands, she was surprisingly strong. I gasped for breath as her left elbow dug into my ribs.

Vincent was swearing and shouting something incoherent, running over to the stack of shelves beside him.

"Haim shoo sorreh..." She repeated, over and over as she apologetically attacked me, her blade hovering inches from my face. I felt the daemonic weapon touch my left shoulder, and felt its fire-hot touch sear my flesh. I cried out in pain as the blade began to slip into my flesh.

"Hy hwant choo gho bahk. Bahk choo nohmaal."

She wanted to break free of Chaos. By striking a deal with Chaos. What. The. Hell.

"Sorreh..."

My vision began to blur at the edges as a new push stabbed the daemonic blade further into my shoulder, a dark ring closing around my sight. The taste of rotten eggs and the smell of brimstone was being burned into my senses as my skin sizzled from the touch of daemonic metal. My arms were starting to tire – I wasn't some kind of action hero, or even fit – and this girl was putting her entire weight into pushing the blade into my shoulder.

"Gue'El Vin'cent! DO SOMETHING!"

Vincent moved in my tunneling vision, his right arm whipping around behind me.

The blade in her hand roared and leaped back from me, moving to defend its user, almost dragging the girl along with itself as it did.

Spaghetti and two halves of a perfectly sliced tin can was liberally spread around the aisle. The taste of tomato sauce filled my mouth, and the feel of slimy noodles dripping down my face. The smell of Italian herbs and the sight of the blade whipping up and away managed to reboot my senses.

"Ah, fuck it." Vincent muttered as the psychotic girl rushed him, hefting another object.

The bag of flour sailed lazily through the air. I knew, instantly, that it would never hurt the girl in tears. Her hand again moved, dragged into motion by the knife, and shredded the flour bag in two neat cuts that sent the four pieces slamming into the floor.

White powder filled the aisle, and I almost tripped on my own feet as I scrambled to get away. Vincent's hand coiled around my hand and dragged me upright. He shouted some warning, giving me a 'get back!' gesture, and threw the burning scrap of paper that he had lit with the lighter in his other hand into the cloud of flour as he shifted his head into his denim jacket to cover himself.

The fireball that resulted with the igniting flour filled the air with the roar of an explosion, setting off smaller fires with the more flammable materials around it, and strangely enough the smell of burnt toast reached my nose.

Well, that's Vincent for you.

Behind me, the girl screamed in surprise as the fireball engulfed her.

I felt the heat as I fell to my knees, trying desperately to propel myself away. Vincent threw himself back and landed bodily beside me, rolling slightly before crashing into a stack of cans. He was clutching his left hand as he tried to bat out the flames that licked at his sleeves. No way was a normal human walking away from that without a few burns.

As the flaming mass parted, I sighed. No normal human.

"Emperor protect us..." The Guardsmen muttered. His prayer – whatever it may have been – was quickly cut off as I snagged the satchel and pulled it up.

This was a girl who had been granted perfection by the Chaos Gods. Of course they would protect their... investment.

I turned back as Vincent and I tried to scramble onto my feet. The alarms were screaming now, and water was starting to pour down from above.

The girl was standing there, her burnt arms still crackling with energy as she looked up at me with hollow eyes. Across her body, glowing lines of energy were beginning to break out of her skin. Water sizzled where they touched those lines. She gasped – whether in pain or something else – as Chaos powers poured into her. The girl fell to her knees, shivering in pain. She gave out a high pitched, almost whistling cry.

"Michael! We..." Vincent grabbed me by the sleeve. "... are..." He hefted another object from the shelves – a can of pumpkin soup – at the girl. "...leaving!" It was shredded into nothing before it got within two feet of her, although some of said soup was sprayed all over her face.

While that was happening, we were bolting away as fast as our legs could carry us without slipping.

RUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!

I was running on adrenaline and instinct right now. My left arm felt like it had been set on fire, and I felt like I would be nursing quite a few bruises later on – if I survived that long. Vincent was just running like hell, but I could see that his clothes were badly scorched by the flour-bomb. All around us, water was pouring down as the sprinkler system dumped years old stagnant water down on our heads.

We reached the end of the aisle, slipping and skidding, with Vincent was running like hell with me stumbling along just ahead of him. I almost slipped and fell as we slid into the main aisles and past the mini-butchery – even from such a short sprint. Vincent squeezed out a few words as he fought for breath.

"I... am... not... made... for... this... sorta... thing!"

A quick turn into the frozen foods section brought us out straight into the checkouts section. We saw the empty checkouts, their operators long ago evacuated, and picked our way through. Once out, we got to the final corridor – a ten foot span where everyone packed up and went after paying. There was a crowd trying to push through the double doors at one end, trying to escape the trouble of explanations.

Funny, that when we came in here they seemed huge, but now they were far too small for our liking. I looked around, seeing Vincent's well worn pickup truck only a hundred yards away, but with the crowd, the door and the sheet of glass in between us, it was far more than just that.

Glass? Wait a second...

"Vincent! Anything heavy, in this trolley!" I dragged a fallen trolley back onto its wheels, and pulled it back to the counter, where I began to pile in the heaviest groceries as I could.

"Huh?" Vincent looked at me with his 'are you high?' look, then followed my gaze. "Oh."

A sixpack and a watermelon was quickly added to the load. I pulled off my satchel, and opened it up at the nearest checkout.

"You guys, try and weaken a spot on the window!" I pointed at the glass sheet nearest to us, and got a few nods in response.

The Shas'vre hefted what was known as the 'Fusion Blaster' on his Stealthsuit. The Space Marine Scout beside a swearing Ranger picked up a rocket launcher, loading a missile with a needle-like tip. Sergeant MacTavish himself was busy hefting his sniper rifle into position, shouting us a warning.

"Heretic's right there! I'm taking the shot!"

Behind us was the girl, stumbling along in a mix of elfin grace and drunken staggering as she advanced, her sentient (there was no other explanation for what the blade had done) blade pulling her along. The Tanith scout-sniper leveled his weapon, and stroked the firing stud.

Crack!

The sniper's lance of red light split the air as MacTavish hung half-out of my bouncing satchel. There was the satisfying yelp of surprise, but no doubt the long-las blast had been stopped by whatever powers protected her. The knife screamed in rage as it swung around wildly, its mirror-smooth metal stained black by the heat.

Beside MacTavish, the other scouts were chattering away into their headpieces and communications gear as they pumped as much firepower into the window as they could – it wasn't doing much, with their light weaponry – and I could make out their reports as their voices overlapped each other.

"Shas'vre, adjust your focus! We are simply melting holes in that glass!"

Crack! MacTavish's shot glanced off the bubble of energy now protecting the cultist.

"This is Scout Marine Ventorez, we are in need of assistance at vector 40-203-994..."

The dakka dakka dakka of the Scout Marine bolters tore chunks off the glass.

"We are probably only ten-twenty checks out, over! It only took us four minutes to drive here in Vincent's vehicle!"

Blue pellets of energy spewed forth from the Burst Cannon of the Tau Stealthsuits, melting small holes into the glass.

"Chaos cultist! The girl that the mon-keigh saw in his vision!"

A krak missile blasted a chunk of glass the size of my fist.

"That heretic's getting closer!" MacTavish roared, his sniper rifle not caring for aim anymore, simply pumping as many blasts into the girl's knife as possible before it got to us.

"Mount up, Rangers!" A Ranger shouted, stowing away his rifle and grabbing his spotter. He threw her into the satchel and jumped inside. I grabbed one of the Tanith scouts, and he followed the Rangers in.

Vincent grabbed onto the trolley's bar, and I grabbed the other end. We both charged forward with the two-hundred pound load in front of us. The glass had been pockmarked by explosions and outright melted in others. Our combined weight and speed met with the glass. There was the sound of a terrific impact, the crunch of steel on cracked glass.

For a moment, I felt resistance, but the glass yielded. We smashed a hole just big enough to drive a Mini Cooper through, and I felt falling glass cut at my face and back. The trolley slammed into the railing at the edge of the sidewalk, and we tumbled to the ground.

We had gotten outside in one piece.

Picking ourselves up, we glanced at each other for a moment, then back into the store, and then started running as fast as we could.

"Well... we've caused quite the scene now, huh?" Vincent quipped between gritted teeth. We were skirting the edges of a mass exodus made up of panicking shoppers, with squealing tires and cursing people all fighting for a way out. I nodded grimly, and we both hurried towards Vincent's car.

"Incoming!" The Tau Shas'vre warned. I turned to look.

The girl was far faster than I thought she was. Either that, or the two of us – a rather lazy artist who barely had any exercise in his lifestyle and a computer technician that didn't propel himself faster than a swift walk on most days – were simply that slow.

She was gaining ground on us, and Vincent was starting to lag behind.

Suddenly, my mind ground to a halt.

Stop running! Stand and face her!

My feet twisted themselves into a skip on the asphalt, and my body did a pirouette one-eighty, turning to face the surprised cultist with a cry of surprise. What the hell am I doing! The occupants of my satchel were swearing and cursing in their native tongues. Her knife seemed equally bewildered, screaming out in rage or frustration - I did not know - but scream it did.

I saw hesitation pass through the eyes of the Cultist as she barreled towards me, knife raised.

Charge her! Get the knife out of her hands! It controls her!

We crashed into each other as I suddenly leaped forward, and I grabbed onto her knife-hand as we fell to the ground. My wounded shoulder was filled with an agonizing pain, but I managed to keep her down – this time, I was the one pinning her to the ground.

Yoza... is that you?

Good luck, Mon-keigh. That's all I can do for you now. The rest is up to you.

Zara... you utter bitch.

"Guys!" Gritting my teeth, I shifted my weight to let the miniature soldiers out of their bag. "Get. The. Knife!"

Instantly, they began to scramble from their pockets in my satchel, and swarmed up my torso. The Tau Stealthsuits – being jetpack equipped – were the first to get there. Second were the swift and agile Eldar, then at their heels were the lightly equipped Tanith scouts, and finally the Scout Marines.

All leveled their exotic weapons at the knife.

"The knife! Don't hurt the girl!"

The stealthsuit Shas'vre was the first to fire, his fusion blaster searing a deep gash on the perfect steel. The knife screamed and struggled, whipping around and lashing out at the scouts. An Eldar Ranger screamed as his left arm was caught in the tip of the blade. Blood boiled as the rest of the daemon knife was battered by the rest of the team.

"Break, damn you, break!"

I tried my best to keep the knife down, flailing my arm up and down to try and smash it out of her grip. The cultist-girl squirmed around underneath me, trying to get herself loose. She was still trying her best to kill me, it seemed.

Finally, one shot from a lasgun struck the eye of the knife. The weapon screamed in agony, the sound accompanied by the psychic ripple that stunned my entire body. I froze, my entire body refusing to move as the knife began to twist and deform from the rest of the scouts; they had seen how the blade had reacted when it had been shot in the eye. A fusion blast lanced through the hilt, piercing the eye. The blade snapped as it twisted into a horrifying new shape, and fell to the ground. The girl's hand slackened in a sigh of relief, and she dropped the rest of the knife. Her hand was burned and scarred as it uncurled, most unlike the flawless skin elsewhere. The girl gave a shudder and passed out, a half smile on her lips.

I rolled off, the stinging pain of my shoulder wound throbbing madly as I saw Vincent running towards me. Now that I had a good look at his face, I saw that he had lost some of the hair on the left side of his face – his eyebrow most prominently – and would be sporting quite a few burn scars there for a while. He pulled me up to a seated position, and began to look at the scouts.

Many were wounded, with the Eldar Ranger cradling a missing arm as his squadmates moved to help. Two others were dead on the ground. In the struggle, we had also lost a leg from the knee down on one of the Scout Marines, another with a stab wound that cut through his lower right torso, and finally one with an arm twisted completely the wrong way. The Tau Stealthsuits had written off a stealthsuit to battle damage – the armor was locked down now, so the fate of its pilot was unknown – and the rest were heavily battered. We also lost three of the Guardsmen – two nearly cut in half by the knife, before bleeding out as the knife had lashed out at us, and the third was crushed by the pommel of the knife.

By a long stretch, my injuries were far less. Running on adrenaline, I hadn't even noticed that I also had a few more nasty cuts on my arms and face, all shallow enough that I didn't have to worry for the moment. Now that I was coming off that high, I felt each and every ache and sore, and the creeping throb of my left shoulder as well.

As for the girl, she looked battered – bruised at best - but otherwise unharmed. I felt anger, that these good warriors had been forced to give their lives for us – for her and myself – because of her stupidity. Those Ruinous Powers were not child's play...

The bark of a pistol interrupted any other thoughts. Vincent and I both turned to look at the alleyway connecting to the carpark. I saw a man, his face obscured by the white bandana over his face. He was dressed in a crimson hoodie and black pants, the smoking pistol still in his hand. He had fired in the air, and now he lowered the weapon, holding it 'gangsta style' - on its side – to point at us. His boys were similarly dressed, but were armed only with wicked knives and crude clubs, and I could only assume that he was their leader.

My stomach dropped as I saw the symbols crudely painted onto his chest. They looked vaguely like a triangular figure-of-eight, with the top neatly split open to the sides, and bisected by a line. The Mark of the Blood God.

Frying pan. Fire.

You all know how it goes.

Chapter 11[edit]

Thought for the day: "Guardsman, the Emperor gave you a trigger finger for a reason. USE IT!" - Commissar Tomas Sturm, Cadian 918th.

"Aaah shite." Vincent muttered as he saw the gang that had come in.

The asian nerd was kneeling on the ground less than eight feet away, a look of borderline panic on his face. Eyes were flicking left and right, trying to find some way of escape. His hands were spread out and trying to subtly search the empty ground for a weapon. Vincent was obviously on the verge of losing it completely.

Curled up right in front of me, the purple haired cultist was lying there, unconscious, her right hand still smoldering from the intense Warpfire that it once held. Her clothes had been torn and stained by the struggle between us and the blood spilled during that fight, respectively. Hers or mine, I didn't know.

My entire body ached as I came down from my adrenaline high. My left shoulder – victim to a daemonically powered knife stab – was throbbing in protest from its overwork in wrestling said knife from the cultist it had possessed. The fact that I had been wearing a light blue shirt at the time wasn't helping with my secondary thoughts of having to wash my blood off. My leg muscles were strained from their relatively rapid use, and what passed for my shoulder muscles had been strained from the impact when Vincent and I crashed a trolley through the glass panels of the supermarket window. All of my clothes had a tear or stain on them.

Around us, the remains – maybe just more than a half – of the scouting party that had stowed away in my satchel were preparing for their final stand against the gang-boys that had assembled twenty feet in front of us.

On my side of the fight, we had miniaturized state-of-the-art Tau weaponry mixed in with the ancient but no less effective weapons of the Imperium; lasguns (the sniper rifle variant) and bolters. The Eldar were using their needle-launching sniper rifles as well, but the specialized anti-personnel weapons weren't going to be anywhere as effective against the gang before us.

In their hands weapons ranging from a freshly fired pistol to knives – both new and some seemingly rusted with blood – and crude clubs made of lead pipes and similar materials.

"Izzat tha boy K-horn wants us to fuck up?" The guy to the left of the leader asked.

"Fucked if I know." A third drawled.

"Fuckit, jus' cap 'em and go. Blood's all he needs. K-horn doesn't care where the blood comes from."

I sighed, inwardly. I knew this kind of group.

This was the kind of group that usually trawled the edges of the 'hoods: They weren't 'real' gang members, more like potential recruits for the actual ones. Posers, for lack of a better word. Wannabes. Their 'traditions' were derived from the bravado-fueled rap videos, and their behavior taken from the same. Mostly aggression-driven into a pack mentality like that of wolves, they strove to impress their peers and the real gangers... perfect prey for the Blood God with promises of power and respect.

Even so, there were five of them, facing Vincent, the scouts and myself. Normally, on a even scale, a single Scout – whether Eldar, Tau, Space Marine or Imperial - would have been more than a fair match for them.

But dammit, 1/56 scale sucked.

Okay... think.

Think... fuck!

I had some of the most brilliant tactical and strategic minds in the universe – the Space Marines, warriors that had survived centuries if not millennia of warfare, the Eldar chess-masters of stratagems, who had the oldest and wisest counsel to draw their plans from, and the naïve but no less effective Tau way of killing blow and patient hunter – and yet I had not learned a thing from these guys.

But I knew some basics, from games (of all things. Vincent would be proud). Assess the terrain... okay, okay... don't panic.

I can survive this.

Firstly, think of where you are fighting.

Our corner of the near-empty car park was devoid of anything that could stop a bullet. I had eighty – maybe ninety – pounds of unconscious female cultist at my knees, and all they had to do was start shooting; the only other cars around besides Vincent's pickup were your typical soccer-mom mini-van, and a hatchback that looked like it belonged to another suburban mom. Both were at too great a distance to actually give us any real cover. The hedges bordering the parking lot also hemmed us in, keeping us from escaping out into open road – it also concealed us from anyone trying to figure out where the shots came from.

Alright... how about consolidating resources? That was a good start. Leave nobody behind.

"Guys, get into my satchel." I muttered through clenched teeth. The stealthy scouts were crouched low to the ground, now, their cameleoline cloaks and battlesuit stealth systems allowing them to blend with the ground as they moved to sneak into my bag. Not good, not good. The miniature soldiers began to inch their way across the asphalt, backing their way into the battered satchel.

The Blood God's servants kept their weapons raised as we held up our hands in the universal 'Hey, I'm not a threat!' gesture. There were... lets count 'em... five of the crimson clothed gangers, one of which was armed with... what was that gun? I turned to Vincent, ignoring the conversation spouting from the gangers like water from the mouth of a gargoyle.

"Vincent, what kind of guns is that guy using?" I hissed to my friend. Said nerd squinted for a second, examining the weapon in the ganger's hand.

"Silver plated Colt .45. He's got six shots left if h-"

He blinked and then jerked to the left, an action followed by second gunshot from the lead ganger. The round skipped off the concrete behind us, then into the hedges. Vincent swore in surprise, the bullet had passed through his clothes, ripping a hole in the left back of his jacket. He half-rolled, half-tumbled to the side and came up stumbling, managing to throw himself into a run before the gun was brought back to bear. A third gunshot sent a bullet through the air where he had been.

All thoughts of thinking left my brain.

The leader managed to get off one more shot, which again went wide, before there was a surprised cry of frustration from him. I saw the outstretched pistol, still held one-handed and sideways, looking not quite right; there was now a copper-brown cylinder sticking out of the silver plate on the side, and the barrel was sticking out of the front.

A moment of confusion passed.

Big, bandana faced and nasty snorted in disgust and threw away the gun.

"OH-PAHN FAI-HAR!" Barked the heavily accented voice of MacTavish, each syllable emphasized by his bellowing voice. For a scout, he could sure make a lot of noise.

Suddenly, there was a bright mashup of firepower connecting the open satchel hanging off my neck to the throat of the nearest ganger – the one who had stepped forward as his leader threw away the gun. His fellows flinched and some yelped as bright lances of energy scorched their skin, but the leader was hit the worst. He clutched at the traumatized skin, letting the metal pipe in his hands clatter to the ground. Blood seeping out from between his pale fingers, I could see eyes widen as he gasped for breath. There was a choked gurgle, and the ganger pitched forward.

And then I truly felt the Hand of a God.

It came like a sudden pressure, pressing down on me from all around... You know, when you put on dishwashing gloves and then stick the hand into water? Apply that to your entire body. The feeling was crushing the breath from my lungs. The pure malice that was floating around me was tangible, and I felt the whispers of daemons as they passed by to dive into the gangers. A dry throat and trembling fingers were all that was needed to tell me that things were not going well on any of the planes of existance.

The four other gangers roared as they trampled their former comrade.

"BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!"

I almost crapped myself right there. Instead, I decided to be more productive and run away. Bending down, I picked up the cultist, and found my estimates of her weight about right. Why I picked her up, I didn't know.

Pity? Maybe.

But what I knew was that she had a lot of explaining to do, and I wasn't going to let her get out of it by dying. I hefted her body up with my arms, and broke off into a run... well, slow jog, at best. My protesting feet carried me as quickly as I could, satchel bouncing behind me, as the battle cry of Khorne went up.

"SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE!"

A ganger sprinted ahead of his leader, leaped and tried to beat at me with his improvised club. I felt the heavy blow crash into the space between my shoulder blades, went down like a log, the cultist and the scouts coming along for the ride, and was set upon by the others.

The cultist rolled away, more-or-less safe in this situation, and I felt the satchel bouncing off my left shoulder, sending another shock of pain through my nervous system. Blows rained down on me as the others surrounded my prone form, searching for the weapon that had felled their comrade,.

A quarter-inch thick line of blue lightning sliced out from the satchel, burning a nasty scar onto the forearm of one ganger. I managed to break free for a second, and threw it open, scattering the scout teams onto the ganger climbing on top of me, punctuating each blow with a word that sent my head into another bout of throbbing pain.

"BLOOD. FOR. THE. BLOOD. GOD!

SKULLS. FOR. TH~"

"KRAK GRENADE!"

In my state of concussed disorientation, my eyes seemed to decide that it was a good idea to be aware of what was happening in front of me; a Space Marine leaped from my shoulder, scampered his way up the ganger's bandana, and shoved a krak grenade into his ear. Earlier – maybe on the fourth day – the Space Marines had shown me the oversized, tin-can shaped grenades they used to crack open doors and armor that was too strong for regular frag-grenades, but too weak to waste a melta bomb on.

There was the almost familiar thunderclap sound of its detonation, and suddenly the ganger was dead weight in my struggling arms. I decided that he was thoroughly distracted, so my arm came around to give him a punch on the right temple. Kicking the limp body off of me, I managed to scramble onto my feet as a second round of gunshots split the air.

Two pops reported the shots of the pistol behind me. I prepared myself for the pain. The crunchy sound of a bullet hitting a human body was soon followed by a scream of pain. Around me, the remaining gangers got their act together, their morale – or what passed as morale among these guys – broken, and they turned tail and ran. The suffocating anger in the air seemed to lighten, and I could feel myself breathe freely again.

Beside me, the cultist shuddered.

"Khorne does not care where the blood flows from..." She whispered.

Still crouched behind the smoking pistol, Vincent collapsed with a long release of breath, his back to the lamp-post that usually illuminated the car park at night. The Colt .45 slipped out of his hand as three shell-casings rolled about. They stopped when they hit the body of the still writhing ganger, who was clutching at his thigh, shot through by the pistol.

"Thank God for YouTube. And Halvorsen." He muttered distantly, picking up the pistol again. I was busy with searching for the Scouts, who were amazingly unharmed as I rolled the unconscious – and still bleeding with an odd whistling sound to his breath – ganger onto his side, allowing the Tau Stealthsuits to pick themselves up and crawl out. The Shas'vre's front paint had been completely scraped off, revealing the off-blue metal underneath his stealth field thingy.

Barrel pointed at the ground and slightly away from himself, Vincent began to half-walk, half-stagger towards me. "Hey, Michael! You all right over there?"

"Just fine. Ugh... I think I might need a medic, though." I jabbed him with an old joke from our highschool days, trying to distract myself from the fact that we had almost been killed by crazy cultists for a blood god.

All I got was his blank face.

I sighed. "How about you?"

"First time I ever shot a real gun... didn't hit a thing I was aiming for, though." He stammered, giving his newly captured weapon a glance. Nerding out was overriding his freaking out, it seemed. However, the guy still looked like he was in an anesthetic daze, his eyes unfocused and distant, his movements jerky and... uncoordinated. It was like looking at a puppet with only half the strings attached. Stumbling across the carpark, Vincent fell to his knees beside the ganger who had once wielded the gun.

"Dasar keparat!" Vincent swore. I think it was Indonesian for 'damned fool'. "Didn't know how to clear a stovepipe... bodoh, they put the iron sights on top for a reason..."

He shook his head in bewilderment as he poked the guy once with the gun, and pressed the weapon to the guy's neck, finger on the trigger now, and began to rummage through his pockets. Pushing the guy over onto his back, Vincent began to pat him down, his hands digging into the hoodie pouch.

"What the hell?" I asked, confused. Vincent had moved on to the other side of his pants. A cellphone was discarded offhandedly.

"Just looking for..." There was the sound of a buckle being undone, and metal sliding on leather. "Ah, here we go."

Vincent produced a pair of extra clips, and after a little searching around he thumbed a button just behind the trigger, to eject the half-spent magazine already in the gun onto his waiting palm. His hands then pushed a new clip into the slot – the trembling fingers missed their mark the first few times - and clicked on one of the catches on the slide of the pistol.

"Eight shots." He murmured to himself, searching his own pockets for somewhere safe to store his newly captured weapon. A cough from a Guardsman alerted me to him. I turned around, lowered my hand to pick him up, and sat him on my shoulder. The man raised his voxcaster to my ear so that whoever was on the other end of the line could speak to me.

"Michael, the auspex is still reading life-signs from these cultists." MacTavish reported. I nodded, and moved onto the real concern.

"How many did we lose this time?" I muttered, walking over to the second ganger that we had put down.

Put down. Funny word to use. Not killed. Or murdered. Put down.

Like a rabid dog.

Too true, mon-keigh. However, these followers of Khorne must be... how do you say it? Nipped at the bud, lest they cause more lives – innocent lives – to be lost.

A few souls damned for many more to be saved.

The age old argument, mon-keigh.

Zara's voice... well, the shadow of her voice still echoed in my head.

I sighed as I picked up a knife, wondering the feeling of its weight in my hands. Was it anything like this? Feeling the weight of a man's soul, knowing that it was yours to use, abuse or discard? I shook those thoughts out of my head as I imagined the hundreds of miniature troops in my house. My head spun a little as I thumbed the safety catch and folded the blade closed. It would do for now. No blood on it, it should be fine. The newly looted weapon went into my pocket.

"Hello? Are you there, Michael?"

"Sorry... spaced out a little there... what's up? How many wounded?" I knelt down beside the cultist, who was still unconscious. How she had slept through all that, I don't know... I wondered if she had hit her head harder than she should have. Picking her up, I was again reminded of strained muscles and aching limbs.

"Surprisingly, we have nothing more than a few more broken limbs, but they are easily repaired." MacTavish grunted over the vox. "The Eldar Ranger who lost his arm is getting quite pale now, though. We have to get him to an apocetharian, or whatever passes for a healer for those Eldar. The Space Marine Scouts are doing pretty well, but that's Blood Ravens for you, never give up, do they? The Tau are doing well enough, too; I don't think they took much more than paint scratches during that little skirmish."

The wail of police sirens drew closer. Of course, being in a rather isolated suburban area, it would have taken the cops a while to get here.

"What was that?" MacTavish's voice was edged with worry.

"Police... I think your term for them would be 'Arbites'."

"Will they assist us?" MacTavish queried.

"No. I doubt they'd believe me even if I had you guys around. I guess the best thing to do is to get out of here..." I pulled myself up, and turned to my friend. "Vincent!"

Vincent snapped out of his shocked reverie, and looked up. "Yeah?"

"Time to leave."

He grimly nodded, and pulled out his keys as he padded over to the car. His fingers missed the keyhole the first few times. He stopped, clenched his trembling fingers together, and carefully slipped the key into the lock.

"No kidding, Mike."

The door popped open as he pulled on it, and Vincent climbed inside.

I walked over to the cultist, and pulled her limp form up. Vincent started up the car.

Behind me, someone fired off his bolter into the air.

"HEY! AREN'T YOU FORGETTING SOMETHING!"

Eventually, we managed to pack up everyone and leave just as the police came wailing down the highway. I don't quite believe that the time from the Cultist trying to knife us to the last shots of the rumble we had just survived had taken only ten minutes, fifteen at most.

And yet, almost ten minutes after that, I felt my hands trembling.

Vincent slowed the car down a little as we went down along the quietest roads he could find. Speeding would attract attention, that much we knew. 'No need to rush, we had all the time in the world' was all I could say to reassure myself. The five minute drive home from this supermarket would be the longest one I've ever taken.

I was sitting in the passenger seat of Vincent's pickup, with the girl between the two of us, sitting on the middle seat. The miniatures were on the dashboard or in the open glovebox, treating injuries and taking turns at watching the girl. Vincent was obviously uncomfortable: He had his wrench out again, wedged between his thigh and the seat.

"Where to now, Mike?"

"My place, I guess."

Bring me back that girl. She is the lock to the door.

Of course.

Omake: Valentine's Day[edit]

Thought for the Day: Cherish your loved ones, for they do not last forever.

-Valentines Day; 02/14/10

-28 Belmont Street

I looked at the Council, the collection of leaders from the various races. The Imperials were easily one half of the Council, the Eldar, Tau and Orks making up the rest. So far, this was a daily – if not twice daily – affair in which I'd discuss things happening over a cup of coffee to ease my frayed nerves.

"Valentines?" The Imperial Council repeated, their many and varied accents twisting the word, turning it over and over on their tongues like a wine taster would swirl a fine vintage in their mouth; tasting it, feeling its texture as it rolled off their senses.

I nodded in response.

"Yep. Saint Valentine's Day."

"Another of your celebrations? Emperor's Protective, you Terrans have a way with holidays." Justicar Amadeus shook his helmet in disbelief, and rolled his helmet from palm to palm, looking thoughtfully to the axe-head like faceplate

"Oi, Big Boss! We'z gets ta bash ennyfink?"

"I doubt Gue'la would celebrate with... violence... never mind, I retract that comment, greenskin."

"Quite predictable, I presume." The Eldar councilors sighed, Zara especially.

"Just what did this Saint Valentine do to deserve an entire day dedicated to his praise?" Canoness Samisha pondered, just beside the Justicar. I sat still for a moment, and opened then closed my mouth a few times.

All I knew of Valentine's Day was of the patron saint of lovers.

"Hang on, lets just go get to the computer. Might as well do some research into this."

I picked up a tray, and placed it on the table. Everyone began to step on, and after they were all boarded and ready (to whit, seated) I picked up the tray and walked over into my study.

We were met by the sound of gunfire.

"c0gb01! Turn off the computer, I'm going on!" I shouted over the sound of CounterStrike, and to the answer of multiple dissatisfied Techpriests.

"Michael! Please, stop this intolerable racket!" Imperial Guardsman Sohm Vekt pulled off some ear protection, normally used by the hee-bee monkeys – Hellbreaker artillery crewmen – and pointed accusingly at the gathered techpriests. Behind him, the group of interpreters and lexiconographers of most of the races – Eldar, Tau and Human - were similarly protesting.

"But, we are doing the Great Omnissiah's work!"

"Well, then, you can tell that Omnissiah of yours to take a plasma cutter and turn it on after he's shoved it up your~"

"GUARDSMAN! Check yourself lest you blaspheme against the Emperor!" Roared Commissar Tomas, unholstering his las pistol. Sohm immediately blanched, and went for the departing Chimera. The others didn't know whether to laugh or run away.

"Look, you guys are burning bandwidth like crazy! There is a capacity, and you can't be on all day!"

"17 n07 b33 411 d41, m1kk3y!" [But it hasn't been all day, Michael!]

"... just... get off. Now."

There were a lot of scurrying, a few curses and a lot of apologies for the machines. The Techpriests followed their usual drill for clearing out of my room, and I pulled the chair across, and placed the platter of people on the table. Dismounting from the tray, all the Council again sat down to watch the massive screen.

My computer had been considerably changed by the arrival of the Techpriests. It ran faster, and had numerous attachments now: coolant lines (although from where they got the coolant, I don't know. I heard that the Wilsons next door had a radiator leak about four days ago, though.) ran from the computer's many caverns, and there was now a carefully constructed doorway for access into the Tower of Cogitators. As well as all that,there were numerous religious insigne on various surfaces, as well as a goddamned shrine crowning the top of the monitor.

I turned to the keyboard, and began tapping around on Wikipedia. "He was ancient Roman, if I'm not mistaken... we're talking about a rather long time ago..." I scrolled down the page a little. Ah, 'Saint Valentine'...

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine.

I just about Bowed in Frustration.

"Dammit, there's more than one Valentine!"

There was some very amused faces that just as quickly disappeared as I turned to face them.

"Well, mon-keigh... I find it rather confusing that you do not know the purpose of such celebrations..." Farseer Zara purred. Yes, literally purred. "... and yet you say that a large portion of this world observes such holy days without knowing their origins?"

"They've become lost with a lot of commercialism nowdays." I answered, drumming my fingers thoughtfully on the table. "People get caught in with the entertainment value of the holiday, not the religious. They get to have fun, to laugh and play. In fact, I think more than a few people owe their lives to Valentines day..." If you know what I mean.

"How interesting..." Samisha said, mostly to herself. Thankfully, my Tooth-of-Blue was hooked up to their vox-frequencies, so I could actually hear them when they wanted more... delicate expressions.

Her armored fingers tapped her chin thoughtfully, and then turned to the Justicar to ask him about this new Saint. The conversation between them went into a vaguely religious debate about whether this Valentine should be recognized and if so, how should he be recognized.

With that going on, General Ulrich Faust moved past Commissar Tomas, who respectfully stepped back as he tucked away his canteen of recaf. Tapping his comm bead, the rotund General looked up at me.

"So... Michael... just how is this 'Valentine's Day' celebrated?"

Now that was an easy question.

Sohm was pouring over notes. The homo sapiens titanicus species was certainly fascinating for a lexiconographer. They generated so much information! On this single planet alone, there were no less than four scripts that were used by a large majority of the population.

"... h-here. Take it."

Cadian Guardsman/Pressganged Interpreter Sohm Vekt blinked at the small, simply embellished box being offered to him. It was the plain white of freshly constructed uniwrap, a versatile material used for packaging throughout the Imperium. It was adorned with a simple flower-like seal of wax where the strips of fabric binding held the lid in place.

Meliya's face was rather more red than usual, he observed as he looked at the box. Sohm was unsure about this, he looked up at Meliya, who couldn't meet his face. They had always had an awkward

"Uh..."

He reached out and took the box from the Sister's hands, and looked at her rather curiously. She was – despite the medical regulators built into powered armor – visibly sweating and her face was flushed red. Sohm stepped forward and pressed the back of his palm against her forehead, testing the temperature of her face.

"Hmm... a little hot. Are you feeling alrig~ AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! LET GO! LET GO!"

The box clattered to the floor as Sohm's arm was twisted about behind his back to breaking point. The sudden motion had also dislodged a half-dozen of his dataslates, sending them skidding across the ground as he struggled for purchase. He was again reminded of the fact that while Meliya appeared as a rather shy and almost timid woman, she was a fully trained and capable Sister of Battle, among the most faithful of the Emperor's servants.

The ring of cool metal that he felt on the back of his neck suddenly registered – a bolt pistol. Sohm was very, very still as he half-turned to face Meliya's out-of-breath face.

"C-can you let go now, please? I've lost feeling to my fingers... look, we've got that Tau lexicon to submit tomorrow, and if I can't write then what use am I to the Emperor?"

A sigh came out behind him, and he felt Meliya shift her weight slightly.

There was a sudden sense of relief as he felt the almost bone-crushing grip loosen.

There was a thud as Meliya and her powered armor hit the ground. The bolt pistol she had been carrying with her fell to the ground. Sohm turned around in alarm as he saw her collapsed form.

"Meliya!"

"The Gue'la celebrate their bonds? Of trust and mutual respect? My my, that is interesting..." Shas'vre Korst'yuan'du'oc (Death From Above) mused at the report made by Shas'El Firestrike. There was a beep as the recently dubbed 'Pringles' buzzed by, its utility attachments already working away at the seals of his XV-25 Stealthsuit.

He turned to his brothers and sisters in arms, who were carefully maintaining their equipment. They were bonded by the Tau ceremony of Ta'lissera. The ceremony of communion and of eternal bonds. Smiling slightly to himself, the Tau Stealthsuit team leader looked on to the figures standing around him.

"How so very unlike what the Ethereals have so far seen, Korst'yuan'du'oc." Shas'ui B'korst'ka (Guider of the Deadly Strike) was their marksman, a steady shot even with her normally close-ranged burst cannon. She was cool headed and calculating, and always the first to fire. She held the helmet of her stealthsuit in her hand, a microtool in the other as she worked at the pins holding a panel in place.

"Its almost as if they could feel compassion."

"Talking about compassion, I think today would be a good day for me to tell you a little secret." Shas'vre Korst smiled, reaching into the box of personal belongings. The other three members of his team looked on intently, all tense in anticipation.

Out came a plainly decorated ceramic flask – usually used for storing liquors.

The veteran Tau Fire Warriors exchanged looks, and began to chuckle softly amongst each other.

"That Vior'la Stealthsuit team we joined last Tau'cyr? Well, this is thanks for saving their hides from that Chaos Rhino that nearly flattened them."

Soon enough, the tension unwound as Shas'ui B'korst'ka's hand shot out to try and grab the flask. Another minute later, the team had relaxed and were passing around the flask of Ky'husa, a hot spirit known to humans as 'Lava liquor'.

Shas'ui M'yen Ma'caor (Unforseen Spider) picked up the flask and gulped down a sip. The lukewarm liquid burned as it slipped down her throat. The Shas'ui was the team's ambush specialist, and Shas'vre Korst would usually trust her instincts when they had to lay up and wait to ambush an unwitting target.

"Well, the Vior'la certainly know how to make their Ky'husa." She purred contentedly, snug inside of her Stealthsuit.

"Aye, and I'll wager that this will be the last time we'll be able to enjoy ourselves like this for a long time..." Shas'ui M'yen sighed.

The others nodded, sombre and thoughtful. Shas'vre Korst pulled out their bonding knife, the instrument of war that marked their communion. "But when that time passes, we'll go and have some fun. Agreed?"

One by one, the Tau Stealthsuit pilots touched the blade that had drawn blood from all four of them, remembering its hot touch when they had agreed to be one.

"Aye."

"A celebration of shared feelings." Justicar Amadeus mused, mostly to himself, re-playing the combat recording of Michael's latest talk of Earth culture. He archived it, and prepared to send it to the Librarian Vasili. The man would surely enjoy picking apart the recording. He looked up as he felt the tread of powered armor through his boots.

"Ah, Canoness Samisha." The Grey Knight Justicar bowed his head in greeting to his peer, and the black armored Sister of Battle did likewise.

"Justicar Amadeus." Was her clipped reply. That was all they needed, really.

The Grey Knight Space Marine and the Sister of Our Martyred Lady had worked together for a long while now, nearly four decades in the Padris Crusades, and had constantly been in the thick of the action while leading their respective brothers and sisters in arms against the enemies of the Emperor.

His shining silver armor was a nice contrast to her darkly colored armor as they walked along on the journey back to their fellows. As the two plodded past the Tau outpost, Justicar Amadeus turned to face Canoness Samisha.

"So, Samisha, what do you think of this? Such celebrations are no doubt... honorable and noteworthy, but I want to hear your thoughts on this."

The woman smiled as she idly stroked the stone rosarius wrapped around her left arm. It fitted snugly into a series of depressions on her gauntlet, so that it would be as much a part of her armor as her armor was a part of her. She looked up at Amadeus, and chuckled.

"Such celebrations are at their worst a vain attempt for traders to peddle their goods to idealists, but at their best... its a beautiful concept. To pride yourself in your relationships, to honor your loved ones... those that aren't there and those that are. It celebrates what humanity has above all others."

"I agree, Samisha."

The two veteran servants of the Ordo Malleus and the God-Emperor shared a wry smile, their pauldrons sparking as they scraped against each other. The Justicar was more than willing to simply idle like this, never quite enjoying the company of a fellow human outside of his Chapter quite as much as he enjoyed the company of Canoness Samisha. Turning to her, words began to form in his mouth.

"Canoness..."

"JUSTICAR! JUSTICAR!" It was the strangled, near-panic cry of one of his men – Brother Timmae – and it was soon followed by the dakka dakka dakka of Silverite's twin bolters. Of course, that didn't last long until a roaring Ork stopped the firing. A series of crunches and another dakka followed. The Ork's voice was next heard whimpering for mercy.

Justicar Amadeus gnashed his teeth. Near heretical he may be, but Silverite was not a coward nor incompetent.

"What is it, Brother Timmae?"

There was a double-burping sound as the Grey Knight discharged his double barreled Storm Bolter.

"The Orks, Justicar! They're 'celebrating' this holiday! Those greenskins are charging up the stairs..." There was the sound of howling horrors as a Grey Knight sent a torrent of psychic energy roaring towards the Ork lines. There was a shift in battle-lines, and now the cries of the Adepta Sororitas and the pulsing 'clink-schaww' of Tau railguns joined the din of battle. "The Sisters of Battle and the Tau are holding well alongside us, but we need aid! Send for the Governor!"

In the background, above the cacophony of Ork weapons, one bellowed out above the others.

"SHARE DA LUV! SHARE DA LUUUUUURVE! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

"Holy Emperor, what was that!"

"Got it!"

"... BROTHER SILVERITE, STOP JUGGLING THOSE GROTLINGS AND GET BACK TO FIGHTING!"

Justicar Amadeus turned to Canoness Samisha, and was surprised to see her gone and already running at full sprint towards the Ork incursion. The Justicar himself caught up to her about halfway.

"Back into it, I suppose." Justicar Amadeus grimly intoned.

Samisha nodded in reply, and the Justicar smiled.

Their knuckles met as they accelerated into a charge, joining the fray with their bolt-weapons blazing.

"FOR THE EMPEROR!"

"You're awfully cheerful today, Ishabeth." Commissar Tomas looked up from the dataslate he was furiously tapping away at, trying to work through the numerous requisitioning forms and reports. Of course she was happy, it was literally in the air. The usual scent of parchment and grease had been utterly eradicated by the smell of Yprean Amora flowers, despite none being around. Ishabeth was a psyker, after all, and her secondary ability to trick the senses with her imagination would have gotten her shot, were it not for her usefulness as a battle-psyker.

"Hmm?" It seemed, however, that the airheaded Ishabeth was also completely oblivious to that particular facet of her powers. She was practically dancing around on her staff as she sat on the edge of the green cushion. It was an improvised job made from materials provided by Michael, and normally served as the Commissar's couch, although more often than not, it would be his bed for the night – there just wasn't any real reason to trudge back to the officer's hab-block and crash into his bed there, no matter how similar the two surfaces were.

"I said, you seem awfully cheerful today."

"Oh... I am?"

"It is most disconcerting, Ishabeth."

"Hmm... I have been Wandering lately, and... well, things are just so cheerful in the neighborhood around us... I just can't help it." She gave a small 'squee' and crashed back down onto the couch/bed/surface.

Tomas lowered his cup of recaf, and looked at her for a moment.

Wandering was her personal term for another of her abilities, this time a consciously activated power. The psyker could remove her senses from her body, and then 'latch on' to the senses of another being some distance away. This was a most useful method of gathering reliable information before a battle, as she had become used to seeing through the eyes of a creature close by to a traitor commander's battle plans.

Ishabeth stirred, her hand rubbing her shoulder as her face scrunched up into a mask of pain.

However, there were risks, so that power was used sparingly when faced against certain foes, such as Chaos. There were such times when other psykers had fallen prey to the Warp, and Tomas had been forced to execute them. He quietly touched the laspistol at his right hip. If he were forced to... would he be able to shoot her?

Why was he even thinking that? Of course he would... right?

The airheaded witch gasped as she bolted upright, and Tomas jerked upright.

"What's wrong?"

"... nothing. There's a woman out in that direction... bit into a chocolate..." Ishabeth giggled as she did. "Turns out there's a gold ring in it."

"I... see..." Grabbing his thermo-conservative flask, the Commissar shook it for a second before opening the cap and gulping down some more of the 'coffee' that he enjoyed so much, and poured himself another cup for good measure. He was getting flustered. The Commissar's cap was removed and placed on the back of his chair.

Ishabeth peered at him from underneath her hood, and her lips curved into a soft smile. Tomas felt his cheeks darken to red, and busied himself with his work. He turned half-away from her, wondering what the sweet, milky taste in his mouth was. Of course a byproduct of Ishabeth's abilities, he still was confused to its name.

"You know... that 'chocolate' confectionary tasted good..." She murmured, as if only to herself. Tomas felt her arms curl around his neck, and her hair whisper against his ear.

He turned around, and saw her dancing away from him, her light build skipping over the plasteel floor.

She giggled, and crashed back onto the makeshift couch.

Tomas steadied his racing heart, and sighed.

Huh. Psykers. Never would understand them.

"Ugh..." I hefted Big Red VI, and tossed it in the pile of spent fire extinguishers. Good grief, it was a good thing Vincent's friend was a pyrotechnician, and so could get these things for cheap.

Goddamn Orks.

Trudging across the room, I dressed into my sleepwear – boxers and a shirt - and promptly fell into bed. Tired as I was, sleep wrapped its embrace about me as soon as my eyes shut.

A hand, soft and limber, stroked my cheek. I looked up to see a black-haired girl peering down at me.

"... Michael?"

It was Young-Zara, an aspect of her personality. She was dressed in simple Terran clothes – a change from her usual Greco-Roman toga. And the skimpy Santa costume. It was an oversized jersey – to the point where it almost became a dress – and what looked like a skirt that reached her knees. The fabric that made up the jersey, however, was a lot lighter, like smoke. It wrapped around her and hung off her slim body, and I'll be damned if I wasn't tempted by the shapes presented to me.

Eldar were such beautiful creatures, so long as they kept their mouths shut. At the stage where they didn't, the universe's most ancient (still breathing) race became nearly the most annoying... well, you know, right?

I lifted myself upright.

"Yah! You again!" I scrambled up to my feet, expecting Undeserved and Disproportionate Retribution to suddenly arrive. I didn't quite know why that was, though.

Tears welled up on the avatar of Zara's every insecurity and worry. She was soon crying. I sighed, not quite knowing what to do. Yoza's own inner child wasn't quite as sensitive, but explained to me the concept: Every Eldar had multiple personality disorder (which explained a lot) and usually specialized them to some end. Warrior aspects, craftsman aspects, and aspects such as these, where they poured all their emotions and worries so that the others could focus and not suffer from such trivial things.

Of course, any competent leader had a lot of worries to get rid of.

"N-no! I don't mean it like that!" I hurriedly scrambled to my feet as Young-Zara began to cry. "Its just that... well... your other selves... are kinda bitc– protective! Protective... of you... you know... 'cause you're a part of them... 'nd you're... ah... more sensitive?"

She sniffled, and nodded her understanding. Shuffling forward, she wrapped herself in my arms and clung to my shirt. Awkwardly, I stroked her hair until she brought herself back to sniffling and steadying her breath.

Peering up at me, she hiccuped. "Th-thanks for that, mon-keigh..."

Hugging me close, I felt her nose trace the line of my collarbone, finding that snug little nook where someone could always find comfort.

I tried to smile as I brushed tear-soaked hair out of her eyes… dammit, why couldn't normal Zara be this heart-wrenchingly cute?

"Because, mon-keigh, I usually have to lead an army."

Oh shit.

Chapter 12[edit]

Thought for the Day: "Mercy is a luxury we can ill afford when at the brink of Oblivion." - Anon

My shoulder pulsed a wave of pain through me as the car hit the driveway, jolting all of its occupants around inside. Vincent eased his foot off the accelerator, and pulled up into the strip of concrete that connected the road to my house's garage, but stopping halfway.

I climbed out, the stained-red flour dusting off my shoulders and hair as I hurried to open the garage door. That short trip served to remind me of all my injuries in the past hour or so. I was still dizzy from the pain of a few blows to the head, my left shoulder had been stabbed and my right arm was burning with pain. I had a lot in the way of scratches on my elbows. My right knee had been scraped raw, and I had pulled my calf muscles when I was scrambling to my feet back on the parking lot.

Rattling on its rails, the large metal sheet eased up to allow the battered pickup to drive inside. As it rolled past me, I saw the unconscious cultist flopped over in her seat. A shot of pain reminded me again of what had just happened. She had been given a sentient knife... a sentient, daemonic knife that had tried to kill my friends – Vincent and the mini-scouts – and ended up attracting followers of the Blood God in the mix as well.

We had survived – maybe only just – and managed to limp away without any lasting damage to Vincent nor myself... but as for the scouts...

I picked up a rag from a nearby bench – an old t-shirt I remember from when I was... what, eight? - and dusted myself off. Spaghetti and semi-dried sauce, flour and... blood. My blood. The cultist's blood. The blood of a Scout. I don't know who it belonged to... I didn't care from whom it had come from. Blood had been spilled, and the Cultist was to blame. We had lost over a third of the scouts that had been sent out to follow me. Their comrades, however, still reassured me that their souls were now at rest.

The Eldar mournfully carried the soul-carrying gems – little red teardrops to me – inside of a special pouch. There, they would rest, and find paradise. The Imperials saluted the passing of their comrades, some of them grimly thanking me for giving them the opportunity to fell a Titan-scale daemon. It was a better death than many of their past comrades had, they said. The Tau simply mentioned that their comrade had given her life for The Greater Good, and that they would honor her memory by continuing on with their tasks. I was thankful that the other Tau casualty – the one with the locked-up suit – had only been battered into unconsciousness. He would recover.

I managed to clear away some of the half-dried blood on my shoulder, and the pounding pain of it didn't help. I stumbled slightly on my feet as I turned around to the door.

Crossing to the other side of the garage as the pickup's engine sputtered and died, I opened the large door that connected the garage to my house. It opened up to the hallway, which had – since I had left this morning - become a staging area for my miniature army. They were also very noisy.

Space Marine Captain Eizak and the other Imperial leaders were by far the most vocal, with the Tau and Eldar close behind. At least they aren't ripping each other to smaller shreds. But then again things were a little loud in here, so when I tapped my knuckles on the doorframe, everyone whipped around with weapons drawn.

I blinked as soon as I saw the sheer volume of potential destructive power leveled at my face.

From the heavy weapons of the Imperial Guard and the Eldar to the massive railgun mounted on the Tau Hammerhead and the simply absurd Demolisher Cannon on the Space Marine Vindicator, and all the way down to the individual weapons – the automatic grenade launchers of the Space Marines, the Tau pulse weapons, the Eldar monomolecular shuriken launchers... all those weapons would have really hurt individually, not to mention as a group of several hundred assorted weapons.

I ducked.

Vincent – who had staggered out of the car and was now standing behind me - quietly swore to himself and held his hands up. "Wuih... kalian sinting, ya?" [Translation: Wow... you guys are crazy, aren't you?]

Silence reigned.

"Now... what in the Emperor's name were you doing, just barging in like that!" Canoness Samisha shouted up at me. I was vaguely aware of Vincent shuffling away at that point.

"Well, I'm kind of bleeding right now, and there's this great big hole in my shoulder!"

"Its only a stab wound, Michael!" Shouted Sergeant Vinters.

"Like hell it is!" I replied, but regretted it immediately as my shoulder began to protest. Some of the psykers in the crowd flinched.

"Look, for me its something serious! I mean, I just got stabbed! With a knife!" My shoulder was pounding with the exertion, and I was running short on breath...

Vincent gave a loud cough, the 'a-hem' that told me that he was either needing a cough drop or a lot of attention.

"Mike? Yeah... hate to interrupt you, but we kinda have something else to worry about." Vincent had managed to manhandle the girl out of the car, and was now standing with her in his arms. I gave the miniature warriors a 'wait here for a second' gesture and moved as quickly as my battered body could get itself over to Vincent and help with carrying the girl.

Between the two of us – although, with my shoulder it was more me steadying Vincent as he manhandled the cultist - we carried her limp form over to the couch. Normally, it acted as a 'truce zone' for the minis, where anyone could simply watch the various TV shows and sometimes movies that I put on.

Due to diverse interests and the willingness of the various forces to become violent to see the shows that many had become almost psychotically affectionate towards, I decided that they would have to book their shows, and in case of conflicts, I had to dumb down their conflict-resolution methods from 'last one to die' to 'paper scissors rock'... until I realized that Silverite and his constant request for Mythbusters would be fulfilled due to his psyker abilities to preempt the actions of his competitor. I then tried rolling dice, until Yoza's sudden upshot of wins told me telepathy was at hand here.

Finally, I had to settle that we were going to have to elect someone without any real allegiances nor addictions to TV. So that's when Shas'O Firestrike came into play...

Until he found out about Gundam and other Japanese mecha series, especially Appleseed.

Dammit.

"Hey, Mike! Mike, don't pass out on me now!"

Ten minutes, one psychic slap/jumpstart from the combined efforts of Yoza and Zara and a glass of ice cold water tipped on me later, I had managed to mumble the location of my medical supplies. Then I passed out for a little while longer, but now I was awake and being dressed in bandages as Vincent followed the instructions of the Imperial Guard medics.

"There, done." He tied off the bandage, to the approval of the medics, and left me alone.

I turned to watch the Cultist, her face screwed up into a frowning mask of someone having a very bad nightmare. Her unconscious form simply slipped into place, her arm falling down to hang off the couch. I quietly placed it across her chest, and found strands of her purple hair floating up into my face, rising from her escaping breath.

Again, I was reminded of what she was, despite the lives that she had just cost us already. She may have been a semi-crazed but still apologetic attacker, but she was still a very scared teenager, who had gotten in way beyond her depth. As she sucked in another breath, I could see how the Chaos Gods had lured her in. Remembering to before her summoning, she had looked rather plain compared to this girl before me. Her physical form was now that of a goddess. Her rich, tanned skin shone a dull bronze color. Dark purple tresses licked at her shoulder blades when down, and her heart-shaped face would have looked beautiful were it not for her expression. I also noted that she looked as if she had come from the middle east. I checked myself when I realized I was brushing hair from her face.

'Goddess of Temptation' came to mind here. Except that she kind of smelled like toast and burnt bacon.

Rising up reluctantly, I turned to see that most of the armies had followed us, their weapons held cautiously at their sides. Zara looked up at me, drifting up on her skimmer. It was a vehicle with a scoop shaped hull, and a platform on top, which she stood on. Her helmet was held at her side, and her face was set into a grim expression of barely checked emotion. Emotions of rage, confusion... I looked down to see her face.

"She is a spawn of Chaos, Mon-keigh." The Eldar Farseer stated.

I remained silent, but nodded mutely.

"You have invited a servant of the Ruinous Powers into our house." The tone was like that of 'You have just killed my sister'.

Anger boiled, and I felt my jaw muscles tighten as the psykers and the leaders closed in on me.

"... my house, Zara. My rules. You have said yourself that you would observe them."

"Irrelevant." She cut in. "You have brought in a Chaos worshiper into your own home. She is practically a beacon for all manner of Warp-beings."

Justicar Amadeus looked up at me as well. "Nothing good has come from attempting to 'rescue' a Chaos cultist. Best be to give her the Emperor's Mercy and be done with it."

I knelt down in front of them and snarled as I slammed a hand down on the coffee table. Eldar warrior and Space Marine alike teetered on their balance, fighting for footing.

"I'm not going to go around and just murder someone!"

Another voice cut into the conversation.

"Its not murder! She has been touched by Chaos, Michael! Its mercy for what she will become!" Commissar Tomas snapped. "I have seen far, far too many Chaos worshipers fall to their own dooms from such mercies. You have let her live too long!"

"Michael, listen to us! We have been dealing with the followers of Chaos for decades, if not centuries." Librarian Vasili joined in. "They sow nothing but destruction and insanity! You shall reap nothing but ruin and corruption if you let her be."

"Shut up! I'm not going to kill her!" I hissed back. "We haven't given her a chance!"

"She doesn't deserve yet another one, Michael!" Canoness Samisha cried out. "Her chance came and went when she opened herself for the Ruinous Powers!"

"We are now at war with forces too terrible for you to comprehend." Justicar Amadeus shouted. "We cannot afford such mercy for any of its victims too weak to take the correct course. That kind of mercy will destroy us; it weakens us and saps our resolve. Even now, we are divided." His broad gesture enveloped all those present. "Put aside all such thoughts, Michael!"

I turned to Vincent for help. He was now sitting on the kitchen stool, holding the looted pistol thoughtfully in his hand. He looked at me, and then glanced at the Cultist. I glared at him. Guiltily, he turned away and busied himself with hunting down what passed for medical supplies in my house.

Breath hissing quietly from my nostrils, I turned to everyone.

"But... how are we going to cover this up?" I turned to Commissar Tomas and the Imperials. "If an Imperial Citizen was found to have hidden a Chaos Cultist – even the dead body of one – would you investigate?"

"Of course. And that is your point in its entirety, isn't it, Michael?" Librarian Vasili mused, nodding his tentative understanding. "We cannot risk exposing this era to ourselves. However, we also face the dilemma of letting this Cultist live. If we do so, we risk even more than mere exposure."

"Unless you want to each be running for your lives. If the local authorities... you'd call them Arbites... things would go sour, faster. They'd take her in, they'd experiment, seeing as they'd probably never have seen anything like this before. What do you think would happen then, if someone gets it in his or her head to try and replicate the circumstances of her little 'ritual'?"

"But Michael, surely you can't just..." Commissar Tomas' quick glance at the basement betrayed the thought.

"What, feed her to the Orks! Would you do that to one of your own?"

The Commissar took a visible step back.

Vincent coughed violently. I shot him a glare, which he returned with a confused expression.

"So, Michael, if you have a goal then you must have a plan to achieve it, I presume?" Zara asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

Now it was my turn to be defensive.

"I... I don't know."

Feeling defeated, I looked at the assembled leaders, who were looking at me with tense expressions. They were used to seeing me more or less knowing what I was doing... I think.

"Maybe now, the Odro Malleus can be of use to you?"

Ordo Malleus Inquisitor Iosef Danilov strode up in his greatcoat, his two 'aides' flanking him. Both looked to be on par with most Space Marines, without all the armor.

I blinked a few times. Vaguely, I remembered him being the leader of the Sisters of Battle and the Grey Knights, but...

"When did you pop up?"

"From the very beginning, boy."

Oh. Right.

"You were the one who sicced that Leman Russ on me, weren't you?"

"..." Behind the Inquisitor, the female bodyguard politely put a hand over her mouth as her male counterpart grinned. The Inquisitor's cheeks visibly brightened.

"Never mind. Can you exorcise whatever daemons might be in her?"

"If she does have a daemon possessing her, we would already be dead. Artefacts of Chaos are what will cause her end, Michael. You must strip her of any such Icons, and from there we can work on for any... clingers."

"... you want me to strip her!"

Vincent found a convenient surface and applied his head to it, going at it steadily with a metronomic precision, he began to bash a small depression into my wall.

"... How about we just call Alice?"

In the end, time was of the essence, so it was decided that I would do this under the supervision of the Hospitalers squad – basically doctors and nurses – from the Sisters of Battle, some of the Eldar who had before been healers, and a few Guardsmen medics. Oh, and lets not forget that the Ordo Malleus – Grey Knights and Inquisitor's retinue - were standing by to purify any taint.

"Where first?"

"Michael, she has a necklace. Take it away." Dalia, Inquisitional attache, informed me. I had been given her to act as my instructor, so that I wouldn't have to listen to two dozen instructions at the same time from twice as many voices.

My fingers felt around the Cultist's smooth neck, and I finally found a clasp behind. Fiddling with it and fumbling it a few times, I managed to get the thing off.

"Good. Just toss it to the floor so Raquel may inspect it."

Nodding, I did so. Rahquel was a Repentant Witch, a former near-heretical psyker that had asked for forgiveness through atonement. She would be the first to touch any of the potential Chaos Artifacts, with a failsafe bomb in hand.

I would feel sorry for her, if not for her enthusiasm for the job.

"She's there. Next we have an earring, left ear... uh... I think we'll leave that for the Seraphim." A quick exchange over the vox sent a squad of winged Sisters closing in on the earring. "Moving on... try her left forearm over there, seems like a bracelet around her wrist."

My hands began to move that way, moving straight from neck to wrist. The prick of a chainsword made me stop just as I was about to reach a third of the way.

"Watch yourself, boy."

"... sure."

Lifting my hands over her chest, I quickly moved my hands away from the berserk buttons. Or mounds. You know what I mean, right?

"A little to your right, Michael."

I seized a wrist, and found the bangles that was being referred to. They slipped off easily enough, and I saw that they were simply a cheap plastic thing not really made for anything but decoration. Nonetheless, I tossed it to the ground.

"Hey!"

"Sorry, Rahq~"

The cultist's right hand slapped me across the cheek.

It was as if a thunderbolt had just struck me.

My head whipped around, with Dalia screaming into my ear as she clung desperately onto my collar. I managed to steady myself before she could fall off. By the time I got my attention to the other matter at hand, the air was filled with stern cries and the sound of turning turrets.

"NOBODY SHOOT! EVERYONE, STOP!"

All the assembled forces stopped, thank the Emperor and whatever deities are around to help me.

Surrounded by miniature soldiers and by one rather stretched looking man, I'm guessing that the girl would be rather freaked out right now.

"Hyuu..." She breathed in her whistling speech. Blood red eyes were dilated, almost like a person on a high. "Hwerr? Hwerr ish..." Her unfocused eyes snapped to me. She yelped, and jumped back – the Sisters and Banshees had long ago vacated that spot, so nobody was hurt. I again shouted everyone to keep from opening fire. The Cultist was now trying to make herself as small as possible, considering that she had a large number of guns pointed at her.

"Dem!" She screeched, pointing. "Dey isssh leetle mhonssters." Already, the girl was close to tears. I tensed, wondering what was going to happen.

"The only monster here is you, young one." Zara quipped from her skimmer.

I stood up from my half-crouch, ignoring the burning sensation on my cheek. I tried to reassure her.

"Hey, hey... calm down, we're not going to hurt you..."

"... unless you try something." Vincent finished for me, standing behind the kitchen counter, pouring a glass of water for himself.

"... hyuu... hyuu ahr... zat mahhn..." The girl had – for now – stopped trying to get away from me and was now sitting on the couch. Why did she know me?

"hween hy sahmonned kay-osss..." She whispered. "hyuu hwerr therrre..."

When she summoned Chaos. I was there. I remembered. My first out-of-body experience, peering through a tear in space and time. I had watched her, crying and weak, spill blood – her blood – on the Mark of Chaos, summoning the Ruinous Powers. Something I'll never forget.

"hannd... hrii-man sayd... hiff hy kheel hyuu... hy cuuld bhee fhreee... hannd... hee sahmonned thaat hnaif..."

And... hreeman? Who was that? Well, whoever he was, that guy had put a bounty on my head. The reward? Freedom. So now she had a lot of reasons to try and kill me, like she had with that knife. The sentient, daemonic knife that had cut into my shoulder and was now keeping my left arm below shoulder level.

I nodded, and stepped forward, but suddenly the girl yelped and tried to bat me away.

There was the sound of a pair of bolter shots, and there was a small explosion beside her. The Cultist yelped, and crashed back down into her seat. She was on the edge of panic, but it seemed like she had enough self control to not go screaming her head off.

Once more, I shouted for everyone to stop pointing their guns at the Cultist, however good an idea that was.

"Be thankful for him, child." Justicar Amadeus rumbled. "He is the only reason you still live. I think it fair to say that were Michael to meet his end, I would also assume that you will, too."

"The shiny mon-keigh is quite correct." Zara quipped. "The only thing standing between you and destruction is the naïve mercy that is the big mon-keigh."

"...hreely?"

"Yes, really." Vasili sighed.

"What is your name, little one?" I was surprised at Canoness Samisha's soft tone, compared to her usual harsh, drill-sergeant commands.

"Hy ahm... hy ahm..." She hiccuped, and then continued on. "Mhai neehm issh Bhathel."

I swear, everybody paused and blinked for a second there. Her mangled speech was hard to understand, sure, but this was nigh incomprehensible.

"Excuse me?" Croaked Vincent.

"Bhathel."

"..." More silence filled the room. I blinked a few times, wondering what the hell was she talking about.

"Bha - th - el."

" … … … … "

Vincent passed her a paper and pen. "... could you write that down for me?"

B-A-T-E-L

She passed it to me, and I read it out.

"Alright, thanks... Batel... am I saying it right?" I asked.

Mutely, she nodded her head.

He stepped back, to the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Vincent looked up, and went to the window.

"Alice." He reported. Then blinked. "Wait... why is her hair all white?"

I frowned, jumping up out of my seat and walking over to the window. Indeed, Alice had cut her hair shorter and was now such a light color that it looked white.

And on her shoulders and peeking out of her bag were a dozen Sisters of Battle.

Chapter 13[edit]

I wrenched the door open, to the sight of what could only be described as Sister Alice, Adepta Sororitas. White-gold hair framed her face in a pageboy cut. Her clothes consisted of a white blouse and an embroidered black waistcoat. Her black jeans hugged her legs closely as they tapered down to some sturdy black boots. Alice let me drink in the sight of her, bathed in the late-morning sun, and then giggled. She threw herself at me, catching my right shoulder and left waist – thankfully avoiding my left shoulder from getting battered more than necessary – and enfolded me in a hug.

"Uh... hello to you too."

Then it suddenly hit me that this was the first time I had ever hugged Alice since our first meeting a few years ago. Alice, who had always avoided direct contact with most other people. Alice, who only ever got close to the people she knew – that is, Vincent, Olivia, Mark, Miles, Sam, Alexa and myself – and never really letting anyone else closer than arm's reach and acquaintances.

Any other thoughts were dashed to pieces as her lips pressed against my cheek, and I felt the area wheres he kissed reddening as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

"Always wanted to do that..." She blushed as she pulled me close in for a warm hug. "Thanks, Michael. For a lot of things."

Giggling, she sought to do the same with Vincent (who was already scrambling to his feet). Despite his head start, she crossed the room quickly, glomping him and kissing him on the cheek. The nerd who had just shot a man in the leg without so much as a 'wow' flushed red, and went into shock. He hit the ground hard as his feet lost their balance, and rolled once, scattering Chimera and Devilfish everywhere. I think he would have just given up and fainted if Alice didn't give him a 'revival flick' with her index finger.

I shot a look at the rest of the group.

Canoness Samisha was giving out body language that amounted to 'what the hell, Sister?' and Ishabeth had her head on a swivel, no doubt looking for Commissar Tomas... I saw him on the other side of a Chimera, quickly shifting himself to the open back hatch. A half hundred Imperial Guardsmen were staring on in shock and awe, as well as a good number of the Space Marines and Sisters of Battle. I'm guessing that Sisters kissing men was a rather rare event among the Imperium.

Looking at the xeno, I wasn't surprised to find that the Tau were pissing themselves laughing behind their featureless helmets, I'm sure. Sergeant Talon and various others were leaning on their friends, spasmodically twitching rather worryingly. One Broadside Battlesuit tipped over.

Eldar were more stoic, more controlled (except for a few) and far less entertaining. That is, until I caught Zara's expression, or lack thereof, and the fact that she was being attended to for splinters of one of the rune-stone in her hand.

Oh boy.

Lastly, I looked at the Cultist, Batel, as she stared on. 'Does this always happen?' was the question written all over her face.

"This is the first time it happened." I croaked.

"Uh..." Her eyes darted from exit to exit. "Shurrre..." She ventured, not quite believing me. "Duu hyuu hwanch huss choo gho?" An olive skinned hand gestured towards Alice, who was half-straddling Vincent as he tried to recover from her glomp. Suddenly, there were red stains on the wooden floor.

"Ehewh..."

"Mah douze!" Vincent cried out, clutching his face. I saw blood running between his fingertips.

"... Alice, Vincent's going to bleed out soon! Please, stop that!"

I hobbled over to Vincent, and sat down beside him.

Alice shifted herself off him, sitting on the floor beside me and looking on earnestly as I checked Vincent's nose. So far, I was just guessing that he had bashed his nose on the way down, but Alice had not tackled him that hard.

"... bhlond guurl skares husss..." Batel whispered, peeking over the edge of the couch

The adopted Sister of Battle tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to her. She pointed at the purple-haired cultist that was now nervously talking to a Grey Knight with a similar opinion.

"... err... who is she?"

"W-what? Do I look that different to you guys?"

Alice was teasing her hair. The long tresses had been cropped into a pageboy haircut with millimeter precision – something that made me think that a dozen Sisters of Battle with combat knives could easily achieve – and dyed into a pale off-white color. A white-blond warrior nun convert now sat on the stool set into the counter outside of my kitchen.

Vincent nodded solemnly, transfixed by Alice's new appearance. Her wardrobe had no doubt changed as well, now that she wore the colors of the Sisters of Battle.

"What happened there?" Vincent asked, his voice rather flat from the two chunks of tissue that had been pushed up his nose. He was looking at the two-dozen Sisters of Battle now appraising themselves of events that had happened between their departure and return.

"Stuff. I took some Sisters home with me." She answered. "What happened here would be a better question..." Alice turned worried eyes to fix them on my wounded shoulder. "Michael... did you have an accident?"

I instinctively winced as attention was brought around to my wounded shoulder. It looked alright, underneath a shirt and several layers of gauze and pads, but it still hurt like hell. I shook my head.

"Chaos-possessed knife stabbed me."

There was silence as Batel shifted in her seat. The Cultist was still seated at her couch, a dozen heavy weapons and almost a hundred personnel ready to unleash the most destructive weapons that could be found upon her at the slightest... no, at my signal. They had agreed to let me take the risk of her going back to her Chaotic side, or becoming the human girl that she had been.

"And the girl over there?" Alice asked, pointing at Batel.

"The one the knife possessed." I answered.

Alice stared far less lethal daggers at Batel, her gaze causing the olive-skinned (former) Cultist to flinch.

I sighed.

"No. We're done, she's innocent..." Half of the listening miniatures roared in unison. "... mostly. But I want to help her. She can be helped, she hasn't killed for Chaos... and I think that's the starting point."

Vincent nodded. "Too many have died already. Now we need to save who we can."

"My Sisters have told me many great sorrows have come from such ventures." Alice whispered, throwing another glance at the Cultist.

"Hy'll bee ghud." Batel promised. "Hy hwon't kheel hyuu hwin hyuu shlehp."

Vincent facepalmed. Well, fore-head palmed, the guy had glasses.

"Not reassuring us!" I snapped, to regret it instantly. Batel was shutting down as she cowered in the corner of the sofa, curling up into a little ball as she hugged her knees

"Look... we're all a little strained at the moment, aren't we?" I threw a glare at the others, who nodded faux-enthusiastically.

"... lets get some rest... how about we go make some lunch?"

"Which reminds me, mon-keigh... where are those supplies you promised us?"

Oh... whoops. I looked at Zara's death-glare. She had been wearing her helmet less and less these days, and her midnight black locks floated up as she gathered energy.

"H-hey! We were being attacked by a living knife! C'mon, you gotta give us some credit, okay! N-no, you put that shuriken pistol away right now! Whoa! I didn't mean it like that! ZARA, NOOOOOOOO!"

It was decided that I'd go out for another excursion in Vincent's pickup while he and Batel stayed at home with the majority of the heavy equipment. A lot of the guys around felt that this was a little too soon to be heading back out, but we needed food, and armies marched and fought on their stomachs. A reassuring point to many, though was the reason why I said majority of the heavy equipment. The Tau and the Eldar had given me jurisdiction over their heavier vehicles, which would hide inside of the pickup in case we ran into another... problem. With the Tau railgun's bombardment munitions comparable to a 'shotgun to the face' as Vincent put it, I figured that we would have more than enough protection... this time.

I slid into the driver's seat of Vincent's pickup, towel in hand, as I wiped down what blood there was around the car.

Especially in the glovebox. I felt my jaw clench as I daubed away a slick mixture of red and blue blood. Human, Eldar and Tau blood. Wiping away the marks of their suffering, I balled up the towel and chucked it over into a bin.

My shoulder throbbed. Still hurting.

"You really shouldn't drive, even if you've been improving." Alice worried, casting a glance at my shoulder.

She had changed the dressing while Vincent hunted around for more food, and we had both been rather shocked to see that the damage done was actually a lot less than what we had started with. Granted, the knife had gone in maybe an inch and a half, but now... the wound seemed to be repairing itself quickly enough, so there wasn't any need to panic over it. I could still feel my shoulder throbbing in protest, but moving around wasn't too much of a problem anymore.

"Can you drive a stick?"

Alice thought for it a bit. She drove around in a Pugeot 507 to get to work, transporting her gear around got her behind the wheels of a van, sometimes. Both were automatic transmission cars. Glancing at the gearshift, she nodded and slid over to the passenger's seat.

"... fair enough. We're headed for Henderson's, right?" She asked, naming the family owned store that I was thinking of going to. I nodded, and we pulled out of the driveway.

I chose a different place to shop this time. Further away, sure, but at least it wasn't crawling all over with police.

The supermarket I was headed for was a smallish little box of concrete and steel, set in the middle of the suburban strip mall (it was a small one) and surrounded by quaint little boutiques, it was a much more busy place than the early morning shopping that had been interrupted earlier on.

Managing to get a parking space (things were filling up), I slid out of the car in a bout of deja vu, and walked around to the back of the car.

"I still think that this is a bad idea, mon-keigh." Zara sighed, seated atop a crate of Vincent's tools. Her comrades-in-arms were sitting around her, the majority of the more free-thinking miniatures who were willing to work with 'xeno'; namely the Cadian's more unconventional warfighters, the majority of the Tau infantry cadre, the Grey Knights, a few of the Space Marines who had served with the 'Deathwatch', the Sisters of Battle were here mostly thanks to Alice, and last but not least a great number of the Eldar warhost.

"Don't worry... there's you guys, right? If you feel worried, all you need to do is mount up, and go for a high speed run across to the roof there." Pointed at the skylights that crisscrossed the rooftops. I then pointed out the metal vents. "Cut through into those vents, and you should be able to access most of the rooms in the entire complex."

The Space Marine leader – Sergeant Vinters - nodded, looking at the rests of the Scouts that weren't recuperating back at home.

"We'll get some battle plans read for any such instances."

"Alright. See you around, then."

The gruff Assault Marine smiled and nodded.

I nodded in return, and with that, Alice bid her goodbyes to the Sisters and the Tau, and together we headed off towards the Mall.

It was only a few steps away that I began to strike up conversation with the newly converted Sister of Battle... it was hard to think of her as anyone else other than a Sister now.

"So, Alice... how did you get Sisters with you?"

"I took some home with me... they're really interesting people, you know? All the things that they've done..." Alice smiled a little to herself, before looking up sheepishly at me. "You didn't mind, did you? Me taking all those Sisters?"

"Nah, its okay... I was wondering why a couple dozen were missing, but I couldn't think of such things while I was dealing with the Orks 'n all them..." I gestured vaguely downwards, as if sweeping a hand across the coffee table and scattering miniature soldiers all over the floor... maybe that was more a muscle memory/reflex than gesture. Those damned Orks were getting everywhere nowadays.

"Oh... busy life, then, with all those Orks?" Alice smiled. "I can see why you disappeared suddenly about a month ago." She giggled, and looked out at the fast approaching mall.

A month ago... had it really been that long? It felt longer... almost like it had been five months, actually. Each day had been a struggle, at first, for peace and quiet.

Now... things were going back to the shit with the Chaos boys entering the equation.

A busy soccer mom bumped my left elbow, sending my side screaming as it protested. Her little kids trailed along behind her. I bent over forward, sucking in a deep breath.

I was still squeezing my eyes shut as I looked back up.

A little girl, no more than ten, was staring at me and Alice.

I did my best impression of Vincent's 'there's nothing wrong here' smile and wave.

She smiled back, and walked away.

Inside the mall proper, Alice sure was turning a lot of heads. Her white-gold hair was unusual, to say the least. I walked/loped alongside her as she made her way down through the mall's hallways. With Alice smiling quietly to herself with a warm confidence, we passed by the many small stores as we hurried over to the mini-market. When we got there, I began digging around inside of my satchel, looking for the shopping list – again – and hoping I didn't scratch anything painful as I searched my left side pockets.

"Le'see..." I unfolded the crumpled paper. "Bread, rice, some of those instant meals... noodles... the usual, I guess." I looked up from my salvaged shopping list, and shrugged.

"Alright." Alice nodded, peering over my forearm to read the list herself. "Sounds good."

I yanked a trolley from the trolley park, and pushed it into the aisles of foodstuffs and miscellaneous items.

We were soon sweeping along the aisles and picking up whatever was on the shopping list. I found it rather odd, doing grocery shopping with just Alice. The feeling was much more different than when it was a group of us, like back when we were flatting together, or like the times with what portions of my family wanted to come along shopping with mom.

What was that feeling?

You'll only find its name once you have found it, mon-keigh. Zara's mind-shadow chuckled.

A sense of familiarity, do you feel. Shadow-Yoza rasped in his best Yoda-style speech patterns. A comrade-in-arms, this bond is similar to.

Well, I never really got the chance to think about it after that: A roll of tissue – still in its plastic wrapper – bounced off my head and into the trolley in front of me. Alice smirked as she hefted a second one, ticking another item off the list.

"If your wound hurts, you probably should be sitting down somewhere..." She murmured, staring at my shoulder. "I'll go finish the shopping, you just go and recuperate."

"I'll be fine, thanks."

"You sure?" The white-haired young woman tapped her chin thoughtfully, a worried expression creeping onto her face. I wasn't sure, but I was feeling like her stare was making things worse.

I nodded firmly, ending the conversation. "Sure."

Alice nodded as she placed the subject carefully to the side, and we began our shopping run. Things went quietly as we wandered through the aisles, grabbing the things I had missed the first time we tried to shop.

Cereal, rice, bread, coffee (lots of coffee)... y'know, the usual supplies.

A little scratching sound directly behind me, the scuffling of feet against floor, made me turn around in alarm. I didn't want to get attacked in another supermarket... especially with my current state of mind. Alice gasped as I crashed into the little girl that had been creeping up on us. She bounced off my right leg, tumbling backwards as she tripped over her own feet, struggling to stay upright.

I stumbled backward and almost fell, were it not for me grabbing onto the solid shelving behind me. The girl had recovered from the impact as well, and was now brushing herself down. Alice was already half-crouched down beside her, asking her if she was alright, to which the girl was fervently nodding.

"Ah... are you alright? I'm sorry about that..."

The girl dusted herself off, and looked up at me – she was just above my waist in height – and nodded.

"Its'kay." She half-whispered, in a quiet voice.

Hey... I peered at her closely. She was that girl that was smiling at me earlier, wasn't she?

I looked at her thoughtfully as she began peeking around the corners and suchlike, before turning to me.

She was frowning at me now. Her hair was a charcoal black, and her face a pastel pink. Bright aquamarine blue eyes fixed to mine as her round face fixed into the stare of childhood curiosity, the morbid fascination of a child looking at something new and unknown.

"You're bleeding."

Huh?

"You're bleeding. From your nose, mister." She pointed her finger to the center of my face, and I reached up to dab a line of blood running from my nose.

Alice swung her head around to face me. "What the?"

We began panicking.

I jammed my hand into my pockets, searching for a tissue as Alice dug into her bag for one.

Soon enough, a tissue was produced and my nose plugged in a way far too similar to Vincent in the aftermath of Alice's tackle-hugging.

"Uhm... Michael? Are you alright?"

"Fine, just fine..."

"Uh... well..." I looked at the girl. Her thick duster-style coat bespoke a high-class heritage.

"Are you lost?" I asked her.

"I'm trying to find someone." Was her answer.

Not a yes nor a no answer... odd. I tried to puzzle out what she meant by that. More information. That was what I needed. "... okay... what's your name?"

"Emma." She replied. "What's yours, mister?"

"Michael."

"Is she your girlfriend?"

Emma pointed a finger at Alice, and both of us flushed red.

"No. Just friends." Alice chuckled, tapping Emma's pointer finger. "And pointing at people is rude, don't do it again, okay?"

The girl smiled, and nodded. I sighed as I tried something to Bow in Frustration to.

"Why is Michael banging his head against the shelf?"

There was a pause.

"Why are you hitting yourself?"

Ten minutes later, we were headed for Miles. His uncle owned the place, and when he had finished his latest deployment the former vehicle crewman of the 1st Engineer Battalion worked here.

"... Oh, hey! Mickey!" Waving his arm, the 'off duty' Cpl. Miles Henderson was grinning broadly as I came along, trailing Alice and Emma behind me. His broad frame was wrapped in the simple shirt with the supermarket's logo printed on the back and in the breast-pocket.

"Heya, Miles." I returned the greeting, grinning with our usual volley of casual quips and curling up all but my middle and pointer finger, touching my temple in a quick mock-salute.

"Just this here?" He asked, pointing at the groceries. "Heya, Al- whoa, nice haircut."

Alice smiled and blushed, stepping sideways to put me in between Miles and herself. I humored her there, and just continued to unload the shopping.

"Oh, hey, you hear about the gun range next Saturday? Turns out, Mark's the kid-brother of one of the guys in the 75th Ranger Battalion. They're gonna be bringing in a ton of stuff down to the range for us to play with. Real SpecOps stuff... man, what I'd give to be there."

"Job day, huh?"

Miles sighed, and then tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Just need someone to fill in for me."

I went through a mental checklist of friends, but the majority of them – worryingly enough – would rather haul ass and see the 75th if they ever knew about the thought of meeting real Rangers.

"Try calling Alexa, or maybe Sam... they usually aren't working on Saturdays." I answered, as Miles passed each item through the scanner with an electronic boop.

"'lright, I'll see who I can get along, then." He sighed, placing the groceries into the shopping bags.

"Oh... and can you ask for the parents of Emma to come up to the front?"

Miles' face twisted into an expression of confusion. "Who's Emma?"

"This girl right... wait..."

Emma had disappeared.

I sighed. "There's a girl running around, black hair, blue eyes, kind of tan-ish duster coat, probably lost. Alice and I picked her up just now, but she must have wandered off again."

Looking around, Miles nodded his understanding as he scanned for the missing girl.

"Okay then, I'll keep an eye out for her... well, see you around, Mickey."

I nodded, hefting the shopping bags. Two for me, two for Alice. Enough supplies for a small army... literally.

"See ya, Miles."

My grin was more than genuine. It was nice, you know... to have a normal time like this. Just shopping with friends...

"Now now, mon-keigh. No need to be hasty. I'm sure we turned left at that vent there, then right at the next intersection."

"I don't care where we've been, what I care about is how do we get out of here!"

There was a thump, which echoed throughout the air ducts. To their horror, Commissar Tomas and Farseer Zara found themselves face-to-grill-deformed-face with a security guard.

"Hey... hey, Jerry! I think there's something in them air-vents!"

There was a bright flash as a laspistol sparked into his eye.

"ARGH!"

The sounds of the predictable chaos when a three hundred pound mall-cop fell backwards off a ladder ensued.

"Run!"

Chapter 14[edit]

Scratching my head, I looked at the rather miffed Techpriest standing in front of me. He was of a rank that I couldn't bother remembering, but by the looks of it he was ranked pretty high up the ladder of hierarchy.

And he was pissed. Probably because in my other hand I was holding the plug that (usually) powered the rest of Michael's small computer suite.

"... in times like this, you guys can still just browse on the internet!"

"We are researching the true extent of the information leak we have discovered here, Vincent... it appears to be that information about many Imperial and xeno forces have been leaked out into this data hub that you call... 'The World Wide Web'... we have found many disturbingly accurate content of our universe in this place called... 'Lexicanum'... and more disturbing still is the files and information found on this information gathering place of... codenamed 'fat guys' and these... 'fags'." The techpriest paused for a moment.

"I do believe striking one's head against the wall is detrimental to efficiency, boy."

Gnashing teeth in constantly tested frustration, I marched out of Michael's study, and looked outside to see Alice and Michael bumping out the driveway and onto the road in my pickup truck.

A roughly trimmed fingernail scratched at my scalp as I looked on.

I don't remember giving Michael my car keys.

Then... why was he driving off in my car?

Ah, hell...

I sighed, and laid my head down on the kitchen counter top as an Eldar Falcon Grav-tank swept past. The captured pistol – a M1911 Colt .45 caliber semi-automatic – was placed on the bench, pointed at the bread-box. Michael had always hated that flower-patterned wooden box, so it wasn't like he would have minded it. Making sure the safety was on, as tempting as was to shoot the bright pink box, I left it there as I heard a car start up. Standing, I looked out the window as the car reversed out of the street.

My stare hauled its way over to the rapidly disappearing cloud of smoke that my pickup had left behind.

Well... good luck to them. I didn't know if there were any more cultists around – sure, we had at least one under lock and key (she was sitting on the couch, under the watchful senses of the miniature 40k 'siege experts') – but there were at least two or three more, wasn't there? I knew at least two were out of commission, having been shot by various weapons, but...

My mind jinked to the side of the question.

Sleep was sounding like a really attractive option right about now.

"Vincent?"

"Mhmgh...?" I muttered to the hardwood counter-top. Yeah, great conversation starter there, mate.

Poke.

My cheek curved inwards, then back out as I mumbled incoherently. Elsewhere, my glasses clattered as someone bumped into them. There was someone – a miniature - there. I didn't really care.

Things were... interesting out in Michael's house. An entire miniature army from almost every faction of the Warhammer 40k universe. Humans, Eldar, Tau, Orks... I hadn't really considered this actually happening... but still...

That's so freaking cool! I mean... Warhammer 40,000! IN. HIS. HOUSE!

My mind was getting rather sidetracked... hey, come back here, thoughts!

Meh. I flopped back down, my interest deflated.

Poke.

The tiny fists pressed against my cheek again, and I croaked out a grunt as they left.

"Is anyone alive in there?" The voice beside me asked. He was now tapping my head.

The Kasrkin Shock Trooper resorted to kicks. Okay, no more Nice Giant.

I picked up my arm, raising it high above my head, and brought it back down on the poor bastard that kicked me.

SLAM!

There was a little squirming and a lot of confused looks from bystanders as I looked down at my palm. It was raised off the ground, so that it wouldn't hurt the Cadian trapped underneath.

"Yes?"

"... can you please get off me?"

"Sure."

I lifted my palm off the table, to allow the Kasrkin – Sergeant Leon Cadiasson – to crawl out. I hadn't put that much pressure on his back – just enough to knock him down.

"What was that about? I only"

"I kind of looked dead?

The bald man thought about that for a second, scratching the stubble on his chin. He then nodded as he came to the affirmative answer.

"Yeah."

"Alrigh... wassamatter?"

"..."

Admittedly, I was hard to understand when I was tired. A lot of mumbling, a lot of muttering and a whole lot of half-thought out answers.

"What. Is. The. Matter?"

"Uhm... nothing. I just wanted to see who you were."

"..."

"You... you're Michael's friend, aren't ya?"

I nodded mutely, still rubbing my face. Reaching out, I pulled open a drawer, which contained Michael's cups and mugs, and opened his fridge. I found myself fumbling about inside the bright, cold room as I picked my way through the half-empty fridge, and found the jug of cold water that he kept inside.

Pouring myself a drink, I replaced the jug as the Kasrkin Sergeant sat down and pulled a durable-looking canteen from his hip. Things went... like something second-nature after that. My hand dove into the drawers, extracting a spoon. I poured some water into the spoon and the elite trooper dipped his vessel into the spoon.

We both drank in silence, and out of the corner of my eye I saw others were gathering about to join us.

Taking the opportunity to inspect the warrior, I looked down, drinking in every detail about this soldier of the future.

He was – as other Kasrkin were – dressed in heavy carapace armor, painted an olive drab green. The shapes were distorted, broken up by jagged red splashes, outlined in white. They would have vaguely reminded me of lightning bolts, if they weren't such a deep crimson color. Almost every surface was covered in the personal layout of pouches, control panels and what I presumed to be various kinds of grenades and smoke markers. The outline of the human warrior was further broken up by his massive backpack, which was half power source, half storage for more consumables.

His weapons were holstered, although I could see the power cables that connected the power sword and the... 'hell-pistol' at either hip, and seemed ready to leap out of their own accord if he were to sense danger. I saw his sly grin as he unholstered it.

Peering closely, I realized that this wasn't the typical pattern hell-pistol: There was – instead of a large cable with maybe one or two others – a series of different cables, all different in their markings. The body of the hellpistol itself was also much different: the boxy design had been extended upon, with a large sleeve around the barrel. On the side of the pistol was a port, I'm guessing for a las-pack of some sort, and mounted onto an optics railing was an optical scope.

"Cadian 'Sundering Lance' pattern hell-pistol, the best there is when it comes to personal las weaponry. The cogboys oil themselves whenever I ask them to maintain it."

I found myself smiling as he proudly displayed his overly large gun, and turned my attention to his sword.

The 'sword' itself was a fine weapon; straight edged, it looked like a chisel, if you looked at one from the side. Its coloring, however, was atypical of the usual blades that I had seen; instead of silvery metal, all polished and gleaming, this sword was of a black material, except for the straight silver edge of the weapon.

"Its was a piece of work done by a Magos." The Kasrkin explained. He took a breath, and let out a contented sigh. "Its not shiny, like the rest of the stuff the officers use. This is a working soldier's weapon."

I nodded, still transfixed by the quality of the weapons in his hands. "Cool."

The Kasrkin grinned. "Only until I start shooting." He chuckled.

Shaking my head with a matching grin, I turned to look at the rest of the miniature warriors in Michael's house. What a lucky guy... in some ways.

More of the Kasrkin's comrades – other Kasrkin as well as regular Guardsmen – trotted over, with worried expressions. There was a quick, whispered conversation from them. A few glanced over to their left.

I looked out, following their gaze from my seat in the kitchen, out to the gathering of techpriests around a Heavy Bolter team currently posted at the corner of the countertop, a nice roost to pound any enemies below.

"Something's wrong." One man quipped. Judging by his voxcaster and his heavy emphasis on optics, I was guessing he was a spotter of some kind.

Good pick. The guy knew how to state the obvious.

I walked over as quietly as I could, over to the Guardsmen and the Cogboys.

The red robes and cogwheel symbols emblazoned on the backs of the techpriests set them quite apart from the camouflaged Cadian Guardsmen, a three-man team of which was arguing with the half dozen cogboys. Around them were also the fireteam no doubt assigned to keep them

"You want to confiscate more of my shells!" The leader – I presumed he was a corporal or some similar rank – was gesturing broadly as he blocked the two servitors from taking a pair of drum-magazines which reminded me of the '30s era Tommy guns.

"1 4m 4f1241d 50, b01." [I am afraid so, boy.]

There was a pause as the Corporal tried to translate the letters and numbers jumbled around in his mind. He turned to his teammate. "What did he say?"

Trooper Sohm Vekt sighed, and checked a data-slate. " 'I am afraid so, boy.' " He translated.

Red robes were gilded with black and silver... I presumed this was the leader of the techpriests around here, nodded his head as he shot a withering glare with his organic eye to his junior comrade. C0gb01 wilted under his superior's stare.

The Corporal stepped forward, face furrowed in frustration.

"But this is critical to the functioning of my section! You can't just take them away!"

"We are running out of ammunition, and we're making sure everyone is as well supplied as possible... so that if one team is hit, we won't lose half of our remaining bolt shells."

"So you're going to make sure everyone has an even supply of bolt shells." I sighed, scratching that my five o'clock shadow. The others whirled around, too deep into conversation to notice a hundred meter tall human creeping up on them.

The Techpriest sagged as he nodded his head, his metal arms – I counted at least five – crossing across his chest as he readied himself for explanations.

"You are correct." He deadpanned, looking back up to meet my eyes.

I waved at him.

"Vincent. Friend of Michael."

"Techpriest Enginseer Karos 2938-19384."

"Okay... so... does this mean that we're gonna lose all capability for solid slug weapons?" I asked.

Hesitation. A shake of the head in disbelief, then a resigned nod.

"Many of our projectile weapons are running short in munitions." He finally admitted.

The pit of my stomach was already churning at the thought of such an event: the Ruinous Powers were practically at our doorstep, and fully two thirds of Imperial firepower – if I was right with my guess, anyway – was about to be cut off due to a lack of ammunition.

Fuck.

Michael needed to know about this, fast.

Plus, we needed to fix this problem. Faster.

"Why didn't you tell Michael about this?"

Their leader shrugged. "I mistaenly presumed Michael would be like any other Governor."

I sighed in frustration. "How can we solve this?"

"We require a blessed fabricator munitoria, Omnissiah bless its creator. A Mars pattern Primus, if possible." I was sure that was only for nerd-related values only a cogboy could understand. Like getting a hold of a top-of-the-line computer, I guessed. Karos continued on with his explanation.

"Some of the vehicles that were transported here, attached with which parts of the 1337th Logistics and our own Explorators, are thankfully fabricators... however we are still missing some types of ammunition..." He looked pointedly at the Heavy Bolter that the Cadians had returned to crewing.

"Like Heavy Bolter rounds." I finished for him.

"Exactly." The vox-unit exhaled, and it was a surprisingly human and despairing sigh that came out through the slit-like filters at his 'mouth'. "To compound this problem, the 938th has been issued equipment based around fighting the forces of Chaos... particularly the Traitor Marines..."

Sohm nodded gravely. "Therefore, we have a disproportionately higher number of bolt weapons and lascannon to deal with such a threat."

The techpriests and I both stared at him for a second.

"I translate the requisition forms to local dialects." Sohm shrugged, and returned to his crew.

We all nodded in understanding, and returned to the discussion at hand.

"The lascannon and other las weapons can continue functioning until the las-packs wear out... statistically, with current combat intensity, we will not need to worry about that for another month or so."

"Right. So the Heavy Bolters are going to run dry soon... What about the tanks?"

"They thankfully have not expended nearly as much ammunition as the infantry, although they do have their own bolt weapons, we estimate that one major engagement is enough to expend the last of their remaining munitions."

"... damn."

The techpriest silenced my next thought with a gesture, sending his five 'arms' in several directions. One popped off. Cursing quietly, he turned around to retrieve it as his acolytes rushed to his aid. I could hear snatches of both conversation and condescending

"But!" He called out, still twisting around like a dog chasing his tail. "The 1337th specializes in consumables, (Everything in its place! Red wire to red!)... which includes the ability to produce some of the blessed munitions of the (Grr... damnation! Leave no plug unplugged, silly boy!) holy Omnissiah's beneficent (Cut off that oil leak!) design."

"One of which produces tank shells?" I asked, hopefully.

"Leman Russ and Baneblade Battle Cannon have no fear of running short in munitions." The Techpriest answered, his arm problem fixed. "However, we are fast running out of the raw materials needed to produce the shells."

"..." Its a good thing Games Workshop never really made logistics a part of these battles...

"Alright... when Michael gets home, we'll load up your techpriests and a salvage crew. I'll take you to a place with lots of raw materials."

The techpriest looked up at me, and gave a short bow.

"May the Omnissiah bless you and guide your hand, Vincent."

Manners asserted themselves, and I found myself bowing in return.

The Cadian Kasrkin looked up at me, waving his grox-vox. It was basically a bullhorn, evidenced when he let rip with the decibels.

Grim and powerful, the voice of Inquisitor Danilov sounded over the vox.

"Vincent? We require your assistance. The Cultist wishes to repent, and we are preparing for the rituals."

- - - - - Half an hour later...

I stopped as the rest of the local Imperials and even some of the alien factions paused in silence, looking on with baited breath and loaded guns, all directed at the figure at the center of the cleared out room. Batel sat at the center of a pentagram, which had been marked out carefully by candles - I think we were chewing into Michael's blackout supplies there – and connected by white strings running from candle to candle.

Sitting at the center of the room and at the center of everyone's attention (and Imperial gunsights) was the former cultist, now the penitent witch. Her tattered clothes had been replaced by a white robe – Michael's bathrobe, if I didn't miss my guess – and most of her wounds had been patched up, more or less. It was a ritual that Raquel and the other Inquisitional lackeys had insisted on, a sign that she was repentant and would turn away from Chaos.

Standing atop a side-table, Inquisitor Danilov strode up to her, flanked on either side by Sanctioned Psyker Ishabeth and the Penitent Witch Raquel, the psychic aide to the Inquisitor. Behind them strode the powerful figures of Justicar Amadeus, Father Jeremiah and Canoness Samisha. They moved in a triangular formation, their steps carefully measured.

The six leaders of the ritual stopped, and Raquel alone stepped forward, whispered something to Batel, and stepped back as the penitent witch nodded quietly.

"Let us begin." Raquel's fragile voice intoned. "Repeat after me, penitent one."

Batel nodded weakly, and the smaller witch began to recite the litany;

"Immortal Emperor, at your feet I lay my soul."

"Ihmohtaal Ehmprah..." Her voice broke. Tears sprang to her eyes. Raquel and Ishabeth's hands reached out, and the two female psykers touched fingers. Batel seemed to regain her strength as their eyes met. "Aht hyoor feeat hy... hy rhehsht hmi sho-hol."

"A stained soul, heretic am I, faithless am I."

"Ha.. ha shtehn'd sho-hol, haerrichic haim hy... fhaeth-hess haim hy..." A small, but noticeable sob escaped her lips. There was something else going on, something in the background... I shook my head. I wasn't a psyker, but I knew a few: Librarian Vasili was crouched down now, palm to his crackling forehead and muttering something under his breath. Other Grey Knights were doing the same. The Eldar were chanting softly in the background of the ritual.

"A witch penitent, a sinner redemptive."

"Ah weetch pen-ee-tehnt." Fingers clamped tightly as Batel gripped the hem of her robe with a white-knuckle grip. "Ah sihnnher reh-dehm-chive." A smile faintly crossed Raquel's hopeful face.

"So I ask you for your beneficent grace."

"So... I hask yoo foar hyoor." She choked on her tears, forcing them back down as she focused on the words being framed by Raquel's lips, urging her to finish the litany. "ben-eff-ish-ient ghrace."

Batel took a deep breath, her dark purple hair shimmering as she furiously nodded her head down.

"And a chance for your forgiveness."

"Ahnd a chansh for hyour forgivenessss."

Danilov strode forwards.

"So ends the Litany of the Witch Repentant." He boomed, needing no aid to carry his voice across to even myself.

The room seemed to brighten up as she finished the litany without being shot, with many of the miniatures who could appreciate what she had just been through nodding solemnly in quiet approval, others reciting their own prayers and litanies for her safe recovery from the taint of Chaos.

Raquel looked over to Inquisitor Danilov, who nodded once.

"Penitent witch! Once a servant of the Ruinous Powers!" Everyone turned to the sudden surge of angry shouts. "Know this: the path to redemption is littered with traps! Even failing once will end your life, and damn your soul to eternal fire! Do you wish for this!"

Batel paused, shocked by the sudden outburst, but nodded nonetheless.

"Then good luck to you." Danilov sighed. The powerful figure of the Inquisitor strode forward. "And I shall be there to end your suffering if you do. Cast away your hope, young one. Replace it with vigilance and faith in the Emperor. Or resign yourself to a fate worse than oblivion itself."

Father Jeremiah bowed his head, and began to recite his own prayer.

"Penitentiaria venefica, purgabas vester dedeci et petabo redemptonem."

[Penitent witch, purge yourself of sin and find redemption.]

The other Imperials nodded in agreement, their faces set into grim determination. Batel probably didn't understand, because now she smiled faintly, as if dizzy. I stepped forward as she began to tilt backwards.

"Easy there, Batel..."

She sank into my arms, no doubt exhausted from the psychic aspect of the exorcism. Batel sagged as she let out a long pent up breath, and fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.

"Uh... hello? Hey..."

Cleaning up after the ritual wasn't too hard, with myself and the rest of the psykers as help, but the difficult part was to listen to the senior psykers as they meditated. Zara and her retinue had deemed it a worthy cause to join and review the girl's tentative steps to reclaiming herself from Chaos.

"The girl has willpower." Vasili noted, sipping on a bowl of ritual wines. "I've never seen so much of the taint excised in the first ritual."

I poked my head into the conversation as I rolled up the anointed string, and tucked it into my pocket. I moved on to pick up the candles.

"You mean that it wasn't all?"

The others looked at me, a confused expression on faces which did not have a helmet over it.

"Of course not, Vincent." Justicar Amadeus called out. "Certainly, we have begun to exorcise her inner daemons, so to speak, but the entire process may take a few days... of course, if we push her any further we might end up doing more harm than good... the Ordo Malleus has learned that such cases need a more... delicate approach than other problems the Inquisition meets."

"Like bombing an individual from orbit?" I asked, knowing full well that fluff-wise, the Inquisition's more pro-active members weren't quite the most... efficient of judges.

Inquisitor Danilov's face went puce. "Orbital bombing has proven more than effective sometimes." He sniffed, harumphing in indignity.

"But your analogy is valid, Vincent. Yes, we do have some rather... messy..." There were a few snorts from the surrounding veterans. "...methods of neutralizing threats to the Imperium, but do give the Inquisition some credit where its due." Danilov – who I put at maybe his late fifties - was staring down Space Marines with centuries of experience as they smiled quietly to themselves. "We do not blunder into problems like a grox laden with contact explosives in a ceramics emporium."

I nodded in understanding, and after I tucked the candles away in the kitchen, I found myself a pair of cups. Filling them with water, I walked out of the kitchen and returned to Batel's side, pressing the cold surface of the cup of water against her cheek.

She awoke with a yelp, but I had already removed the cup. Now I handed it to her with my best guilty smile.

"Sorry."

"Sh'ohkay." She mumbled, reaching out with both hands, taking a small sip of the cool liquid. Her face brightened. I knew the refreshing feeling that you get from quenching one's thirst, and this one looked like she had been going without water for a while. Batel kept chipping away at the water, eventually draining the last mouthful with a sigh of contentment that could only be described as a purr.

"Feel good?" I inquired, taking another mouthful from my own cup.

"Hai've bheen worsh." Batel lisped, sniffing a little. "Halthoo hai've shmealt bhettar."

I've been worse... although I've smelt better. My instant reaction to this was a snort of derisive laughter. Batel's cheeks reddened. The lopsided grin I had plastered to my face turned into a hung head of apology.

"Uh... sorry about that..."

Any other thoughts stopped as a car screeched to a halt outside. Michael and Alice must have returned.

Then, out at the front of the house, the various soldiers on picket duty began screaming in alarm, sending the whole house up on alert.

A loud voice – I recognized it as Sergeant Leon – roared over the network of vox-hailers.

"Attention all forces! Unidentified vehicle is up the driveway! Everyone head for cover!"

Machines roared and vehicles fishtailed as they turned corners, gunning for the hallways, nooks and crannies to hide in.

For a single heartbeat, I could feel everyone was silent: The car's guttural engine had simply died away, and the miniatures had all fled to carefully prepared hiding places.

At the front door, a powerful fist crashed into the door.

"Hon-nee!" The voice was vaguely male, probably someone just out of his mid-life crisis. It was laced with malice and mockery as it bellowed out. "I'm heere tah take ya ho-ome!"

What. The. Hell. Was the guy drunk or something?

I turned to Batel, who was already scrambling for cover.

"Who was that!"

Her wide eyed, panic stricken face told me everything, with her answer only confirming my fears.

"Raihan... he'sh mhai shtepp-fahderr."

The door's lock burst in, trailing purple flames as it was melted by the eldritch energies, writhing on the ground as if the tortured metal could feel pain.

A large, stocky man stepped in, whatever flesh wasn't covered in the remains of his clothes or in the many dirty bandages that wrapped around his arms were an off-parchment brown. His face looked like he was on a drug high, his pupils little pin-pricks as he looked down on us, face twisted into a grotesque grin. There was a Wheel of Chaos carved onto his forehead, the circle with eight spokes that spilled outside of their boundary, and all across his body I could see the twisted sigils of Chaos.

To my horror, from between his feet streamed in a carpet of miniature cultists, all servants of the Ruinous Powers, whooping and cackling praise to their dark gods. From Cultists to Marines, the Legions of Chaos streamed in.

We had assumed it was all some normal guy who had wandered in; everyone had high-tailed it for cover, and nobody had been left to watch exactly who was outside. Now we were paying for it, big time. Scattered throughout the house, we'd be lucky if they didn't just swarm anyone breaking cover and trying to regroup...

I looked at the gathering forces as they gathered around the legs of their own living Titan.

It wasn't until now, however, that I noticed that there was a figure perched on the man's shoulder. He was – quite obviously – a Chaos Sorcerer, his arms still wrapped in the warp-fire that had burst the door handle in. Purple lightning, malevolent and seemingly alive, danced over his body.

"Surrender the Key to me, mortals, and I shall make your death swift!" He roared.

I palmed my face. "Aw hell no."

Miles Henderson looked up as Alice and Michael left the store. He smiled to himself as he found himself a magazine and began to flick through it.

Boy, they'd both changed a lo~

The hand seized him, whipping the man around on his seat.

"Hurk!"

"I require your assistance."

His eyes widened as he saw his assailant.

"You! You're~!"

Chapter 15[edit]

Thought of the Day:

"The only army that has never suffered any losses is one that has never taken to the field of battle,

the only commander who has never made a mistake is one who has never been in command."

- Force Commander Eizak, Angelius Crusaders.

- - - - - Little witch, you certainly seem in need of help. I can do so.

This is bad. Vincent gulped. Really, really bad.

His back to a corner, which was currently occupied by Batel. Vincent looked around; the couch had a small force of mixed units hiding behind and slightly underneath, and his eyes flickered over Michael's fire extinguisher, which sat just behind the couch – only slightly out of reach.

Standing atop the daemonhost's shoulder, the Sorcerer's voice boomed across the room.

"The Key, mortal! Surrender her now, or I shall feed your soul to the Warp!"

Ryan sneered at the cowering young woman.

"C'mon, honey, don't you want to go home? Your dear mother is waiting for you, don't you know?"

The hollow words of the man's voice dripped with such mockery and malice that Batel simply curled into a tighter ball, as if trying to hide from the lecherous grin that the man was giving her.

Facing them, the bespectacled steward of Michael's home frowned. The voice wasn't quite... human. It sounded like a human, it even belonged to a human shaped figure. But... there was a lack of something, the uncanny feeling that it was synthetic.

Vincent thought quickly. He nodded, then knelt before the flesh-puppet and its master. The Sorcerer laughed. There were shocked cries from the Imperials. The kneeling nerd reached behind the couch, unnoticed by the triumphant Sorcerer, and then stood.

"Psych." He muttered. Vincent pulled the pin, wrapped his hand around the open beak, and squeezed.

BIG RED #XI was suddenly spewing its payload of powdered fire suppressant, covering the forces of Chaos in white chemical snow. Batel's former step-father coughed and sputtered as he breathed in the white powder, and Vincent stepped close, his arms drawing back the crimson tube.

The Chaos Sorcerer managed to gulp down one last breath before he saw the Big Red Cylinder of Doom swinging around. It passed over both the shoulder and the swing was short enough to miss the daemonhost's face, but it struck the Warp-wielding Chaos Marine squarely, and with a sharp ting as steel struck ceramite-encased sorcerer, BIG RED #XI easily propelled him back and smashed him against the wall with enough force to make him ludicrously gibby when he finished splattering.

That stain wasn't going to be easy to clean.

Going around and keeping up his momentum, Vincent pirouetted on the spot and sent another swing into the stunned face of the former step-father, who managed to claw the powder off his face in time to see the bright stars that popped into his eyeballs as Vincent completed his one-two K-Os.

A roar of defiance rose up from the Imperial lines, and for a moment, the Chaos forces cowered.

Then a man stood up from their midst, chuckling. As soon as the nerd caught sight of him, he knew that he had just made one hell of a mistake: He had assumed that the grand-standing Sorcerer had been the leader.

The one now crackling with warp-fire was the real Sorcerer. The one who was coordinating this attack. The one had he had just sent on a home run was only a fake, an apprentice at best.

With a gesture, the Sorcerer unleashed his forces.

A quick blast of the powder sent the front row reeling, and covered the rest in the white chemical.

But still, the legion of Chaos kept on firing.

Vincent screamed as their return fire tore at his legs, the tiny lasguns pricking his skin and cauterizing the wounds. Thankfully the vehicle crews and the heavy weapons teams were still working furiously to clear their powder-packed weapons and sensor arrays to not contribute to felling a flesh-titan. Vincent glanced fleetingly at the kitchen and his pistol, laying on the counter-top, and would have made for them if he knew that there was no time. The boom of a Vindicator's siege cannon caused him to duck instinctively, and the window behind him shattered.

Already hurting, he tucked the fire extinguisher under his arm, like an oversized football, and threw himself over the couch and into cover. As he hit the ground – thankfully missing the others sheltered there – he got a mini's eye view of the action.

Batel looked on, her eyes wide with fear.

- - - - - Why don't you just accept the inevitable? We can finish this now...

The Daemonhost was taking anti-tank fire of his own, the lances of lascannon and the steady thump-thump-thump of the autocannon stitching scars all over his legs and stomach. The Imperial vehicles played a deadly game of tag as they popped out of cover, took a shot, and then ducked back into the safety of the furniture's shadow.

Just by the nerd's grounded face, Justicar Amadeus calmly picked off the cultists charging at them from underneath the couch, the unconscious form of Raquel at his feet.

"Canoness! The small witch!"

Samisha nodded, breaking into a sprint. Another cry alerted her to the ravening hordes of the Damned charging up behind her. She went into what would have been a base-stealing slide as Justicar Amadeus dropped a pair of bolts into the Chaos Marine at her heels. She stopped beside Raquel, and scooped the limp witch up.

She barked at her retinue, indicating the rushing cultists that were almost upon them. "Meliya! Cultists!"

"Right!" Trotting up with the flamer, Meliya braced herself, her thumb selecting the highest pressure setting, and then depressed the valve release. A thin jet of flame squeezed out of the projector, and she swept it left and right, covering the advancing Chaos cultists in the burning promethium. With their tattered clothes and the volatile cocktail of combat drugs coursing through their veins, the Cultists seemed to spontaneously ignite as the temperatures around them soared. A few even exploded as their drugged-up blood itself combusted.

A Chaos Terminator stood among those ruins, growling as he and his two squad-brothers advanced, their combi-bolters chattering high-explosive death. Meliya cried out in alarm as the Sister of Battle beside her – a noble veteran named Cordila – was gutted by the single bolt round that penetrated her breastplate. She fell to her knees, clutching at the shredded remains of her internal organs and pitched forward, dead. Canoness Samisha cried out, a bolter shell glancing off her pauldron. Some were as lucky, the bolter shells defeated by their armor. However, others were not so lucky, falling from the precise combi-bolter fire from the veteran Chaos warriors.

Vincent brought down the fire extinguisher, crushing the Terminators before they could claim any more lives. When he removed the cylinder, they began firing again – but were quickly taken apart by the recovered Imperials, especially the concentrated fire from the Land Raider.

"FOREWARD! ENEMIES OF THE IMPERIUM, COWER BEFORE OUR WRATH!"

Justicar Amadeus was in a battle-fury now as he and his brothers hurled themselves into battle, his Force Halberd spinning and cutting, dancing among the Cultists as if a scythe through grain.

The sudden loss of the Terminators and the charge of the Grey Knights broke their morale, and the Cultists quickly retreated to the sheet of firepower being sent their way. Still lying down, the Indonesian nerd coughed and sucked in a long overdue breath.

Around him, the miniature commanders quickly began to locate their forces, to try and co-ordinate a purging counter-offensive. Vincent crawled over to the others.

"Alright, we need to counter-attack. Abandon the living room, but deny these guys access to the rest of the house. Get in touch with the rest of the guys upstairs and in the bedrooms, and get the Orks out of the basement... try to get them out into the lawn and charging in through the front door. I'm going for the gun. Anyone got anything to add?"

"The Orks only listen to their Boss, and that's Michael." Quipped Inquisitor Danilov, his hell-pistol neatly decapitating a Cultist as he placed carefully aimed shots at exposed skin. The bolt pistol on his other hand coughed a series of high explosive shells, which neatly decapitated a Chaos Marine.

Vox-jockey Amira Sulein chipped in, lowering her voxcaster for a moment. "There are heavy weapons teams deployed up on the kitchen table, they're taking fire. We'll need to reinforce them to keep the Chaos forces from getting through Fridge Pass."

Vincent blinked for a second. "Fridge Pass?"

"The space between the kitchen cupboards and the fridge, Vincent."

"Ah. Send the Tau. Get their Broadsides and Hammerheads up there, shoot anything with an eight-pointed cross."

Confused looks passed over their faces, and even the battle-suited Shas'El Firestrike seemed confused for a moment. It seemed as if Michael had never really used the Tau's designations for their vehicles before. Vincent shrugged. "Hey, I play the games."

He popped his head above the couch, scaring the piss out of some Chaos cultists that were planning on dropping explosives down on the Imperials below. A quick sweep of his hand sent them tumbling to their dooms.

"'kay, then, that's the plan. Get a move on!"

Nods came in abundance, and Vincent rose, his voice straining to make itself heard over the roar of battle.

"FIGHTING MEN AND WOMEN OF MICHAEL'S HOUSE! HOLD. THEM. BACK!"

Behind him, Batel shivered.

- - - - - Submit, girl, and you can save these lives!

Sergeant Deunan's clipped tone crackled over the comm-beads.

"Contact, thirty degrees left. Down low, the cultist platoon with the Traitor Marine. Five rounds apiece, spread your rounds out."

The Heavy Bolter teams responded immediately, Trooper Vekt adjusting the elevation as Trooper Vorrens swung the massive weapon around. Trooper Kase sat close by, his lasgun in one hand and another resting on top of their last box of bolt shells. Stroking the trigger, the machine spirit of the Heavy Bolter barked out five high explosive shells, sending them into the massed platoon taking cover by one of Michael's discarded shoes.

Concentrated fire from the three Heavy Bolters in the support section ripped the panicking Cultists apart, and the cogboy that had been left to see to the heavy weapon's maintenance after they had been stripped of ammunition clapped in an unusual gesture of appreciation.

"Seventy three percent casualties in the first burst. Well done, Troopers."

Sohm grinned as Sergeant Deunan continued to pick out targets with his amplivisor, calmly passing out instructions like an announcement servitor.

"Chaos Marine warband, focus on the flamer. Three rounds, rapid fire."

The Guardsmen shredded a Marine wielding a flamer as heavy bolter shells struck his armor, leaving the path clear for the last one to slam into the thing's flesh, gutting the Marine as the high explosive shell detonated inside his power armor. Another struck the promethium tank that had been rigged up to his arm, and that too exploded, spraying his allies with the burning fuel. Of course, with the armor of the Space Marines, it wasn't a lethal burn as their tassels and ornaments melted, but certainly distracting as the flames covered their eyepieces and cooked off their munitions.

In an even battlefield this would have been a Pyrrhic victory for the Guardsmen, at best. But with superior elevation and their heavy bolters, the plunging fire they were directing at the Marines geared for close combat was proving to make this what Valhallans - and one particular Commissar attached to their regiments - called a 'traki shoot'.

With the majority of their platoon re-deployed on the other side of the kitchen in their rush for cover, they had left the heavy weapons platoons to pack up and occupy the bread-bin. Right now, everyone was double-timing it back to firing positions. It wouldn't be for another minute or so, but the veterans didn't like it; that was all the time in the world an enemy would needed to kill you.

The Sergeant bellowed a warning as he spotted the imminent counter-attack. "Incoming! Sit this burst out, then get back up and give them the Emperor's wrath!"

Return fire was sporadic at best, the heavy bolter team half-hidden by the lip of the kitchen counter-top, and everyone was sandbagged anyway, so as the ten man platoon ducked under their makeshift cover to shelter from the bright red lances of lasguns and the projectiles of the solid weapons.

However, this also blinded them to the streaking columns of smoke of the nine Chaos Raptors that angled up into the sky, and dived to land amongst the Guardsmen. Most were using primitive and daemonically corrupted assault packs, while others took to the sky on massive, bat-like wings.

Their bolt-pistols were already snarling as they sent a barrage of return fire, cutting down team two's gunner and loader in a hail of explosive shells. Their overwatch guardsman tried to flee, but was crushed under the talons of the lead Raptor.

Sohm dived under cover, and drew his las-pistol as Kase took a bolt to the leg, instantly severing the limb as the round detonated. A second bolt cut off his scream of pain as it detonated in his throat.

"Raptors, up high! Return fire! RETURN FIRE!" Sergeant Deunan screamed, drawing his own weapon at the enemy, firing his bolt pistol to meet theirs, crouched behind a sand bag barrier. He managed to bounce a few shells off the lead Raptor as it arced through the sky, intent to land in their half of the bunkers, before a bolt shell slipped through the intake grille and crippled his booster pack, sending the Chaos Marine crashing into the ground.

The Sergeant roared in triumph, but it was short lived: Another Marine dispatched the brave Guardsman as he passed, contemptuously decapitating the Sergeant with his chainsword as he ran to rejoin the fray.

By now, Sohm had managed to bring the Heavy Bolter around, and as the Raptors fell upon Team One, he quickly breathed a prayer to the Machines as Vorrens poured full-auto lasgun fire onto them.

The effect of four shells, mixed in with the other sixteen that Sohm had launched, were unexpectedly effective.

First, the Raptor leader's daemonic sword screeched as it was struck by the lead shell, and burst in an explosion of warp-fire. This sent Raptors to the ground, the psychic energy of the weapon's destruction eating away at their minds, completely ignoring the armor that encased them.

Shell number two struck the ammunition that had remained in the sandbag bunker, and the resulting explosion was an appropriate funeral pyre for Team One, taking with them another three or four Raptors.

The third shell reinforced the reason why helmets were issued, as it neatly dropped down the throat of the Raptor screaming with berserk rage and madly chopping at the dead body of Trooper Nankaro. He coughed, and his head turned into a fountain of blood as the bolt shell's explosion was channeled by his power armor.

This covered another Raptor's eyepieces, making him a gratifyingly easy target for the fourth shell, which struck him in the chest and threw him back a step.

Off balance from the explosion, he staggered back. Sohm found himself screaming as he pressed down on the firing stud again and again, peppering the Raptor's armor with explosions, and finally the last shell penetrated the thick breastplate, shattering the ancient ceramite. The explosion that resulted knocked him off the kitchen tabletop.

There was a cold chuckle as the remaining Raptor watched the demise of his brothers. Sohm whirled around, and saw that Vorren's body was still twitching, run through by the Raptor's chainsword like a grox on a spit.

"Impressive, little whelp." The snarling chainsword blurred as it cut itself out of Vorren's cadaver, arced up in a gory rainbow of human remains, down towards Sohm – who was trying to draw his las-pistol - and then across, the flat of the blade striking the last Guardsman to the ground. The back swing came a heartbeat later and Sohm howled in pain as the spinning teeth cut across his chest, just barely penetrating his flak vest and scoring a deep cut from right shoulder to his left side.

The cogboy lay a few feet away, clutching his leg as it bled black oil. His mechadendrites were jerking spasmodically as the Engine-seer fought for balance.

Chuckling, the Raptor turned off his bloodstained chainsword. "I shall enjoy avenging my brothers, boy. Your screams shall ease their pas~"

He never finished, as a ball of sunlight smacked into his helmeted head, melting the armor as if it were butter under a blowtorch, and passing on through to splash molten metal across the pauldrons. The cauterized stump that was left behind was wholly insufficient to sustain both coherent thought nor life, and as the rest of his body decided this, the armored Marine fell backwards and expired.

Sohm spat on the Chaos Marine's body, and collapsed.

The Traitor was ten thousand years overdue, anyway.

Sputtering and wheezing, the Techpriest used his extensive mechadendrites to crawl over to Sohm.

The trooper had already propped himself against the sand bag walls, laspistol in one hand as he dug through his medical kit with the other. Morphia, bandages. That would have to do. Sohm struggled to inject the vial of painkillers, but a snake-like mechadendrites pushed the plunger down. He sagged in relief.

"Thanks, cogboy."

"Hah... you... ain't a... rusty." Was the cryptic response. The Cogboy dragged himself over to sit beside Sohm, and pulled out a vox.

"Want to call some help?"

Looking over the sandbags, Sohm shook his head as the Tau Fire Warriors dispatched the remaining Raptors with carefully controlled bursts of pulse-rifle fire. Shas'El Firestrike called over Imperial medicae to attend to the two survivors, waving his still-smoking plasma rifle.

"Nah... they're here already."

He turned his gaze out to the titanic humans, and the witch. She was shaking visibly, even to the half-blurred and rapidly tunneling vision of Trooper Sohm Vekt.

- - - - - See how they fall? How they die! You could have prevented that! You could end this!

Vincent skidded into the kitchen, grabbing the pistol from its place in front of the bread-box. He looked out into the battlefield below, and saw a Chaos Defiler. A single bullet was enough to tear its rear armor to pieces, killing the tortured operator inside.

His hand flicked up, one hand firmly wrapped around the pistol, the other cupping it from below.

On cue, the Colt barked again as another bullet was unleashed.

The bullet hit the corrupted flesh of Ryan's chest with a wet smack as Vincent steadied himself into a parody of a firing rhythm, desperately trying to aim for center of mass, his best bet at hitting it. He stroked the trigger a third time, and another red hole ripped itself into the man's chest as the Daemonhost took another step forward. Five shots left. A small voice in his mind whispered. Make them count!

Another one would have smacked into face, were it not for the sudden jerk of the head that put a hole in Michael's painting of the tree in the back yard.

The dry and cracked skin of its lips stretched as Ryan grinned. It was now only a meter or two away.

"Take the little bitch from me, will ya? Well, I'll show you smartasses what happens to people when they take something from Rhyan Owen-ens!" Its voice was distorted now, like an audio file copied over too many times.

Panicking now, Vincent was dodging as fast as he could from the sudden grabs that followed, having worked himself into a berserk rage as it smelt spat and swore at him.

"Come here, y-y-you! Lem-m-me rip y-y-a a new one, f-f-fuckin' fancy p-pa-pants with that lit-t-t-tle pea shooter-er-er, huh!"

His voice slid up and down the range of possible human vocalizations, going as high as a soprano one moment, a low baritone the next. Add to that the erratic rhythm of his voice – which disturbingly reminded Vincent of a broken vinyl record – and he was seriously getting disturbed.

Vincent tried to shoot him in the face again, only to see that it had only passed through his cheek, leaving a wet puckered hole. The man now made a whistling sound as he breathed.

Door, head for the door! The nerd's mind screamed, knowing full well that getting into an open space was his best chance for survival. Leaping over a line of advancing Chimera and Rhino APCs, Vincent was already half out of breath by the time he was hit by the charging Daemonhost. It was pinning him against the wall before he knew it, ignoring any feeble attempts at the miniatures shooting it with the thick clothes that it wore, no doubt also reinforced by whatever warp-sorcery that it could call up. The heavier guns had already exhausted their munitions on Chaos vehicles, which would have wreaked havoc on the miniature armies, but at what cost?

Gagging, he gasped for breath as a set of absurdly strong fingers closed around his neck. He spotted Batel, and tried to call for help.

She only sobbed, her mind racked with confusion.

- - - - - The boy will die. He will die painfully, and knowing that you could have stopped this.

"KILL! MAIM! B~"

"BURN!" Eizak eagerly finished the screaming Chaos Marine's chant with a blast from his combi-melta. The eye-scorchingly hot beam of energy simply passed through the heathen super-soldier, the movement of Eizak's thermal weapon melting his torso and throat into a molten goo, and Eizak closed in to finish the stunned traitor's life with a precisely placed blow from his Thunder Hammer. The Traitor's helmet still glowed as it lodged itself in the Chaos Marine's bowels.

His backswing struck down a Cultist, and the bolt shell that followed burst a second's head, sending brain and skull matter arcing over the battlefield.

"Forward, brothers!"

"FOR TERRA! FOR THE EMPEROR!"

A hundred voices; Marines, Guardsmen, Sisters, Eldar and Tau all shouted their many and colorful battlecries in the faces of the five-hundred strong Traitors. They poured out of the hallways, having rallied under the banner of Order to face the forces of Chaos.

Near the back rows, another voice cried out.

"Take to the skies, Brothers! DEATH FROM ABOVE!"

Seven dozen knees bent, and almost a hundred thrusters yawned as they vented propellant, sending the elite fast attack units into the air. Assault Marines flared their jump packs as they hurtled through the sky alongside glittering flights of Swooping Hawks, with a trio of Tau Battlesuits boosting into battle with ammunition packs hanging off their backs.

They all had – in a curious but overall beneficial twist of relationships – somehow grown into one massive pack of flying hunters, their elite status amongst their respective armies giving them reason to seek each other out and compete; for many of these jumping warriors, they saw the kindred spirits as bastard siblings. In a way, but got along with each other nonetheless, an unspoken bond forming between the soldiers of the sky.

The expanded squadron of jet packs, boosters and rockets now flared as they took to the sky.

Brother-Sergeant Vinters locked his eyes onto a cultist, and he carefully angled his trajectory to suit.

A thousand years ago, it was standard practice for Assault Marines to land in front of their enemy and charge the final stretch to engage them with their close combat weapons. But it was Brother Ventorez, the Raven Guard veteran whose geneseed which now sat in his torso, who discovered – to the unexpected satisfaction of both Ventorez and every Space Marine with a Jump Pack – that a ton of nearly supersonic Marine falling out of the sky was a weapon in itself.

Today, however, they had refined the practice of dropping out of the air onto one's enemies into something of an art form. The first Cultist to find this out suddenly found his mouth and face filled with the boots of an Assault Marine, and then suddenly that wasn't important as his head was crushed against the ground. The floor itself shook as the Marines pounded into carefully chosen targets, kneeling in some places where the gore had gotten a bit too slick, and before anyone could start screaming the Marines became whirling tornadoes of chain-bladed destruction in the densely packed formation of Cultists.

Seraphim danced in the space above this hurricane of blood and chainswords, weaving through the hail of fire the Tau were raining down from above taking the opportunity to blaze away with their pair of bolt pistols issued to each one, dropping high explosive death to those below, occasionally grabbing onto a hovering Tau Battlesuit to propel themselves into the air, rejoining the flock of humming blue figures that were the Swooping Hawks, which were liberally sowing their high explosive seeds throughout the fertile fields of heretics below. Battlesuits lumbered through the sky like a barge through water, and their armor, shielding systems and the sacrificial drones themselves were soaking up much of the damage which would have otherwise felled a Seraphim or Swooping Hawk.

Their plasma rifles and burst cannon, however, were quick to cut down heavy weapons carefully marked out by the markerlights painted onto them by the Tau stealthsuits, which were mixed in amongst the enemy, destroying a vehicle here and a heavy weapon there in a sudden burst of plasma fire.

However, all did not go well for the assault troopers. Every now and again, a psyker or heavy weapon would rear their yawning mouths, and strike a warrior from the sky. Many died quickly, but a few were unfortunate enough to land in the mass of cultists below, and be torn apart by the crazed traitor legion.

Sergeant Vinters saw a Seraphim clipped of her wings as a Chaos Raptor passed by her, a quick slash across her jump-pack sending the Sister of Battle tumbling to the ground.

He sent a few bolts the Raptor's way, but his chances of hitting an ally were far greater than his chances of landing a hit on the Raptor. Instead, he began to tear his way through the tides of cultists, his chainsword cutting bright red arcs with their buzzing teeth. He reached the downed Sister soon enough; all he had to do was listen to the sound of two bolt pistols firing in perfect harmony, a duet of destruction. Already, the Cultists were tearing at her armor, sacrificing three or four of their number to simply remove a panel of the black plates. A knife was already stuck into her bared right side, and she was wrestling with a Cultist trying to rip off her helmet.

Vinters and his two flanking Assault Marines set about clearing the cultists from around her, an expertly placed bolt shell and an equally precise flick of a chainsword severing the man's entangling arms from the Seraphim.

"Brother Sergeant Vinters, at your service, Sister... would you like an escort from the battlefield?"

"Gladly, Brother..." She staggered, and quickly emptied the remaining shells of her pistol into a gaggle of cultists approaching them. The high explosive shredder bolts quickly reduced them to fist sized chunks of gore.

More were streaming in, like vultures they surrounded the downed Seraphim and Vinter's squad.

"This is Brother Vinters. We are being overrun! Break through at this location!"

He armed a Melta Bomb, and hurtled into the sky as his assault pack lifted him above the battleground. Seeing a group of Chaos Marines and a Terminator trudging through the Cultists, he angled himself down at them and emptied the remainder of his Bolt Pistol's ammunition into one's face. Jumping off, he landed on a Chaos Terminator, slapped the Melta Bomb on, and launched himself into the sky as the final few moments ticked off on the timer. He could feel his feet heat up as the bomb's detonation licked at his boots. Bolt- and las-fire swirled around him as avenging Chaos Marines fired up at him with the help of their cultist cannon fodder.

An autocannon round cut his victorious ascent short, the lance of steel piercing his pauldron and exiting through his back. Brother Vinters tumbled down to the ground, barely in control of his armor's wounded machine spirit, grimly arming all his melta bombs and tossing them at every clump of cultists that he could reach.

- - - - - You're WEAK! WEAK and USELESS! ACCEPT! SUBMIT! SAVE THEM!

Ryan – Daemonhost of Chaos – howled in pain. Vincent's nostrils filled with the stench of cordite as he tried to work the slide. The casing had not ejected properly, again stovepiping. That was expected of a weapon squeezed between his stomach and the man's thigh. No room to eject the shell.

"'lu ngak akan ada anak, brengsek!" [Ya ain't gonna have kids, bastard!]

He howled as a second bullet entered its thigh via some very sensitive and already traumatized anatomy, and Vincent raised his legs to try and kick away, but a fast swipe sent him sprawling to the ground.

"Y-y-you!" There was a sudden rush of putrid miasma as something shifted; the light in Ryan's eyes died, and there was a sudden wave of sickening nausea that overtook everyone's mind. Vincent fought the urge to hurl, although Batel was more than happy to void her stomach.

The Daemon now surged forward. "FEEL MY WRATH, MORTAL!"

Vincent blinked once, then was picked up by one arm.

Well, shit. Vincent stared into blood red eyes, narrow and slanted like a snake's, filled with hate and unkempt fury.

By now, it seemed, whatever had been Ryan Owens was now dead and gone. Vincent struggled against the grip of iron.

Batel flailed at the man, grabbing his arm. A sudden whirl of his arms sent her crashing into the ground.

Another kick sent him rolling, fortunately through a crowd of Cultists rather than Imperials. Gasping for breath, Vincent managed to get his feet underneath himself. This guy was most certainly one hell of a bastard. Shuffling through his knowledge of such things... he looked up at the man's face, twisted into an unpalatable mask of fury.

"C'mon, lets take this outside." Vincent rasped, his mask taking on a fake and desperate bravado, grinning as he chuckled, rising back to his feet. He could barely stand, but that dramatic flair was all he needed to get the man into even more of a rage – and less of a thinking fighter. Br'er Bear and Br'er Rabbit an' all that.

Strong arms picked him up, and suddenly bright sunlight was dazzling him as he crashed out into the front lawn.

- - - - - Ah, things may be going well this battle, but they will fight again, lose more of their number...

"Full throttle, Marines!"

The White Scars chapter were experts of mounted warfare, and their skill at the handlebars of their heavy assault bikes were testament of that. Blazing into battle, the white lightning bolts simply drove over the cultists as if they were a particularly bumpy road, their wicked combat blades slicing and severing some very important anatomical features off the cultists as they passed by. Heads and arms, legs and large tracts of internal organs were cast aside in their wake.

With them were the heavier weapons platforms belonging to the other Chapters and factions; the Land Speeders with their buzzing assault cannon and the corkscrewing missiles streaking from their side-mounted launchers.

An Eldar Falcon provided the centerpiece of their assault, its Bright Lance stabbing out to lash at the Traitor Marines that were counter-attacking in their wake.

Around them, a storm of monomolecular disks cut through a Marine as he finished swinging his sword through a Swooping Hawk's shattered wings, his arm and torso turning into a fine red mist as the shuriken slipped between the atoms that composed the Marine. The jet-bikes of Ulthwe zipped overhead, discarding behind them a gift of hand grenades given by the Imperials. The following series of thudding concussions hurled cultists into the air, and the nimble bikes quickly turned to make another pass.

"High speed, low drag." Muttered one as he pumped a Chaos Marine full of monomolecular disks

A wild swing from a spear severed the Eldar jetbike's control canard, and as the bullet-shaped vehicle spun out of control, the Marine wielding the spear gave a throaty laugh of triumph.

Suddenly, a bright lance of focused laser-light speared through the Traitor Marine in the middle of his exultation, and then five more fell as they suddenly found their faces spiked by the lances of the Shining Spears aspect warriors. A moment later, and they were gone, leaving curiously clean wounds on the dead bodies in their wake.

Sergeant Vinters awoke, and instinctively realized something was wrong. He was being dragged. A hand immediately went for the arms that somehow managed to easily pull along a one ton Marine in his power armor.

"Do not worry, Brother Sergeant." It was Brother Belarius, one of the younger Assault Marines. "You are out of danger now."

He coughed, and looked past his feet. Around him, two Crisis Battlesuits pumped a steady stream of burst cannon fire into the surrounding cultists. Swooping Hawks hovered overhead, their grenades falling in amongst advancing cultists. Belarius stopped, and began firing his bolt pistol. Vinters looked to his side. The Seraphim, knife still jammed into her shoulder, was on the ground beside him.

However, she was alert and still fighting, firing her single bolt pistol – one with an extended barrel and scope – into the enemy that surrounded them. The body of a cultist bounced off the ground beside his head, before it was used as an impromptu brace as Vinters got up onto his knees. The Marine froze as he turned to see the sight that was gathering behind him.

Brother Belarus shouted out in joy. "Sister Meryl! Brother Sergeant Vinters! Look!"

Guardsmen, Sisters of Battle, Space Marines. Tau, Eldar and even Orks, all arranged in one battle-line (although there were a few Orks impatiently gunning their engines).

They were arrayed before the legions of Chaos, their troops spread throughout the many transports that they used; Orks atop their ramshackle Trukks welcomed the Tau Fire Warriors (without butchering them), and Guardsmen helped the graceful Eldar as they boarded the boxy Chimera. Tau Battlesuits and Space Marine Terminators jockeyed for the prime seats in their heavy Land Raider, the centerpiece of the assault along with the Falcons. Pathfinders quickly showed Sisters of Battle the switches on the Devilfish's hatch doors as the Orks piled into Wave Serpents.

And they all cried out, for their Emperor, for their homeworld, for their Greater Good, for their victory.

But above all, one battlecry eclipsed all others by typical Ork brute force, lung capacity and volume.

"WAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

Fully a third of the Chaos legions voided their bowels as others took up the cry.

Vinters grinned, and punched the quick release for his damaged backpack. The assault pack fell to the ground, and he moved more freely now as he stood, the battlecry of the Orks ringing in his ears.

- - - - - Quick Omake: For the Greater WAAAAGH!

"waaagh."

Madork Gunna gave a sigh of frustration. He whacked the Tau Fire Warrior over his head.

"No no no, ya grey-skin git! You'ze gots ta cap-it-tah-lies da WAAAGH! Uvverwize dere ain't no WAAAGH!"

"Waaagh!" Cried out the witless Shas'la.

The greenskin palmed his face and then swatted the Fire Warrior with his non-Klaw hand.

"You'ze messin' wif me, greyskin? Well, you'ze betta tuffin' up! Alrigh', lemme showz ya again!"

He drew in a breath, and bellowed at the top of his voice. Which was sufficient to knock the Fire Warrior onto his arse simply from the amount of saliva projected.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

The Ork began to stomp on the spot, howling into the sky as he punctuated the battle-cry with his shoota. His single flesh and blood eye focused on the Sash'la.

"DATZ HOW YAZ DO DA WAAAGH! SEEZ? YOU CAP-IT-AH-LOIZ! AN' IF YA'S 'ARD ENUFF an' a roight proppa Orky boy, but dat don' matta fer ya, YOU'ZE GETS TA BAWLD'AN EY-TAL-ICKS DA WAAAAGH! too!"

He waggled a finger at the bewildered Fire Warrior.

"But! Only da best o' da Orkiest boyz can do this:"

Quickly, the Shas'la clapped his hands over his ears, and shut down his audio recorders.

Even through an inch of Earth-caste polyceramic armor-weave, the battle-cry shook his eardrums.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

The Ork crossed his arms and gave himself a self satisfied nod as he finished his lecture.

"See? Underloinin' an' 'xtra eksklamatin' bitz."

A fair distance away, Sergeant Talon facepalmed.

"Dear Ethereals, he's screwing with the formatting!"

Omake: Ordo Vermin: The Great Pest[edit]

= = = = = 10 Selesly Ave, Floor 2 Apartment 19 (Mitchells Residence), Thursday, 6:03 pm...

I pushed past a red-haired woman, and stepped out of the well traveled footpath and into the house. It was dead quiet in here, except for the scurrying of mice and rats.

Reaching up, I flicked on my 'comm-bead', to use the Guardsmen's name for such devices.

"Advisory, this is Michael. I have returned."

"We noticed." Chuckled the friendly voice of Father Jeremiah, who sat at Advisory, the command and control center for our operations.

I smiled. Extermination had never been so fun before.

- - - - - 5 minutes later.

"Sergeant Vinters, how is it up there?"

The Assault Marine had abandoned the use of their jetpacks, and were now simply moving around on foot. Like that was a problem for them. Vinters tapped his vox as he walked at the lead of the Marine formation.

"Lighting fixtures have been investigated, Michael. We're moving through the attic now."

I punched in another channel.

"Chaplain Morteus, drop the rat."

"What rat, Michael?" Came the deep bass reply.

"Its been over five minutes, I'm pretty sure you've found another one by now."

"B-but!"

"Drop. The. Rat."

"..."

"Morteus!"

"Alright, alright..." There was the sound of something hitting the ground with a wet smack, and then one of the other Space Marines accompanying Morteus confirmed his disposal of the vermin's head.

"Shas'vre DFA, how are you doing?"

"Just fine, Gue'O Mi'kel." Death-From-Above responded.

"Seraphim, progress report."

The Sisters of Battle were clearing the attic of the apartment, an onerous task if anything. They were also babysitting the cogboys as they shifted through the materials, hoping to pick up any forgotten materials to take with them.

"We are doing well, Michael."

"j00 |\/|457 b33 0u7 0f 17, 7h3r3'5 70n2 0f 0ld 57uff up h33r! 4 d4 c0gh33d!" [You must be out of it, there's tons of old stuff up here! Praise the omnissiah!]

Chuckling, I switched to the Orks.

"Madork Gunna?"

They were a recent addition, but for the Eldar and the others it meant that the Orks got their taste for blood without having to resort to 'krumpin' the others, so in that respect the prospect of the Orks getting the messiest jobs was a welcome option for them. I thumbed the 'send' button again.

Ten seconds had passed. There was no reply from the Orks.

"Oi, push da green button, ya daft squig."

"Iz dis fancy box workin'?"

I palmed my face.

"Ya zoggin' git..."

"It iz?" There was a small clang as a grotling was punted by the metal boot of Madork Gunna, Da Big Boss' Right Hand Ork. "Me an' yer boyz are clearin' dis place up, boss! We'ze gonna finish first, an' we'ze gonna finish it roight an' proppa!"

"'roight, so long as youz don' krump da uvvers, okay?" I was starting to learn a little Orkish, which was mostly a butchered English anyway, and found that it went a long way when dealing with the Orks.

Proppa Bosses dun talk lik' dem pinkies. Dey'z gotta talk lik' an' Ork.

I turned to the General Advisory unit, more specifically at the advisor and organizer of the rat-hunting events.

"General Faust, how is progress?"

The rotund commander looked up from his consoles, which were displaying scans of the entire house that we were in. Lines scurried about, showing where the squads had been, where they were now, and where they were to be.

"We are almost done here, Michael. Give us another hour or two and we'll have this habitation cleaned up."

"Understood."

= = = = = 28 Belmont Street. Home. Friday, 8:27am...

Two jingling beeps, and then a single tone that dipped down then pitched sharply higher.

Vincent had a real sense of humor.

Somehow, he had programmed in the Metal Gear Solid Codec noise into my cellphone. A year and a half ago, the Final Fantasy VII Victory Fanfare. Last time I leave it alone for more than ten minutes at his house. I fumbled the cell as I pulled it out of my pocket, but managed to catch it before it got to the floor.

"Hello?"

"Yo, Rookie." Buck was on the line. I straightened up in my seat as

"Uh, hi, boss..." I replied a little awkwardly.

"We got a call for one of our boys to go clean up out in 90 Tennyson Road. You know the drill, call for help if you need it. Caller's name is Olivia Walker."

"Right, boss."

- - - - - 90 Tennyson Road 10:51 am...

"Hello? Miss Walker?"

Knock knock knock.

Nothing

"'allo?"

The door creaked open, revealing a short-ish young woman. She peered up at me with bright green eyes, her red hair bobbing up and down as she tilted her head back to look up – like I said, she was short compared to me.

"Ah... hi... I'm looking for Miss Olivia Walker, she called for the Odd Street Exterminators?" I tapped my overalls, which had the name for the company – odd in both name and disposition.

It looked like the cogs were turning in her brain, and I waited patiently, praying that she had been told about this.

"Oh! Right, right... we've just been having all these... rat things in the basement and through the house... I just don't know what they're here for, and they've been keeping us up all night with their scratching and stuff, since our walls are connected 'n... yeah... Olivia – she owns the place, really - must have told you about them..."

I blinked... her figure and the way she was swaying from side to side was most distracting... and shrugged, half-turning to look at the shrubbery outside while I tried to work out what she had been saying. This place was old, musty. A relic of the fifties, with a lot in the way of disused rooms and nooks and crannies to hide in.

"Alright, miss... uh... well, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the property for now, because we'll be using some chemicals that will be very uncomfortable to breathe in..." I held up my hands defensively, knowing that some people were rather paranoid or mis-read about this kind of thing. "They'll decay, though, so that they'll be harmless after a couple hours or so... are you the only one in here?"

"No, no more people... just me and Olivia, the other rooms are all empty right now... we've been friends since high-school, you see, so we moved in together when we graduated..." She flushed, seeing my small wince of impeding life-story telling. "Oh, its okay, I don't want to bore you. I'll be going now, so you can start bringing in all your stuff, okay?"

"Okay... uh, do you mind moving your car out of the driveway? I don't want to block any traffic with my van parked in the curb."

Plus, by half-opening the garage door and opening my van up, nobody would notice the small fleet of vehicles and skimmers as they rushed into the house.

The red-haired girl smiled at me, and made her way past me. "I will... good luck... uh..."

"Michael." I put my arm forward, and we shook hands.

"Michael, then..." She giggled as she ran her smooth fingers over mine. Over the last few weeks, my fingertips were cracked from the dozens of splinters and scratches that I had acquired on the job, and the skin there had toughened a lot.

"A working man's hands." The red-haired woman smiled. "Jeanette Voleur. Call me Jeanette."

She turned back into the house, collecting her purse and keys. "Good luck, I suppose... if you need it."

"Alright... take care."

Turning around, I walked off to the van with a smile on my face.

- - - - - Living room, 11:09 am...

"Alright, we all set up?" I tapped the comms, and received a stream of answers. Waiting for them to die down, I turned to Advisor Faust. The rather well rounded man turned to a Techpriest. A familiar face.

"4ll 5y573m5 4r3 r34dy 2 rum13le, |\/|1||3y!" [All systems, ready to rumble, Mikkey!]

"Ah... thanks?" I turned my attention to the rest of the teams. "You all know the plan. Eldar and Tau, sweep the open spaces, look for anything that might be an entrance." The respective forces nodded their understanding, and hurried off to their assigned tasks.

"Orks and Space Marines, you're in the lower walls and under the floor, sweep 'em and clear 'em out. Got it, boyz?" The Orks gave an almighty WAAAAAAAAAGH!, and the Marines simply nodded in understanding. "Right. See you 'round, then."

"Imperial Guardsmen, Sisters of Battle. Ceiling spaces and upper walls. Onward and upwards."

There was another cheer as the Guardsmen mounted up onto their APCs, the Sisters doing the same, except with battle hymns, as far as I could listen in with these guys.

That left the reserve teams on standby. Michael's Marauders, as they were dubbed, was a good mix up of the more open-minded members of each force, to act as a mixed-race unit, ready to strike at any particular concentration of pests.

I nodded as their current de facto leader, Commissar Tomas, checked in with General Faust. Their leaders tended to switch around: last time, it was our friendly Warlock, Yoza. Next time we took to the field, Aun'ui was scheduled to be leading this force.

"Yes, Tomas, just stay on standby until further notice." Faust reassured the Regimental Commissar.

Things were going good. Just another day at work for all of us.

A vacation for some, even.

Although surprised at the fact that cockroaches had their brains where a spinal chord should have been, the fact that we had suffered next to no casualties (one Tau trooper singed badly when he discharged his plasma gun in the presence of excrement fumes, two Guardsmen wounded lightly when encountering a rather panicked rat, a Space Marine incapacitated when he investigated the strange device that turned out to be a mouse-trap, and seven Eldar slightly nauseated when their Wave Serpent tumbled down the garbage chute) was something of a moment of immense pride for most of the commanders. Commissar Tomas told me that such campaigning would have already depleted a good portion of a Guard Regiment.

I sighed. Life was cheap in the 41st millenium.

Like I had said. Things were going good...

Although... I looked over to the kitchen. Something was niggling at the back of my head, sending thoughts bouncing around in my brain.

"Terminator team, report."

"Yes, Michael?"

"Grab the reserve teams. Head over to the kitchen... I want to know what's underneath there."

The Terminators nodded, and loaded up onto their Land Raider transport.

- - - - - Kitchen cabinet, 11:19 am...

Sohm Vekt clung to his freshly issued autogun as the Devilfish skimmed above the blurring ground. The back ramp was open, to accommodate the excess of Imperial Guardsmen crammed in with the Pathfinders and the Fire Warriors also packed in with them. Sohm bumped against a Fire Warrior with an orange helmet, with a pure white talon shape marked on the forehead. He craned his neck to face the Warrior, who simply shrugged off the accident. Sohm inclined his head in apology, and the two returned to staring out of the window.

Trooper Karkoff beside him stumbled slightly, only to be seized by their gruff Sergeant. It was all too easy to lose a Trooper falling out of the hatch right now. They were squeezed into the Devilfish carrier like the sea wyverns of Umisho VII. Sohm licked his lips as he remembered opening the can of the finger-sized sea monsters.

They were tasty. Better than the Soylens Viridians that were the usual fare for the Cadians.

Behind him, he could see a Sisters of Battle squad riding atop their Rhino transport.

Absent mindedly, he tapped the Tau 'Shas'ui' beside him, and gestured at the blue-skinned soldier's optics enhancer. The Shas'ui nodded, and passed the device over to him. Trying to speak in the afterwash of a Devilfish was a silly idea, although for Orks it seemed to work.

Sohm looked down at the single-lens device, which reminded him of a sniper scope. He peered through it, out at the Sisters riding along behind them. He smiled to himself as he saw Meliya, her weapons of choice – a chainsword and bolt pistol - seated comfortably in their scabbard and holster.

"THANKS!" He shouted to the Shas'ui, who simply nodded and accepted the optical device and tapped it against his shoulder plate, where it clamped down – possibly through some xeno binding agent.

Wait... did I just borrow something off a xeno?

The Devilfish swerved off to one side, and the other ramps dropped open. Sohm stopped thinking in favor of moving with the two-dozen troops pouring out of the ramp and seeking out their platoons and squads.

"Oi! Vekt! Get moving! The Quartermaster gave you boots for a reason!"

- - - - - 11:29am

I pulled off my comms, knowing that Father Jeremiah would have more than enough voice-power from his command vehicle just beside me to warn me of anything that might come up. I had finished getting everyone into their various nooks and crannies, and was looking forward to a little bit of a rest.

Knock, knock, knock.

Oh crap.

Everyone went into high-speed now, their various transports gunning their engines for the nearest hiding spot as I rushed for the front door. I had locked it, of course, so when I heard the tumblers turning in the keyhole, I frowned as I rushed for the door. Buy some time for the minis, so at least they could get hidden.

The door opened, almost into my face. I managed to backpedal enough that it only clipped my nose.

I tried to look nonchalant as I peered around the door.

"Hello?"

"Oh! You must be Michael! Jeanette told me about you: I'm Olivia." Sure enough, a woman about the same age as her friend was standing in front of me, with Jeanette smiling cheerfully right behind her. Unlike the short (in both height and hair length) woman that had greeted me the first time, Olivia was taller, and with long brown hair. They seemed almost opposites. I guess then I was drifting off, because next thing I knew Olivia was waving her hair in front of me.

"Hel-lo? Anyone in there?" She teased, and I flushed red.

"Uh... sorry... well, I've just been setting up, going to get started now... is something the matter?"

"Jeanette told me that you were here, and I was just worrying about a few things in the basement... can you follow me down there? I want to know if it might be a rats nest or something... it could help you clear out the house."

I nodded, eager for the women to be on their way. The minis would have had enough time now to clear out of sight.

"Alright... this is the basement door, right? I've just been having a look around the house..."

- - - - - 11:32am ...

"Eugh... even Hive sewers aren't as bad as this."

They were underneath the kitchen cabinet now, having cut a small hole into the yielding wood and dropping the troopers down into the gloom. Sohm tugged on his Guard issue collars, extending them to cover his neck.

"Grime, dirt and not much else..." Sohm signed, turning to the Tanith scout beside him. Two steps later, something caught his attention. He pointed his illuminator – strapped to his autogun – down at the dark cavern floor. "What do you make of this?"

"Looks like tracks." Spoke the ghostly figure. Sohm jumped up at the sight of the printed skull mask. Unlike that of the Chaplain, this one was a cheap head-covering with a stylized white mask printed onto the fabric. The eyes were hidden behind Starlight sensors. The two oval plates of the input would convert what light there was in the darkness, and give something akin to night vision for the troopers fortunate enough to be issued with them.

He creeped Sohm out, mostly because of his Ghostly visage. When asked about it, the senior officer of the Tanith detachment – a strong-jawed Sergeant named MacTavish - simply stated that 'he had died once already'.

The silent trooper that seemingly appeared to the right of Sohm was not MacTavish.

He was one of the two Tanith scouts assigned to the platoon, and like his partner, had his own set of oddities. Similarly dressed in the swirling camouflage cloaks of the Tanith scouts, this trooper had a dark grey scarf wrapped around his neck and lower face, and combined with the flak helmet on top of his head, also obscured his identity. But even more disconcerting was that he never made a sound: no footstep nor voice was ever heard. It was like some... what was that media figure called? Sohm racked his brain.

Ninja. That was it. Like he had some ninja trait to him... in a quirky kind of way.

"So... what now?" He asked, wondering if he could

The silent trooper simply inclined his head forward, shouldered his auto-rifle, and continued on his way.

Exasperated, Sohm sighed and looked at his comrades in arms. Most of them simply shrugged, although Sergeant Folay did give an annoyed shake of his head.

"Come on, hustle up! Cadians lead the way!"

Justicar Amadeus was deep in thought. He stood atop the kitchen counter, standing opposite to Librarian Vasili.

"Do you feel it?" He inquired, turning to the other psykers.

All of them gravely nodded. The Ultramarine Librarian's fists shook with barely suppressed rage. He had tasted the taint across the warp before. On Macragge itself he had fought them.

"They are here."

"c0gb01, where is Michael!" Vasili was already shouting into his vox. "What do you mean? He's gone out to take a call! The boy could be in danger!"

- - - - - Under Floor 1, Room 4. 11:36 am...

"Just one rat... just one. Even the Inquisition has more leniency than that!" Morteus grumbled, sure that his helmet speakers were offline. He trudged through the musty underground of the habitation block, his chainsword in hand and the Crozirus Arcanum of his office in the other.

The two giant Terminators were behind him, having split into their usual three-man teams.

Terminators Alrus and Jerrus raised their arms, and threw them down.

"Shield deflects the Lance, Brother Jerrus." Alrus chuckled, tapping his flat palm against the closed fist that had been defeated.

"Right, I'll have to carry around the rat's heads this time..."

Morteus turned his hollow-skulled attention towards them, and the two brotherly Terminators fell silent.

"We have been assigned to scout this area. Stay alert, brothers, we do not know what lurks in these caverns."

Jerrus and Alrus nodded, knowing that whatever had wounded that woman's leg had been able to output some serious power... well, enough power to harm a homo sapiens titanicus would be more than enough to put some serious hurt on even Space Marines, right?

A shadow leaped from the darkness, and the two Terminators leveled their Storm Bolters at it.

"Hold your fire, Brothers!" Morteus raised his Crozirus, and stalked forward.

The creature leapt out at him, too fast to be any Terran creature. Four arms flailed against his armor, scoring deep gouges across Morteus' pauldrons. Another and another leapt out from around the corner, joining in. Morteus fell backwards, cursing and swinging his roaring chainsword.

Too late, the creatures didn't realize that when Chaplain Morteus fell over, it was so that the two Terminators could open fire. Storm Bolters barked in unison, sending a salvo of high explosive shells into the target creature.

The three jerked spasmodically as the rounds crashed into their flesh. They fell back, and lay still before the shells finally detonated, hollowing it out from the inside.

"Ew... seriously? Those Cadian bolts all have a delayed detonation."

"I believe it is to allow the target a moment of horror, Brother Jerrus."

"Indeed, Brother Alrus."

"But horror cannot be felt by something without emotion... look."

Both Terminators inspected the mashed up corpse.

"By the Emperor..."

The remaining pieces of the three creatures that had attacked Morteus, the ones that hadn't been vaporized or hurled against the walls, were barely enough to piece together one of the horrid monsters that they had been. But for the three veterans that surrounded the corpses, it was recognizable enough.

"Genestealers."

- - - - - Basement,. 11:42 am...

I knew it.

Its a really easy thing to say, once you're in the shit. That all the clues had been lined up in your head, that you knew what was going to happen. Being knocked down, dragged into a dimly lit room and tied to a chair certainly was something that you'd want to avoid, though.

Dammit. Why had she done that, though?

Jeanette stood in front of me, a baseball bat in her hand as Olivia finished her work with the bindings.

I spat out a wad of saliva and blood – the inside of my mouth had been cut by my teeth when the baseball bat slugged me in the face – and looked up at them. Classic Hollywood badassery. Except, this wasn't Hollywood and I wasn't exactly badass.

We were in the basement, which was surprisingly clean. Padded floor and the lower sections of the wall. The rest were shelves, filled with... uh... well, special interest equipment. Whips and the stuff, you know?

"What the hell is going on here?" I asked the two kidnappers.

Jeanette smiled at me, her dainty footsteps carrying her across the floor until she was standing between my knees. Her own knees were horribly close to a place that you could kick for massive damage.

"Well, Michael, have you ever heard of the Patriarch?" She asked, twisting away from me as I shook the seat I was tied to.

"No. I haven't." I responded, looking up at her. No use trying to get out. Olivia knew her stuff when it came to tying a person to a seat.

"He provides. He protects." She whispered, her eyes flashing with excitement. "So long as we give back. Now isn't that a fair deal?"

"Yeah, sounds great. You know what? Could you, I don't know, say... let me go and I'll go home and think about it, how about that? I'm not quite certain of my financial situation right now."

Oliva snorted. Ha. Ha. Ha. What a comedian, huh?

"Oh no, we can't have you doing that, Michael. You see, he doesn't ask of money from us..." Her hands drifted down to her jeans, her fingers each touching their counterparts to create an upside down triangle. She placed it over her lower waist, to frame her... my memory stirred as I sifted through old biology classes. Lower waist, just above the pelvic bones...

"He wants your child!" I almost screamed, before suddenly being silenced by the upwards swing of the baseball bat.

"Yes, Michael, and currently we are at a shortage of male members of the Cult." Leaping up, she straddled my hips, grinning at me. "The Patriarch requires very... specific traits among the members of the Cult. For one, they must be receptive of his gifts..." She touched my forehead, and giggled.

"You probably don't know this, Michael, but you have psychic talents. I could feel it when you went past you the other day, you know? The people of this city are so blunt! They have no ability whatsoever to receive the blessings of the Patriarch." She was getting quite... enthusiastic about her preaching.

"Oh, well, you know... why not try some of those fortune tellers down at the mall?"

"Those fakes!" Jeanette's jaw dropped, and she came along to sit on my lap. In any other circumstance, it would have been fun. Right now, however... well, she was kind of psychotic.

"No no no, Michael, we need a real psychic. And you seem to have the sensitivity for it." She kissed my on the fore head, swinging her legs around to straddle me. Dammit, why can't I have some woman who was actually likeable do that! Or wasn't trying to kill me. Jeanette reached down and began to unbuckle my belt. Soon enough, she had stolen my jeans and was folding them up neatly in the corner.

"Uh... so why didn't you just like... take off your clothes, offer 'some other way to pay' or something like that? I think I would have been perfectly happy with that."

"We couldn't risk you catching on... you are, after all, a psychic. We didn't know if you could read our minds or not, and intimacy only increases the likelihood of that. Our gifts were strong enough to keep you out while we were talking, but... well, concentrating is hard when you're having fun. As well as that, receiving His gifts can be a little... painful at times, so we couldn't guarantee your cooperation."

With that, she reached out behind her and pulled out a slimy, four armed monster... I remembered it as a Tyranid Genestealer... oh shit... a real Tyranid infestation! Fuck!

Well, desperate times, right? You know the rest of that adage.

I swung my head back, and hurled it forwards into Jeanette's face.

Darkness greeted me.

It said: hi.

Ow. That hurt.

I stood up in my mindscape, looking around at the suffocating whiteness around me. Right, that did the trick.

Closing my eyes, I reached out with my senses, trying to remember how to talk to others.

"Yo, big guy!"

Silverite's shiny silver armor glinted off a non-existent sun as he jogged over to me. His hat's rims bobbled up and down.

"Silverite." I greeted, ignoring the throbbing on my head.

The Grey Knight turned around, and shouted into the distance.

"HEY, EVERYONE! I FOUND HIM!"

There was a whirlwind of motion. In the world of psykers, you were as fast as your mind, physics be damned.

"Michael!" Young-Zara was suddenly on me, tackling me to the ground as I turned around to the sound of her voice. She was near bursting into tears, and clinging onto me for dear life.

"I was so worried! How could I lose a guy your size? Oh... if something had happened to you..."

"Uh... something has. I'm unconscious right now. Someone's kidnapped me and now I'm tied to a chair."

Looking up at me, I realized that was a mistake. The amalgamation of Zara's every fear and worry began to cry, with tears of worry beginning to stream down her cheeks. With Eldar, any emotions that we might feel were amplified a thousandfold, and this personality even more so... dumping all of your worries and fears into a persona did have its disadvantages.

Something strong gripped the back of my neck, and dragged me onto my feet.

"STOP PLAYING WITH HER." Rumbled Big Zara, Avatar Of Khaine.

"Yes ma'am. Right away, ma'am." I immediately responded, trying to pry Young Zara off me. It only got worse from there, and I could feel her tears soaking through my chest.

"Hey, its okay... I'll be fine."

Justicar Amadeus clapped a hand on my shoulder, turning me around.

"Michael, where are you? Are you still in the house?"

"Yeah, I am. Down in the basement of the house."

A slap gave me a start, but instead of looking for a culprit among the gathered psykers, I realized it was happening to me in reality.

"Who's the closest there?" Wondered Vasili. I almost jumped out of my skin as he ninja'd me.

I thought for a second. "The Orks."

Another slap caused my vision to lose focus. The two women were trying to wake me up.

"Just get help there, fa~!"

A third slap jerked me back to reality.

"Ow."

"That was crude, Michael. I expected you to have been a much more civilized man." Olivia coldly snarled. Jeanette was nursing a bruised forehead.

"Well, then, why don't you let me go? Being tied up makes me angry."

"Oh?" She sneered, striding up to me.

"You won't like me when I'm angry."

Buy time. That was all I needed to do. These women thought they had me trapped, that nobody would come to get me before they could finish the job. Olivia hooked her legs around my waist, straddling me. Again I wondered why it was always the nasty ones that would do that to me. I mean, the first time, the lady was trying to kill me. The second time, she had just knocked me out with a baseball bat. Now this one had just tied me to a chair - in the non-kinky way, too.

"And why is that?" The brown haired woman leaned forward, just out of reach of the Michael Headbutt.

"Because bad things happen. Green things."

There was laughter now, and a sharp slap whipped my head around.

"Oh, and are you the Incredible Hulk or something?" She roared with laughter, almost in stitches now. The Patriarch was similarly laughing.

Unnoticed by them, a small sprinkle of plaster dust fell from above, onto my knees. I looked up, at a hole in the ceiling. Orks were dangling from the hole above, waiting for me. It was traditional, for them, that the Warboss would start any engagement.

I had bought enough time.

"Nah. Oi'z jus' Da Big Boss..."

Sucking in a deep breath, I let out the largest roar I could manage. Orks were impressed simply because of my size difference. In normal scale, howeer, I couldn't manage enough volume nor spit to do it justice.

"WAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

It started raining Orks.

"Thanks."

Morteus finished sawing through my bonds, and sheathed his chainsword.

"No problems, Michael. This Tyrannic taint had to be put to rest. You just happened to be in the way."

I chuckled, and looked at the two women, KO'd in the corner. The Orks had provided a good distraction for the Eldar and Imperial Psykers to pool their strength, and knock them out with a combined psychic attack.

"So they'll be alright?"

"Correct. When that woman went down, she landed on the Patriarch. That should clear any damage done... and possibly undo their memories. Ishabeth and Vasili are looking into that now."

"And what if this happens again?"

Sergeant Vinters chipped in this time, citing his experience during his stint with the Deathwatch.

"So long as we clear out all the other genestealers in this house, we'll have purged their taint... I have never known there to be more than one Genestealer Cult on any planet before, so this should be the only one on Earth. Also, there is only ever one... that would mean that there will never be another Genestealer infestation on Earth... well done, Michael."

I was almost glowing with pride. A Space Marine had just praised me.

"... thanks... I guess... "

I turned to Morteus. "Did you collect any rat's heads?"

"Yes, Michael. There was one. I have disposed of it, as you are no doubt to order me to."

"Nah. Keep it. Get someone to preserve it, so it doesn't stink, and so long as I can't smell it, you can keep it."

The Chaplain looked as if on the verge of tears. He pulled his skull helmet back on hurriedly.

"T-thank you, Michael."

I chuckled.

Zara was standing there, looking at me with her helmet on.

"I am glad you are mostly unharmed, mon-keigh." She stammered, and then hurriedly turned away to organize the purge of this house.

Inquisitor Danilov roared around on his Chimera, and shouted up.

"Are we declaring Exterminatus, Michael!"

"NO!"

"Aww..."

I stood up, and hobbled over to the door.

"Alright, lets get back to work, everyone!"

Chapter 16[edit]

hought for the Day: "WAAAAAAAAGH!"

The Orks were here.

Of course.

Vinters shook his head with a barely checked grin as he turned to face the oncoming green horde as Ork Rokkit Boyz slammed into the ground around him, joining their flying comrades in their eager rush for battle.

With the assorted armies rampaging around upstairs and the Orks below, any attempts at holding the green tide back inside of their basement would have been useless and inefficient, considering the problems that were currently demolishing their coffee table.

However, orders had been distributed throughout the lines. Let them pass.

The greenskins were pouring in – literally – from the basement, crashing into whatever forces they could find.

Because of that, the Imperials, Eldar and Tau steered well clear, or otherwise told the WAAAAGH! happy orks that there was a 'bigga scrap dat way' and eagerly transported the Orks to the battlefield. More bodies on the line meant less casualties for them, right?

It was an odd sight, to see a Tau Fire Warrior running alongside an Ork.

Madork Gunna was chortling as he roared loud enough to make his neighbors flinch.

"WAAAAGH! Dat'z moar loik it! Green! Bloo! Peenk! Whoight! All of us iz Big Boss Mikkey's boyz!"

The Orkish horde echoed the sentiment, shaking the bristles of the carpet they stood on with their roaring throats.

An Ork hefted his choppa. "Le's ge' us sum spoikey boyz!"

The rumbling ground heralded their approach, and Vinters watched as the entire battle shifted before him, with the green tide merged with the coalition, crashing onto the Chaos rabble.

Chaos Marines, vehicles, traitors and cultists all were reduced to a panicking rout as a mixed company of Orks, Humans and Eldar advanced under covering fire from Tau lines.

Maybe for the first time in history, Orks and Imperials fought side by side as they rushed the Chaos lines, some even competing against each other for the largest number of kills at the end. A Shoota Boy and his Deff Gun challenged and a Space Marine Terminator with his Assault Cannon, seeing who could first deafen the other with their dakka.

Force Commander Eizak smashed his way through a Chaos Marine, only to be met by a heretical Terminator.

The heavy, millenia old warrior was sent sailing as both Eizak and Madork Gunna both punted him high into the air, riddling the traitor with bolter and shoota rounds on his upwards journey. He fell down in a rain of ceramite and gore.

More Cultists swarmed around them. One screaming heretic was cut down by a stream of plasme fire.

"I shall cover you, Gue'la! Advance!"

Commander Firestrike let rip with his burst cannon, showering the human fodder and their Chaos Marine masters around him with a stream of plasma fire, his expert aim keeping them cropped up and bracketed in as the two commanders charged.

Madork Gunna and his Nobs surged forwards with their usual blood-lust, wading into the fray of suppressed Chaos worshipers and liberally applying his quad barreled auto-shotgun and shoota into faces and chests, cackling wildly all the way. The hurricane of metal bits both large and small was enough to completely shred the band of Cultists. There wouldn't be much more than a red pockmarked smear on the ground after the first out-burst of dakka.

A quick backhand of his powa klaw sent a cultist flying, and his nobs eagerly played skeet with it, although with the usual Ork standards of accuracy, this meant that they were instead just wasting time and munitions.

Kasrkin Sergeant Leon quickly snapped up his hellpistol, and fired one sundering lance of light. The Cultist exploded as he flew over his comrades, showering them with internal organs. His black blade then flickered and neatly cut a cultist from right shoulder to left hip, the two slabs of meat sliding off each other as Leon passed by.

The Orks chuckled, and then bellowed with laughter, congratulating the Guardsman with heavy slaps to the back and shoulders.

Leon returned the favor by punching one in the gob, an action which only drew out more encouragement as the two warriors focused on inflicting as much collateral damage around each other as possible. Soon, there were a dozen or so Cultists - it wasn't quite easy to count up the sum of the body parts – lying around them.

"You'ze 'ard enuff." The Nob chuckled as he retrieved one of the three choppas he carried around with him.

"How much did you get?"

The Ork Nob shrugged as he pulled ot number two. "Err... lots? 'old on..." He looked at a Cultist that had obviously been felled by his third axe. "One, two... yeah, nevva mind. Lots. Wot abouts you, oomie?"

An amused huff came from behind the faceplate of Sergeant Cadiasson as he shrugged. "Twenty seve-"

There was the sudden intake of air as Leon raised his Hell-pistol and blasted a hole in a twitching Chaos Cultist, right under the Nob's boot.

"Twenty eight." He muttered.

"Oi, wazzat fer!" The Nob growled, baring his tusks. " 'e woz righ' an' proppa ded, ya zoggin' git!"

"He was twitching." Leon retorted, pointing at the Cultist.

"COZ OF MAH BUZZY CHOPPA IN HIS SPINE, OOMIE!" The Nob demonstrated by grabbing his third choppa and wrenching the power axe back and forth, the residual electrical charge spasming out-of-control muscles. The parts of the body that still remained began to dance on cue.

Madork Gunna stomped on another twitching Cultist, a wide grin on his face. He turned to the two competitors.

"Dat'z more like it! No more runnin', jus' keep foightin'! You'ze grey-skins an' oomies arn't all dat bad, roight, boyz!" He slapped the nearest nob who didn't cry out in agreement quickly enough.

"Roight, Boss!" The unfortunate individual immediately replied, another dent forming on his metal skull. Its powa klaw whipped across, snapped shut and neatly parted a cultist's head, sending the hairy ball rolling across the floor.

There were a few more laughs from the Nobs.

"An' we'ze gonna haz a lotz of 'eads for da Big Boss' pointy stick, aren't we?" He chuckled.

"I do believe that he will ask you to dispose of them first." Chaplain Morteus quipped as he jogged past, hurrying to join the battle, his holy mace neatly decapitating a cultist's head as he passed by.

The Orks just shrugged, and then charged into the fray again.

As the pitched battle soon became a rout for the Chaos forces, the Orks took over in their orgy of destruction, the rout gave way to farce.

Grey Knight Silverite was chuckling madly as he emptied both his silver-plated bolters into the mass of cultists, and soon he and an Ork – it seemed to be of the 'tankbusta' flavor - grabbed a few of the hapless traitor within their reach and began playing 'Heretic in the middle', then later 'Toss the explosive laden Heretic as far as you can', and finally, after Silverite found some percussion detonators, 'shoot the grenade laden Heretic in mid-air after you throw him as far as you can'.

Canoness Samisha stood beside Justicar Amadeus as he palmed his faceplate, comforting him with a gentle punch to the man's massive pauldrons of gleaming ceramite.

Amadeus' blurring arm clouted a passing cultist, knocking it to the ground. Samisha stomped on its throat with her armored boots, and Amadeus drove his Force Halberd into its chest. Their eyes never left each other as they debated the actions of the rogue Grey Knight.

"Don't worry, at least he's using heretics this time... right?"

An Ork 'Choppa Boy', laughing as he brandished his namesake axe, flew through the air to land on a cultist. Canoness Samisha sighed. Amadeus walked over to a disabled Rhino and began to apply his head to the charred armor.

Silverite was already swinging the next one by the ankles in a classic hammer-throw routine.

"At least they're xeno?" She asked, hopefully.

"Hey, Silverite!" One of the other Grey Knights shouted, his Nemisis force halberd inscribing glowing arcs through the air. "Me next! Me next!"

"..."

… okay, that was unexpected. But what of the boy, little witch? WILL YOU SAVE HIM!

"TREMBLE BEFORE ME, WRETCH!"

Vincent ducked under the grab, and managed to get an elbow in the way as the long-winded kick smashed into him. He rolled backwards, bruised and battered, as the daemon strode up to him.

Coughing, his hand found their grip on a long-ago discarded piece of wood. Michael had – in the past – tried to build a fence out front. Now it was mostly rotting wood and chipping paint as he piled up the flat panels in a corner of the garden.

His wandering hands found a pair.

Bringing them around, the nerd broke the first mold-ridden slat over its head.

The two combatants stared at each other for a moment, and then the daemonhost grinned.

A sigh escaped the bespectacled Asian as he realized how deep he was in it right then.

Slat number two came up in a rising slash.

That whipped the thing's head around, and shattered the rotten wood on its jaw.

Again, the twisted face grinned, albeit with a slightly discolored jaw. Vincent stared along in disbelief. It was fast healing, however, confirming Vincent's fears of the daemon possessing this body having given regenerative abilities to its new shell.

In quick succession, Vincent broke another three slats on the daemon's face, nose and forehead (in that order).

The daemonhost was still grinning as Vincent assessed the damage he had dealt. The hopeful look on his face changed to accommodate a crestfallen sigh as he inspected the damage he had just dealt.

"You use botox much?"

Growling with anger, the Daemon's return consisted of one surgically precise jab, knocking Vincent's glasses off his face and smashing him into the ground.

"NOW, HUMAN WHELP, YOU SHALL D~"

The sudden burst of purple lightning seared both his retina and Ryan's back, the whip of bright light snapping around to lash him onto his knees as the tendons at the back of his knees were shredded. Vincent tore his eyes away from the sight, through the halo of light that surrounded...

"Wh- Batel!"

The penitent witch teetered on unsteady feet. "Hy haff chohzen..." [I have chosen...]

She was in shock, Vincent realized; shaking limbs, uncontrolled outbursts... "Hyoo hefferhy dhay... hyoo chortoored huss..." [You... every day. You tortured us.] Batel brought the whip up and then back down. Snap. The length of warp-fire broke Ryan's shin as it turned solid an instant before it touched his leg.

"Mahter... mhy mahter! Hyuu... hyuu bhrok hher! Hyuu... mauhnshtar!" [Mother... my mother! You! You broke her! You... monster!]

Batel, you have no idea how accurate that last word was.

She sobbed again, lashing her whip across the daemon's body. Vincent gasped as he scrambled for his glasses, the whip of pure psychic power – the essence of Batel's tortured soul – passed inches from his shoulder. Even from that distance, the heat was intense.

"Hy hwash hoonhly ahnovher chuul. Ah shiink choo kheap mahter khwaiat." [I was only another tool. A thing to keep mother quiet.]

Batel let out another ragged breath, her eyes pulsing into a deep purple as she lashed out again. This time, its right hand simply disappeared, leaving only a blackened stump. Her hands moved to cover herself, wrapping around her body to shield herself from the man.

"Han' ahnaffa tchoy choo prreay hwiff. Tuu shikk bhashturd!" [And another toy to play with. You sick bastard!]

Her arm went up, ready to strike... no, smite the daemon for her step-father's sins.

The thing, however, was still grinning.

An icy hand squeezed his gut.

It wanted her to do this... to kill, and fall back to Chaos.

"NO!" Vincent tackled her as she brought the whip down again, wincing as the warp-fire brushed against his arm; it burned through his jacket instantly, searing the limb and quickly dragging a pained scream as his flesh sizzled.

Batel let out a strangled cry as she fell to her knees, the warp whip gutting the lawn as it fell to the ground and then disappeared. She was bleeding from the mouth, the nose and ears. Her tears were starting to become pink as well. Vincent comforted her as best he could – he wasn't used to giving out hugs – his arms cradling her head as she sobbed uncontrollably, soaking his jacket's collar as her tears and blood flowed freely.

"I need some help, here!" He shouted to the psykers.

The Daemonhost's anguished face slackened, the mask of anger untwisting as it tipped over backwards, falling tot he ground with a sickening crunch: The Chaos Rhino had simply been crushed under the weight.

See? You have saved your friends... and you are mine again. But be warned, child... I cannot help you all the time.

"Psychic overload." Yoza commented, inspecting Batel from his skimmer. They were gathered around in a quieter corner of the garden, leaving the former step-father by the curb on the other corner.

The Seer council around him nodded in agreement. His green-tinged witchblade waved left and right as he inspected her.

All pretenses of his comedic grammar-defilement was gone now as he looked on with a grim face.

"This... girl. She has power... a lot of it. But she must learn how to control it. The pressures made by the Warp and those who wield it can translate to physical pressure all too easily..."

Vincent nodded. Batel's heart-breaking sobs were slowly easing themselves into sniffles as she calmed down, and he found himself enfolding her in his arms. Looking around in confusion, he saw Yoza lowering his arm. A grim chill ate at his stomach. Yoza had made him do that with a simple gesture; what else could this Eldar Warlock do?

But his worry-streaked face told him that – for now – he would be safe from the tiny psykser's control.

"She seeks comfort, Vincent... stay, and keep her safe. The Chaos forces broke when their Sorcerer fled..." He looked out, to where a gaggle of Space Marines were throwing the bodies of cultists and dead Chaos Marines out into the garden. "That brute of a mon-keigh... Eizak, was he not? He was most impressive. Two more steps and the Sorcerer would have been ended."

The nerd nodded again, and Yoza smiled in return.

"Keep her safe... I have a feeling that this girl has more secrets to her than she may think she has."

The warlock looked up as the sounds of fighting intensified.

"Oh... and it appears the Daemon is recovering... its proximity to their cultists may have... oh dear."

Vincent stood quickly to the snarls and gnashing teeth of the daemon.

It was rising from the circle of cultists that had hastily begun a ritual around him. The daemon had regenerated its mangled flesh, but... it had also mutated. Wildly. Shattered limbs were stitched together with some kind of living glue, which screeched and howled with a mind of its own. Vincent peered closer, his nose twitching from the smell of burnt flesh. He realized, with a shudder, that the newly replaced flesh was made up of sacrificed cultists. The hand that had been removed by Batel's psychic rage had now been replaced by a clawed one. Torn and burnt skin was traded for a blue, scaly hide.

The Sorcerer – the real one – was howling with fury as he broadcast his rage. "YOU DARE! YOU DARE DEFY ME!"

Vincent blinked a few times."Yeah, I do."

Immediately, the air vibrated from the shriek of unholy frustration. Vincent checked himself. The nerves were really getting to him now; he was shooting his mouth off. No doubt, this would be funny to everyone else if they weren't already in this fight.

"I AM BELAVICH THE SHADOW-CALLER! FEAR ME!"

The Asian nerd flipped him the bird. "I don't, little man."

But he did. Very, very much so. That was a naked lie if he ever said one.

Yoza, however, was laughing with just as much sincerity as Vincent, while in the distance the Sorcerer spat froth from his mouth.

"I SHALL REND THE FLESH FROM YOUR BONES! I SHALL FEED YOUR SOUL TO THE WARP! I SHALL GRIND YOUR MIND TO DUST! I SHA~"

"Are you done yet, tiny one?"

"FFFF-"

Even the Daemon itself clapped its hands over its ears as the Socerer threatened and swore. Vincent took the opportunity to talk with Yoza, seek his advice.

"What now?"

"Well done, mon-keigh. I do believe you have gotten him angry. We will need to find help... we cannot bring down this daemon-titan alone."

The vox-jockey, Amira Sulein, was broadcasting over a Chimera's vox. "Titanicus Vincent! A vox from Michael!"

Michael's familiar voice had a buzzing edge to it, as expected of someone talking over a vox.

"Vinny! We're comin'! Just hold out for another two minutes!"

Vincent tried to swallo, but found his throat totally dry. He closed his stinging eyes, and calmed his ragged breath. He coughed a few times, and looked at the minis all looking up at him.

Bravado, a faux confidence... Vincent knew he needed to keep up an idealized image of himself, even if he was close to collapsing.

"Sure. Just get here fast, Mickey. I'm gonna need someone to help me clean up." His voice was loud enough to carry over, and the Daemonhost screamed out his fury as it stomped past the line of battle-tanks, scattering them as if toys.

Again, the armies of Chaos were milling about his legs. The two sides were gearing up for round two, it seemed; reinforcements were streaming in from both the Chaos van – Vincent was surprised that they were smart enough to keep reserves – and from Michael's house.

He hefted another half-rotten stick, and stood in front of Batel's unconscious form.

"Oh no you don't!" Another slat was brought around, nearly pinning the puppet master atop his toy's shoulder. The stinging slap made the Daemonhost stagger, fighting to keep control of the off-balance body.

The Sorcerer snarled.

"I SHALL FEAST ON THY HEART, MORTAL!"

His opponent snorted in false humor. "Its thine, ya stupid bastard!"

The Sorcerer's finger-sized bolt of warp-fire struck him on the shoulder, and Vincent could feel his very mind scream in pain, even as his own throat declared his agony.

Damn...

Dropping to one knee, he hoped the sagging rod would not snap as he tried to support himself, patting at the warp-fire to try and put out the flames.

Around him, the battle raged.

"C'mon, c'mon!" Michael swerved around the corner, Alice squealing as she was thrown against the window. His left shoulder felt like it was on fire, no doubt from the strain of him twisting and throttling the wheel.

All of the warriors gritted their teeth as they heard the rapid-fire reports coming in through the vox. General Faust was down, in critical condition. A tank commander was cut off lost as his Vanquisher was obliterated. Tau were forming up at Fridge Pass – where the hell was that? - and holding back the Chaos forces.

The Colonel of the logistics division had just been evicted from the former DVD cabinet as suicide bombers overran their position.

All along the frequencies Orks were having a hell of a fun time as they butchered the Cultists gathered near the TV. This got the few Orks that came along for the ride a lot less happy, and they began shouting for Michael to hurry up.

More reports streamed in: The cogboys were getting pretty beat up as they rushed to the aid of the disabled vehicles, Eldar were making advances as they cleared out the dining room, the Inquisitional forces were ordering people clear them a path out so they could engage the Daemon.

The blond driver did a double-take. "Wait, Daemon!"

Michael stepped on the gas, and the car lurched forward as he shifted gears.

Commissar Tomas Sturm swore as he was thrown onto his ass by the sudden acceleration, but still managing to hang on as he tumbled past a strapped-down Chimera.

Zara was screaming at the top of her lungs, warning Michael to drive carefully, as were a half-dozen other voices.

The Ork contingent, however, was hooting with glee.

Staggering back at the half-daemon half-human mongrel, Vincent looked around for some kind of help as it leaped forward, undisturbed by the anti-tank fire being shot at it from the Imperial tanks.

The first blow he was able to duck simply by letting his knees give out, and crossed arms managed to absorb the blow from the sweeping kick that followed. Vincent was rolled backwards, but was fast enough to get up in time to slap a punch so that it passed over his shoulder.

A missile – from the Tau Sky-Ray, it seemed – streaked between the two of them and landed somewhere in the middle of the street.

Two more attempts at bear hugs were foiled by Vincent simply falling down onto his knees and scrambling back, and the stomps that followed by him had him rolling to the side. He staggered to his feet as the two sides clashed along the bushes that had been planted on either side of Michael's foot-path, using them as cover and concealment. It was trench warfare all over the garden.

"ONE MINUTE!" Broadcast Vox-operator Amira, her voice echoing up and down the street. A dog started barking.

A punch smashed into the Asian youth's chest, sending him up off the ground and throwing the nerd bodily over the bushes. He was treated to the sight of empty driveways before he crashed back to the lawn.

Damn it... it was maybe just before noon, Tuesday. Everyone was out at their workplace or school. No help from the neighbors.

Picking up a Chaos Vindicator, Vincent hurled it at the Daemon, who slapped it out of the air and into the ground. It burst into flames shortly after. A Chimera was thrown in return, which Vincent caught as it smacked into his chest. The crew were cursing and swearing, bruised but otherwise okay. Setting it on the ground, he looked up in time to jump back from a back-hand swing.

He and the daemon were now on the street, and now he looked around for a weapon of some kind, trying to think over the sounds of battle; the boom of cannon, the chatter of machinegun and bolter fire, the dakka-dakka-dakka of Ork shootas and the sound of accelerating vehicles.

Vincent did a double take as he looked down the road.

The daemon quickly turned to follow his gaze, hissing at... nothing.

The Asian nerd grinned to himself as he threw himself backwards.

If he had any more breath, he wanted – so very badly – to shout out 'Psych!'.

Accelerating past the fifty miles per hour mark, the pickup driven by Michael slammed into the daemon's back as he mounted the curb.

The daemonhost was thrown through the air, and landed with a sickening crunch as it hit the stack of slats.

"Take that, ya warp-spawned mongrel!" Grinned Commissar Tomas, who was already organizing the expedition forces to redeploy from the truck and form into a battle line, while one of his lieutenants shouted out direction and range, the twin Leman Russ battle-tanks tracking around to open fire at the exposed rear armor of the Chaos vehicles. A Tau Hammerhead cleanly bisected a captured Chimera with its rail-gun, and the Eldar Falcon was pumping lance after lance of bright energy into a corrupted Leman Russ battle-tank.

"Battle team Aquila! Re-group with the Imperial battle-line, and reinforce any weak sections! I want tanks in the middle and on the flanks, infantry and support weapons in between them!"

He quickly dashed onto a Tau Devilfish, climbing into the deceptively spacious troop transport, and pulling his vox-jockey in with him. Tomas gave a quick nod to the Eldar and Tau warriors inside.

"Pilot!" He shouted, tapping the Tau pilot on the shoulder.

"How may I help you, Gue'la?" She asked him.

"We need reinforcements out in the Living Room! Can you take us there?"

"Alright! But strap in, Gue'la!"

Tomas nodded, and hurried to do so.

Alice was busily unloading the troop transports, picking them up off the flatbed and placing them on the ground as Michael placed the Space Marine Land Raider on the pavement. He trotted over to Vincent, who was more bruised than... well, a noodle-shaped nerd who went toe-to-toe with a pro heavyweight boxer.

Vincent limped over to the back corner of his pickup truck, ripped open his toolbox and pulled out the crowbar that he kept in there, hefting the familiar tool, now weapon as he handed it to Michael.

"Think fast."

Michael's hand caught the lobbed crowbar and gave him a 'what the hell are you doing with that thing?' look.

"I know. Too much Half-Life. Want me to grab the wrench instead?"

He hefted a heavy Stillson wrench, spray painted a dark red color, in his right hand. There was a short period of appreciation for the weapon as he swung it down onto his waiting palm, testing the weight and feel of the weapon.

Michael palmed his face. "... seriously, where do you get those things?"

"Ryan and Son. Y'know that shop just off Fountain street?"

The two simply stared at each other, and then looked at the twisted puppet and its fuming master as it was halted with a withering barrage of lascannon fire. They were keeping it hamstrung, it seemed, the lances of red light piercing his kneecap once more. More cultists died as they were sacrificed in an attempt to keep the daemon mobile.

"Vincent! We can't keep it down much longer! Capacitors for the lascannon are overheating! HURRY!"

Alice tapped the panicking nerd on the shoulder.

He turned to see her hand outstretched, her empty palm facing up. "I need a weapon."

Commissar Tomas swung around, his power fist knocking down the cultist as it charged him and the coalition squad that he had attached himself to. The Eldar 'Dire Avenger' behind him emptied a burst of shuriken fire into the cultist as she dove behind an Ork for cover.

Finding himself in a temporary lull in the battle as a series of Tau missiles peppered the cultists around him, Tomas switched on the comm-bead. Closing his eyes, he recalled the mental map of Michael's house. Tomas' mind began working, snatching a near-nonsensical babble over the comms and translating it to actions and reactions in that map, collating reports as they streamed through the command channel.

Chaos forces are retreating from Fridge Pass as Guardsmen were reinforced by the Adepta Sororitas. They were beating them back and using the high elevation to site their observers and heavy weapons.

A screaming rocket barrage landed all around the coalition squad. Eldar, Tau and Human alike were thrown to the ground as mixed small-arms fire zipped overhead.

Eldar Aspect Warriors were making small advances from the dining room; the table, chairs and space underneath was now a forward operating base and general rallying point for the forces in that area.

Red lines of Imperial lasguns blinked through the air as balls of Tau plasma fire shot forward to strike down the line of advancing traitors. An Eldar Ranger hefted his long-rifle, his artificial arm rock-steady as he sighted through the scope. One, two, three cultists fell with metronomic precision as they were picked apart by precisely placed shots.

Behind him, the Tau were arrayed in a firing line, their pulse rifles flaring as they sent a series of plasma balls into the massing horde. Each fired independently but in the direction of the orange-helmeted sergeant, who was lobbing 'photon' grenades from the launcher of his carbine, each flaring in a supernova of light and sound. The assault was cut off sharply as the Tau were joined by a pair of Guard squads, their plasma guns coming to bear and cutting down the Chaos Marine champions.

Tau and Imperial artillery and massed sniper fire were keeping the traitors that were trying to rally and attack the forces pinned on Coffee Plateau. The Air Assault group was recovering their wounded there and the elite airborne warriors were quickly being overwhelmed.

Tomas watched in awe as, in the distance, a Crisis battlesuit stood back-to-back with a Space Marine Dreadnought and an Eldar Wraithlord construct. The small ring of the elite armored warriors were surrounded, an eye in the storm of Chaotic warriors. And they were winning. Cultists and Marines alike were shrinking back from the hurricane of firepower that the trio were pumping into their surroundings, the crushing arms of the Dreadnought and the whirlwind fast sword in the hands of the Wraithlord were shredding the heretics

An Ork-Marine mashup company would be reinforced by the Grey Knights and a detachment of Sororitas to form a sufficient force to counter-attack with, streaming out of Fridge Pass in concert with another advance from the dining hall to relieve the defenders trapped on Coffee Plateau.

Wading through heretics and cultists, his power fist and hell pistol whirling around him as he parried and counterattacked, Tomas was near the front of their group's advance; he was preceded only by the eight Howling Banshees, their bone-white armor and fire-red tassels blurring as the speedy warrior women brandished their mirror-bladed power swords.

It was like watching a dance, seeing them move. Graceful and swift, the Banshees quickly reduced the first wave of cultists into red gore, screeching a song that tore at the mind.

A second wave of cultists crashed into them. Uncaring for their casualties, like so many times before, the cultists grabbed onto limbs and bodies, using their weight in both numbers and mass to bring down the Banshees.

Tomas had his hell-pistol up and firing. Behind him were a squad of Guardsmen; assault specialists armed with shotguns. He waved his power fist at them, before pointing at the Banshees.

"Help them! FORWARD! FOR THE EMPEROR!"

Falling in, the Guardsmen piled in with their shotguns, blasting apart cultists as they tried to rip off the wraithbone armor of the Howling Banshees. Tomas found one, her helmet having been ripped off and exposing her civilian persona to the horrors of war. He brought his armored fist around, punching the lightly armed cultist's torso into a fine mist.

Hauling the pink-haired Eldar warrior woman to her feet with his free hand, Tomas began firing into a group of cultists as more Banshees – both dead and alive – were pulled from the heap of dead cultists. Guardsmen around him formed up into a firing line as he shouted orders up and down the improvised line of defense. Tau Fire Warriors and Eldar Guardians flowed in, spraying fire in all directions as they joined the human Guardsmen.

Tomas hurried to join them, but found himself looking at one Howling Banshee had been literally ripped limb from limb, and he carefully pulled the glowing red orb of her soul-stone from its place at her throat. Walking over to another, he hauled the shaking warrior to her feet and placed the blood red crystal in her palm. It seemed to calm the Banshee down, and soon he was helping her snap the locks of her mask back onto her face and following her into battle.

He found himself wondering about his duties.

The Commissar shook his head. His duty was to make sure that the warriors that were placed under his care were fit for battle. He had simply been going through the motions of his profession with a more exotic warrior than was intended.

Another report filtered into his still-active comm-bead.

Heavy psyker activity outside! All Ordo Malleus and psykers to head there immediately!

Tomas looked up, at the advancing line of cultists as they surged towards the front door.

He pointed with his Power Fist, a sudden rage giving him previously unknown vitality.

"Squad! Face left! Advance! I WANT TO BE ABLE TO TOUCH THEM WITH MY FUCKING FINGER!"

Space Marine Force Commander Eizak Aruleius charged forward, his retinue now a mixture of Orks and Marines. As much as it grated against his every instinct to simply leave his back open to these Orks, a small voice in the back of his mind whispered thus: These Orks will not turn upon you. Why, he could understand: They Orks now saw the Marines as – if anything – foes to take on later. The Chaos 'boys' were only here for a limited amount of time, so they would fight them first, then everyone else later. As for the survivors of that, they would be able to focus on seeing who was the new Warboss.

A pack of cultists approached them. They seemed... familiar. Eizak shuffled through half a millenia's worth of battles. They were using Cadian pattern equipment. That would mean that they were one of many, many worlds that monkeyed the best Guardsmen humanity could offer. Their flak vests were desecrated, the holy aquila of the Emperor replaced by foul symbols that nauseated the mind to simply glance upon them.

The pack – for that was what they were: 'squad' or 'team' would indicate something resembling discipline and coherence – suddenly stopped and stood their ground, which made Eizak hesitate for the moment. From a rabble of crazed cultists, they were now... organized.

A figure moved around behind them, seemingly a massive parody of a Space Marine, holding an unique weapon in his hands – an assault cannon, or a copy of one. Eizak blinked. He had encountered them before, near the Maelstrom. It was a smaller caliber version of the rotary bolter, used mainly against swarms of enemies and didn't fire bolt shells in favor of solid slug projectiles like that of an autogun. But it could spin up and fire a lot faster than the heavier Asssault Cannon... they were called... minicannon, wasn't it?

There was a whining sound, keening and scratchy as the many barrels of the miniaturized assault cannon spooled up, and then the buzzing came.

Swarms of munitions – a mix of high explosive and armor piercing pellets, it seemed – scythed through the ranks of unarmored Orks and surprised Marines. The single cultist that was wielding the weapon cackled as he saw two Orks go down, shredded by the stream of projectiles that chipped them apart, piece by piece.

Around him, his pack-mates had hefted heavy shields from their rearguard, protecting the minicannon from return fire. Three cultists to one shield. Bolter shells bounced off harmlessly, while a plasma gun's miniaturized sun simply splashed off.

Eizak clenched his jaw. That was the same kind of armor used by Titans... just how did they...

The heavy weapon cultist was roaring with laughter as his minicannon poured weapons-fire over Brother Melavich, forcing him down onto his knees from the sheer weight of fire, the bullets cutting through hydraulic lines to force the full weight of his quarter-ton suit down onto its user. Surprised, there was a crunching sound as a round slipped between his armor plates and detonated inside of his elbow. His sharp cry of pain was cut off as his helmet was smashed apart by sustained fire.

Eizak charged forward, roaring a challenge as he advanced. Inside his helmet, warning lights began to flash through his vision as his right pauldron was breached. Hissing and clacking as his artificer armor protested. The minicannon was concentrating solely on him now, but Eizak ignored it for the moment as he knew his Iron Halo and master-crafted power suit sufficient to shrug off the majority of the weapons fire directed at him.

Both shield bearer teams advanced, crouching close to each other as another weapon was brought up... a single missile streaked out from their mobile redoubt.

Eizak roared. "EMPEROR GUIDE MY HAND!"

He hefted his Thunder Hammer now, and swung it around in a rising swing.

As the missile streaked past, the power field neatly crushed the space between the warhead and the rocket motor, destroying the guided explosive with the unlikely combination of brute force and grace that was a Space Marine.

Eizak didn't stop there, as he began to swing his hammer around again, charging to meet the pack of cultists. They backed away, closing ranks as they did.

They were deceptively disciplined, for Chaos worshipers.

Both shields closed up, and small arms fire began pouring out of the firing slits.

Eizak charged up as the two shields locked down into one, the minicannon occupying the slit in the middle, pouring its river of steel into the single figure that was advancing upon it. Even the Orks had stayed back, watching the Space Marine commander charge forward with mild interest.

He reached the joined shields, and smashed into it, his hands clutching both edges of the massive battle-plate. The minicannon was now pouring point-blank into his face, and Eizak felt his helmet disintegrating around him. Sensor relays and communicators were smashed. His fingers flexed, and then locked down onto the massive shield. Purity seals and decorations were mangled and pockmarked beyond recognition. His feet shifted apart, shoulder width, and his legs braced. An eyepiece caved in, the bullet slashing a line parallel to his right eyebrow like a hot blade. Eizak gritted his teeth as he steeled his arms.

The minicannon ran dry.

Eizak grinned.

"My turn."

Lifting up the shield and its six bearers, Eizak flexed backwards, holding the panicking cultists in the air for a moment, and then downwards, bringing down the shield on the pack of Chaos dogs behind it.

At least half a dozen were simply crushed under the weight of the shield, and whatever had survived that now had to deal with Eizak jumping on top. He was blind, now. His helmet had been utterly destroyed, simply a hunk of metal wrapped around his head. The feeling of his armor, now incomplete... it was as if he had lost his fingers... again. Hissing as they popped their seals, the commander pulled off his shattered helmet. How he hated having to discard it... Eizak felt, for the first time in many decades, vulnerable.

A cultist roared as it clambered out of the wreckage.

"Khorne is pleased! Blood has flown!" He laughed, blood running from every orifice on his face. From behind him, he drew a knife, a crudely fashioned, jagged piece of metal.

The cultist charged, roaring a battle-chant.

"Slice! DICE! KILL! CRUSH!"

Eizak stood his ground, waiting. As they closed in with each other, his hands blurred. The blue-armored left hand slapped the knife coming at his face, and then he smashed his opponent's head in with a backhand blow, using the helmet in his right hand.

The cultist's neck snapped as the helmet whipped his head around, and whatever doubts the Space Marine had about the berserker getting back up were dashed to pieces along with its skull as Eizak brought the helmet back down onto its forehead.

There was a chuckling from behind him. A large claw slapped his back.

"Now dat woz ah good foight, beakie!"

"Stay back! Stay back!"

The front doorstep was scorched black as the purple light flashed across it.

Lightning danced from her fingertips as Ishabeth desperately whirled around in a spin, her staff tracing jagged arcs as she leaped back from the crackling lance that snarled from the hands of the Chaos witch. Creating a twist in the fabric of the Immaterium, she managed to disrupt the weaponized lightning.

Ishabeth breathed in a sigh. Her parchment-brown robes were charred and tattered from the series of both mental and physical blows that they had exchanged.

Both psykers again squared off in the middle of the raging battlefield, which was now becoming more and more desperate as the psychic essence fueling their combat began to run dry.

The Sanctioned Psyker is breathless, her chest heaving under the heavy flak-vest material that made up her battle-robes. Her left arm is burned, charred by warp-fire. It is only by virtue of the elastic chord she keeps around her wrist that the las-pistol is still in her hand. The staff, imbedded with psychic wards and channeling lines of blessed metals, is held loosely beside her. Ishabeth breathes out a long held breath, and focuses her senses on her opponent.

The witch is a twisted parody of her Imperial counterpart. Her only garments are a pair of sashes nearly identical to the one around Ishabeth's waist – presumably taken from murdered Imperial Psykers, and then defaced by Chaos sigils – that are wrapped around her chest and hips, the latter of which as a tabard. Piercings and tattoos, ritual scars and burns adorned the rest of her body, which was beginning to lose its pinkish coloring for a blue hue.

"So young... I do wonder if you know the pleasures of surrendering yourself to the Warp, sister."

Re-engaging, the two clashed yet again with both psychic attacks and physical blows. The spear slipped between the plates of armor on Ishabeth's left shoulder, but the Sanctionite pulled back and away before it could do any real harm.

Smiling, the Chaos witch purred as she stood up straight and proud, her fingers crackling with purple lightning.

"So fast! So fast! I do wonder... is it because you have something to lose? The others I've..." There was a poisonously sweet giggle as the witch ran a hand along the two desecrated sashes. "... met were rather sorry affairs."

She cackled as the two sobbing souls of the psykers faded into view, twisted and horrible shells of their former selves.

"Alone, afraid and at my mercy... such exquisite agony." The witch whimpered from the memories. "Are you convincing yourself that you aren't alone, sister? That there's someone here to care about you? Don't you know, that your false Emperor is dead? DO YOU STILL BELIEVE YOURESELF TO HAVE COMPANIONS!"

Ishabeth tried to pull herself to her feet, to prepare herself for battle.

The Chaos witch heard another voice, ragged and breathless.

"She does."

Behind her, Tomas fired at point blank range, two quick shots in quick succession into the back of the witch's head. The foul wards that had so deftly deflected las-bolts and psychic attacks shattered, and the follow-up punch from the power fist was simply for making sure that – unlike the cockroaches – the heretical psyker stayed down and stayed dead.

Ishabeth picked chunks of the witch's skull from her garments as Tomas rushed for her, firing off a few shots at whatever targets he could find. He had gore stained all over his long coat.

"Messy." She observed, as she dove into the Commissar's waiting arms, his embrace restoring the warmth that had been gone for so long. Ishabeth shivered as the cold metal of his power fist brushed against the back of her neck, the armored finger caressing her skin.

Around them, coalition forces swarmed the Chaos psykers, brute physical force overwhelming them where psychic attacks had failed.

There was a change in the Warp, like the ripple in a still pond...

No, not like that. Ishabeth pulled away from Tomas, as her mind's eye Saw through the darkness.

It was more like a sudden calm before a storm.

"I SHALL FEED YOUR SOULS TO THE DARK GODS!"

"Then allow me."

Captain Eizak reached out and palmed the snarling Chaos Marine's faceplate, lifting him up clear off his feet and then slamming him head-first into the ground. He stood, his Thunder Hammer arcing up and then down, the holy metal and powerful force-field that wreathed it simply crushed the traitor with its righteous weight.

Around him, his loyalist retinue poured bolter fire onto their traitorous brothers, or closed into hand-to-hand combat with their chainswords and combat daggers – 'daggers' being a relative term for a blade the length of a sword – and again a common scene of the Horus Heresy was re-enacted; the best of the Emperor's troops and the heretics of ten thousand years closed in upon one another, their weapons clashing as the veteran Space Marines danced their deadly art of strike and counter-strike, feint and slash.

They were advancing now, slowly but surely, towards the coalition forces – the airborne warriors – that were now trapped around the giant plateau known as the Coffee Table. Eizak and his mixed horde of Orks and Marines were moving as quickly as they could towards it.

A Havoc opened fire on Eizak and his squad, his autocannon giving off the familiar thump-thump-thump as its heavy rounds discharged in concert with a cultist charge. Casualties began to mount as heavy weapons were brought to bear. For any one of the loyalist Marines or Orks that were felled, there was his Chaotic counterpart that was also struck down by the overwhelming firepower. Cultists poured over them, obscuring their vision even as the heavy anti-tank shells tore through them.

Eizak ignored the armor-piercing shells that glanced off his artificer armor, and charged forwards as his Iron Halo flared and sputtered from the series of shells that slowly drained its protective charge. Gritting his teeth, he holstered his gun in favor of getting a good double-handed grip on his Thunder Hammer. More autocannon and some bolter shells splashed off his already taxed armor. The heraldry adorning his left shoulder pad was sheared off as a lascannon's beam splashed over the rounded pauldron.

The Space Marine Force Commander and the five man squad of Chaos Havocs met.

The first he caught in a sideways swing, the rusted and poorly maintained armor creaking as it tried to keep up with the speed of the well-oiled Artificer Armor. Eizak's Thunder Hammer claimed the first Havoc as it was knocked to the side, sent tumbling across a few meters of empty carpeting before smashing into a throng of cultists.

Havoc number two was quicker on the uptake, quickly drawing a bolt pistol and joining the point-blank barrage of his brothers, sending two of the bolts into Eizak as their autocannon and heavy bolters hammered his armor. The Marine felt his right lung collapsing as an explosive bolt detonated inside of his chest.

He closed the gap between them, throwing the Thunder Hammer into the air. Hands shooting out, Eizak seized the Havoc by the neck, his fingers wrenching the helmet up, exposing the soft neck-seal. Thumbs struggled into position, and squeezed. The Marine choked as the two digits punctured arteries and his windpipe, and as Eizak's fingers clamped down, he tore his hands away, taking large chunks of armor, flesh and muscle with him. Spinning around, the blue-armored boot came around and knocked down the black-armored traitor Astartes.

The Thunder Hammer hit the ground beside him, and he picked it back up, ready to engage the rest of the Havocs.

As one, the heavy weapons specialists began pumping heavy bolter shells and autocannon rounds into the commander.

His left arm was simply ripped off as a high-speed pencil of metal passed through his shoulder, the dead arm dropping to the ground. Eizak roared, and charged forward. His right hip and the majority of the internal organs surrounding the lower right side of his torso were liquefied as another autocannon round punched through the double-layering of armor inside. He continued to close the distance between the Havocs and himself. Behind him, Brother Lekoras leveled his plasma gun and fired off a fist-sized sun, which simply melted through the right arm of a Havoc. Eizak finished him off with a back-hand.

A heavy bolter round detonated inside of his chest, and through the dull agony that was sawing away at his senses, he could feel his lung collapse and the fused ribcage on his chest shatter.

The fourth Havoc went down as he grabbed onto him, and brought their heads together. His Iron Halo gave him the slight extra advantage needed for him to crack the traitor's skull with his own.

Finally, the last Havoc.

Eizak swung back with his Thunder Hammer, almost too weak to lift it. A series of shots from Eldar Warp Spiders had entangled the heretic.

He brought his hammer down, the discharge of destructive energies simply crushing the Chaos Havoc as Eizak emptied the power reserves built into the gold and silver weapon.

Falling to his knees, Eizak collapsed a labored heartbeat later.

"Apocetharion!" Shouted a Marine. The Force Commander quickly riffled through the names of the Marines in his group. Nikolas. He was – relatively speaking – a newcomer to the Space Marines, newly inducted as a student to study the ways of a Space Marine under him. Eizak felt a flush of pride as his student displayed clear-minded thinking in the middle of combat.

Fighting was easy to do, but thinking...

The sound of creaking power armor made the Marines look up.

"Death or healing, of which do you seek?" Apocetharion Eyugeen Rho was amidst them, white and red armor dulled by the smoke and grime and blood of combat.

He knelt beside a fallen Space Marine, and carefully examined him. Even in the deafening hurricane around him, Eizak could hear the soft click as the Apocetharion placed the geneseed extractor to his neck. Eyugeen gasped as the bloodied gauntlet of his fallen commander seized his arm.

Behind the expressionless helmet, there was a rasping croak. The medic moved quickly, manipulating interface plugs and panels, and then eased the helmet off the commander's head.

"... hhhow..."

"The battle goes well. We have turned the tides. Our brothers of the air are relieved"

Eizak's mouth twitched into a smile.

"And so I shall move on, to the Emperor's side."

As his eyes closed, Rho shook his head.

"Sleep the sleep of the dead, commander, and may The Bell of Lost Souls ring loud and clear for you."

Michael and Vincent both hit the ground, both their improvised weapons and bravado scattered out of their reach or from any hope or recovery. Grinning, the daemonhost snarled almost playfully as it looked at them, helpless prey, its master cackling wildly as he stood atop the crazed thing's head.

The overweight body of Ryan now crouched down, almost on all fours, as it gnashed its teeth and snapped his still growing canines at them.

The Sorcerer laughed.

"Oh, how stupid you mortals are! Thinking you could defeat me!"

Alice whimpered as she writhed on the ground, pinned by her neck, struggling under his grip. The clawed hands had traced a trio of parallel lines from the back of her neck in blood, and as the newly inducted Sororitas flailed about, Ryan's body chuckled.

"FOOOOOLS!" He roared. "You believed that the three of you would be enough?"

They were overconfident. Too eager to rush into the fray against a wounded daemonhost. Sure, they had managed to bruise the steel-tough skin, but... Michael flinched. He wasn't

The daemonhost joined in the Sorcerer's laughter as the white-haired girl struggled uselessly. Michael wiped the blood from the cut that traced a neat arc from his neck to ear. Vincent was down for the count, barely moving as he struggled to put as much distance between him and the Daemonhost, his wrench discarded a few feet away.

"Oh, how shall I feed you to the Dark Gods, I wonder? Of course, Khorne will be more than happy to receive the souls of you two... how many lives have you claimed? A few dozen? A hundred between you two?" His gaze and attention shifted down to the white haired girl in his grip.

"As for her." The Sorcerer chuckled, and waved his hand.

Alice gasped as the scaly hand tightened around her neck, and another clawed at her clothes. She squirmed uselessly as Ryan's husk strangled her.

"I think we shall draw their sacrifice out much longer." The Sorcerer mused. "Nurgle or Slaneesh... either of those two would be more than happy for us to... experiment on them. I do wonder if the Prince of Excess will respond to her screams... you see, poor little Ryan here has been most patient in waiting for his... heheh... satisfaction."

Both servants of the Chaos Gods began to snort and chuckle, their laughter clawing at Michael's senses.

The snarling cacophony was cut short suddenly as something smacked into the daemonhost, knocking it down and punching three messy red craters into his chest. A split second later, three overlapping cracks of a rifle firing split the air.

Michael turned around, to see Miles halfway down the street. He was crouched down, a compact rifle in his hands. It was made of the same grey plastics and had the same hallmark characteristics of a M4 carbine. He was still shooting as he walked forwards, picking off Chaos tanks and vehicles with single shots.

Vincent, probably dizzy from blood loss, began to laugh hysterically.

Beside him was Emma.

She played with lines of light that wove around her fingers. Her eyes shone bright blue as the strings sprung forth, wrapping around the wounded daemonhost. It screeched in pain, its flesh burning as the strings caressed the daemonic skin.

Librarian Vasili's jaw dropped.

Every other psyker within the vicinity began screaming in both agony and joy. Once, many centuries ago, he had been able to genuflect within half a kilometer from the Golden Throne. As he bowed his head, the Emperor's grace had touched him. All beings in the universe left a unique wake in the Immaterium.

Sometimes it could be disguised or toned down, but never changed. The Emperor was no exception.

Falling to his knees, he felt his hands shaking in pure fear or unrestrained glee.

Since his birth, the Holy Emperor had watched over mankind. In its shadows, far below his rightful place at the head of its glory, the Immortal Guardian of Humankind had taken up many names and many shapes over the years.

A carpenter in Nazareth, one that healed the sick and fed the hungry.

A soldier-saint of Silene, slayer of dragons and bringer of faith.

A peasant woman of France, liberator of her country and people.

A brash leader of men in Britain, unrelenting in his quest for freedom.

A little girl, standing in Belmont Street, weaving strands of light with her fingertips.

Watching from a distance, he saw Emma reach back, a spear of light forming at her fingertips.

The remaining two thirds of the Chaos forces voided their bowels.

Chapter 17[edit]

Thought for the Day: "When in doubt, shoot it again." - Kasrkin saying

Holy crap.

Emma – the creepy little girl that had stalked us in a supermarket – stepped forward with her spear of burning light.

Her black hair was now highlighted with a golden aura, her lightning blue eyes flaring as she focused on her target; the damned father of Batel. Her free hand was held out in front of her, twisting and turning in a series of graceful gestures that somehow controlled the mass of thread that was shooting out to wrap around the Chaos troops.

Slipping between the cultists, a single thread wrapped around a Chaos Terminator and hurled him into the air. More were being picked up by the golden threads, cut in half or simply squeezed into a pulp.

The Chaos forces retaliated. A lance of energy – a lascannon from a Chaos Predator– shot out to the young girl, but a simple flick of the wrist refracted the deadly beam to pass just over her shoulder.

I glanced across to the daemonhost that had just tried to hand me my ass on a silver plate, and saw was something that made me want to both throw up in disgust and cheer in victory at the same time. He was being beaten back as more threads wrapped around his corrupted flesh.

Through the haze of pain that was creeping over my senses, I felt something... alien. Something else other than light was being seen through my eyes.

The overweight man that was now a monster was struggling, trying to break the thin threads that bound him.

Emma shifted her stance again, her spear still at her side. It was difficult to look into the brilliant light that shone out of the slender shaft of what could only be described as holy essence. She held it in her left hand, allowing it to fall to her side as her other hand wrapped around the half-visible threads of light that she controlled. Another series of bright spider-silk exploded forth, whipping out in complex patterns, zigzagging randomly to weave around the flailing arms of the daemon.

One whispered past my face, and I saw what lead each thread; a small bird, wings spread out as it arced up. Its beak opened. The hot noon-time sun blinded me as it screeched a cry and climbed up, trailing golden light, into the sky.

The thread dove down from above, wrapping around an arm. It twisted around and around, then shot out to tighten the invisible string, which bit deep into the corrupted flesh.

Calmly, the little girl was steadily adding more and more of her bright golden strands to the task of imprisoning the daemon's host. Its distorted voice was something horrible to listen to, even as the Chaos sigils burned onto its skin began to smolder as they touched the threads of light.

"Such a weak hold..." She muttered, tightening her dainty fingers into a fist.

Two voices screamed; one was the voice of the monster's body... the other... the other was a malevolent shadow, a distorted echo. I curled up as the voice scratched at my ear-drums.

My ears felt like they were bleeding, my gut churning as I fell to the ground. Now it was changing, the nature of the pain. All was still, and then something was set alight. The agony was spreading; now my body ached as I scrambled to get away from the screaming vortex of Warp energies, before a strong hand seized my collar.

"MICHAEL! UP! UP! UP!"

A jerk pulled my t-shirt into my neck, choking me, and I was pulled to my feet.

"C'MON, BOY! SLEEP'S FOR THE DEAD!" Miles roared.

Behind me, Miles raised his rifle. The snap-bang sound declared its discharge, the 5.56mm NATO round punching a small hole in a spider-like Chaos walker. He grabbed the vertical grip set into the barrel shroud, and shifted his aim, and fired into the ground, creating a large crater on the lawn, which had once been where a Chaos Champion was shouting to rally the panicking troops.

Right now, it was a rather reddish brown smear in the green grass surrounded by some rather chunky bits of Chaos Marine.

His hand went down to the two holsters at his hips, and it came up bearing a pistol – Vincent owned a BB gun version of this... an M9 pistol, wasn't it? He spun it around in his hand, passing it to me grip-first.

"You have sixteen shots," Miles explained as he pressed the weapon into my palm, his nimble fingers flicking a small catch at the back of the slide to reveal a red dot. "just point and click, an' watch out for recoil!"

I nodded mutely, and raised the pistol in between two shaking hands. Looking down the U shaped rear sights, I lined it up with the single bright green dot of the foresight, and aimed carefully at a Chaos Rhino trying to escape.

A few Tau Fire Warriors began sending a volley of plasma fire out to a group of a dozen Chaos warriors, keeping them pinned. The white-hot bolts splashed off the ancient ceramite armor of the traitors or vaporized blades of grass. The return volley of bolters barked in a loud response, the high explosive armor piercing shells punching through armor and detonating inside of soft bodies. Red gore decorated the dull blue armor of the Tau soldiers, but they pressed their attack, felling a Chaos Marine as the plasma burned through his thick armored hide.

There, I realized something.

Fuck aiming.

At their scale, I was holding a semi-automatic cannon.

I stood above the gathering battle, and pointed straight down at the heretical supersoldiers.

Firing three quick shots of (for them) half meter wide shells into the group at near point-blank range was devastating the Chaos troops. Each gunshot – a sound much like a metal ruler being slapped onto a desk – was loud enough at their level that it deafened what Marines weren't simply obliterated by the lead slugs. The remainder scattered as I brought my shoe down on the panicking heretics.

Looking at the remaining Fire Warriors, I saw one tapping the side of his helmet, and an antennae springing up from his oversized backpack.

Another epiphany slapped me in the face.

Communicate! I needed to get in touch with the rest of the groups. Fishing around in my pockets, I pulled out the modified bluetooth headset the Adeptus Mechanicus had given me.

"This is Michael! Faust, are you there!"

"Faust is gone, Governor Michael!"

I did a double take. Over the past few weeks, the General had been one of the few people who had been able to direct the disorganization of the various armies into something resembling a united cause, and now... he was dead?

"General Faust is dead! Who is this?"

"This is Vox-operator Amira Sulein, Cadian 918th, Governor Michael! General Faust and some of the general staff were hit when a Chaos Defiler managed to get in to the command group's position. The general and the majority of the staff are wounded, but alive. We've evacuated them to the Monastery (the domain of the Space Marines), and are coordinating from there!"

I felt myself sigh with relief.

"Alright, can you tell me what's going on around here?"

"Uhm... its a little... complicated. Most of our forces been fighting an engagement here for the past thirty minutes, and anyone that isn't are currently moving to reinforce our lines, so command's swamped while we're all trying to re-organize this... alliance. Hold on, sir... company B, platoon 3, command requires you to lay down suppressing fire to cover platoon 4's advance... yes, pin them down, platoon 4 advances, then sweep around and flank them. Apologies, Governor Michael... well, the battle's going within the acceptable losses threshold, and we're driving them out."

A whistling sound told me that I was being shot at.

There was a Chaos tank – a Predator – that was traversing its turret to fire at the single Land Speeder mowing down cultists with its heavy bolter. I shot it once with the pistol, which caused the tank to spin around and fishtail, and a second shot luckily managed to penetrate the rear-armor of the tank. The turret came blasting off, twisting haphazardly through the air as munitions and combustibles exploded inside.

A decidedly unsubtle shift in the air caused me to turn.

Emma was gathering more energy now, with her opponent sending bolts of lightning, the was simply slapping them into the ground with a precisely timed counter, sometimes even sending the bolts of warp-lightning back into the Chaos ranks.

I could feel it as a slight wind that was gathering, blowing towards her.

The world went still for a moment, and the young girl hurled her lance of light.

From where I stood, the psychic wake left behind by the holy weapon was all too visible for my eyes, a ripple in the air, and then the screaming started; it wasn't something heard, but instead was something that I could feel, from the core of his being as the daemonhost turned towards us and launched its final attack.

Emma's voice boomed as she gathered warp energy, and I could see the sudden realization, the shocked expression of someone who had just been slapped.

"GET BACK! EVERYONE GET BACK!"

The black and purple cloud struck me squarely on the chest as Vincent, Alice, Miles and a dozen other voices all screamed my name.

The pistol fell to the ground, nearly crushing the Fire Warriors that I had saved.

I followed the weapon on its journey down.

"Get the hell out of my way!"

The blow had landed on my face. The first time. The last time.

My knees had buckled. Face twisting and body twisting. The backhand blow hurt.

I had fallen to the ground, limbs splayed out.

The wooden panels of the floor was speckled with tears.

Crying. I turned.

Crying in the corner. Someone behind me.

A sister. My sister.

I remembered.

A vase. A mistake. Grandmother's gift.

Destroyed. Shattered.

Her forearms. Bruised.

Angry patches... Purple. Yellow. Discolored skin.

Eyes ringed with red. Nose running. Face despairing.

Sobbing as she tried to hide herself.

Rough hands grabbed me. Thrown me aside.

More blows. Not directed at me. At her.

Screams. Pained.

More blows. More pain.

I gnashed teeth, kicked up legs.

Jumped on his back.

Held on for dear life.

A bellow. "JACOB!"

The voice. Angry... and sad.

Grandfather. Bursting in. Shouting.

Screaming. Arguing.

The room froze.

I see grandfather, walking stick in his hand. T-shaped and about made of the wood of the mahogany tree he had climbed so many times in his own childhood, the man was leaning heavily on it. He was barking orders, his voice allowing no room for argument. Quickly, my father was ejected from the house.

Warmth. My sister and I were enfolded in warmth as he held the two of us, walking us both out of the room and into the living room. The living room that would become a battleground in a decade or so.

"So this is your grandsire, mortal?"

A clawed hand seized my throat, choking me. Yanked up off the floor, I was thrown against the wall. The blue scaled hide flexed, drawing blood from my neck as its claws dug into flesh. I looked at my younger self, still wrapped up in my grandfather's protective embrace.

The sorcerer smiled as his daemonic pet held me down. Its true form was a horrible thing to behold. There were no eyes on what passed for a face, only a grinning, red-toothed maw that dribbled unimaginably disgusting fluids. Its scaly blue skin scraped against my jaw.

"A precious memory, mortal? Or is it a traumatic one? Both? No matter."

Its hands squeezed. I gasped for breath as the claws tightened.

This wasn't real, I thought. This can't be real...

"Ohhhh, but it is..." The Sorcerer chuckled. "And I shall show you nightmares that are unimaginably real. Every prickle, every cut, every terror shall be as if your own." Another bony blade was pressed against my right temple.

Burning hot, the sharp claw slashed a horizontal line across my brow. Nonchalantly, the daemon followed the Sorcerer's orders to bisect it. Blood trickled down, forcing me to blink. A diagonal slash, now, and the blue hand was now moving to slash out another one. I realized what was happening. An eight-spoked wheel of Chaos.

HE WAS DRAWING ONE ON MY FUCKING FOREHEAD!

Sacrifice? I kicked and punched, weakly but enough to be able to shift around, avoiding the clawed hand that would have completed it. No doubts about it.

"Now, now." Frustration was edging into the Sorcerer's voice, even though he was mocking me. "Just. Sit. Still. And. It. Won't. Hurt. Too. Much!"

A last slash completed the straight lines. I kicked out, and managed to catch his arm. The Sorcerer's pet reacted immediately. More appendages – clawed limbs – shot forward to hold me still.

"This is a very delicate operation, mortal. I advise that you don't move."

Claws stabbed into my left shoulder – right where the daemonic knife had slipped between my rib and collarbone not more than a few hours ago.

I didn't know how long I screamed, but eventually I collapsed against my bonds, exhausted.

The daemon was laughing. Its voice I recognized; unreal, inhuman and... it was uncanny. Dammit. It could have just trapped me like this a long time ago, but only chose now because...

Again, the burning came as claws caressed my skin. All thoughts vanished as pain wrapped its scorching hand around my mind. It was tracing a circle around my forehead. The Horror of the Warp stopped short of completing it, the sickly grin returning to its face.

The Sorcerer chuckled as he tore open a hole in the wall. Beyond it was a storm of grey and black.

"Any last words? I hear it is a tradition amongst those that you condemn." A malicious chuckle. "You may consume him after he has spoken, pet."

I tried to speak... tried to kick away... there was a sudden blur from behind the daemon.

"Oi, suzy!"

CRUNCH.

My grandfather's walking stick smashed into the side of the Horror's head, and as the wooden shaft shattered, the daemon was hurled into the ground. A kick sent it skittering across the floor, and it crashed into a closet.

Someone knelt beside me and grabbed my shoulder.

"You alright?" There was a male figure, outlined by the overhead sun. The scene around us had changed; the cramped kitchen had given away to the college courtyard, where I had spent many an afternoon sketching the people around me.

"Hey? Michael?"

I punched my rescuer in the face.

"WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU!"

The Eldar Farseer and Warlock had left behind two guardians, copies of their consciousness and talents, to watch over my soul. I angrily tried to stand, but a wave of dizziness put me back down.

"We had not the slimmest chance of defeating the dark spellcaster." Copy-Zara quipped, prodding the squirming Copy-Yoza with her toe as the cloned Warlock cradled his face."It is fortunate that he departed."

I sat there, back against the wall, gasping for breath, looking up at the two Eldar that were supposed to be my 'angels' of some sort... something clicked in the back of my head.

Wait... Suzy?

"Seriously? Modern Warfare?" I craned my neck as I asked the Warlock's doppelganger, remembering the stitches both Vincent and I received from laughing at that in-game scene. Warm memories flooded my mind; competing against Vincent and the P1 server players, challenging my techno-illiterate sister, the cutscenes lived through Soap and... and...

"Recovered? For primitives, you seem to be very fragile." The Eldar Farseer's mind-clone sighed.

I touched my neck, and looked at my red palm as I drew my hand away. The sight of bood made me dizzy –especially since it was my own.

"Yeah, that would have hurt a little." Copy-Yoza quipped, kneeling down to inspect my wounds. He pressed a palm against my forehead, and I could feel a gentle warmth coming from the bloodied palm of his hand. The black-haired alien glanced over his shoulder."But forget about it. The daemon's getting back up."

The daemon, enraged, snarled as it advanced. Its shape was becoming less refined now, as it hissed at us like an irate cat. A ball of flesh, trailing appendages as it was propelled by a pair of spindly legs. Three clawed hands were fixed irregularly around its body.

"Tzeentchain Horror. The blue kind. Its gone berserk." Yoza informed me. "I can fight it, but not destroy it; that's got to be your job."

"Why me?" I asked.

"This soul is yours... you 'own' this memory, mon-keigh." Zara's snapped at me. "It is possessing you. We can help, but only you have the power to exorcise yourself... On an unrelated note, both of us have got next to no power left."

"Aww, shit..." I palmed my face. "How the hell am I supposed to kill... it?"

The two guardians nodded. I swore.

"Imagine a weapon – pick any you're familiar with." Yoza advised.

"I'm not familiar with any kinds of weapons!"

Yoza tapped his chin thoughtfully as the Daemon closed in on us again.

"... hmm... I say... duck."

We both threw ourselves aside as the blue Horror charged past. Zara sent it on its way with a blast of wind to its back, propelling it into a wall.

"Michael!" Zara snapped at me.

"WHAT!"

"Go for a lightsaber." He advised.

"No! Its bad enough as it is with you guys and your weapons!"

"Then why not a chainsword, like you mon-keigh seem to like using?" Asked the Farseer fasimile, her voice heavy with irritation. She crouched down low, the daemon barreling towards her, and then jumped high. Passing harmlessly below, the surprised blue monster was given a kick in one of its spindly ankle, which tripped it up.

The three of us ran away.

"Too heavy." I countered, as soon as we were a safe distance from the stunned daemon. "I'm not trained to use one!"

"A witchblade, perhaps?" Yoza pondered.

I shot him a confused look. "Can I actually use that kind of thing?"

"Good point." The warlock's copy admitted. "Spear?"

"Uh... maybe?"

There was an exasperated sigh from Zara.

Yoza shrugged. "Hmm... just experiment with them, I suppose."

Dammit. A blast of air from the Farseer managed to throw the Horror off course, away from bowling me over.

Calming my panicking mind, I tried to think. Okay. First of all, something simple...

Wait.

Ugh... I've been an idiot, haven't I?

The daemon came at me, howling words that hurt the mind to listen to. It closed in, and I swung my weapon around. I let it go, lobbing the weapon into its face, and ducked out of the way.

It screeched – high pitched and in agony – as it crashed into a fire-extinguisher. Running far faster than I could swing, the combined impact was more devastating than I expected; broken and bleeding, the daemon fell backwards as it wretched up a few of its pointed teeth. The impact jarred my wrist, and I felt my grip loosen on the fire extinguisher. The red tube dropped away.

No time to pick it back up.

Kicking up and onto my feet, I backed away.

I made one, didn't I? I could simply make another.

A second one appeared at my feet, and I snatched it up.

"Don't let up!"

The Daemon belched, igniting the air in front of it as the warp-fire shot across the gap between us. I threw up my fire extinguisher, and pressed down on the stud. A white cloud burst out, and swallowed up the fireball.

Copy-Yoza shrugged. Zara's copy facepalmed. "Should have expected that."

More fireballs came, and for each one I simply gave it a good squeeze of fire suppressant and the warp-fire attack simply petered out. More came, and more were extingui-

Ffft FFFFFT.

Squeezing the two 'bills' of the valve release, in a futile effort, I tried to will the fire extinguisher to expel more white powder. Of course, none came. The cylinder was empty.

"F F F F F F F F F F F F F ~"

I hurled the spent extinguisher at the daemon, who simply batted the red metal tube away, sending it through a wall.

Grinning in triumph, the Horror charged.

Need a new one, here!

Rolling, Imaginary Fire Extinguisher Number 2 bumped against my ankle.

I picked it up as the blue monstrosity leaped.

Zara and Yoza both sent blasts of telekinetic force at the daemon. I could see it slow, but still the blue Horror was charging at me, fanged maw gaping wide. It tried to leap again; this time the two copy-Eldar sent the force down. It crashed just short of my toes.

Drawing back and swinging in a downwards chop, Imaginary Fire Extinguisher Number 2 came crashing down onto the monster's head. The daemon screeched as I raised it again, the trusted weapon of mine, and smashed the base of the red cylinder into the many teeth of the Horror.

I lost track of time, and how many swings I took.

Remembering a saying, I screamed it out. "IF IT BLEEDS, WE. CAN. KILL. IT!"

Bleed it did, as I swung again with Imaginary Fire Extinguisher Number 9, crushing the last of its teeth.

Again, pulping flesh.

Again, crushing bone.

Again, snapping fingers.

Again, breaking knees.

Eventually, I grew tired, screaming and smashing with all my might, and the Horror had long ago stopped twitching under its own power.

Yoza's copy blinked a few times. "... well... that works. Now I know why Zara calls you mon-keigh so... brutal."

Zara coughed. "That was the most barbaric, inelegant, reckless kill I've ever seen, mon-keigh."

Breathless, I crawled away, at the verge of tears as I watched the blue mass of rapidly decaying flesh turn to dust. I didn't care that the kill had been inelegant! It was dead! The thing was dead! How elegant it was doesn't matter!

I turned to the two guardians.

"G-get me out of here! NOW!"

Both nodded, hesitation marring their understanding.

"Door's right that way. However, I cannot follow. That way is... outside. It will not be like here." Zara spoke, and then hesitated.

"You will have to fend for yourself outside of your mindscape." The ghost of the Warlock explained as he jerked his hand at the rift the Sorcerer had opened. I nodded, and sighed.

"Well... I can give you a better chance at surviving..."

"Do it."

"Ready?"

"Yes." The floor dropped out from underneath me.

I managed to catch the looks of both Zara and Yoza, who were smiling and waving at me.

Goddamn Bipolar Eldar...

I was lying on the ground. Huh. The smell of flowers and grass swirled around in a bouquet of sharp aromas, twisting their way around the meadow that I now found myself in. The fact that the sky above was bone white would be worried about later, when I had time.

"Michael?"

Whose voice was that? It was shrill and worried, close to panic as it danced about my ears. Left, right... it was coming closer. I braced myself.

"Michael?"

Closer... The echoes that shrouded the voice's identity were fading. I stood up, and found myself feeling feather light as my arm and hand lit up with a pattern tattooed onto it with lines of red. Blood red. It was like someone had made electronic circuits out of my veins and arteries. I was wearing a shirt – sleeveless and a light grey color – with cargo pants that reached my knees. Sneakers rounded off my apparel. A trio of belts wrapped around my waist. One went through every loop, while the other two only hung off one. Attached to those belts were a series of pouches.

Odd... I looked up as the voice called out again. Inflection, pitch... whoever was looking for me had just spotted their quarry.

"Michael!"

I realized who the voice belonged to, where I was and why.

"MICHAEL!"

Little-Zara, an aspect of the Eldar Farseer's being and the incarnation of her every insecurity and worry (packaged in an admittedly very cute metaphyiscal shell) tackled me down, into the soft grass and bright flowers, scattering dandelion parasols everywhere.

Were it not for the fact that I had just lost consciousness a few minutes ago, it would have been a much more enjoyable experience.

Her hips rubbed in an agonizingly pleasurable manner against mine as she buried her face into the crook of my neck, seeking both physical and mental comfort. I patted her ivory locks, and waited for her slight sniffles to stop and give way to more relaxed, deep breaths (again, something in the back of my mind told me that I was enjoying the secondary effects of that breathing a little too much.)

She whimpered softly, and pressed herself against me, her gasping breaths warming my neck.

Scratch that last thought. This was a pleasant experience regardless of the circumstances.

Little-Zara, as I (and the rest of Zaras) called her, was keeping herself wonderfully restrained for someone who was not supposed to have any emotional control. Instead, she was simply breathing rather quickly as she wrapped her arms around me. My imagination was having a lot of trouble remembering that she was still clothed. Head out of the sewer, Michael!

I ran a free hand along her black hair, and was surprised from what I saw. She had changed since our last meeting. Her hair was now shorter, much like a pageboy cut. The Farseer's wardrobe had also changed; a plain white blouse and baggy cargo shorts.

"Uh... nice to see you too. You've... changed."

As the words left my mouth, I regretted it immediately. Little-Zara was the ultimate pessimist, remember? She was the definition of 'extreme mood swinging'.

The mass of worries squeaked as she teased her shortened hair, stuttering as she tried to tie a thought together. Tears began to stream out of her face. "B-but... I just... it was... I... for you... I... you don't...?"

She curled up again, her arms curling defensively around her torso, looking up at me with pitiful eyes.

"Michael...?"

"Hold on!" I gently pressed my index finger to her lips, silencing her mid-sentence. It seemed now her words were gathering at her cheeks, bright red as they were. "Look, its... different. Not in a bad way, okay? So just... stop crying... it hurts (me!) to see you cry."

Indeed, my mind wasn't quite able to equate the bitchy Farseer with the young Eldar woman sitting on my lap.

Her eyes blinked in surprise as she looked at me. Little-Zara's hair shifted, revealing the too-sharp ears typical of Eldar as she nodded slightly.

"Okay... first things first... What just happened?"

"Y-you were attacked... t-th-that daemonhost... uhm... uhm... I think The Farseer could tell you... b-but... the daemon made a l-last attack... forced all of the p-psykers into his mindscape."

"What about you? Aren't you... like... supposed to be kept safe and sound or something?"

"She is." Drawled an aggravated voice.

I turned and looked around, hoping that...

"Well hello, mon-keigh. Enjoying your cuddle?" Teased THE Zara.

Well... shit.

They could have been sisters, were they not actually aspects of the same person. This Zara was the personality that (unfortunately) I had the most interactions with: The Farseer. Armored in form-fitting wraithbone armor and warding sigils, her weapons and badge of office – a shining spear and ornate shuriken pistol - were held loosely at her sides.

"Still flirting with lil' insecure me?" Teased the Howling Banshee aspect, her long hair a dark red color as compared to their natural black color. She was a blood thirsty go-getter type, and her single, exquisitely curved power sword was testament to that as she held it in its scabbard, her arms wrapped around it.

Behind these three stood at least a half dozen more Zaras.

I spotted a near-invisible Ranger rise from the long grass, her head shaved except for a thick white queue of hair that came off the top of her tanned scalp. She sat down, and began attending to her long rifle. I found it hard to focus on the shifting figure before me, dressed as she was in the camouflage robes typical of Ulthwe scouts.

Kneeling down at the top of the small rise was a bone-singer, completely wrapped in her bright blue robes, with a straw-colored hat that darkened her face in its shadow. Goggles covered her eyes, the yellow lenses reflecting the light. Perhaps feeling my eyes upon her, she turned and nodded to me. For a moment, I was given a brief flash of a smile as the bone-singer turned away.

A musician sat beside the bonesinger, clothed rather scantily in a white cloth that wrapped around her waist, matched by a gold-thread chest-wrap. She was holding a strange instrument in her hands, idly plucking at its eight humming strings. Bright golden hair sprang from her head in a single tail, tied off at her neck and at the tip, near her ankles, by jet-black ribbons.

Behind her stood a healer, her amber-haired head wrapped in the hood of long white robes which were marked with red triangles at the borders. She was making her way forwards, a series of small pouches and bandoliers of vials that made her look like a classic Mexican bandit clinking and rubbing against each other as she clung to the white staff that she carried.

The ground trembled as an Avatar of Khaine marched around, her burning skin leaving the ground behind her scorched dust. Flames danced and flowed in place of hair, running the length of her spine. Her spear – a version of the Wailing Doom – crisped anything that it touched. A shattered piece of the Eldar God of War, Kaela Mensha Khaine's female counterpart looked down at me, the normally chunky features smooth and refined. I felt myself wanting to run away and hide.

But I didn't. They were all Zara, in her every aspect. Gentle, rude, outspoken and quiet, they were all aspects of the Farseer.

I swallowed.

Whoa.

"The Eldar psyche is much different from you primitive species, mon-kiegh." Farseer Zara quipped, as the Ranger aspect sat down and began adjusting her long rifle.

Split personalities. More evolved. Uhh huh... yeah, right. Sure. Lets go with that.

"Okaaaay..." I ventured, before looking around. The Zaras had . "We can discuss who is more evolved than who when we get the hell out of this mindscape."

The Farseer's head whipped around, and transfixed me with their glare. Multiple sets of eyes (and one pair of yellow goggles) locked onto me.

"... so... uh... ladi... lady? Ladies? What now?"

"We find the others, of course. Its the obvious course of action, is it not, mon-keigh?" The Farseer aspect smirked, her lips widening and her eyes narrowing at the edges, curling her face into the typical, mocking mask. "The daemon's attack has transported the majority of the psykers among our group... we have to find them, lest they fall prey to whatever wanders these locales. It appears that the daemons are... dream eaters. They recall traumatic memories, and then feed of the emotions generated."

I held up my hands, palm facing away from me, in a 'whoa, stop there' gesture.

"Let me get this straight: everyone's trapped inside their own personal nightmare, and only a few of us have broken free of it. Can any of you tell me where anyone else is?"

"Obviously." Farseer-Zara coldly replied, glowing rune-stones floating just above her palms. She looked at them for a brief moment, before opening yet another portal. "We must depart. No doubt Yoza and the stronger psykers among us have already moved on... the others will have to be rescued from their own minds and memories."

"Alright then... how can I fight?"

"You will not. We shall handle this. You, however, need to wake up." She gestured offhandedly at me, and turned away.

The ground dropped out from underneath me again, the flowering meadow replaced by a black void.

For an instant, I could see Zara's shocked expression.

Something had gone wrong.

"Aw hell."

I started falling.

There was – again – darkness.

A crackle. Something like a PA system squeezed out a message.

"Korin, respond."

There was a 'yeah' of acknowledgment.

"Check #190398, there was a spike in the Gellar interference in her hold a few minutes ago."

"Alright, alright. Lets see if the frakkin twistie blew out her bean or anything."

There was light. A door creaked open, and suddenly the rest of my senses returned to me. The floor was filthy, covered in rotten food and other waste. A figure, dressed similarly to a Storm Trooper and covered with purity sigils, stepped inside.

"Hey, twistie." He prodded something in the corner with his toe. "Helloooo, witchieee. Ya' hear me?"

Silence.

"Aw, frak this."

A swift kick. In the corner, something whimpered. The brute instantly drew a baton of some kind, as if suddenly... afraid? He was inching away now, and I could see his shaking thumb desperately searching for the activation switch.

I stood up, and looked at the bundle that he had just roughed up.

Wrapped in black restraints and covered with white and gold prayer scrolls and hexagrammic wards was a young woman, nearly unrecognizable under the mass of scrollwork and bindings was under. Her head shifted, mussed hair drifting out of the way as dirty, too-pale skin showed.

I recognized her. Her face half-covered by the heavy slab of metal wrapped around her like a hood, but it was definitely her. Blank eyes gleamed under the glare of the lamp belonging to 'Korin'.

"Ishabeth?"

The crackling baton was pressed against her neck. Eyes snapped open, and the girl began to writhe inside of her bindings.

She didn't scream. I didn't think she was even strong enough to do even that. Eventually, she simply collapsed and 'Korin' dashed out of the door.

"Ah, the nightmare of a Black Ship." The Sorcerer chuckled. "Some of my apprentices had talked to me of this. Culling psykers of to feed their corpse-god."

I closed my eyes, clenching my hand into a fist.

Here we go again.

Chapter 18[edit]

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Harnessing the Warp is like pulling the pin out of an Ork Stikk Bomb that is glued to your hand; club away at your enemies all you like while the fuse is burning, but pray that you are not embracing your comrades when it goes off."

- Inquisitor Danilov, Ordo Malleus

"Dragged screaming from their homes, then bound like so." The writhing form of Ishabeth fell quieter as the deep, booming voice of the Sorcerer filled the small cell.

"Hurled through a living nightmare of whispering daemons, their souls will be sacrificed to the uncaring and unfamiliar corpse upon his 'golden throne'. Those that aren't 'worthy' of that 'honor' are turned into 'controlled' psykers, their existence sanctioned. Fast or slow, they will die. Then they are all but forgotten, honored only as the fuel and fumes for the rusted engine that is the 'Empyrean'."

There was a brief 'hah' of disgust.

"Only a few will be spared this fate; those that completely whore themselves to their so called Emperor, or those that embrace the greatness that is the Immaterium, and its masters, the GODS. OF. KAY-OOS! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!" The Sorcerer threw his head back and laughed to his content, before looking back to me. "Especially Tzeentch."

Turning around, the two of us met face-to-chest. I noted that the Sorcerer had removed his helmet since our last meeting, his pale, almost corpse-like (but not corpse-like enough) face now visible; sneering with his jagged teeth, the grey-brown skin was covered in scars and tattoos, and one eye was gone in favor of a blank blue orb. The ancient warrior-psychic was easily two heads taller than I was. Steeling myself, I sighed. "Why can't you just leave me alone?"

"Because you refuse to embrace Chaos." He deadpanned, somehow managing to shrug with those massive bullet-shaped pauldrons on his shoulders. "The Gods of the Warp desire to feast upon your flesh and drink from your soul, mortal."

"You know I don't believe in those guys, right? Doesn't that... ruin the taste?"

There was a non-committal grunt from the armored psychic giant. "I find your lack of faith... disturbing, for someone who has seen the power of Chaos. You've seen what it can do..."

"Well, I just gotta say: screw that, baldy."

Blinking, the Sorcerer slowly knotted his eyebrows together. "I am not familiar with that... expression. What does it mean?" He asked.

I gave him the middle finger. A shake of the head. I tried the two fingers, palm back gesture. Another shake.

Sighing, I beckoned him to come closer. Curious, the Sorcerer leaned forward. I punched him in the nose.

There was another blink, and the Chaos Marine nodded in understanding.

"YOU DARE STRIKE ME! WHAT ARE YOU TO DO? WHAT WEAPON SHALL YOU FACE ME WITH!"

"Uh, buddy, you just ended a sentence with a preposition."

The Sorcerer paused, recollecting his words, before flying off into another rage. One of his veins began to throb, its outline pulsing as he howled and threatened.

"I HAVE KILLED MILLIONS! SET WHOLE WORLDS TO THE TORCH! BILLIONS HAVE COWERED BEFORE ME AS I DESTROYED THEIR CHAMPIONS! YET, YOU MOCK ME!"

The vein/artery whatever was throbbing pretty quickly now. I wondered if I could get him to have an aneurysm, and maybe end the fight quickly. But alas, that was not to be. The Sorcerer raised his hand, Warp energy gathering at his palm as his face contorted into a scowl, his voice now a deadly whisper.

"Prepare, mortal, for you have sealed your fate. You have denied the Dark Gods! NOW YOU SHALL FEEL THEIR POWER!" He boomed.

And then he stopped.

He rubbed his chin with his free hand, the one that wasn't crackling with lightning, suddenly thoughtful.

"That makes things a little more difficult for me, certainly, but I can still see that your soul is put to good use... Your screams may become quite the commodity amongst the soulmongers of Lasvegasi. Or maybe I can hand what's left of you over to the spectramenteers of the Scaien Kabal out on Kruisah. Hrehehhehehhahahahhh... Either way, you will be BEGGING for the embrace of the Dark Gods by the time I am finished with you, obstinate IN-SECT!""

He pointed a finger at me, the warp-lightning gathering at its tip.

A lot of people have stared down death in its many faces and forms, and didn't blink first. Others have simply flipped it the middle finger. More have chosen to close their eyes and hope that it would go away.

I was one of the latter people.

There was a fizzle, and an anticlimactically faint scent of smoke – burnt electrical wiring flavor – and sudden cursing from the Sorcerer.

What the? I opened my eyes.

The Sorcerer was looking rather confused, and was inspecting at his left palm. It was tattooed with something resembling a burning urn, and I knew it was the hand he shot lightning with, but...

Oh. Right.

I almost facepalmed. How had we both missed an obvious...

We were on a ship used to transport several hundreds of thousands of potentially dangerous psykers of varying ability that could also just as easy become a gateway to a whole mess of daemons. Null-wards like the ones the Grey Knights used to suppress Warp-based abilities would have been as essential as airlocks and engines.

The deck plates bent towards the Chaos Marine as he shifted his weight. The Sorcerer lunged, his arms outstretched.

I let my knees give way, and kicked off the floor to throw myself to the side. The sweeping blow from the Sorcerer passed over my head as he whirled around to face me, snarling in frustration.

There would then be a kick. It was the only attack which made sense.

Rolling back, I looked at the Sorcerer in his purple power armor; sure enough the armored boot was coming up. It missed me, and arced through thin air as I crashed into the wall of the prison, just beside Ishabeth.

I quickly pushed myself off the wall, and curled away from the irritated kick that followed.

"WHY. WON'T. YOU. STAND. STILL!"

"Fuck off!"

Jumping, I avoided the thrust of the Sorcerer's straight-fingered jab, which thudded harmlessly against the psychic wards. He was sluggish and slow in his ancient armor, while I was getting puffed. Turning around, I looked at her. Ishabeth.

She was still slumped over. Tears were still running freely from her wide-open eyes.

"Ishabeth!" I ducked under another blow. "Hey, ca-" A sweep of his hand separated us. "-you hear-" A frustrated charge forced me to run to the left. "-me!"

There was a blink. A shudder of realization. My hopes soared; she could hear me clearly now.

"Yh-y-yoo..." The soon-to-be sanctionite was stuttering, even though her mouth was firmly sealed shut.

"THIS ISN'T REAL!" I shouted. "THESE ARE JUST MEMORIES!"

A sudden ripple shook the entire room. The Sorcerer hesitated for a moment. "What in the Gods' name!"

Darkness swallowed us. Complete silence filled my ears. My entire body felt like it was being pressed on, from all sides – like being too far underwater.

All went black.

When it was light again, Ishabeth was different. Her hair was all gone, shaved off. A black collar of heavy metal was wrapped around her neck. She was kneeling, in thick white robes decorated only by a black 'I' shape, with a large eye just above the midpoint. I recognized it as the symbol of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, the organization that dealt with the gathering and training of psykers to serve the Imperium as best they could. Unfortunately, the majority could only serve as glorified fuel for the astral lighthouse that was the Empyrean. A thousand other figures, identically dressed and shaved, also knelt with her and prayed to an altar larger than my house. Megalomaniacs would never have dreamed up such a large scale. The cathedral they were in... no, we were in...

Holy Terra. Mother of Humanity.

I swear, I could not see the roof of the cathedral. Mechanical birds – aquilae – screeched overhead. Around us were pillars, each decorated with line after line of prayer, written out in gold letters. Taking two quick steps forward, I reached out to touch a purity seal dangling from one of those prayers, its bright red wax glistening.

Peering into the waxy skull, I glimpsed a bright orange light. Reflected.

Oh.

Pushing myself away from the pillar, I threw myself to the ground.

A hissing fireball shot past my head and into a series of people. They didn't scream, they didn't even move nor flinch. I gawked. Oh. Right. Memories. They wouldn't act outside what Ishabeth remembered.

The clanking sounds of an advancing Space Marine filled the room.

"Ish-"

Too late.

Another blow hit me, low and from the left. My shout was cut short. The Sorcerer's left fist caught me in the chest as I was screaming at the soon-to-be sanctioned Psyker, and threw me across the room. Crashing into a row of white-robed psykers, I skidded across the too-smooth floor. The ones I sent flying remained there, inert, still muttering prayers to the Emperor. The Sorcerer was toying with me. Like a cat playing with its prey.

Goddammit.

"ISHAB~"

Another blow kicked me nearer to the edge of the room. A third slammed me into the wall. I slumped to the ground as the two massive feet shifted around, the Chaos Sorcerer laughing darkly as he flexed his arms.

I was coughing up... something. Bile and blood. A green-red vomit. The Sorcerer let out a short, sinister chuckle as he advanced, crackling his ceramite knuckles.

"You think yourself a match for a champion of the Dark Gods!" He roared. "Even without the Warp, I shall crush you, mortal!"

His armored fist closed around my neck, lifting me up with ease. I was holding on with my hands, stopping him from strangling me there and then, but when I thought about it, the Sorcerer had a grip that could probably crush my skull with a simple flex. Whatever he was doing, he was doing out of spite.

"You delay the inevitable, insect." The Sorcerer chuckled.

Bringing me in close, he snarled, face inches away from mine. The Sorcerer wanted to terrify me. Well, he did it. His grinning face would forever haunt my dreams. If I made it out of this one alive, anyway.

"All. Too. Easy."

There was a pulse of energy – pure, unrestrained warp energy – that dropped the temperature of the room by about twenty degrees.

A hurled body – similarly armored to that of a slimmer-shaped Space Marine, but much more decorated – crashed into the Sorcerer's back. He dropped me, spinning around to face the new foe with a snarl.

The second thrown body slapped his face, twisting his head around.

I landed on my feet, but stumbled to the mirror-like polished floor. Scrabbling on the ground for purchase, I lifted myself up onto my feet.

The Sorcerer turned away from his opponent, ignoring the telekinetically thrown memory-mannequins, to see me getting away. He drew back his leg, and gave me another kick. I was hurled aside. My head rolled to its side as I writhed from the pain of the new blow.

Somehow, I was sure that this wasn't hurting as much as it should.

I struggled up, and managed to stand. The Sorcerer was a good twelve feet away... how did I get here? He was running at me, now, backhanding anything that got in his way. A few bodies streaked past, thrown by an unseen force. Turning around to the source of the limp bodies, I saw Ishabeth, staring back at me. An idle pair of armored priests were orbiting around her, and more were gravitating towards the Sanctionite.

Around us, the memory was beginning to falter, lines of light appearing in the cracks. Details were fading, and I found myself feeling like I was playing in an old PlayStation game. The prayers and litanies had now become a dull drone in the background, and the light of the lamps were brightening.

"Oh dear Emperor..." I mumbled, wide-eyed with shock as I steadied myself.

The Sorcerer shot her a look, then hastened his charge. He was only a few feet away when I leaped.

Jumping up, I managed to plant a foot onto his knee, then his shoulder. Scrambling up the armored giant as he snarled in frustrated surprise, hands empty. He caught a hold of my pants leg, but that ripped right off.

Leaping off behind him, I ran away as he again clawed at me with armored fingers.

Elbowing aside a line of white-robed monks, I screamed out at the top of my lungs, the purple behemoth crushing man and marble flooring alike as he ran to catch up.

"ISHABETH! THINK OF SOMEONE! ANYONE!"

Throwing myself to the right, the exquisite ceramic tiles between us crumbled as the Sorcerer pounded his ceramite-shod boots across them.

"T-t... T..." Stuttering, she looked confused, looking left and right as both the Sorcerer and I descended upon her.

Another dark pit swallowed the three of us.

"Cadian One-One-Seven callsign Spartan, gri- *DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPE-* -ur-four by eight-seven-nine-three is under heavy bombardment. Repeat, grid three-zero-f- *SLICE DICE KILL CR* t-seven-n- *MY SPLEE~* -is under hea- *Kkkrkrkkrkkzzttzztzz* adian One-One-Seven callsign Cor *RAARGH!* -uesting counter-battery operations, over."

I could smell burnt electrical wiring. The wailing, half-working vox set crackled to life again as guardsmen groaned, passing through random 'comm-bands', as the vox-jockies liked to call them – occasionally overlapping with the Chaos-filled frequencies – while the vox-caster's operator frantically dialed through the various frequencies.

A guardsman shouted for the medic. "Doc! DOC! I need help over here!"

The space we were in was coming into focus now; row upon row of seats, back-to back, filled the whole space. The room was wide and long, but not tall, it was like a massive bus and just as cramped.

"Just sit still, Dilanis! You'll make it, just sit still until the Doc can fix up your leg, okay?"

Someone stumbled over the vox-jockey, ruining the last minute's worth of careful adjustment and eliciting a series of curses as the vox set tumbled to the ground.

"Cadian Nine-One-Eight callsign Clipb- *KrsssshKRRR* -s, sending reinforcements vector Zero-Eight-Nine. D-Company Platoon One, go check ou- *ANCE! NO REGRETS, NO REMOR* -urviviors."

Around us, with Ishabeth's memories returning into focus, the silhouettes of stumbling Guardsmen and crying wounded were starting to come into focus. Voices called out for their brothers, their sergeants and leaders.

"Valhallan Five-Nine-Seven callsign Valkyria, we have ma- *KILL!MAIM!BURN!KILL!MA-* -id three-zero-four-eight by eight-sev- *KZz-ZZZRRTHH-HHRRHR* -ve lost contact with callsign 'Chain-Blade'... again. If anyone spots him, please tell him the colonel wishes to s- *BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!* -na tea."

By now, the confusion was beginning to fade away, with squad leaders shouting for their men to rally towards them, or to instruct troopers to begin policing ammunition and equipment from the dead and wounded.

"D-1 reporting, Commissar! We've got some of those heretic scum crawling all over the lander, moving to engage them!"

Thumps and muffled explosions shook the dark box we were sat inside, and I blinked my eyes as I caught sight of the distressed Sanctionite.

"Ishabeth? Can you hear me?"

A nod. She struggled in her bindings, however, unable to get free. I moved to help her, and as we both struggled with the fused crash harness, a voice – I recognized its owner as one of the Captains subordinate to General Faust - bellowed over the din of battle.

"Stand clear, and stay down!"

There was a click of a switch being pressed, and a shout. It was muffled by the sudden series of pop-bang explosions. The creak of something heavy and flat falling over preceded the whoo-thump of its contact with the flat ground.

"Restraining bolts blown! Everyone OUT! GO, GO, GO!"

Blazing in with the smell of cordite was the harsh yellow light of outside. Immediately, the world outside was a lightshow of multi-colored strobes of lasers, crisscrossing beams of deadly focused energy that chewed up the ground, turning the grass into ashes and the bare patches of dirt into glass and steam.

"The thrice-damned traitors are firing upon us, so get out fast and seek cover! Keep moving or die! For the Emperor! GLORY FOR THE FIRST TO KILL!"

There was a scrabbling of boots on shattered deckplates, and then the sounds of lasguns firing and people dying. Screams echoing out from the distance belonged to the Chaos troopers were all too clear from the inside of the crashed lander.

Our shining portal of light darkened as another figure was outlined by the combination of door and backlighting.

I wish I had a camera.

The black longcoat was the first thing she remembered about him, and the first thing that came into view. Then her attention was drawn to his badges of office; bright red sash, peaked hat with a winged skull embellishing the front. His weapons came into focus next; a power fist wrapped around one hand and a las-pistol held tightly in the other. Golden decorations to all of them, they were bright and visible.

The Commissar was looking far too comfortable as he stepped inside, scanning the innards of the crashed vehicle, with las-fire crackling out to heat up the lander around him.

"Guardsmen, move outside! You are here to fight, not cower inside a crashed lander!"

The camouflage-uniformed Guardsmen rushed to comply, hauling themselves to their feet as the formidable figure wrenched up those too slow for his tastes. One was simply frozen inside of his refuge, a corner of the deck, and refused to move.

"Up, trooper!" The Commissar hissed, picking the man up by his power-fist assisted arm.

"We'll die! They'll frakking kill us, sir! Oh Throne, I saw them on the way down! There's millions of them! All rushing here!"

Suddenly, the trooper's laspistol was gone from his holster, and reappeared in the Commissar's hand, pressed against the man's chin.

"Do you think I care about such trivial matters!" He hissed, nose inches away from the trooper's face.

Crack.

The pungent odor of ionized air preceded the scream of absolute agony. The Guardsman was on the ground, kneeling, clutching at his ear, eyes shut from the pain. Eerily, there was no blood that dripped from the wound, and the laspistol was dropped onto the floor in front of him.

"Either you go out there and fight, trooper, or you shall be summarily executed for cowardice." Warned the Commissar, picking up the wounded man again, and setting him onto his feet. I blinked once, and then saw the terrified trooper being pushed towards the nearest Sergeant.

"There are other Guardsmen dug in by the wreckage in front of you, Chaos wretches to your left, armored support coming from your right, and myself behind you! Now go!"

Steel-gray eyes flickered up and down the line of empty crash-seats, before returning to transfix the young Sanctionite. I could feel the leaden pulse of terror that skipped through her mind, and she began to panic. Hands desperately wrenching at her restraints as the stoic figure of the Commissar approached, her quick-release button broken and unwilling to release as she struggled with it.

He held up his power-fist, the armored fingers hovering just in front of her face. She sat still, too terrified to move as the temperature about them plummeted, and then the Commissar lowered it to the broken release catch to flex his fingers around the twisted metal.

The metal hub of the crash harness folded, and then snapped under the pressure of the powerful servos. Ishabeth sagged into her seat, relief washing over her face.

Commissar Tomas Sturm sighed, and reached out with his free hand. He hauled the psyker up onto her feet, by the front of her robes.

Instantly, there was a squeal and then a stinging slap was delivered to the man's face. Ishabeth had backed up a few paces, arms wrapped protectively around herself. Tomas goggled at her, his cheek bright red from where she had struck him.

"Ah..." The Sanctionite gasped, and bowed her head. "I-I'm sorry! I... I didn't mean to... you just... grabbed me... and... pleasedontexecuteme!"

Her face flushed red, and both the Psyker's and the Commissar's cheeks brightened as they both went over what had just happened. It took a few seconds, but then the Commissar clicked to why the strange young psyker had slapped him.

"You're a woman!" Tomas inquired. To be fair, under the voluminous, parchment-brown robes of the slimly built Sanctioned Psyker, she could have easily passed for a young man.

"Yes." Ishabeth replied, if a little hotly.

"Oh... uh..." The two were awkwardly searching the room now for any witnesses, but only the dead were still inside.

"Lets forget that, shall we?" Tomas ventured, and the furious nodding from Ishabeth confirmed her agreement. The Commissar nodded again. "Good... ah... well..."

He straightened himself up as Ishabeth picked up her staff and laspistol.

"You're fighting too, Psyker." He told her, his voice still a little shaky and definitely played up, and then pushed her towards the open door.

I realized I was being left behind; the memory of this room was already fading.

"H-hey! Wait for me!"

The sounds of war increased exponentially as the three of us leaped out into the battlefield below us. It was centered around the scar of the lander's impact, which started about four hundred meters 'in front' of us, widening out until it got to the crashed lander proper. The density of the lander's debris also increased steadily, starting with chunks of landing gear, a wheel, several plates of armor and an entire engine (one of four vector-thrust types).

For a vehicle that was supposed to have been able to transport an entire battalion's worth of troops, it certainly made a big hole when it had touched the ground.

Sure enough, there were Guardsmen taking cover in the middle of the debris strip, with Chaos forces bracketing them in from the left with various flavors of firepower. To their right was a wall of armored vehicles, mostly Chimeras escorted by Leman Russ battle-tanks, bringing whatever guns they could muster to bear on the advancing tide of cultists, supporting the Guardsmen below.

The Dark Gods' many followers were clad in a swirling mix of various colors – although each squad had its own distinct 'theme' - and decorated in impossible sigils that pained the eye to behold, and I swore that I could smell and taste an odd miasma in the air. Thundering cannon and crackling lasguns as the swarm of black-robed cultists rushed at the Imperial Guardsmen. They were dug in around the wreckage already, protecting themselves with the shattered hull of the lander and its broken engines.

All this was taken in as Ishabeth was dropping out of the lander's troop cabin.

Apparently, the lander had crashed onto the side of a cliff, and it was a good ten-foot slide down to the bottom.

Drawing his hell-pistol, Tomas calmly snapped off a few rounds as he slid along the side of the destroyed ramp, twisting as the return fire scorched the deck-plating he had been on.

Ishabeth was also making her own way down, although it was an action that looked more like a rough tumble and roll down the slope than anything else, landing in a battered heap at the bottom, behind a disabled Chimera APC.

Me? I simply hit the ground. Splat-roll-owowow kind of landing.

A las-bolt melted a hole in a twisted chunk of airframe, and I kept my head down. No telling if these memories would hurt or not.

Picking myself up, I found myself staring into bright green eyes.

"Ishabeth!"

The memory slowed as Ishabeth turned to me, and suddenly her cheeks flared red.

"Uh... Michael? Did you just get here or... you saw, didn't you?" She asked. The confused Sanctionite was on all fours, splayed out like a spider as she inched her way across the ground to join me under the cover of a thick piece of lander.

Freshly stored inside of my head, the Commissar and the Sanctionite's first meeting flashed through my vision. It took me a brief heartbeat to realize that Ishabeth was the one accessing those memories.

Her cheeks burned brighter, before she turned away to check over the lander piece, at her younger self.

Commissar Tomas had dragged the Sanctionite along to group together with Jeremiah, the ever-cheerful Confessor, as he swung a chainsword that was nearly as large as he was around to cut down a wayward cultist.

"Well, I guess you know how we met, then." She shrugged, holding out her hand. A las-pistol appeared, sitting on the palm. There was a flickering of fingers, and the boxy green weapon twisted about until it was held firmly in her left hand, with the staff cradled in her right.

Turning to me, Ishabeth frowned.

"Aren't you going to create a weapon?" She asked.

I blinked, then understood. "Uh... I can?"

"Wait... you aren't trained, are you?" Ishabeth frowned, and nodded at me. "Outside of your own mindscape, you can still create objects. Its harder, and takes more concentration, but its possible. Try it."

Closing my eyes, I focused on the outline of a lasgun. At the very least, I'd need a weapon that was effective around here. A fire extinguisher probably wouldn't be enough this time around.

A shake of the head, her eyes flickered away, into the distance. "You'll need a real weapon, Michael."

The lasgun was wrenched out of my hands, and pointed into the distance. Ishabeth depressed the firing stud. Noting happened.

"Not working. You don't know the insides enough." She explained to me, tossing the weapon away.

"Y-yeah..."

"How lucky..." She sighed, relief and sadness mixing in her voice. The memories of her stay inside of a Black Ship again flickered by, and I jumped as – for a heartbeat – a massive black-grey vessel appeared in the sky, then disappeared again.

Ishabeth closed her eyes, briefly, and then tossed a rod at me.

Cold metal pressed against my palms. This thing was heavy.

"Gah!"

Fumbling the massive club, I looked at it as someone opened up with a heavy bolter. It looked like a bizarre fusion between baseball bat, medieval mace, and lightsaber handle. Staring at the odd weapon, I hefted it and experimentally swung it around.

Striking against the hull, there was a crackle of yellow-gold lightning across its 'hitting' end and suddenly a chunk of orbital descent shielding was gone.

"Power maul." Was the Sanctionite's explanation. "It should be functionally similar to a club. Not very hard to operate. Use it well, Michael."

Reaching out, she tapped the little flipper-trigger that I had been pressing down on.

"Activation switch." Ishabeth instructed, "This is the power adjuster." Continuing, the psyker showed me the various buttons and dials to adjust the power and intensity of the power field that would envelop the top two-thirds of the weapon at the flick of a switch.

Nodding, we both flinched as a las-bolt splashed off our little corner of protection.

A shout distracted us from my shiny new weapon.

"Incoming! Cultists are charging down the slope, Commissar!"

Tomas grunted, and rose, snapping off a few shots with his heavy hell-pistol, the lances of bright red light accompanied by the clunking cycling of the heat exchangers reminding me of an old steam engine, and then ducked back down behind the makeshift redoubt of lander parts and recently filled sandbags. Cultists briefly weathered the strobing hell-pistol, and then stood up to return the fire.

But as they rose, the air crackled with lasfire from the main body of guardsmen twenty meters down the line, who picked off the cultists as they popped up to snipe at the Commissar. One man rose, his lasgun fitting snugly in his hands, as he pumped shot after shot at rock'n'roll speeds, a wild grin on his face.

"Haha! DIE YOU HERETICAL SC-"

A bolt-round landed on his neck, and the subsequent explosion removed the zealous Guardsman's head.

Jeremiah brought his chain-claymore ('sword' did not do the massive weapon justice) up in a rising slash, bisecting a charging cultist. As the two halves separated in a shower of hot blood, Jeremiah shouted advice to the surviving Guardsmen.

"Stagger your fire! Do not stay up for too long! Move around a little bit, you lot are not some Emperor-forsaken target dummies for recruits to shoot at! If they get close, do not try to fix bayonets! They taught you how to use your lasgun, didn't they! Oh, by the Golden Throne, boy, are you seriously stupid or something? Stop standing around like an idiot, because people who sit still tend to be very dead if they don't hurry up and mo~"

There was a brief spwock sound, like a wooden rod slapping against a slab of meat, a few cries of alarm and calls for medical attention, and a sigh from Jeremiah as he countermanded the attention of the medic elsewhere.

"Too late. Anyone else want to stand around like they have plascrete shoes on?"

Everyone began shuffling about, firing from different places as Jeremiah used his chain-claymore to stab firing ports into the wreckage around him.

"TAAAANK! Two Predator Annihilator pattern tanks, coming over the ridge!"

There were a total of eight shots, each one the thick blue lances of fire and light that was a lascannon's staple, and each of those shots connected with a vehicle. Some splashed off the thick frontal armor, but in all there were few survivors indeed.

Leman Russes exploded, Chimeras were wrecked and Guardsmen who were unfortunate enough to be in the way were evaporated by the intense heat of the lascannon's firepower.

Behind their barricade, the younger Ishabeth and her companions crouched down low beside a heat-shielded section of hull.

"Well, looks like tank-hunting time." Jeremiah chuckled, checking the power supply for his Eviscrator.

Tomas nodded to the affirmative, and turned over his shoulder.

"Sergeant! Pass me some krak grenades. The ones on your left... no, your other left! Up two grenades, and your other left one. Yes, those."

Two of the heavy grenades were passed along to the impatient Commissar. Turning to Ishabeth, he talked to her as he slipped the krak grenades into his heavy longcoat.

"Alright, so Jeremiah and I are going to do some tank-hunting. You stay put and watch how its done. Take a few shots with that las-pistol of yours, see if you can hit anyone around it while you're waiting."

He turned back to the Confessor. "Jeremiah. Ready?"

The answer was a nod, and the enthusiastic revving of an Eviscerator.

A pair of surviving battle-tanks fired at the Predator, and the last shot managed to burst the side of the tank open, exposing the crew inside.

Pivoting on the spot with surprising speed, the Predator Annihilator turned and fired back with its remaining two weapon mounts, destroying one Imperial tank.

The memory of Ishabeth screamed as the real one clutched at her ears, trying not to listen to the echoes of death and destruction as men burned and died. She was crouched on the ground now, cradling herself as I looked around. We couldn't get hurt in this space, right? These were just memories... bad memories, sure, but...

Rushing the low wall that had been built up over the last few seconds, a Predator was steadily shooting off its lascannon as the lasguns and bolters brought to bear on it simply bounced off or exploded harmlessly on the scab-red armor.

"Fire at its vision slits! Single shots, and don't forget about the infantry! COMMISSAR, SERGEANT! WITH ME!"

Grinning fiercely, the Confessor leaped up with his Eviscerator (I had learned that it had been nicknamed 'Open Says Me' by several Guardsmen from the Catachan regiments) in his hands, the power-fist equipped Tomas covering him as the Sergeant primed a large grenade – a Krak grenade, if memory served – and passed spares to the men that had followed them over the top of their position.

The half-dozen throats started the battlecry that soon rose up the lines.

"FOR THE EMPEROR! CHAA-AARGE!"

Already, two troopers were down as the lascannon lanced through the small group, passing between them and incinerating both from the heat left behind. Tomas danced off to the left as a lascannon shot passed by a meter or so, his power fist shielding his face from the heat of the passing laser weapon.

The Sergeant hurled a krak grenade at the open gash on the side of the first Predator, followed by a trio lobbed by the Guardsmen that followed behind him. There was a deafening crack as the grenades detonated, spraying metal parts and pieces of crew around.

It was then that I saw why they called them krak grenades. The Imperials have an excellent grasp at the obvious, don't they?

Whooping in triumph, the Sergeant and the remains of his squad never saw the second Predator taking aim and vaporize their bodies with a pair of shots.

The sponson mounted lascannon swiveled around to track Tomas, locking on to the black-coated Commissar. Charging up, I could see the shot that would lance through his chest.

A grinding crunch struck the side of the tank before the lascannon could fire, and its source was obvious; Jeremiah, with his sword plunging down from above, having driven his Eviscerator into whatever bits helped the functioning of the lascannon. With a sluggish whine, the weapon fell silent.

Shifting his grip, thumbing the safety-catch and re-activating the weapon, Jeremiah gave the weapon a tug. It pulled itself out, and leaped into the air from its own momentum. Grinning, the Confessor brought the weapon down on the turret's top hatch as lasfire heated up the air around him. He looked up and shouted for counter-fire to be directed in the towards the attackers as he danced back and forth, still trying to bash through the heavy hatch that separated him from the destruction of the Predator.

Tomas, having caught up with the Confessor, danced toe-to-toe with its tracks as he pounded its sensor arrays to dust with the power fist. In a movement reminiscent of plucking a delicate flower from its roots, the Commissar snapped the antennae from the back, and then in a completely unrelated movement punched a hole in a vision slit, ripping a hole large enough to fit a volleyball through, and then shot the shocked driver in the face. Repeatedlly. Then punched the crewman that was sitting beside him with the power-fist.

"OPEN SAYS A ME!" Jeremiah roared, again plunging his anti-tank chainsaw weapon into the Predator, this time into the back of the turret. Oil and coolant burst out like a monster's bloody wound, and splashed across the wizened man's robes.

Cackling, he twisted and pushed, and soon enough the turret gunner's blood joined the cocktail of liquids coming out as the Eviscerator's many teeth continued to spin and dig out the insides of the Chaos minion.

A lasbolt skipped off the Confessor's pauldron, and he swore as more joined it.

Ducking down, he pulled out the massive weapon, and turned to Tomas.

"You got krak!"

The requested grenade was thrown up to him.

Ripping the pin out with his spare hand, Jeremiah posted it into the hole he had made, and then jumped off join Tomas.

Confessor and Commissar evacuated at a gentle trot, back to their lines with Tomas firing over his shoulder along the way, managing to kneecap a crazed cultist as she threw herself at them. A swift kick from the passing Confessor broke her neck and finished the job.

Skidding down, even from here, I could hear the words he spoke to the young Sanctionite:

"Well, that's how tank-hunting works."

With a smile and a chuckle, the krak grenades detonated in a spectacular fashion.

Ishabeth and I stared in awe as the Predator's turret cartwheeled through the air, a mass of twisted metal and a curiously smiley-face-shaped series of holes on the top of the

That's when the stray las-bolt struck the plating inches away from my face.

Splashing off the ceramic-based heat shielding, the las-bolt of course had no way of penetrating the heavy barricade, but instead I was treated to a bright starburst in my eye, as well as the feeling of my face being sunburned while my feet were still rather cold.

"Argh! Fucking hell..." Clutching at my face, I fell backwards, confused as Ishabeth swore.

It wasn't like you could get hurt by a memory, right?

There was another sound, out there somewhere, and Ishabeth yelped.

"Oooooh, but you can! And hurt you will, insect."

Why do you people like turning up behind me, huh!

Quickly tightening my grip on the power maul, I swung around clockwise with it blazing at full-charge.

Something flickered to my right, and suddenly a jarring sensation went up my arm. The Sorcerer's staff had intercepted my strike.

"Oh, has the insect found a proper weapon at last?" The Sorcerer chucked.

"Indeed, Lord Michael has." Ishabeth coughed, twisting about in his grip. She was being held by the forearm, dangling as he lifted her up high, and though the position was no doubt painful, she wasn't showing anything but grim determination.

A ball of Warp-energy sprang up from her hand, and she slapped it onto the Chaos Sorcerer's face.

Bright lights flickered inside the orb of warp-energy, effectively blinding him as she began wrenching at his hand.

Rising, I came up from his right, and the power maul swung across in a top left to bottom right slash.

This time, the maul struck the Sorcerer in the back of the hand. Thumbing a control stud, I set off the stored discharge of the power field, its energies crackling across the ancient armor's 'vambraces'.

A mask of pain was seen just before he hurled Ishabeth into me with a growl of anger. I braced for impact.

She hit me low in the ribs, as if tackling me, and we both fell to the ground. Panicking and unwilling to hurt her with the power maul, I flipped the switch to deactivate the power maul, and pushed the psyker off me.

"Weak! So Warp-damned weak!" The Sorcerer spat, hurling a spear of warp-lightning. "But you had a chance, an opportunity to become strong! All you had to do was simply bow before CHAOS! But NO! You had to blaspheme against the Dark Gods! NOW BEHOLD! The power that could have been yours, insect!"

Gathering power in his hands, the Chaos Sorcerer lashed out with another lightning strike.

We both hurled ourselves out of the way, in time to see the wet dirt on the ground turn to ash and steam from the power of the bolt.

Ishabeth was next, his bolt pistol rising up to pepper the ground around her as the young psyker sprinted for cover. I rushed up, only to receive an elbow in my gut as the Sorcerer preempted my attack.

"FOOLS!" He roared, whirling around to press the corrupted barrel of the bolt-pistol to my forehead. "You think to defeat me with such cheap attacks! I have been around for far too long to fall for such tricks!"

I smiled.

A Leman Russ battle-tank swept by, floating two feet off the ground. The Sorcerer took the brunt of the blow, gargling incoherently as he was thrown to the side, bouncing off a nearby heat shield and up into the air.

"DROP MORE ON HIM!" I roared, and sure enough Ishabeth dropped the heavy battle tank onto the Sorcerer.

Rising up, my voice continued to encourage her. "Don't stop!"

More memory-shaped vehicles rose up and crashed back down onto the first, thundering impacts that shook the ground.

I realized it then: Holy shit. Ishabeth was... strong. I never imagined her capable of this level of destruction...

Five minutes, ten Chimeras, three Leman Russes, the two destroyed Predators and countless pieces of debris later, we both stood side by side and stared at the massive pile that Ishabeth had created.

"Are you usually this powerful?" I asked her, edging away from the Sanctioned Psyker. She was slightly out of breath, but seemed otherwise okay. Looking up at me, the Sanctionite shook her head.

"Not usually... I have less control when Outside. Less powerful, too." She admitted, cracking her knuckles. "But this is what I strive for." Knuckles resting on her hips, Ishabeth allowed herself a genuine smile as she looked upon the destruction she had wrought.

Someone started clapping. "Impressive, most impressive, young witch. The Warp must be strong with this one."

We both whirled around, and I did an inwards groan. Ishabeth's breath caught in her throat. The Sorcerer was standing there, not a(n additional) scratch on his ancient power armor, all his decorations and spiky bits still in place as he clapped to Ishabeth's confusion.

I pointed a finger at him.

"What the fuck! Are you some kind of giant armored ninja now or something!"

The Sorcerer paused, and cocked his head to one side.

"Ninja? What is a ninja?"

I sighed, and beckoned him over.

"Come here, I'll explain it to you."

Quickly, the distance between us was crossed.

Again I used the 'come hither' gesture of crooking my finger, and the Sorcerer bent down to meet eye-to-eye, his face level with mine.

I brought the Power Maul down on his head, which gave out a satisfying 'crack' as heavy metal met ancient skull. I stepped back and then lunged for a second blow that slapped his face around.

The Sorcerer glowered at me. I smiled grimly as the power maul whipped around a third time.

Seriously, though, I hadn't expected it to hit. The Chaos Marine's surprisingly nimble feet allowed him to leap back a good six feet, and as he landed, balls of dark warp-energy had already begun forming around him. He snarled at me, not for the injuries I no doubt had inflicted onto his face, but the fact that a servant of Tzeentch had been tricked twice.

I threw myself to the ground before him, and then Ishabeth re-started her tank assault with a Chimera passing just inches above me.

There was a roar of defiance, and the APC was cut in two by the bladed end of the Sorcerer's staff.

He stretched out his hand, face set in a grimace of anger, and shouted out to his Dark Gods as he sent the dark energy balls at us in a six-part barrage of manifested malevolence. I scrambled up to my feet, and leapt up as a flat panel hurtled towards me, passing underneath me and tumbling through the air, intercepting a pair of the balls. I hit the ground and rolled as another panel passed overhead, absorbing three more of the attacks.

The last one struck my left arm.

O-

My hand instantly went from slightly cold and fine to burning hot and wrapped in pain. I screamed, with my hand feeling like it was wrapped in hot coals as my mind also began to throb from its own wounds. The pain was spreading now, and I was dimly aware of Ishabeth's fight against the Sorcerer; she had been forced into the defensive, slapping away what strikes that she could and avoiding almost everything else. I closed my eyes.

Dammit. Not now. Not yet. Can't die without...

What? Without... saying goodbye.

Yeah. That's right. Have to say goodbye.

To who? To who indeed... to... Zara. Yes, a good objective. Zara.

I still need to punch her Farseer aspect in the face for this.

There was a faint chuckle, and the feeling of someone kissing my shoulder. The fires that wreathed my arm began to abate, as if fleeing the gentle warmth that was starting to reclaim my mind.

The Sorcerer had Ishabeth by the neck now. The fight between the Chaos sorcerer with millennial of experience and the (at most) thirty year old Sanctioned Psyker Ishabeth had lasted about as long as one would expect.

"Now, little witch, I shall offer this only once more. Bow down before Chaos, or I'll feed your soul to Slaneesh's slavemasters. They'll enjoy their new... what was that word the traitor used? Ah... yes, that was it: plaything. Bow down or die, witch."

I ramped myself off a discarded Chimera, and tapped him on the shoulder with my feet, the power maul in my hand and already crackling with energy as I thumbed the control dial from 'Max' to 'Overcharge'.

With the advantage firmly on my side, I couldn't resist: "I pick 'die'. But I won't rush. You first, because its age before beauty, right?"

Then I brought the power maul around, caving in his nose with it, and then the electrical discharge scorched the pale skin black. Now for Ishabeth. Flicking off the discharge setting in favor of a constant stream, I jumped off the Sorcerer's shoulder – even as he fell backwards – and brought the maul down on his wrist.

This time, the maul simply passed through, vaporizing the thin armor around the wrist.

It also turns out the guy had a bionic hand.

Ishabeth landed on the ground hard, and instantly was back into the fight; I expected nothing less of the Cadian 918th's top psyker.

Debris seemed to become magnetized, all rushing towards the only opposite pole; the Sorcerer. His limbs became trapped as small slivers of metal lodged themselves inside of joints. The Sorcerer was thrown about as Ishabeth slapped more and more scrap onto him, before pressing all of them in, compressing the entire ball of scrap into an ever-shrinking sphere.

It was still about the size of an oversized van when Ishabeth punched the air in front of her, a blast of power throwing debris everywhere as I clung to the dirt.

Holy shiiiiiiiiit!

The van-sized ball of junk and Chaos Marine was hurled into the sky, and Ishabeth fell to the dirt, breathing heavily.

"Okay... Litany of Exorcism." The Sanctionite whispered, gathering even more power than before.

"For He is my shield, He is my sword,

He keeps me from the unending horde

Demons and monsters, great and small.

Before His holy might, begone, you all!"

Golden light formed into an all-too familiar shield as Ishabeth pulled back, ready to throw it.

"BY THE EMPEROR'S NAME!"

"Ow... dammit."

It was dark again.

Oh bloody hell. I was turning into an Imperial Artillery Observer.

Standing 'up', my eyes slowly adjusting to the sudden absence of light, I stumbled forward.

Questions ran through my head. Where was I? Another 'in-between' space? Where was everyone else? Ishabeth? The Sorcerer?

Weapon… I needed a weapon. Where was that power maul?

Making my way forward, I stepped on something cylindrical and lost my balance. Staggering about on the spot, I fell down to my knees and crouched down low. Hands searching, I felt the now familiar outline of the power maul.

Excellent. Now all I needed was some light.

A quick thought flashed through my head, squelching the desire for light. No. That would be dangerous. In this darkness, having a light would mark me out instantly to anything else that might have been around.

Straining my ears, I closed my eyes and let my senses reach out.

"Emperor-forsaken Daemon!"

A bright flare of white-blue light wrapped around the pointy end of a Nemesis Force Weapon.

Strong, deep and full of righteous fury, a voice boomed out across the void.

"WE ARE THE HAMMER!

WE ARE THE HATE! WE ARE THE EMPEROR'S LIGHT!"

The three Grey Knights were surrounded. Daemons of every flavor and color were snapping at their bright grey armor. But for every snarl, for every slash of clawed hands or every whip of tentacled limbs there was a returning strike; a cough of a bolt-gun, a flash of a brightly lit Force Weapon, an armor-enhanced punt that would send another Daemon howling into the darkness.

"HAMMER OF THE ORDO MALLEUS

ADEPTUS ASTARTES PSYKANA! GREY KNIGHTS OF THE EMPEROR!"

I recognized the three figures: Grey Knights that I had been passingly introduced to when I visited Justicar Amadeus. They were three of the five members of the 'spearhead' group. Brother Porthos, Brother Aramis and Brother Athos were usually the third, fourth and fifth into battle at the heels of Justicar Amadeus and Silverite (Actually, Silverite wasn't art of the spearhead group, but usually got to battle first anyway, with Justicar Amadeus close behind).

"WE ARE THE HAMMER! WE ARE THE HATE! WE ARE THE END OF DAEMONKIND!"

That was about when I realized that one of the Grey Knights was pointing his Psycannon at my face.

Chapter 19[edit]

Thought for the Day: Give me a thousand men. Or, failing that, a Grey Knight. - Ordo Malleus Inquisitor Andreivich Nonimaus.

The barrel of the psycannon was a black hole in the middle of a storm of motion as Athos – I could tell by his heraldry - leveled it. Right at my face.

His grey-armored arms were curled around the ornate weapon, cradling the precious cannon in his ceramite-encased hands. Kicking away a daemon, he fired whilst roaring a litany to his weapon.

"HOLY WEAPON OF LIGHT,

MIGHTY CANNON OF WOE!"

COME, BANISH THE NIGHT,

AND SMITE YOUR FOE!"

Normally, I'd be dumbstruck, but since the Grey Knight had been kind enough to give me a four-line rhyming warning, I reacted. Ducking to the side, I threw myself to the ground, the blessed projectile hissing over my head as it passed through a pair of daemons and streaked off into the darkness.

"CLEANSE! PURGE! KILL!"

A daemon was shredded as a Grey Knight marked out as 'Aramis' leveled his purified bolter, its holy shells speeding out and puncturing the daemon's scaly hide, then detonated inside of it, shredding the abomination as if it were a punctured water balloon. Grey-green guts spewed everywhere.

"STOP!"

Oozing with pus from its many wounds, the daemon turned to face the speaker.

"Hammer time."

The last of the three Grey Knights – the lettering on his armor told me he was Porthos - whirled his force weapon, a glowing hammer not unlike that of Medieval times, in a graceful and deadly arc, bringing it down on a snarling monster. He smashed its sickly hide open, then gave it a burst of bolter-fire for good measure. The daemon dropped to the floor.

Successful as they were at bringing each individual daemon down, the three were hemmed in shoulder-to-shoulder, with daemons swarming around them like a swarm of locusts. I saw the Grey Knights' polished grey armor, covered in holy scripts and decorated by prayers, gleaming as they hosed down daemons with their wrist-mounted storm bolters, creating an eye of carnage in the storm of Chaos.

As the daemons rushed forward to fill in the gaps that the Knights had created, another litany rose up from the trio, each line spoken by one of the three brothers-in-arms.

"DAEMON, TRAITOR, HERETICS ALL

BY OUR HAND, THEY SHALL FALL!

GRASP THINE SWORD, STRIKE THE BELL!"

The three braced their identical swords, and in unison struck the earth, an eerie shockwave shaking the 'ground'.

"SEND THESE DAEMONS BACK TO HELL!"

A thunderstorm erupted around them, a good two dozen daemons simply vanishing as the whirlwind of holy energy cut through the mass of monstrosities. Screaming skulls and flashes of lightning, gushing flames and rushing winds enveloped the three gleaming figures, and I lost my breath as I beheld the destruction brought about by the three; dozens of dozens of daemons, once surrounding them, now were dust and scattered to the wind.

The rest broke away, snarling one last challenge before disappearing into the depths of the darkness.

Whoa. Wait. A dark chill settled into my stomach as I physically felt the gaze of a hundred daemonic eyes lock onto my soul.

There were no more Grey Knights keeping the hungry daemons distracted from me.

Knowing what was coming, I swung around wildly with my power-maul, and caught the daemon hound as it leaped at me from my flank. At full charge, the club's crackling power field simply buzzed through its muzzle, leaving only a grey haze behind as it eerily disintegrated the 'matter' that made up the daemon.

The death of one daemon was enough. The rest turned, and bore down on me in a swarm of mind-melting Chaos. Rotting skin and bloodied claws, hollow eyes and grinning maws were all I could see as the monsters bore down on me.

A second I managed to bat away, but the power maul had not recharged, so all I managed to do was annoy the thing. It snarled at me with its seven mouths that just did not work, and narrowed the three bleeding eyes set into its head. Lashing out with its barbed tongues, I felt a hot pain flash across my arm as I threw them up in defense.

DA-DAKKA DA-DAKKA DA-DAKKA!

Six ragged holes were torn into the daemon's body, before the shells they heralded burned through their short fuses and detonated, showering me with eldritch gibs. The daemon hissed as it shrugged off the weapon-fire, but a psycannon ripped a hole in the void. The daemon was consumed by the holy fire, and as Athos' psychic shell perforated the warp-fiend, I felt completely calm for a second before the terror came rushing back as the light faded.

I sagged to my knees, power maul falling out of my hands, as the Grey Knights approached.

"Michael! What in the Emperor's name are you doing here!"

I blacked out.

As a Chaos Cultist got busy with his heavy stubber, Commissar Tomas Sturm was crouched down low, his face inches from a Guardsman's, screaming instructions over the cacophony of battle.

"Entrenchments, back there! I wanted them dug thirty seconds ago, Guardsmen! No more retreats."

The Guardsman departed, throwing himself to the ground as a cannon round tore through the flowers above him. Tomas pulled his cap closer to his brow, the soft patter of vegetation confetti reminding him of the dangers around him.

No more retreats. For him, for anyone in his position, that was unthinkable.

Because that would mean leaving Ishabeth behind.

He sat down beside the unconscious Sanctioned Psyker, pulling out his laspistol and searching for a new power pack. Their relationship was... odd. Tomas sighed.

"What happened to you?" He sadly asked the still body.

When the daemonhost and his puppetmaster had released their final attack, the Sanctioned Psyker had suddenly convulsed and then fainted, passing out along with almost every other psyker in the vicinity. The majority of the Eldar – the ones that weren't focused entirely on their physical battles – were safe, though why would be a question for later. The ones that didn't were much like the rest of the casualties.

Outside of Justicar Amadeus and a few of the more defensively talented, only a few of the Imperial psykers had escaped the sorcery of the warp-spawned fiend and its master. They were the ones fighting near the mysterious human girl, who was now making it literally rain cultists by way of picking them up with her many tendrils of light and effortlessly flinging them into the air. However, it was proving a slow task and in some cases a very ineffective one, as the Chaos Marines simply dug themselves up and re-joined the fight.

The entire battlefield had changed, with Michael collapsing as well. Vincent had managed to drag him around out of the way, and Alice soon recovered enough to be able to pull herself out of the mess they we in. The daemonhost, thankfully, had long ago been disintegrated by... what was her name? Emma?

His thoughts were interrupted by a cry.

"They're rushing us!" The sergeant bellowed, ducking down as he shifted through the las-packs of a fallen Guardsman for fresh ammunition, popping his head briefly over the parapet, he turned back to his squad. "Weapons free, but conserve your ammunition!"

Crouching down, the Commissar beckoned the vox-operator over to him, wrenching the handset from the man's backpack vox-caster.

"Callsign Stormfist, callsign Stormfist to command and control, can you copy, over! What the hell is going on out there!"

"This is Lieutenant Berkely! I-Company has been overrun, requesting rally point!" The man on the other end of the line probably realized that he had just requested retreat from a Commissar at about this stage, and tried to cover up his mistake. "S-so we can f-fight from a m-m-more effective p-position, c-Commissar!"

Tomas sighed, and shouted into the vox. "Lieutenant Berkly, get I-Company over on my marker, and make sure that your entrenchments are destroyed! Leave nothing for those traitors!"

"S-sir? Yes sir! Right away, sir!"

Shoving the handset back to the vox-jockey, Tomas turned back to battle and snapped off two quick shots at an approaching cultist. The twisted parody of a soldier screamed as her left torso was separated from its attached arm, and then having her stomach cauterized. The Commissar didn't wait for the dead body to fall to the ground.

Even though the forces of Chaos were in... well, chaos – oh the irony of that – the Coalition forces weren't in the clear yet. Bracketed in by Tau and Imperial artillery, pushed back by mash-up companies of infantry and whittled down by the mixed armor of the 41st Millennium's finest, along with the fact that the majority of their Marine masters dead and their vehicles all but gone, the few remaining troops were sure to die.

That was why they were taking as many of their enemies with them as they could. In a suicidal rush, they had suddenly assaulted then overran a concentration of coalition forces – just forward of Tomas' 'left' – and were murdering their way through I-Company's support platoon.

One of the Guardsmen – a Sergeant - rolled to the side as stubber-fire chewed up the ground around him, taking shelter inside of the small mound of hastily dug up dirt. He raised his lasgun over the miniature parapet, and fired wildly into the gathering cultists. Tomas raised his hell-pistol, and joined the Sergeant in pouring las-fire out to the mass of corrupted humans and dizzying sigils.

Another shout dragged his attention towards its source.

"Friendlies! Looks like two of our mortar teams and a couple of Eldar and Tau infantry squads, sir! They're pushing through!"

Nodding grimly, Tomas spotted them. They were at a dead rush, firing wildly as they rushed forward to their sanctuary. But even as disorganized as their natures defined them, the Chaos troops were quick to identify an exposed and vulnerable support weapon crews as they ran, defenseless bar their laspistols. A mortar's crewman was shot, his knee disappearing as a las-blast passed through it, and he fell to the ground. More shots dashed any chances of him crawling here.

Tomas turned to the pair of Guardsmen armed with grenade launchers, arm frantically gesturing them to come forward.

"Bracket the friendlies! Keep those traitors off their backs, you have weapons free! Smoke shells in close, and fire off the fraggers into anything that looks like they're gathering for a rush!"

Smoke and dirt filled the battleground as the grenadiers complied, firing off a steady trickle of shells that filled the air between the retreating squads and the heretics that hounded them.

"The Fire Caste shall join you, Gue'ui. Shas'la, to your positions!"

It was a Tau Fire Warrior, armored in light blue, who spoke as he loaded a photon grenade into his carbine's launcher. The 'Shas'la' troopers took up position alongside the Guardsmen, and the ones with the shorter variety of pulse-weapons raised them higher than the others. A series of muted phomph sounds later, a small section of the traitors were clutching at their eyes and ears as the multispectral lightshow overwhelmed their senses.

Writhing on the ground as they were, the cultists were mercilessly cut down by the precision shots from the Tau pulse rifles, much longer weapons than the grenade-launcher carbine-combi weapons, closely followed by the las-fire of their Guard counterparts.

Even so, a few of the fleeing I-company Guardsmen fell. Tomas spotted one, hustling along with a case of mortar rounds, fall to the ground under a hail of stubber fire.

Holstering his pistol, Tomas snatched up a Tau pulse rifle – his hell-pistol, well crafted as it had been, was simply not made for precision long-range shooting - took careful aim and squeezed the firing stud.

The small ball of plasma shot out, crossed the distance between him and his target. It punctured the casing of mortar shells that had been left behind with its deceased crewman. The bombs inside cooked off, exploding with tremendous force. It consumed at least a dozen cultists that were coming up behind the squads, and dirt flew everywhere.

A fitting funeral pyre for the Guardsman.

He turned away, returning the weapon.

Ducking down, he sat as the I-Company's survivors streamed in. He was facing Ishabeth.

Her eyes were open, staring at him. She was half-sitting, supporting herself by an elbow.

The Commissar immediately rushed over to her, keeping low.

"Can you stand, Ishabeth?" Tomas asked, crouched down beside her.

She nodded, sheepishly. "Y-yes..."

"The other psykers?"

"They are... fighting."

Her gaze drifted off, to meet mine.

"Fighting hard."

I blinked, and when I opened my eyes there was only darkness.

Fade-out. Everything went black. Dammit.

Pain. Pain greeted me from the void.

"Whatthefuck..."

It was... warmer. I could smell the sweet pine logs burning in the fireplace long before I heard its soft crackling. The gentle heat that soon followed was quick to warm me, refreshing my strength as it wrapped around my cold toes and finger.

Stirring, I looked around me. The room was large, almost as large as my house. All details became suddenly unimportant as I realized my hands were empty. The power maul. I closed my eyes, and imagined the weapon in my hand. Nothing. Concentrating harder, I visualized every curve and line, every surface and button. Even the safety strap that I was to loop around my wrist.

My efforts were rewarded by the sudden weight that fell on my palms, as well as the feeling of cold metal pressing against the warmed skin.

A voice behind me was punctuated by the slow clanging that was the all too familiar sound of a power armored Space Marine attempting to clap.

"Good, good. So you know the basics of manipulating the mindscape." The raspy voice of a vox-augmented throat chuckled.

I attacked.

Porthos leaned back ever so slightly, and the power maul passed by with plenty of room to spare between its crackling tip and his helmet-less face.

He grinned as well, a savage light flashing through his eyes. "Careful, too. Attack first, ask questions later? I like it."

The other two Grey Knights nodded in agreement and approval.

Sheepishly, I lowered it the rest of the way, a descending hum indicating that the charge of the weapon was fading away.

Aramis walked over to me, his massive frame towering over me. I suddenly realized just how large these guys were in contrast with the average human.

"Whoa."

"Yes... Many things I find hard to believe, Michael. Did you know that I found myself sharing a redoubt with xeno? Three days ago, I climbed aboard a Tau Devilfish. Yesterday, I shook hands with an Eldar witch. In both cases, we were both not trying to kill each other. In three centuries of service to the Emperor, I have never done that before. Simply amazing, Michael, but believable."

He looked down at me, emphasizing the one and a half foot difference in height between the two of us.

"But, my friend, I still cannot believe that I am actually this much taller than you."

There was a small chuckle shared by the three Grey Knights.

"So, Michael, tell me. How was your first encounter with true daemons?"

A sudden pain wracked my mind, as if I had suddenly been struck.

"Ngggh..."

Images of the daemons that had been attacking them, the stuff of nightmares, flashed through my head. I tried to forget them, push them away. Screaming faces, gaping maws. Jagged teeth and pinprick eyes. Clawed hands, bat-like wings. They persisted, a pain sparking to life and spreading through my head, consuming all my thoughts to the single beat of fear that was passing through me. I was too panicked at the moment to think about the horrifying forms that were attacking me, but when I did...

Falling to my knees, I felt the overwhelming need to claw out my eyes, to dig out my ears to simply forget the shapes of the daemons, the scream of their hunger...

An armored hand settled down on my shoulder.

Athos was the one speaking. "I am afraid that I cannot comfort you with lies that it will be easier the second time, Michael. Each daemon is a fresh nightmare, but I will not see you afraid of mere images. Think of them, remember them, and learn to hate them." He advised, and I breathlessly nodded, gulping down fresh air while I could.

These men must be masters of their mind. I thought, as Aramis passed me a mug of liquid.

"Drink. It is just some sacramental wine."

I pressed the cup to my lips. Two mouthfuls in, Porthos was shouting at Aramis as I fell to the ground, my brain pounding with pain. Dere washn't eh-nee morr neeed fohr shouhtsch o' daheemons. Hehee, like, wassitcalled? Pohkeemonz.

"What in the Six-hundred Sixty Six Trials was that, Aramis!"

"A good M38, if I'm not mistaken. From the Marist cellars." The Grey Knight performed a gesture that was the equivalent of buffing his nails against his shirt.

"... okay, give me a hand with my gauntlet, will you?"

Slap.

"OW!" A bright pain had ignited on my cheek. "FUCK'N HELL!"

Okay, I was awake again. Kind of. Coherency was rising, but at the cost of my sense of balance. Stumbling around, I crashed back into my seat as another drink was pressed against my hands.

"Terribly sorry, Michael. This is some special recaf, it'll help with the alcohol..." Porthos apologized, before turning to Aramis. "Seriously, Brother, who gives Marist sacramental wine to a lightweight like this!"

There was an apologetic grunt. " 'rry..."

I gulped down a mouthful of the dark liquid, which tasted a lot like the Indonesian coffee I got from Vincent's father – straight black, no sugar or milk – and reallyreallyfastandthisisn'tgoodisit!?

"Aramis! Hold him down! YOU DIDN'T WATER DOWN THE KLATCHIAN, DID YOU?"

"Klatchian! I thought you gave him the Tallarnese recaf... Oh Sweet Emperor, I put in more than two smallspoons of it in that cup!"

"We have done all we can here. It is time to leave!"

Sergeant Horvic, the leader of the ten-man tactical squad, made a few sharp gestures to the surrounding Marines and Guardsmen. "Aquila formation, perimeter fire! Dispersion pattern eight, conserve your munitions! Prepare to advance on my mark..."

Yoza sprinted forwards, witchblade in hand, as the Space Marines around them pumped bolter shell after bolter shell into the oncoming Chaos cultists. Isha preserve them, how many of these cultists were there? s. Guardsmen reloaded their las-packs and muttered quiet prayers as they waited for the signal.

It came.

"MARK!"

Thudding forwards with mechanical precision, the mobile redoubt of Space Marines, Guardsmen and Eldar were analogous to a violently solemn procession as they walked forward with guns blazing multi-flavored death.

Of the hundreds of cultists they were facing, there were maybe three dozen in the small box formation.

They advanced.

As the heavily armored Marines moved forward, between them flitted the Guardsmen and the Eldar troops. They moved amongst the Space Marines, either shooting a cultist off the Marine's back or by keeping their surroundings occupied while the armored monk changed magazines. The wounded were gathered in the middle, dragging the immobile if possible, limping along if they couldn't. What weapons they were able to lift, they fired, or by lobbing what grenades they found.

Shadows fell upon them, blotting out the sun.

A Guardsman flicked his gaze upwards.

"INCOMING!"

Everyone crouched down as the roar of assault packs filtered above the cacophony of battle.

The airborne arm of the coalition; mostly made up of Rokkit Boyz, Assault Marines, Seraphim and Swooping Hawks, crashed into a concentration of cultists twenty meters away.

A Tau battlesuit hovered over the battlefield, its fusion blaster melting large holes in large Space Marines.

The owner broadcasted his voice over Imperial vox-bands. He pointed towards the nearest concentration of coalition troops as a cultist went flying, thrown aside by an Ork scrounging for a fallen Chaos Marine's 'roight 'ard shooty fing'.

"This way! Mark on those bushes!"

Horvic made the cry: "ADJUST MOVEMENT! TWELVE DEGREES LEFT!"

Yoza advanced. The burly Sergeant paused, blinked in disbelief, and began shouting again. "LEFT, YOU POINTY HEADED XENOS, LEFT! NO! THAT IS YOUR RIGHT!"

After some hurried discussion and more shouting, the mobile formation began advancing at a more hurried pace, although not much more than the slowest of their wounded, as they approached the makeshift lines.

In a 'battle' formation, the Eldar were swift and graceful as they and the Tau adopted their favorite tactic; hit and run. As a Chaos squad charged up to meet them, the xenos would back away, where then a nearby Imperial mortar would start shooting at the designated target.

The survivors were brutally put down as the Eldar reclaimed the territory, and with fire they purged the ground clean of any taint.

Along the lines, they and the Guardsmen were also making their forays out, striking at a Chaos Champion before he gathered too much momentum and broke their lines here, killing a concentration of cultists there or otherwise putting down hell wherever they could.

"We're coming up on the position, sir!"

Yoza nodded, his shuriken pistol blazing out a stream of monomolecular disks, before he leaped up into the trenchlines that the Guardsmen had managed to build up underneath the bushes. An ashen-faced trooper turned to greet him. Yoza slapped away the laspistol that was shoved in his face.

"The psykers?" He asked.

"T-there!"

The hastily-prepared excuse for a bunker was simply a deeper hole in the ground, like a briskly prepared grave. Yoza quickly assessed them; A half-dozen wounded Guardsmen. Most would make it with amputated limbs, at least. One would not. He turned to face an Eldar Dire Avenger missing her right leg. She would be fine, although new wraithbone replacement would have to be crafted. Three Tau Fire Warriors, a Sister of Battle and a Space Marine rounded off the casualties. The rest – almost a dozen of them – were psykers.

A few had already succumbed to the Mind War.

Their bodies were contorted, with clear signs of muscles and bones tearing themselves apart as they lost control of their bodies, some unrecognizable as their internal organs liquidated inside of their bodies then burst. A few had shown the earlier symptoms of daemonic mutation before someone had mercifully released them from their torment. Two of their number were Seer councilors. Yoza's armor began to crackle and spark as he gathered energy from the Warp, the very thing that had killed his brothers and sisters.

A hand seized his wrist.

"Calm yourself, Yoza."

"Farseer Zara?"

"Really? I would never have guessed. You're meant to be the wiser of the two of us, you know."

"Consciousness to sarcasm in four seconds. I do believe that would be a new record."

With a grumble of annoyance, the Eldar Farseer picked herself up, and dusted herself off. "Status on Michael? Dammit, that stupid mon-keigh, can't even wake up without making a mess of things..." She shook her head, as if to clear it, and then looked around her, counting each casualty that they had sustained.

"This many?"

A grim nod. "There would have been more, were it not for the aid of the younger girl."

"Yes. She is... powerful. Very powerful. Almost too powerful. And... familiar. I have seen into the Warp many times, before and after we came here. This presence... it... it is ... far too familiar."

Another nod.

"Nothing is coincidence." She quoted. "Well, lets us get to work then. The mon-keigh can go ahead and try to find his own way out of the mindscape."

She stood.

"For the rest of us, we need to keep their bodies safe."

"Uuuuugh..."

Aramis looked up from his sword, the sharpening stone pausing midway across the gently curving blade. "Michael? Ah, good for you to rejoin the upright and sober."

My head throbbed, which made me "I think an Ork's been stomping on my head..."

There was a quick flash of guilt across the Grey Knight's face as Porthos and Athos began to chuckle.

"Yeah... about that..."

Klatchian recaf, it turns out, was the kind of stuff they used to get Space Marines out of bed after a grouchy decade in stasis. I mean, there was enough caffeine inside of a tablespoon of it to keep me awake for a week.

Oh, as for the 'Marist' sacramental wine? Its what they used to get drunk. Space Marines, it turns out, have very strong livers and toxin filters built into their biology. So the only way to get drunk was to brute force their way through. I only had one sip of the wine, and I was already messed up.

A cup would have meant 'mild inebriation' for the durable Grey Knights, but for me it would be 'death by alcohol poisoning' in a very embarrassing manner.

Staring at the apologetic Grey Knight, I blinked a few times before shaking my head.

"So... I could have died! ?"

A nod.

"That would have been... embarrassing."

Another nod.

I palmed my forehead.

"So anyway... where are we?"

"In the closest thing we can call home, Michael. This is our quarters, in the Grey Knight's fortress-monastery on Titan."

"Titan? Y'mean Saturn's moon?"

A grin flashed across his face.

"The largest of them, yes. It is the home-base of the Grey Knights, where every one of us were trained, and born again in the shadow of Holy Terra. Then, we will also be brought there to be buried; the greatest honor for a Grey Knight."

I nodded solemnly as Aramis finished his brief explanation.

The massive room was neatly partitioned into four sections; one each had a bed marked with each Grey Knight's heraldry, and the fourth was a communal living room. All around us, mounted on walls, shelved in bookcases or set atop little pedestals were icons, works of holy writ and relics, many of which I suspected would have been worth more than my neighborhood (maybe even the entire state and country, while you're at it) by themselves, especially if you asked the right people...

I caught sight of bright blades, hallowed scripts and scraps of fabric which I guessed were holy in some way or another. I looked around a little bit more, before finding myself looking at a lighter. One of those little metal ones you flipped open.

Tarnished with age, it was looked appropriately ancient for a forty thousand (at least) year old relic. Whoa.

"You recognize it?" Porthos asked, arching an eyebrow. "Time and dust have sealed its secret contents, Michael. The priests of Ancient Terra believe that it is some kind of container."

I shrugged. "It's a lighter. You use it to start fires. Its a cheap thing you sell at corner stores."

There was a snort from Aramis. "I see. Well, that may be true, Michael, but it is now holy and is worth far more than a simple corner store. Such is the wonder of time."

"Yeah, but I wonder i-"

There was a frantic hiss for silence, and the three of us turned to see as Athos lowered his hand, and closed his eyes. I could feel his senses expanding, his psychic eye reaching out into the void beyond these safe walls.

"They come again. Someone has gathered the daemons."

The visions returned; bloodied claws and hungry eyes. Gasping, I closed my eyes, seeking to end the mental images from entering my mind again. My hands were already clammy with a cold sweat.

A Grey Knight thudded over.

"Michael? They are but dreams, Michael. They cannot hurt you. However, they will." Porthos advised, giving a stiff glance to the window and the oncoming daemons outside.

I nodded, still trying to rid myself of the dreams. Flashes of daemons passed by, coming close before ducking away. It ate away at my awareness, my sanity.

"Weapon... I need... my weapon..."

Closing my eyes, I imagined the weapon that had become familiar to me over the last twenty or so minutes. The power maul. Details, details! Baseball-bat like in size and shape, but covered with plates of conducting metal.

The nearest Grey Knight nodded to me.

"Excellent. However, a weapon tends to... decay over time when facing these monstrosities, Michael. That is why we need weapons. Lots and lots of weapons."

He made a broad gesture, one which swept aside all the scenery in favor of a flat field. It was covered in grass, but...

I quickly sucked in a breath. Spread around the entire field were weapons, ranging from simple daggers/swords to ornate Force Halberds and power-fists, and from bolt-pistols to heavy weapons with their barrels stuck into the ground. I found one close by, a heavy bolter by the looks of it, and looked on as Aramis walked over and pulled it free of the metal rod that had been driven into the dirt and used as a mounting for the massive weapon.

"Any weapon that you have ever seen, Michael, can be re-created here. Though you may not fully understand their mechanisms, we have trained our minds to work around that. You should be able to create anything you wish here: so long as we draw breath, we can simply draw another weapon."

Beside him, Porthos had found himself a pair of bolt pistols, as bright grey as his armor and as plain as a workman's hammer, and had magnetically clamped them to his hips. Another pair were clamped to his shoulders, and finally a pair of ornate hand grenades to his chest.

"But don't go overdoing it: these weapons can still hurt us, so make sure they cannot be too easily turned against their creators."

Athos grinned, and hefted his own weapon of choice; the psycannon which he slung over his shoulder as he summoned more weapons and stabbed them into the ground around him. Swords and bolters, mostly, as well as more psycannon. He flicked a switch on his weapon of choice, which hummed to life in his hands.

"Hurry, Michael! As soon as the daemons come here, our ability to freely create weapons will be very limited indeed! But don't worry, your imagination is the limit!"

I nodded, and began thinking of every single weapon I could use.

First was a trio of power mauls, which I stabbed into the ground. I grabbed a pair of fire extinguishers from thin air and mashed their bases into the soft grass. A flamethrower – modeled after the ones used by the Space Marines – was added to my personal inventory.

It would be just the five of us against countless daemons.

Which brought up another thought into my mind.

"Hey, Aramis?"

"Yes, Michael?"

"How come that last daemon we fought was harder to kill than the rest?"

There was a chuckle.

"You saw?" Aramis asked, my nod answering his question. "Well, Michael, as we are inside of our mindscapes we have access to only a limited pool of warp-essence. The daemons have to share that essence around, so therefore the more there are to attack us, the weaker they get."

I nodded to show my understanding, but my face was a mask of puzzlement.

"Why not just send one daemon, then?"

There was a disgusted 'pfah' from Athos. "Predators such as these foul abominations do not understand the concept of working together."

Understanding, I finished for him with a fierce grin, realizing the advantage the four of us held. "We, however, do."

A nod, with a grin to match mine. "So you understand. Well done, Michael."

"But the fewer there are, the stronger they get."

"Again, you are correct. We refer to this as the Inverse Daemon Effect."

Talk about a double edged sword.

I looked on as Athos produced another heavy bolter, and flicked out its bipod mount. He scanned the horizon for the oncoming horde, and then looked at me.

"We will be four against four hundred. I only wish we had some more... even some of those automated servitors would help..."

Yeah, like those... Wait a minute.

"Hey, I got an idea... can you help me with this?"

"Miles, left side!

Miles pulled the curved magazine out of his weapon, an old first-generation M4A1 carbine. He pushed in a new box of 5.56mm shells, and shouldered the compact firearm. Chaos 'Predator' class battle-tank. Breathing out slightly, he tensed the muscles in his arm and upper torso, then fired a pair of shots. At these ranges, it wasn't hard to hit the tank; the three quick single-shots that he fired all crashed into the assault tank, tearing off weapons and turrets in a shower of sparks, the leftovers of ceramic armor meeting a full metal jacket.

It was then scooped up by the graceful Alice as she sprinted to and fro, then hurled into the air to crash into the ground, dashed to pieces on the pavement. Vincent was doing the same thing, having retrieved the garden rake and using it to full effect; scooping up entire platoons of enemies, he would mash them together before concentrated fire from the miniature warriors would wipe their taint clear.

But as unfair as their actions were, they had good reason.

Vincent had managed to shelter Batel and Michael inside, and the miniature coalition were fighting fiercely to keep the Chaos forces from re-entering the house.

Alice turned to Miles as both crouched down . "How's Batel?"

"The purple haired girl? Still out."

Both flinched as a demolisher cannon lived up to its name, gouging a fist-sized hole in the dirt. Miles sprang up and placed a few shots on it. He paused, saw movement, and shot it again. This repeated. Seven shots later, the Chaos assault tank was finally silenced.

For kiddy toys, these things were pretty tough.

"How many are there left?"

Miles scanned the ridiculously small battlefield

"Not as many as there were. We're winning, I think."

"I hope so."

The daemons came, a seething tide of hunger and malice, making their across the flat field at a steady trot as they ducked and weaved around the field of weapons that rose up around them. Around them, the air began to shift, a dizzying sensation filling the heads of the four defenders of the mind-scape. The taste of blood. Mixed with that was another ingredient that added to the air; the pungent odor of decayed flesh.

The Grey Knights turned as I gagged and choked. I was passed a gas-mask, and slipped it on gratefully. It was a full-face unit, with a small filter tank that was strapped onto me. A slam of the sealing valve sucked all the distasteful air out and replaced it with a more palatable atmosphere. The miasma disappeared, replaced by the clean, hospital-like taste of disinfectant and clean air. Then I was given a pair of binoculars.

Dialing it up to 30x, I peered through the boxy device.

At a fast canter, the daemons advanced. I sucked in a breath as they closed in on us. A few displayed what passed for confusion as they entered a relatively empty section of ground, marked out only by a few bright red swords.

I turned to the Grey Knights, raising my own hand.

"NOW!"

Suddenly the air was filled with thousands of projectiles, accompanied by the sound of frenzied buzzing as 5.56mm rounds were fired off at hypersonic speeds with a rate-of-fire approaching seven hundred rounds per second from at least a dozen miniguns, which tore through flesh and punctured scaly hides with almost Orkish brutality and numbers.

Although a few were able to resist a few hits without too much trouble, the sheer volume of firepower made up for that. It was an amazing sight to behold; monsters of the Warp would resist for a second, maybe a little longer, before their bodies were overwhelmed by the number of bullets bouncing off them, their ether-flesh rent apart by the swarms of small metal projectiles tearing at them.

Standing from behind the line of minigun turrets I had convinced the Grey Knights to set up, the four of us watched the initial carnage as the daemons milled about in confusion five hundred yards short of their four targets. Carrying a designator slaved to a couple turrets each (with a few more simply straight firing and the rest using their own motion trackers to target daemons) we were cutting down the first wave by simply sweeping our arms back and forth.

"THOUGH I FACE THE SHADOWS OF THE WARP,

I SHALL FEAR NO EVIL, I SHALL FEAR NO FOE!

FOR I HAVE MOAR DAKKA THAN YOU, BITCHES!"

A clunk made me turn around, to see Athos facepalm.

"That makes no sense, Michael."

I began laughing, at some stage after the retort, as the stuff of nightmares became the fluff that would get me to sleep at night.

Thank you, Infinity Ward.

My exultation, however, was cut short as Porthos swore, his arm up above the angle possible for the turrets to reach. "They're getting airborne!"

Shaped much like great manta rays, a few of the daemons had risen up above their ground-chewing brethren and taken to the skies above, their equally daemonic riders brandishing daemonic weapons. They soon fell in a typically daemonic fashion as they were promptly brought back down to earth when Porthos and Aramis hefted their large, Troika-pattern combi-miniguns and swept the sky clear.

A few, however, did manage to land amongst the four 'defenders', but were too few to make any difference as Athos cut them down with his Force Halberd.

"Can't touch this." He rumbled, dancing back from a blow before lunging forward to impale a daemon with his force halberd.

I glanced back to the killing field. More were swarming in.

The two sentry turrets I was controlling fell silent, their ammunition expended. I reached out for the closest weapon a purified bolter. A fine weapon made of ceramite and alloys of various recipes, it was a simple grey-white color decorated with gold and black. Leveling the boltgun at the nearest daemon (about a hundred yards away), I fired it, and realized that it had a surprisingly small kickback factor; the stroke of the trigger was accompanied by an almost polite coughing sound as the initial charge pushed the bolt out of the barrel, then the rocket motor activated and sent the armor-piercing bolt-grenade out with the sharp hiss of burning propellant.

There was a small thunderclap as the bolt accelerated past the speed of sound some four feet in front of me, and hit with a wet smack into the daemon I had been aiming at. There was a pause between the neat dark-blue hole appearing in its chest, and then the bigger hole that replaced it as the explosive component of the bolt detonated, basically gutting the blue daemon as it rushed forward.

I blinked.

Wow.

Muttering to myself, I lined up a second target. "I gotta get me one of these later."

Pull. Cough. Woosh. Crack. Smack. Boom. Next target.

Pull. Cough. Woosh. Crack. Smack. Boom. Aim again.

Pull. Couch. Woosh. Crack. Smack. Boom. The rhythm continued.

There were twenty shots inside of a standard-issue bolter magazine, and about fifteen of those managed to find a target and wound or otherwise kill the advancing daemons before they got too close for me to keep up the relaxed shooting rhythm that I had adopted, and so I hurled the bolter at the nearest daemon. It paused to slap the fumbled weapon out of the way, grinning hungrily as it looked at me like Tomas looked at his coffee.

Athos casually pointed his left arm at it while he wrestled with another daemon, and fired a pair of bolts into its relatively brittle teeth.

Now I had enough time to pull out the power sword that had been at my feet. The blade was simple enough; a pure-and-simple longsword. The crossguard was finely decorated to look like the Imperial Aquila, and the handle quite soft to the touch. As I gripped harder in the backswing, blade above my head, the weapon crackled to life.

Two halves of one daemon passed by on either side of me as the blade bit into the ground.

I whirled about in a three-hundred-sixty degree spin, sword flashing as its power field struck home on numerous daemons.

Christ this thing is powerful...

Porthos punted a ball-shaped Horror into the air, smashed the daemon behind it into the ground, then stomped on its head. A stab from the halberd ended its battle. His wrist-mounted storm bolter still blazed away as I saw more daemons rushing up to him from behind.

"PORTHOS! BEHIND!"

The Grey Knight seemed to flinch for a brief instant, then his force halberd whirled around in a blurring sweep. He didn't bother wasting time turning to shout out confirmation; he simply became a blur of glinting ceramite, blazing muzzle-flashes and a series of glowing after-images as his holy blade met unholy body to cut down the daemons that attempted to pile on him. A heartbeat later, ten daemons were more-or-less evenly spread out over an area radiating two meters from the Grey Knight, and a little more bits were scattered beyond.

But more came.

Aramis gestured fiercely at his remaining teammate. "ATHOS! MICHAEL!"

I picked up a flamethrower, a cone of fire suddenly warming the locale, crisping a daemon as it charged by. Athos charged, knocking daemons down and shooting those that were out of reach with his heavy bolter and boots. Wading through the daemons and tossing them aside with cold contempt, the Grey Knight cleared a path for me to follow behind, a collected bolt-pistol finishing off what the charging Grey Knight had started.

We reached Porthos, but not quickly enough.

His right arm had been torn off, and he was still fighting with his left as more daemons were attempting to remove his helmet and his head. Kicking and blazing away with the remainder of his storm-bolter munitions, he was roaring incoherently as daemons tore away a purity seal at his shoulder, scratched a deep gouge in his ceramite armor at the knee, attacked the stump that had been his arm.

I raised the flamer, and shouted a warning as I remembered a Space Marine's explanation for his confidence in storing a dozen flamer tanks on his body.

Powered armor made from shaped plates of ceramic materials were very fire-resistant.

I figured that daemonic skin was not.

Athos was wreathed in holy promethium, which burned brightly as he punched the nearest abomination in the face. He roared in grand exultation, and began punching his way through more daemons, which flinched from the flames; whether it was their holy quality or the heat, I was betting on the former.

"LOOK UPON US, DAEMONS, AND DESPAIR!

FOR WE ARE THE HAMMER!

WE ARE THE HATE!

AND YOU. WILL. DIE!"

The burning Grey Knight sent a daemon flying into the air via a rising kick, and judging by that he didn't appear to be bothered by the burning promethium that was currently coating his armor, instead putting the side-effects of the white-hot armor to full use by wading through daemons and making as much armor-to-daemon contact as possible.

I myself made my way through to the wounded Porthos, a power maul in hand.

One tried to jump me from behind, managing to knock me down. I shouted for help, to which Athos instantly responded; whirling around, he knocked it off in a flash, his heavy bolter crashing into the daemon's head like a runaway train. The roar of the heavy weapon deafened me for a moment, and all that I could hear were the muted reports of the massive guns that the Grey Knights were using, the persistent ringing of the blast and...

A hand seized my collar.

"Well hello, young man." Calm, collected and dripping with sensuality, I recognized the hallmarks of a Slaaneshi cultist from talks with the psykers. The 'daughters' of the Chaos God Slaanesh, the Prince(ss) of Excess, they were what happened if classic seductresses were supercharged with Warp-powers.

It picked me up with contemptuous ease as the smell of blooming roses filled my nostrils.

My eyes immediately flashed with tears as my nose began to block up.

Goddamn hay-fever... Seems like allergies weren't immune to conversion into mindscaping, huh?

I took a swing at her, power maul arcing across, but the blow was stopped. She didn't even raise her hand, or even flinch; the blow was stopped short just before it reached her immaculate face. A flicker of her eye was all the warning I had before her mind threw me back ten feet, and darkness enveloped me.

Again.

Maybe for the seventh or eighth time.

I got bored of counting after the first few.

Fucking hell.

This was starting to get annoying.

Chapter 20[edit]

Thought for the Day: "All threats to the Imperium must be eliminated without reservation." - Marines Malevolent Captain Lucian Niechze.

Aramis shouted something out as he stood between Porthos and a trio of daemons. Something about Slaanesh and Michael.

He was cut off as a daemon slashed a deep gouge across his left shoulder pauldron, which seemed to explode as the Grey Knight triggered an outburst of psychic energies. All around him, abominations were thrown into the air and across the ground as his voice roared his defiance.

Pulling Porthos to his feet, he nodded to Athos as the last of the three Grey Knights joined him.

Looking about him, he saw the twenty or so remaining daemons circle around. The three were surrounded, now, and had only five arms and twenty three functional fingers between them. As for their foes, he counted far too many claws and teeth and smoke-belching nostrils for even a Space Marine's enhanced eyesight and accelerated brain functions to be able to count before they would spring into a murderous rampage.

Aramis grinned as his hands trembled. He was excited.

That was about even odds. No. Not just even odds; this was the very thing they trained for. One against one hundred, and they would emerge victorious. They couldn't just survive. For humanity to be human, survival would not do.

They would win.

One daemon – the largest - charged forward.

Athos reacted in a blur of movement. He stepped forward, pulled up a sword from its resting place in the ground, and turned to face the abomination. He struck. The overhead blow bit deep into its back, but soon the atmosphere filters in his suit logged a spike in hydrogen gases, as well as a nasty chemical cocktail as the blood of the daemon boiled and ate away at the bright metal.

Daemons were starting to be harder to kill.

Not good.

The broken hilt of the sword fell to the soft grass beneath as the daemon asserted the acidic properties of its blood, its oily black skin rippling as unseen muscles flexed. It screeched, high and keening as it bared pearly white teeth.

Aramis plunged a second blade into its chest with a powerful thrust that would have shattered ceramite armor.

The daemon was screaming, a jawed tongue shooting out of its open mouth, biting down into the left lens of his helmet. Half his vision blacked out as the tongue tried to rip away at the eyepiece.

Sword number three cut off the tongue, its blade disintegrating as it sliced through the corrosive blood.

Both watched as the broken halves of the third sword fell to the ground as a fourth – a plain power sword glowing with his focused psychic energies - was snatched up by Porthos and thrust into its throat, cutting off vocal chords and the scream of the foul daemon.

The fifth weapon was a heavy thunder hammer wielded by Aramis, which crushed the writhing abomination under its weight. Bones snapped, organs liquefied and blood sprayed everywhere as daemon met hammer, and hammer discharged the gathered energies inside, sending a shockwave through both daemon and ground.

The Ordo Malleus (and 'Thunder Hammer') lived up to their names.

But with their attention grouped around one daemon, they did not see the second that charged forth until it was too late.

Porthos shouted to his brother, but it was too late.

Athos was bowled over as an oversized monster charged into him, knocking him to the ground.

It snarled, and was peppered by heavy bolter rounds as Aramis brought his man-portable cannon to bear on the monster. Gnashing teeth were punched out by a swing of a one-handed hammer, and the hastily shot psycannon bolt shattered its left leg.

Under the blistering fire of three heavy weapons, the daemon was dispatched quickly, but there were still many more to come.

Grimly, the three brothers adjusted their power armor's parameters and awaited their fate.

A bright halo of light flared behind the gathering daemons, and soon there were strands of crackling lightning as the daemons restlessly shifted about.

As one, they turned to face the newcomer.

There was a muffled curse of surprise.

"Oh shit." An inquiring voice swore over the now-silent monstrosities. "Did I come at the wrong time?"

Somewhere, another daemon snarled. As one, they charged at the newcomer.

The Grey Knights had to dial up the polarization of their eyepieces as another flare lit up the dark field they were standing on, as an abomination was flung high into the air, trailing ethereal flames.

More were tossed aside as easily as Michael had tossed aside the trash on garbage days. They exhibited several traits in common; missing limbs and lightning-charred skin and fur. Most were dead before they hit the ground. The others who actually found themselves hitting the ground had dead daemons piled on top of them before they died.

Ten seconds later, it was all over.

Farseer Zara blasted the final daemon into the sky, to land on another as it fell down to earth. She was flanked by two very nervous Seer councilors. Lightning danced off her fingertips as she looked from one wounded Grey Knight to the next.

Her voice could have made even a Daemon Prince blink, save for the ones who did not have eyes.

"Where. Is. Michael?"

It was dark where I was.

Again.

Goddamit, I was getting tired of this...

I sighed, reached up, and after a little bit of searching I found what I was looking for.

Tugging on the string, the lightbulb far above me clicked, sparked to life, and cast its pale yellow light about the room.

Blinking from the sudden brightness, I looked about. A part of me was surprised.

Hey. It worked.

There was now a soft halo of non-darkness around me. It might attract daemons, but at least I would see them coming.

Closing my eyes, I focused again, casting my senses out into the void and drawing in what information I could muster..

Behind me.

A giggle emanated from the darkness. Soft, effeminate, playful, provocative. Completely and utterly spine-chilling.

"A pleasure to meet you, dear..."

I turned.

The Slaaneshi cultist stood there, a few yards away, completely relaxed as she leaned against an invisible wall. I was reminded of a cat snuggled up in front of a warm fireplace as she gave a throaty purr. My eyes were fixated, my entire body transfixed as she smiled at me.

"Who are you?"

"Who am I? A lot of people have asked me that, when they awoke. I am the Purveyor of Pleasure, the Emissary of Ecstasy, the Lady of Lust."

Another tight giggle as she spread her arms out in a grand gesture.

"I, dear toy, am The Rose of Slaanesh."

What... the... hell.

Haven't you ever heard of a first name?

She, with her tight-fitting garments were wrapped around her was a constant reminder that it was no doubt a she, was slim but well muscled. Pale alabaster skin with a hint of purple covered her supple body. Not unlike that of a dancer, especially by the way her hips swayed to and fro as she made her way across the floor to me.

"You may pick your poison," The Rose of Slaanesh purred. " You may decide your delight. Regardless, I shall drown you with ecstasy tonight, dear toy."

Her tearaway excuse for clothes fell to the floor as she flexed her back.

The scent of roses grew stronger every time she took a dainty step closer, her body smoothly shaking from side to side as she made her way forwards, the loose clothes which barely clung onto her figure pulling taut and then loosening again as she shifted around under the curious fabric. The top of her head came level with my eyebrows as she stopped, her face mere inches from mine.

"And you shall become mine."

My body was frozen in place as she smiled and laughed, her eyes half-closed in cheeky amusement as she looked up at me. Nervously, I noted that she had purple hair – a bright lavender shade – that flowed from the top of her head to lick at her ankles. Her eyes were a similar hue, sparkling like gemstones.

Wait, what was I thinking! ? Dammit... getting distracted. She brushed her lips against my neck, her hand tracing up my arm.

And then I recognized the smell of roses as she breathed onto me. It was intense. Strong. Overdone. Whatever.

Because the important thing was my hay fever, which caused my nostrils to start clogging up. Again.

Just as her face came level with mine.

I sneezed.

If there were ever a guide to how to totally embarrass yourself in front of a woman, this was textbook. I sprayed mucus and spit in a rather flat cone-shape that was mostly occupied by female face. It absolutely covered the walking abomination's nose and eyes in a fine spray of spittle and mucus.

Normally, it would have been utterly humiliating to see that happen to a girl. For me sneezing on the Slaaneshi cultist, it was hilarious.

With my newfound ability to materialize whatever I needed, I snatched a few squares of tissue paper from the air, choking on laughter

The sultry, smiling Slaneeshi succubus stopped, the face twisting into something of confusion and rage, rather than that of abominable beauty, as I blew my nose. Her mouth twisted and turned, struggled to regain their focus. Being sneezed on was apparently something that she did not have happen to her.

I gave her a 'wait there' gesture. "Wait a sec." Another rolled up ball of tissue was tossed away after I blew my nose once more.

Recovering, if only slightly, I frowned at her and waved at the air.

"Hay-fever. Can you turn off the whole 'field of roses' thing?"

She blinked at me.

This was probably completely off-putting for her.

Her voice made a few unsure steps into communicating with me after that humiliating event. "I believe I can... accommodate you..."

The smell of roses disappeared.

"Thanks." I lashed out with a knee, and the Slaaneshi cultist reacted instantly; springing back four or so feet as she avoided my strike.

Just as planned.

A pair of bolt pistols appeared in my hands, identical to the pair that the Grey Knights had so kindly shown me earlier on.

I leveled them at her.

Vincent had once, at length, lectured me on the inefficiency of using two fully automatic weapons at the same time in either hand. You wouldn't hit a thing, he said, unless you had the barrels pressed against them.

Both fingers tightened on their respective triggers.

All my senses had been overwhelmed by the glamour of the Slaaneshi cultist. Now all I could hear were the roar of the bolt-pistols. The muzzle flashes of the guns and flare of each rocket-propelled high explosive pistol shell were all I could see. Recoil from the guns and hot casings bouncing off the inside of my right arm was all I could feel.

Two seconds passed with the extended magazines of the bolt pistols emptying themselves onto the floor. Then they ran dry, clicking uselessly as their firing pins struck thin air.

I shook my head, clearing away the ringing sensation in my ears.

"My my my, dear toy. Are you compensating for something? I certainly hope not."

Well, yeah. Vincent was right.

I felt embarrassed. The Rose had simply laid down and pressed herself to the floor as I had blazed away and had avoided the bolts simply by letting the recoil raise my firing arc. Now she picked up a slender brass casing and toyed with it between her dexterous fingers, her tongue darting out to trace the rim of the bullet casing.

She made a disappointed face, and mockingly cast a pair of puppy eyes in my direction. They rolled across the floor, and I jumped back to avoid the still moist orbs. I felt like being sick. Her giggle brought my attention back to her.

"Such a cute face, and yet... I am disappointed, pet... you know what they say about people who shoot off too soon, right?"

The Rose stood up, laughing as I twisted my head around the words.

I sighed, and opted for an Orkish solution to the problem.

My right hand bolt pistol hit her squarely on the chest, the (at least) ten pound pistol possibly bruising her left collarbone. I switched the left hand pistol to my right, and hurled that after her as she jumped off to avoid it.

She hissed in pain, her eyes flashing as she clutched at her chest and fell to her knees. The Rose gave a small gasp and folded inwards. I stepped forward, but overrode the instinct to go and help her. The girl was certainly playing up the wounded and vulnerable part. Laying it on a bit thick, actually.

"Why? Why must you hurt me, pet?" She sobbed.

Then, as soon as the wounded gazelle act appeared, it disappeared.

And so did she.

Damn!

I sniffled.

The heavy musk of roses was back.

A sudden, heavy blow to my gut threw me through the air, and I landed about eight feet from where the small pile of brass casings had collected about my feet. Gasping for air, something jabbed onto my neck, pushing me into the ground as she leaped up on top of me, pinning me with some effort. She was strong. I struggled against her, and managed to headbutt her chin before her psionic blasts knocked out what air remained in my lungs.

"Oh dear." The Rose was breathing heavily as she produced a pair of manacles. "You must be one of those kinds. Likes it rough, don't you? Yes? No?" She grinned as she bound my left hand. "The Dark Eldar would love you, I'm sure of that."

Her breathing faltered a little as she inched her face closer.

"I think you would like them too. Until they start using those fancy corkscrews of theirs."

She then gave me a teasing smile, her hair brushing against my face.

That was why she never saw my other arm arcing up.

A casual slap turned the blow away from her, towards me. She neatly caught the wrist in the other half of the manacles.

Maybe she saw it after all.

"I am so going to love breaking you." She squealed excitedly, an iron spike materializing in her hand.

Aw, shit.

The Rose stabbed it down, pinning the manacles to the ground as she hummed happily to herself.

Why is it that every single goddamned timethat I meet a good looking girl, they inevitably would try to kill me?

Think.

Think, dammit!

I looked around the ink-black sky, and searched for some way to get out.

A tiny pinprick of light shone, high above us. I hadn't noticed it there, when the light bulb had simply obliterated all chances of me seeing it.

Focus. What the hell was that thing?

A star?

I blinked. A memory. Hers. I focused on it.

If they could attack us while we were in our memories...

What was stopping me from doing the reverse?

A hand tightened around my neck, choking me as I dragged the memory forth.

"Just what do you think you're do-"

"I. AM. KERNIG! SORCERER OF TZEENTCH! YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME!"

There were explosions. Purple fire and silver lightning was being shot across the landscape, and spears of light were being cast back in return. Raising his hand, Librarian Vasili sent forth a howling wolf, its coat a bright blue color as it shimmered in the battle-torn landscape. Snarling, it shot across the gap between him and his Chaotic counterpart, a lackey of the Sorcerer; he was a Chaos Marine who had allowed a daemon into his mind, and the two had melded into one terrifying abomination. Kernig now roared, and met the attack with a psychic construct of his own; a hound which crashed into wolf, destroying both.

Both exchanged bolter fire, their bolt-pistols burning through imagined shells as magazines were telekinetically ripped out, replaced and then hurled at the other psyker-marine with terrifying speed and efficiency. Their finely honed wills had influenced the rounds, and defined their deadliness.

In the same way, their armor's strength and speed had been augmented as well by their sharp minds. Both were living blurs to a casual observer, occasionally meeting in a clashing of their force weapons and generating huge shock waves from the impacts; already, there were several deep depressions in the land where the battle had compressed the dirt beneath their feet into densities that would have put rock to shame. What trees survived had their leaves ripped off by the buffeting winds.

They were even. Dead even. Both were matched in physical strength, psychic prowess. Even the ancient armor of the Chaos Sorcerer matched the toughness of Vasili's own power armor, which – all considered – was probably equally as ancient anyway.

"So weak, brother!" Cackled the Chaos Marine.

"You," Vasili growled, a dozen spears crackling into existence around him. "are no brother of mine."

"Hah! That is what you think!"

The spears shot forth, but curved away from Kernig, instead zipping around him. He was sitting in the eye of a psychic storm.

"Die, foolish wretch, and may the Emperor have mercy upon you, for I shall not."

In a whirlwind of light, two dozen spears stopped in mid air, all pointed directly at the Sorcerer's apprentice. The Librarian's grim expression showed nothing but razor-sharp focus as he concentrated on his work.

Twenty four weapons hurled themselves forward, all aimed to impale the corrupted Marine's heart. Kernig braced himself, and roared; a cry which shook the very ground as the apprentice lashed out with a psychic shield.

Most of the spears shattered, bright shards falling to the floor as the psychic energies overwhelmed the killing intent of the Librarian.

"Is that all, you little whelp?" Kernig snarled. "Kneel before me, wretch!"

A black vortex opened up behind him, taking away all light as it was forced open. Vasili closed his physical eyes, and searched around with his psyker's senses. He could feel the sorcerer's apprentice grin as more figures – terrifyingly powerful - stepped through.

"You are alone! You have been abandoned by those you called brother."

Things were going from bad to worse, weren't they?

"And you are helpless! You cannot defeat me!"

Ugh. Bad grammar.

Bracing himself, Vasili prepared himself for whatever the daemons would throw at him.

"HAHAHAHAHAH! I wonder, if you now realize what food animals feel like now? Helpless, before something far more mightier than they are?"

There was a keening, bloodthirsty roar that shook the air around him, forcing Vasili to his knees. Suddenly, it pitched up to a cry of pain, and then the light returned. The Librarian and Kernig both whirled around to watch the mouth of the portal.

A smoking remain of a daemon's arm was spat out of the vortex and bounced off Kernig' head.

Then, the music started.

"Woe to you, oh heretic before me, for the Lord sends the

Knight with wrath, because he knows the time is short...

Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the

Knight for it is a human number; its number is Six hundred and

sixty six."

Zara suddenly appeared from the rift, humming along to the Grey Knights' rendition of 'The Number of the Beast' that was blasting out of their vox-casters as she dragged the rest of the daemon along with one hand, her glowing spear a candle in the oppressive darkness, pushing it back with the light of her soul.

Behind her helmet, she was grinning from ear to ear as she hurled the daemon at Kernig.

"Mon-keigh do appear to have some music worth listening to, you know, primitive as they may be. Even if this Iron Maiden is in fact a man, he is quite entertaining nonetheless. It is like listening to the song of birds, mon-keigh."

Behind her, Grey Knights walked in through the corona of darkness, their towering forms glowing as their armor gleamed in the darkness, throwing rays of light in all directions. One was missing an arm, but didn't appeared to be bothered by it, and all three leveled their storm bolters at the Chaos psyker.

"Torches blazed and sacred chants were praised

As they start to cry hands held to the sky

In the night the fires burning bright

The ritual has begun, Emperor's work is done

666 the number of the Knight

Cleansing is going on tonight."

They opened fire.

The sky was burning. It was as if someone had simply set the atmosphere aflame, a brilliant orange color that reminded me of warm embers.

However, the steady crunch of snow beneath treads and wheels told me that this place was far from Hell.

Around me was a landscape from the far north; it reminded me of when I had gone skiing with my family up in Canada. But... well, it wasn't Canada.

Mainly because this tundra was almost flat, with only a few rises and dips in the distance.

There was a jolt, and the awareness of the memory shot up as the truck underneath me bounced around. Whoever The Rose had been, she was being driven around in a heavy vehicle... a part of a convoy that she was but a single part of, an exodus of nobles and high-class civilians being escorted on either side by a battalion's worth of Guardsmen. I tried to pick out their uniforms, but they were in a wide escort position; they were too far to be seen.

Another jolt rocked the frame of the truck, throwing a few bundles around.

Out of one tumbled a pair of men, who quickly wrapped themselves back up in the heavy cloaks.

Looking again, they weren't bundles. They were people, wrapped up against the elements.

I crouched down, and began moving from one memory-mannequin to another.

The memory-version of the Rose was no doubt one of the two young girls sitting near the front of the flatbed truck. This one in particular was the size of a semi, and occupied by about a dozen people. Judging from their ages and the similarity between them all (not to mention the coat-of-arms on many of their clothes) it was a single family. A noble one, at that.

So is this your past? As a nobleman's daughter?

"So interested in my past? Or simply a younger me?"

The Rose was hissing in my ear, her arms curling around me as she gave out a lighthearted giggle.

"I know I may be a little older than you, boy, but not that much older. Or is it that you like your lovers young and helpless?"

Turning around in her hold was simple, and the Slaaneshi cultist was more than happy to draw herself closer now that we were face-to-face. She purred, pressing herself flat against my chest, looking up at me as she licked her lips.

"Naughty, naughty..." The Rose smiled, her face twisting into a mask of malevolent amusement. "Or perhaps you are a voyeur? I have some very interesting memories for you if you wish to look at them."

Her eyes took on another light as she walked over to a young girl. "Or was it that you were looking for something? Hurt my past self, hurt my present self?"

She crouched down beside the memory of her younger self, bringing it out to face me, her hands on the younger self's shoulders.

"Or perhaps you were looking for another toy to play with?"

The Rose then slit the girl's throat with an almost casual flick of the wrist. Its lifeblood dribbled down the long slender neck and under the collar, before a kick sent the young girl's lifeless body tumbling to the ground, stopping my feet, blood still pouring out of the bloody slit that paralleled the younger Rose's jawline.

Holy shit... did she just? It wasn't her, was it? No, she's still there. It was a memory, just a memory. Like a doll, a damned realistic doll...

"It does not work that way, my dear toy." A kick sent the memory-self off the edge of the flatbed, to be driven under the wheels of the Chimera APC following behind.

"Although perhaps you wished to see trauma? I can show you that."

The Rose licked the memory-mannequin's blood off the curved knife she had used, and then threw it away.

Around us, the darkness gathered. Freaking hell, at least show a few lights or something?

Again, we were thrown into the silent void.

[Combat zone 'Flowerbed']

Autogun rounds hissed overhead as one Guard sergeant crawled across the dirt to his comrade, who was shouting orders to the nearby vox-jockey.

The first gave the second a tap on the shoulder.

"Yeah?"

The camouflaged arm was extended to point out the target. Sergeant number two grabbed a pair of field optics.

"You see that guy there?"

Whirr. Click. Lips were licked, and a tongue chewed.

"The Chaos Marine with the white helmet?"

A rustling as the monocular was passed around.

"Looks kind of grey to me."

The other snorted.

"Grey? No, I'm sure that's a white helmet."

A chuckle in reply.

"Nah, since when have Chaos Marines had anything white? I'm telling you, he's got a grey helmet!"

A sigh, and then a snatching of devices.

"Looks white to me... What about it?"

"Frag him, and everything around him."

Facepalm.

"Well, you could have told me that sooner!"

"Yeah, but you had to start arguing and everything."

"Just shut up and call in the fire mission, willya?"

"Alright... FIRE MISSION, TWO ROUNDS APIECE! TWENTY DEGREES LEFT, CHAOS MARINE WITH THE GREY-"

A tap on the shoulder. "White."

"WHITE/GREY HELMET, RANGE AT TWO HUNDRED THIRTY MET-"

Another tap. "Looks more like two-forty meters to me."

Angrily, the first Sergeant wheeled around to face the second Sergeant.

"We have a kill radius of fifteen meters with these mortar bombs, so do you want to argue about ten meters?"

"Well, wouldn't it be better if the first mortar shell dropped right on that heretical bastard's forehead?"

A moment of pondering.

"Good point. CORRECTION, TWO HUNDRED THIRTY FIVE ME- what is it now?"

"I said two-forty, so why are you calling it two thirty five?"

A shrug.

"I'm averaging it. So both our guesses are taken into account."

"But we'll drop the bombs short!"

A sigh.

"Fifteen meter kill radius, with a forty meter casualty radius. Again, are you going to argue about this?"

"Yes!"

"Well frak you, then. TWO HUNDERD THIRTY FIVE METERS, HIGH EXPLOSIVE SH-"

There was a faint hissing noise, and the sound like a buzzing hive of angry insectoids.

Missiles rained down from above, trailing blue fire as they razed the ground where the Chaos Marine and his rallying minions had once stood. Bodies were hurled into the air, torn apart by shrapnel then set alight by burning missile propellant.

One sergeant mumbled to the other. "What the frak was that?"

"Us, Gue'la."

The Tau Pathfinders seemed to rise out of the ground, waved at the Sergeants, and trotted off as the Sky Ray missile gunship retreated back into the bushes.

Sergeant looked at Sergeant, then at the men who were waiting for the order to fire. A shrug was passed between the two.

"New target. Chaos Marine with the blue banner."

"I dunno, looks like aqua to me."

"..."

"... What?"

[Mindscape]

Darkness was – a-fucking-gain – wrapped around me. Almost like a straitjacket, it immobilized me, choked my senses and annoyed the hell out of me.

"For crying out loud, can't you just do something more interesting than darkness! ?" I shouted into the void.

The Rose chuckled, stepping into my vision as the memory began to materialize about us. "How about me?"

"Fuck you." I flipped her the bird as my mind tried to focus, to bring up a weapon. Power maul, bolt pistol, shotgun, power sword, minigun...

Laughter, rich with amusement chipped at my thoughts. Shoota, choppa, pulse rifle... The Rose was before me, her face returning to an amused look of anticipation.

"Fuck me? What does that mea- ah... I remember now. Interesting 'insult', dear toy. Let us do so. Do you prefer top or bottom?" Through all that, she kept a completely straight face.

Flamethrow-... uh...

What remained of my concentration broke as my vivid imagination went wild with... well, you can imagine it, right? Images of her and I... well, I quickly blazed through my memories of a resident bitch in my brain, and the cold shock of her thunder-based mind-bullets brought me back. But that took a while. Long enough that the Rose had managed to press herself against me and kiss me on the lips.

The touch was like fire, and it spread through my body. Desire burns, and this had a lot of fuel helping it consume me. Things felt like I had been set alight (and trust me, with the minis you learned what burns felt like really quick), and struggle as I might, her grip was too strong for me to get out of.

I couldn't struggle. For some reason, some annoying, probably psyker-based reason, I wasn't able to move...

It seemed like the stupidest thing I could do at the moment.

"Why so serious?" She laughed. "Is this your first time?"

As her tongue snaked in between my lips, I realized that I could rectify that stupidity quite easily: I bit down.

The Rose's eyes widened suddenly as I tasted blood. She yelped, and jumped back.

I turned as her voice came from behind me, a rising screa- shit. That was her memory.

"So you do like my younger self, then?" She asked me, from right beside my face.

Now it was my turn to shout in surprise, tumbling backwards as her unharmed tongue licked her bloodied lips.

The memory continued on. In the air, the sharp smell of gunpowder wafted through the hallways as the screaming continued.

It wasn't like we couldn't see much through the haze of adrenaline and pain, but I what was visible wasn't pretty. The memory had resolved itself into a large room. The lack of windows and the exit being a staircase leading up made me think of a basement. In the center of the room was a circle of guardsmen, already ragged in appearance, wasn't helped by the fact that they were bearing the various marks of Chaos. The majority of their clothes and weapons were scattered about; all had traces of Imperial regalia on them, but most had been scratched off.

Someone screamed from the middle of the circle.

From above the crowd of heads, an arm with a knife gripped tightly in its fingers was drawn back and then brought down in a savage stab.

More screams.

That was it.

I turned away, closed my eyes and did my best to shut away the sounds. I did not want to find out what was happening to the Rose's younger self. Just the feel in the air was already disgusting.

"You don't want to look, boy?" She asked, speaking perfectly fine for someone that had just had their tongue bitten. "Oh, don't worry about my tongue. Wouldn't be the worst thing that's happened to it. Too many daemons just don't understand that 'pleasure' and 'eating' doesn't always mean the same thing."

Someone was kicking, screaming as she was separated from her family, dragged by her hair across the rough stone ground. Dispassionately, the Rose continued to watch as an older woman, maybe in her late thirties, broke free from the captors, begging for the cultists around her to stop. She was simply dragged back into the decadent mass of pleasure-seekers as the younger of the two victims was pulled up onto the remains of an altar and her violation continued.

The Rose sighed, a part of her composed self cracking as I saw the angry red lines that crisscrossed her memory-self's bare back. "That was me, you know? The one at the altar. Numb fools decided it would be fun to flog me before they got on with anything vaguely pleasurable. Prince Slaanesh is great, but his cultists can be... lacking."

A short, barking laugh as she turned back to face me. "You know that I used to believe in Him? The Emperor protects, the say. Well, my dear toy, let me tell you this: he doesn't. Neither I, nor the millions of others during the rape of Petrosberg VI."

She shrugged, and took a step closer to me. "Then again, I had abandoned him a long while before that."

Yet again, she inched closer.

"Want me to show you? I was there when it started, you know."

I balked at her, unsure of what to do. Really, do you think that in the twenty years that I've been alive, I learned how to deal with a half-crazed and psychotic but very attractive cultist to a god(ess) of depravity and excess?

As usual, I improvised.

"No thanks. Not interested."

I called forth a weapon. It was much simpler now that I had seen one lying on the ground, in the stack of weapons that the former Guardsmen had discarded.

The decadent crowd numbered about two dozen, plus the trio of victims, and now I had one bolter with high explosive rounds loaded onto the twenty-shot magazine.

One large caliber smooth-bore barrel swung around to point at the circle of Slaaneshi cultists, and I never let go of the trigger as round after round was sent into the mass of flesh. It was hard to miss at this range, and since they weren't – unlike the daemons – actively trying to kill me, it was a much simpler task to keep my hands steady.

Ten seconds later, the Rose pulled her fingers out of her ear. Chunks of the mannequins were still raining down – unsticking themselves from the ceiling - as I pointed the recently reloaded bolter at her.

"Oh dear. That was quite the pleasure show, the last time I visited this memory. You disappoint me, dear toy."

One shot hissed over her shoulder and close enough to her head to disturb the immaculate tresses. Well, formerly immaculate. Now they were approaching the realm of 'tangled mess' thanks to the fact that the bolt rounds were propelled by rocket motors.

"You know what? I hate people just toying around with me. Stuff you, stuff your teasing. So would you kindly die! ?"

She shook her head. "But, my dear toy, I have already died."

The world blurred. My body froze.

Raising her hand, the Rose held it outstretched, palm down as she smiled menacingly.

As if pressing down on something, she began to lower the hand.

"My father was quite the craven fool before Slaanesh. He played with me like I was some kind of lower-class whore and not his daughter. Simply because he could. Specifically because it was wrong. Of course, I sought out a solution. None came up. I was a hollow, bitter shell of a girl by the time I saw my eighteenth birthday."

My knees collapsed, and I choked out in surprise. It was as if something massive had been dropped onto my shoulders, and was now pressing me down. Struggle and fight as I did, I couldn't do anything. I knew that it had something to do with the sorcery of the Rose, and couldn't resist it.

"Until I saw them. The Red Guard – what you would call a PDF – fought down a rebellion. My tutors fed me dataslate after dataslate full of reports about the 'enemy'. They only saw a cult that had the gall to stand when they should have been licking the heels of the boots."

The bolter fell to the ground, and I collapsed onto my hands. Unrelenting pressure forced me to the ground, pressing on my back.

"I saw what I should have been. A force strong enough to stand and challenge my father – challenged their oppressor – and despite being battered and persecuted, the cult was still strong."

I began to choke, the air squeezed out of my lungs. The mindscape around me began to shift and contort, the lights and sounds looking more and more like an LSD trip as related to me by a man I had met on a train.

Dammit.

"So then, I found myself becoming a cultist."

Vision tunneled, color faded from the bright tapestries around me. I could only see Batel's... no, The Rose's smiling face. Gritting my teeth, I searched through my options.

Think... move! Escape... somehow.

"And I called them, in the heart of my father's power, I brought forth a daemon."

I coughed, one last time. "Gee, that must have turned out well."

A bitter laugh was my answer. "No, it did not."

It was a familiar scene, to me. After all, the product of that particular ceremony had just stabbed me in the shoulder earlier on this morning...

"Good. You have done well for one so unskilled. But do not worry. I can teach you far more than that... when you have come to my side, girl."

The Rose's younger self was kneeling in the middle of the floor, nodding mutely to the dismembered voice that spoke directly to her mind. Her hand went over the finely polished wood, which had been decorated with detailed etchings; flowing lines that carved a beautiful pattern into the floor. Over that, it seemed, a thick layer of varnish kept the carved floor from becoming tainted and scratched by the constant passage of the room's occupants.

Now it had been gouged out by the girl, how she had done it was far beyond me.

She sat now, in the middle of a wheel of chaos, surrounded by dataslates, candles, ritual focuses and other such materials that littered most of the floor. The girl had clearly done her research on the matters of warpcraft and sorcery. Her knuckles were bone-white around the knife that she held in her hand.

It was a simplistic affair; a straight single-edged steel blade set into what looked to be a simple rectangle of rubber that acted as a grip.

The girl began to pray to her Gods, and slowly scratched runes onto the side of the mirror-like blade.

I peered closer as a drop of liquid fell into the grooves created by her improvised carving.

She was crying.

Oh, it wasn't the Hollywood crying, with sobs and screams of anguish. It was a far more subtle despair than that. The girl before me was crying quietly, almost silently as her face twisted in her inner agony. She stopped her work, and threw the knife away; it skittered to a halt at the edge of the circle. She gave out a small sob as tears streaked down the young Rose's cheek, and fell into the floor.

The Lords of Chaos wish for your blood, not your tears, mortal.

Cold and sudden, the voice that spoke directly to the soul was quiet, but no less sinister because of it.

Through the haze of her tears, the Rose's younger self looked up at the shadowy figure of her personal daemon. A man dressed in dark leathers stepped forward, with long, pale blonde hair slicked back away from his dark brown skin.

Bright red eyes stared her down.

"Now bleed, girl, and be embraced by those you call 'Lord'."

"Y-yes..."

The blade was retrieved, grasped in trembling fingers, and then sliced through some very important arteries in the arms of the younger self.

Blood, bright red, fell to the floor.

An entire world screamed as two planes of existence were brought crashing together at this one minute point.

Two seconds later, the young girl's mind worked through her shock, and began screaming as the Wheel of Chaos burned, although oddly enough none of the flames that touched her burned the pale skin of the governor's daughter.

"And so," The Rose narrated. "it begins."

Space and light was bent and torn, and a daemon stepped from the wound in reality.

It screamed; a horrible sound that shook the room and no doubt the building as well.

The daemon looked down, and extended one of its arms. Thumb and forefinger trapped the girl's chin, and the blood red eyes of the daemon looked into the light purple irises of the girl.

Every detail came into focus; the piercing crimson irises, the six earrings on each ears, the almost androgynous features that only just tipped towards a man via jawline, the short, spiky purple hair. The tattoos, vaguely tribal in design, which started at the back of his ears and traveled down the sides of his neck. The fanged maw that suddenly split into a grin, showing many knife-like teeth.

"You'll do."

The Rose's memory screamed.

A soft fingertip touched my shoulder, and traced a line going from shoulder to the tip of my chin.

"And that, dear toy, was how my world burned. Of course, though Slaanesh was grateful for my... assistance, his followers were not. They looted the palace, of course. Rare and precious materials, fine silks... young servants, orphaned princesses and myself... all of it went to the Prince of Pleasure's most devout and depraved leaders. I became another dear toy in the Lord Ninelov's collection after he found me in the desecrated chapel of the False Emperor."

Turning to her, I deadpanned. "I sense a long story coming along here..."

The Rose chuckled, and nodded.

"I hate long stories."

There was laughter; rich and joyous and unafraid to show it. I could quite literally feel my heart skip a beat at that. Then she smiled. Her smile was... well, radiant. The corners of her mouth shot up, and her eyes half-closed as she giggled.

Don't even think about it.

She was... happy. Unashamed, unrestrained joy was practically glowing around her. That made it hard. Really, really hard.

But still, I punched through the temptation to stop. Just as I punched through her smile and broke her nose. Well, at least I hope it was her nose. Would be a shame if it wasn't.

Never hit a lady.

It had been one of the core rules of my upbringing, and I had broken it... well, several times. But then again, this lady would have sucked my soul out... among other things. I don't think that was a very lady-like action, actually.

Then again, I didn't quite pay much attention to that rule when someone was trying to kill me.

My mind again going hyperactive from the adrenaline, I was able to clearly outline a power maul. Grinning, I brought it up for a sudden blast of force tore the weapon out of my hands, hurling it off into the distance.

Damn.

A metal rod appeared in my hand next, the Rose smiling as she called up a field of roses, their thorny stems shooting up out of the ground around us as she waved her arms about. No doubt, she was controlling them with each movement of a finger, each flick of a wrist.

I bent backwards in a very tricky maneuver as a thorny stem was hurled at me. Overbalancing, I collapsed to the ground.

In the distance, I could hear the Rose as she giggled, and licked her lips. "A little exercise, then? How thoughtful, we wouldn't want to pull any muscles, do we?"

The roses bloomed, and the Slaaneshi sorceress breathed in their heady scent. I just rubbed my nose off on my sleeve. "Scatter!"

I lashed out with the steel pipe, only for the bright red petals to suddenly harden and stop my strike. Then they shifted, the thin petals acting like blades.

Chunks of steel pipes fell to the ground.

Well, shit.

A torrent of rose petals slammed into me, densely packed into a solid mass, and hurled me through the air.

I landed more-or-less on my feet, leaving my legs numb from the sudden shock of landing.

More rose petals hung in the air around me.

"Shift!"

The wind picked up, and a dozen razor-sharp petals cut past me. It was like being in stinging hail, where each passing strike left a small cut. My whole body was exposed to it, and it felt like every single wound burned.

Wait a minute...

I thought quickly. Something simple. A barrier.

Kneeling, I curled up slightly to present a smaller profile to hit, and touched the ground beneath me.

Call it up...

The solid block of stone sprang up, a simple wall made of stone bricks. Going through a list of weapons, I picked one at random and began to call it up.

"Impressive!" The Rose laughed. "Oh, I do love boys who are creative. Let's see what else you ca-

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All other concerns ceased as I hurled the empty and all too loud copy of Madork Gunna's Shoota at the ground.

Son of a...

My ears were ringing, and it felt as if my legs had been turned to jelly. I fell to my knees, and began weakly crawling away from where the four-barreled machinegun/shotgun/firearm/thing... well, exploded.

Of course, I hadn't hit anything. The Rose was also on her knees, smacking the side of her head as her other hand dug into her ear canal.

She was saying something. I couldn't quite make it out. Throwing a 'what the hell?' gesture at her, I picked myself up and staggered over to her.

The Rose sighed, reached behind her, pulled out a flat rectangle. She began writing.

[THAT WAS TOO LOUD, DEAR TOY]

I grinned as I brought up a spotlight. Vincent and I had worked a small gig as a friend's spotlight monkeys when he had to organize a school prom, so I knew what these hundred-thousand candela stage lights looked like.

The urge to laugh out loud as her eyes widened in curiosity at the new device in my hands was priceless.

All color was obliterated as I lit up the dark room into something like an overexposed photograph. You know, it's never a good idea to look directly into stage lights when they first turn on; the lack of heat in their wires means that they don't have the usual resistance in the circuit, therefore they're just slightly brighter than usual.

Mind you, that didn't quite matter as much as the Rose was dazzled either way. Deer in headlights kind of thing.

Time to change the field.

While she was blinking the spots out of her eyes, I searched around for an exit. The first question that came to me was; how? How was it that I managed to get here? If I could get here, I could also get out.

The Rose staggered back onto her feet, laughter in her eyes.

She moaned, an amused turn in her voice. "That was... new. Let's do it again sometime, 'kay?"

There. My finger pressed through the fabric of space and time.

"Awwwe, are you playing hard to get, boy?"

I could see it. My arm blurred as it ripped a hole in the local reality, and I pulled myself up and hurled myself through into the next dream.

I tumbled out in a new memory. Not the Rose's, but someone else's.

Where? A hallway. A palace hallway. Buttresses, tapestries all around us. Gothic. Imperial. Someone else was playing out their memories.

Oh shit.

The tapestries. The same heraldry as The Rose's. A black, double headed bird – an eagle? No, it was an Aquila - with an orb clutched in one hand, a scepter in the other, and three crowns; one atop each of the Aquila head.

I was still in the same place?

Damn.

Not good.

Standing up... not quite. I felt heavy. Burdened. I fell back onto my knees, and indulged in taking a breather that I knew that I could not afford. Struggling, I pulled myself up onto my feet. Leaned against the wall. In the shadows.

"Raquel, enough of memory lane." Danilov muttered, leveling his storm bolter at the approaching horde of daemons. The mannequins of a family – two sisters, an older brother and what looked to be the trio's mother – rushed past them. Raquel was looking at the smallest of the four. Her face was an expression of newly resurfaced despair.

My breathing stopped. A memory? The real thing? Daemons?

"They're constructs, m'lord." The quavering voice of the Penitent witch answered, then waved them away with a gesture. The pack of slavering beasts faded out of the memory as Raquel asserted her dominion over the mindscape.

They became dust, and disappeared.

Except for a pair.

Who snarled, then charged forward.

F-

Danilov fired faster than thought had time to form. I flinched from the sudden noise.

Raquel reacted a racing heartbeat later. "Those aren't constructs!"

"Really." The grizzled Inquisitor sighed. "I didn't notice. Left hand side, Raquel. Don't miss."

Both Inquisitorial psykers raised their respective bolt weapons, and fired off a pair of shots each. Danilov only squeezed the trigger to his double-barreled bolt-gun once, while the younger of the two fired twice.

Two rounds struck the left hand daemon low in the chest, gutting it. As the abomination fell, two more rounds penetrated its shoulder and throat, ending the physical manifestation of the Warp's malevolent predators.

The second followed soon after, as the two psykers raised their right hands and sent a double-blast of concussive force down the narrow hallway. Ten meters away, the first knocked the daemon down with the same force as a runaway train, while the second sent it flying back.

Both hands stretched out, palms down, and they let their hands fall.

A crater appeared around the daemon, who appeared to be pressed into the ground. Cracks were forming in the ground as an invisible pressure pinned the monstrosity.

From the shadows of her robes, the former witch brought out a flamethrower.

"Burn."

The screams of the family behind them told me that the memory had gone astray. The daemons had caught up with them.

Raquel shuddered, and Danilov stepped forward, placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, and pulled her back to her feet.

"Hey, guys? It's Michael?"

Both whirled around, weapons at the ready.

I held out both my hands, and edged around the corner.

"The titan?" Danilov asked sharply. "Hard to believe that you're actually shorter than I am."

"Yeah, yeah, heard that one from the Grey Knights before."

A frown. "How can we be sure?"

Understanding, my mind began to race. How to prove that I was me? Think... ash... I reached behind me, and pulled out a fire extinguisher. Then set it on the ground.

"My hammer."

Danilov nodded ever so slightly. "Raquel."

The penitent witch eyed me, her eyes... so familiar, yet also alien. Intense, they peered into my soul.

Finally, her psychic interrogation finished.

"Nothing says he isn't, M'lord Inquisitor."

Finally, the Inquisitor relaxed a notch or two. "Good enough, I suppose. Well, what's the matter, then?"

We both exchanged notes.

From what they told me, Danilov and Raquel had managed to find each other at the common memory of each other. This was a 'rubric', as such warpcraft and spells were called, and had been designed to trap us in our memories, torturing us with past traumas until daemons or sorcerers could come and claim us.

Of course, nothing ever really worked as planned when you tried to use the Warp in such ways.

"Alright... now what?"

Danilov brought about another weapon – a new storm bolter – and passed it to me.

"You said that there was a cultist after you, correct?"

"Slaaneshi, yes."

"Then we shall wait for it. Ambush, then kill it."

"Alright... you got a plan?"

She arrived before we even went through a plan.

Through a wound in reality, The Rose stepped through.

The three of us turned in surprise.

That quickly?

Turning to face us, her face suddenly lit up in a psychotically happy grin.

"Oh my my my... it certainly has been a long time since we had last met, little Ana!"

The penitent witch lost it. Completely. She screamed in panic, fear, something primal that repulsed her from the Slaaneshi cultist.

Danilov didn't bother with bolter shells. He instantly brought another brute-push attack to bear, but the Rose did not seem bothered by it. Raging, he joined me in pumping as many storm bolter shells into her as possible.

"YOU! Traitorous scum! You shall burn at my hands, again!"

A history? I noted it in the back of my mind, and continued on shooting with the double-barreled assault weapon.

The Rose seemed puzzled for a moment as her trademark rose petals deflected, cut and sliced bolter shells apart before they could touch her. Her brow furrowed in thought.

"Who are you? Oh, I see! So you had her after all!" She brightened up, and laughed. "Oh, so that's what happened!" Her voice echoed through the halls. She was in hysterics now, but still dodging the blasts of force and fire that Danilov was sending towards her as well as our bolter shells.

Raquel was on her knees now, screaming incoherently.

A return blast of force knocked us all to the ground."It all seems rather... well, underhanded of you, considering you were supposed to kill her an' everything..." She purred. "But it seems you have taken her as your own little pet psyker, correct? My my my, what a devious little inquisitor you have been."

Danilov snarled. "Liar!"

"Oh? So you haven't tasted my dear sister yet? Such a pity. The fruit of a woman should be tasted when they are young and ripe, dear Inquisitor, lest she spoils and becomes rotten. Of course, as before, Slaanesh's offer still stands; you can pleasure yourself with her and many other women – or men, if you bat for that team – if only you surrender your secrets to us."

"Shut. Up."

I knelt down, and then flipped a rocket down the hallway. It was a straight-up and simple 'RPG-7' that corkscrewed down the narrow corridor, filling it with choking smoke, and Danilov was – again – the first to act. My collar and Raquel's hood both acted as hand-holds as he dragged us up to our feet and pulled us along, wrenching us down the hallway.

"Move! Frakkit, MOVE ALREADY! DO YOU WANT TO LIVE FOREVER! ?"

And so, we fled.

"Did we lose her?"

"She'll find us again. So we have to prepare for that. Right, now we call in everyone else."

"Huh?"

"With you around, we've accounted for everyone important."

He snapped his fingers, and I felt a tug in my throat, drawing me towards him.

"There."

"He~ey, you're leaving me behind!"

"Shit, her again. RUN!"

After about ten seconds of desperate dragging, Danilov had managed to get Raquel and myself back up into something of a run, and as the three of us tumbled through the memory, the Inquisitor cast uncharacteristically worried glances at the penitent witch.

We reached another set of huge doors, and swung them shut. Out of breath, I wheezed as quietly as I could as Raquel leaned against a wall, slowly sliding down as she ran trembling fingers across her chalk-white skin.

Danilov walked over, and knelt down beside her.

I arched an eyebrow, and checked that the door was still firmly shut. "What's wrong?"

The Inquisitor turned to me, his face a cold mask of unyielding indifference.

"It is not for you t- yes?"

Releasing her hold on his sleeve, Raquel shook her head, and pulled herself up.

"That c-cultist... she was my sister."

"... can you explain?"

"The short version is, Michael, that Raquel and that heretic over there were both daughters of the planetary governor in Petrosberg VI. He was... abusive. Overstepped his boundaries far too many times and got away with it, too. Not just with them, but with the whole population. Of course, you can see what would happen..."

As if a hologram, the space between Danilov's hands became a scene that was far too familiar from my exposure to the mass media; protestors. Workers, mainly. They were shaking signs and shouting slogans. It was a familiar scene, with a familiar ending as a fuel-filled bottle burst open on the shield of the police – the 'Adeptus Arbites'. Except, unlike the news, the Arbites that retaliated didn't use bolt guns.

"Disillusioned, they turned away from the Emperor – the 'authority' behind this oppressive bastard – and to Chaos. Even the Governor's daughter had turned to the worship of the Dark Gods. I was but an apprentice to Inquisitor Andreivich Nonimaus when he arrived here. He ordered the local Guardmen – the Red Guard – to purge the population of any Chaos taint."

Street fighting. Urban battles and, when the fighting went out into the countryside, trench warfare. There weren't many memories of that, so the flickering of the images showed me that this was probably what he remembered from dataslates and the like.

"It was a horrific four-year campaign to end the Chaos dissenters. When enough was enough, the Inquisitor, in all his wisdom, had the Marines Malevolent – in a rare case of our two organizations working together - that had arrived with him to destroy the Red Guard and the entire capital Hive, as he believed them tainted. He was right, in a sense. The Red Guard had long ago turned to Chaos and now rose up against the fifty Marine crusade force we had on-planet."

They were slaughtered, from the brutal surprise attacks, sabotage campaign and sheer weight of unrelenting numbers.

"He thought all else was a lost cause, and ordered the entire planet wiped out. I didn't think so."

Raquel came forward now.

"He saved me, Michael. Before we burned Petrosberg, he smuggled me out from that damned place, along with three others – children of Palace staff members that had been locked in the panic room with me. Starved and endangered himself by feeding us his rations on the journey home, and then had me inducted as a penitent witch when my psyker talents grew too strong to mask with his own. The others were placed into the Schola Progenium on Perlia, almost on the other side of the galaxy."

"I honestly didn't know what drove me to do that." The Inquisitor shrugged. "Of course, we got away with it – which is why you won't breathe a word of it to anyone, y'hear?"

These two had just placed their lives in my hands. Or, at the very least, trusted me with this. I nervously swallowed.

"Yes sir. Never will, sir."

For the first time, Danilov smiled.

"Ooooh, so that's what happened to you, Anastashia! Your name is Raquel now, isn't it? 'Ewe'... so very fitting, you follow your dear Inquisitor so very faithfully."

Danilov foze, and Raquel began to tremble again. I turned to see The Rose.

"I'm sorry, was I interrupting something? A little group hug? Can I join in, or is it invitation only?"

Psych.

The three of us turned, our weapons already loaded and ready.

Danilov grimly sighted in. "Nobody miss."

The Rose shrieked.

Everything went... white.

For once, it was a change. A nice one, in fact.

Especially since The Sorcerer (Belavich the Shadow-caller, wasn't it?) had flown through, his tabard on fire, and crashed into a heap beside The Rose. Other humans – I assumed they were other Chaos psykers – piled through on portals of their making.

Closely following them, however, was a sizable group of psykers. Imperial, Eldar and, interestingly enough, a pair of Ork wierdboyz. Zara, the three Grey Knights and Ishabeth were at the lead. There were maybe a dozen Eldar psykers, as well as a pair of surviving Imperial psykers.

All were armed with enough weapons to start – and win – a small war.

Everything stopped as the Slaaneshi cultist stood up and waved at me.

"Oooh, so you brought all your friends, dear toy?" The Rose asked excitedly.

"Dear?" Zara echoed. "Mon-keigh, just who have you been seducing recently?"

The Rose waved her hand at Zara, a rather giddy smile on her face. "Oh, I quite enjoyed it. You won't believe what that young man can do, old hag. He's quite... flexible in his talents, you know."

I could feel blood start coloring my cheeks. "Hey! N- I was shooting at you!"

"Good thing you didn't fill me up, then, otherwise we'd be in quite the trouble!"

The Farseer's Singing Spear was glowing quite a murderous red.

"Zara! Don't think of it that way! She tried to jump on me!"

"You could have said you liked being on top." The Rose giggled.

Zara turned to face me. I could feel the rage in her eyes. "Mon. Keigh. Do not tell me that you gave into this Slaaneshi whore's temptations!"

"I didn't give in to the Slaaneshi whore's temptations!"

"Quite true. You were quite... forward about your intentions."

I facepalmed.

"Look, I'll show you what I've been trying to do to her, how about that?"

"Oh, you can't possibly do that while I'm still dressed, dear t-"

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Ow. Ow ow owowowowowow.

Two sets of Orkish eyes looked at me, utterly in awe.

"Bloody 'ell, Boss. Madork Gunna's not gonna loik it when 'e foin's out yooz stol' his WAAAAGH!-Gun..."

"WHAAAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU! WHAT IS IT THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO SAY?"

Chapter 21[edit]

"I refuse your reality, and substitute my own." - Battle Psyker (Primaris-Beta) Adham Barbaris.

"OI SEZ, WOT AR' YOOZE GONNA DO ABOU' MADORK GUNNA FOINDIN' OUT YOOZE GONE AND STOL' 'IZ WAAAGH!-GUN?"

"WHAAAAT! ?"

My ears were ringing from the pain of overpressure and concussive force of having said WAAAGH!-Gun go off in my face. It was like someone had grabbed my head and shook it until the insides were a fine slurry, then dropped it from a great height. I could barely hear the Ork, who was now showering me with his spit, and that wasn't helping with my vision, either.

Okay, that was it, I thought as I summoned an umbrella between myself and the spittle spout. Not doing that again, unless I have the WAAAGH!-Gun pressed up against the Rose's forehead. Or after someone's given me a pair of earmuffs.

Aloud, I was cursing and coughing as I backed away. "Goddammit... ow... fuckin' ow... why the hell do I keep doing this? You would think that I would learn... but noooo!"

I turned around as someone tapped me on the shoulder. A greenskin pseudo-psyker – a 'wierdboy' - was talking to me, with Zara and the others fast approaching behind him. The hulking green... well, Ork (they all pretty much looked the same, barring personal decorations and replacement limbs) was mouthing something with his gob, yammering on and giving me another small shower of spittle as he shouted at me. No inside voices, these orks. Good thing my house was more like a huge complex of large squares for them.

I shook my head clear, and arched an eyebrow. The ringing sensation was finally starting to fade from my ears.

Finally, it reached a level where I was able to speak normally. "What is it?"

The confused, distressed looking Ork was now apparent in his conspiratorial worries. "Oi sez, Big Boss, dat dun' yoo fink dat Madork Gunna's gonna pack a roight proppa fit if 'ee foin's oot you'z gone an' uzed his WAAAGH!-Gun?"

Oh. This was trouble. Orks were savages when it came to almost any standard of civilization, but they still held a 'code of honor'. Being 'Right an' proppa Orky' was important to them. As their Big Boss, I had to act accordingly. Especially since I was smaller then they were, at the time.

I shrugged.

Time to do things to Orkish way.

I grinned. "If 'ee complains, just give 'im a good stompin'."

The two Ork wierdboyz thought about this for a moment, before nodding in their approval. One chuckled.

"Correct, Big Boss. Personally, I would doubt you being a proper Boss if you did not undertake such a course of action."

All heads turned to face the scholarly Ork known only as 'Black nose Skoola Boy' (apparently because his long hooked nose kept on rubbing against the ink of the books he read).

He raised one eyebrow at me as I – and others – stared at him in confusion. "What is the matter? Orkoids are allowed some measure of intelligence, you do realize?"

"I was not aware you could assemble a coherent sentence, actually. Congratulations for the evolutionary leap, greenskin." Deadpanned Zara.

The blue-painted Ork grinned back. "And I was not aware the Eldar had any sense of wit. Congratulations for the evolutionary leap, pointy-ears."

"My my, beginning a sentence with 'and'?" Zara 'tsked'. "Y-"

"Guys?" I interrupted. "A little focus here? I'm all well and good for you fighting, but can we do that to the cultists first?"

Fighting amongst each other was the last thing I wanted to see happening amongst us.

The scholarly Ork (one hell of an oxymoron there) parodied a salute. "Affirmative, Big Boss, back to business, then. So long as it does not trouble you, Farseer."

"Agreed." Zara sighed. "You are the mon-keigh's underlings, aren't you? So listen to your 'Big Boss' and do as you're told."

"Ah, but I'm quite certain you are also quite comfortable with the notion of Mickey becoming your... heh, 'Big Boss'."

I hurled an empty magazine at the Wierdboy, which made a rather satisfying clang as it bounced off his head. "Would you two kindly shut the fuck up, so we can fight the cultists and not each other?"

In unison, the coalition of psykers turned to face the enemy. Namely the purple haired psyker that had been trying to recruit me. Possibly by shotgun wedding.

The Rose was disoriented, but was recovering quickly; as evidenced by her staggering to her feet, just in time for Zara to force-blast her away and into the air. Hurled through the ink-black sky, the Slaaneshi cultist crashed into the crowd of Chaos cultists as they tried to regroup.

"Much better." I chuckled, gathering what passed for my powers to generate a quartet of force rings. They were ripped right out of a book series I had read, written by a J Butcher, and when triggered they sent a blast of force that bowled the recovering heretics over. More shouts and screams of panic were inevitable; the forces of Chaos seemed rather fond of the use of combat spikes.

Zara blinked a few more times, then pinched her nose. She blew against it to equalize the pressure inside her ear to the outside world, like a diver.

I raised an eyebrow as I threw away the silver rings. "How was that?"

"..." Zara turned away, and underneath the faceplate I somehow knew that she getting uncomfortable.

"C'mon..."

"No praise for you... you must enjoy taking every opportunity to embarrass me, don't you?"

A shrug was given in lieu of an answer."Kind of."

"Well, mon-keigh, I enjoy taking every opportunity to slap you. Hard." I could feel the forced smile behind her faceplate.

"That wasn't too hard to figure out, Zara. You were a bit too small to slap me, though."

"Mon keigh." The Farseer warned me, pointing at the Slaaneshi cultist as she parted herself from her companions.

I chuckled. "Yes, dear. I know."

Slap.

Zara's slap made me stagger away from her, not to mention that my cheek felt like it was on fire... wait... okay, it was on fire.

I quickly patted out the flames.

With the fuming Farseer right beside me... I turned to her. "I think I deserved that one."

"Damn right you did." Chuckled Zara's Howling Banshee persona.

"Can you do that to me?" Cheerfully requested The Rose, from about ten meters away, as I finished reconstructing/reloading the WAAAGH!-Gun.

Zara pointed at the Slaaneshi cultist, and patted me on the head. "Mon-keigh."

The Rose's face was priceless as I leveled the gun at her. A blend of shock, anticipation and... envy?

Zara dropped a pair of earmuffs over my ears.

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I shifted my aim a little, to compensate for the muzzles rising as the psykers around me followed suit with their own, more 'conventional' firearms.

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Nope. I lowered the gun a little. The shots (mainly rocket propelled grenades from the bigga dakka gobs) were drifting too far up.

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"A little to the left, I think!" Shouted a voice behind me. Skoola. "They're running away now."

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"HAHAHAHAHA! This is starting to get fun!"

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I had found the secret to the use of a WAAAGH!-Gun: Use ear protection at all times.

Zara nodded her agreement as she walked back to me, her shadows splitting and then rising, gaining volume and shape to become the more aggressive of her personas.

"That was quite a good show, mon-keigh. I do believe you have demonstrated Orkish techno-barbarity at its finest." Chuckled the Ranger, giving me a rare smile.

"Quite impressive." The Howling Banshee praised. "I think I shall add that to my recordings."

"That was noisy, mon-keigh. Such discordant aural pollution is fitting for that barbaric weapon that you are holding." Deadpanned the Bonesinger. I just grinned back at her.

"Not nearly as bad as you are, though."

I ducked under the second slap, and turned to the other Orks.

"How about you two, huh? Think you guys could join in?"

"We'ze no good wifoot the rest o' da boyz, Big Boss." Mumbled the wierdboy known as Mogorp 'eadrunna.

Skoola Boy gave a noncommittal shrug, before hefting his massive cleaver/choppa.

"True. Our more potent psychic talents cannot be properly utilized without a sufficient number of orkoids to supply the psychic fuel we require, so for the moment we shall act as your retainers, Michael."

Nodding in agreement, I turned to face the cultists then advanced. The three of us formed up, with the two Ork wierdboyz palming their big choppaz in their hands as I opted for more simple 'normal human' scale bolt pistols.

"I'll be damned if I let some Orks are the only thing 'guarding' Michael." Muttered Aramis, stepping forward to stand at my left as our slow walk became a trot. Porthos and Athos were at his side, and readying their weapons.

It seemed like Porthos was still missing his arm, and had replaced it with a windmill made of bladed weapons and chainswords, powered by a gatling gun's motor. Even idling, the tips of the heavy weapons lazily orbited the shoulder joint of the Grey Knight, and I suspected that, when activated, the spinning blades would be quite... effective.

As an aside, I wondered if he hadn't so much replaced his arm with a substitute as he had upgraded his abilities for close combat.

"Good to see you so... well, Porthos."

"No worry, Michael. My flesh-and-blood arm is still all right and proper, so I'll be fine as soon as we're done. It's just such a pain to grow back an arm while still in the mindscape, you know."

"And to do that, I'm guessing we just have to take out those guys, then we're home free?" I asked, nodding at the confused Chaos psykers.

Librarian Vasili nodded his hooded head as we broke out into a run. "Aye, lad. They die, we get out."

Now, at that stage, someone from the Chaos side managed to get out a snarling challenge.

"WE ARE THE AGENTS OF CHAOS ITSELF! TZEENTCH THE MASTER OF PLOTS AND PLANS! KHORNE THE LORD OF BLOOD AND BATTLE! NURGLE THE FATHER OF PLAGUES AND PESTILENCE! SLAANESH THE PRINCE OF PLEASURES AND DECADENCE! NONE SHALL STAND AGAINST US!"

It was the Sorcerer, the one that had sent us here in the first place when he had done something to Batel's step-father.

Only now, in the full light of the illuminated battlefield and without the panic of trying to not get myself killed, was I able to fully appreciate just how fucking scary this guy really was.

He strode forward, clanking along with the heavy footfalls made by the ceramite boots of his jet-black power armor. I would have said that it was much like that of the other Chaos Space Marines, but this one was... odd. Instead of having bare armor decorated with what-have-yous, the former Astartes-turned-Chaos-Sorcerer was striding forth in a jet-black robe, which reminded me of the veteran Dark Angels that had ended up living with me. Quite different from the last time we had met, the robes concealed all identity but for his chest, which contained a single glowing eye.

"Quiver in terror before me, you ancient fools, you hapless slaves and... wait, what the hell are Orks doing here! ?"

There was a rare instant where both Chaos, Eldar and Imperial factions acted as one in a massive group shrug.

For once, the Chaos Sorcerer was the first to react. "Never mind that! I am Lucian Belavich, the Shadow Caller, servant and sorcerer of the Dark Gods, of Chaos Undivided! You shall fear me! I shall rend the flesh from your bones, I shall feed your souls to the lords of Chaos! Your house shall rot along with those Tau! FEAR ME!"

I raised my hand. "We've gone over this already, haven't we?"

"SHUT UP!" He hotly demanded.

Athos gave an offended 'humph'. "There's no need for that, Belly! Just making sure that we're not repeating things."

"GRRRAAGHRARHAAAARR!"

"Oh my." The Zara deadpanned. "And I had thought that this one would have at least orkish intelligence."

"How insulting, Lady Farseer." Skoola Boy sighed. "Starting a sentence with a conjunction, how uncivilized of you."

"!"

"Wot? Stop usin' dose big worrs, Skoola." Mogorp whined, drawing back one of his smaller choppas. "Dat' kay-oss saucer-er sprung a leek, mefinks."

"I wonder if he could twirl his head around? It might make an impressive display."

"I wonder if he could make things a lot easier for all of us and just have an aneurysm?"

"YOU SHALL FEEL MY WRATH! LISTEN TO M-*CLANG!*

Clutching his obviously pained head, the Space Marine glared at us. "WHAT THE WARP WAS THAT! ?"

The choppa had bounced off his face, having been hurled into a perfect flat arc by Mogorp. It now spun lazily through the air as the Sorcerer staggered back, and fell to the ground. His fingers flexed, and the claw part of his 'Power Claws' snapped into place.

"THAT'S IT! NO MORE TALKING! I'M GONNA KILL YA!"

A Seer councilor chuckled as he readied his witchblade. "Oh, and what are you going to do about it, then, spikey boy?"

"Dat ain' spikey boy, pointy ears. Spikey boy iz Madork's 'next-best-bra-"

Mogorp was unable to finish as the claws tore into the fabric of space, and was shredded open into a glowing aperture of darkness. Daemons ripped at the portal, widening it enough until they were able to stumble into reality, or faded into existence as the dozen or so Chaos psykers stepped up to face us.

I licked dry lips. Mine, by the way. "Oh. Shit."

"Meh, sure, say what you want." Chuckled Danilov, who was already starting to empty his dual bolt pistols into the fray. He was methodical in that regard, firing off a pair of shots with one pistol, stepping forward to a reflection of his initial firing stance, and then snapping off a second double-tap.

Justicar Amadeus briefly glanced at the Inquisitor, who shrugged. "Go ahead. I know you like it."

A nod, then the hiss-buzz of a voxcaster being jacked up to full blast. "ORDO MALLEUS, ATAAAAACK!"

The Grey Knights roared in response.

"Psykers of the Emperor!" Shouted an Imperial Sanctionite. "FORWARD!"

"Seers of Ulthwe!" Zara cried out, charging forward with her black-and-bone white host. "TO BATTLE!"

I decided that I would participate as well, but could only find one appropriate thing to say: "And us! LET'S GO, BOYS!"

The two Ork Wierdboyz cheered with me, and our oddball trio ran to re-join the rest.

The world went still for a brief moment, before there was an attention-requesting cough from inside my mind.

Right. It was Zara, her voice not heard, but thought. Typical of the Eldar; No respect for one's privacy. As if she were drawing on a giant chalkboard, a diagram appeared in the still air in front of me. This is the battle-plan.

We are here.

Small circles appeared. Green for the two Orks. White for humans (Librarian Vasili, five Grey Knights, Raquel, Danilov, Ishabeth and two Sanctionites). And an aquamarine color for the Eldar (The half-dozen Zaras and the two-dozen of the Seer Council and their own derivative personalities).

Then, we have daemons appearing around the Chaos psykers in this area here, twenty meters ahead of us.

A giant circle was drawn in front of the group.

The plan is for the Grey Knights, Vasili, the Orks and any combat-oriented derivative personalities to create a wedge formation to break up their formation, to allow confusion to spread. Protect my Bonesinger aspect, as she will be able to construct obstacles that will prevent the daemons from flanking us while we prepare for phase two of the attack.

Drawn in a dotted yellow line, a triangle composed of the combat psykers plunged into the heart of the enemy formation.

Michael and the others are to begin generating weapons. This area is a gestalt psychic ley-cluster, so the daemons are not weakened by their numbers. Inverse Daemon Law is not in effect. I repeat, Inverse Daemon Law is not in effect. Be careful out there."\

Then, the faux-reality that we were in sprang back into motion.

Whoa. Active strategic planning. Cool.

Thank you.

Zara's back burst open with a pair of radiant black wings made of wraithbone. She, and the other fliers, leaped into the sky to meet the flock of daemons that soared above us, the two forces clashing in a dance of blades and power.

Immediately, I slowed my pace, and dropped back as the assigned guardians charged forward, raising my bolter and pouring cover fire for the others. Behind me, the Imperial psykers not suited for a direct combat role began to focus their energies on supporting the combatants. I recognized their faces, but soon enough my attention was ripped away to elsewhere.

With a humming that shook the ground, the land to either side of us began to transform, turning into a forest of spikes and other nasty hazards – no doubt the bonesinger's method of keeping our flanks safe.

The fact that ribbon-like appendages were also shooting up and cutting daemons into little pieces was also helping. A lot.

Slowing down to a jog and crouching down for less exposure, I began thinking. What did we need? The answer came to me as Ishabeth stomped on the ground, and from beneath her rose a minigun, which she handed over to a pair of Sanctionites. Another stomp had the ground rise, a slightly off-kilter box. The sudden flare of light and woosh-woosh-woosh of launching rockets told me that she had summoned a box of unguided missiles, and they were now arcing rather erratically into the charging Chaos forces.

The strobe and rumble of their detonations was all the answer that I needed.

We needed weapons... no, not simple bolters... we needed support weapons.

My own part in the battle started with the calling up of heavy weapons for the weirdboyz, who were tired of having to make do with their rather short-ranged implements. While lacking in the talent of making these weapons, it seemed like they were more than capable of holding their own in a fight.

Eagerly switching out from their crude choppas to 'ded shooty shootas', I found that the two ork pseudo-psykers were grinning madly as they each seized a replica of Terminator assault cannon and began spooling up the massive barrels.

Laughing, they strode off with their guns blazing at the enemy.

Mogorp was howling with laughter as he reduced a trio of daemons into mincemeat. There was a terrible, keening screech as they died, but it only managed to catch a rather enthusiastic taunt from the ork: "CRY SOME MORE!"

I fixed the earmuffs tighter over my ears, my own weapons (now a pair of bolt pistols and the trusty power maul) strapped firmly onto my back and in the two (formerly empty) pouches that had been wrapped around my waist as I followed behind Skoola and Mogorp, picking my way through semi-disintegrated daemon-bits while we sniped (or obliterated) whatever had decided to come our way.

Speeding past us, Space Marine Librarian Vasili was boosting his way into the fray as his newly acquired Assault Pack sent him hurtling into the center of a daemon horde, the eye in a storm of his psychically constructed swords of light that were orbiting the massive Astartes. Each burning blade was twisting around him as he roared exultations to his Emperor, whirling in bright and fast ellipses as he marched through the tide of daemons, his pack flaring to lift him above a particularly massive (yet still recently deceased) foe.

The whirlwind of swords abated for a second to allow one of his longswords to launch forth, impaling a daemon, then detonating after the bright sword had plunged into its chest.

From his left came a densely packed group of daemons. I licked my lips, and sighted in with the newly constructed bolter that I was trying out. It wasn't like the others, I had to admit; with the much more destructive (at the very least a greater area of effect), the 25mm shells were a combination of the 'current' grenade launchers and their heavier payloads with the smaller-caliber grenade launchers of the 41st millennium. I dropped a pair of those high explosive shells amongst the advancing horde, sowing destruction as the formation broke apart with the multitude of explosions that were suddenly springing up from the ground as the grenades landed between their feet.

A terrifying screech came from above, followed closely by a flock of a half-dozen winged daemons plunging downwards from above, buzzing wings and mantis-like claws whipping around as they landed amongst the Seer council. One was immediately smashed back into the air by a Grey Knight's rising boot, and then peppered with bolter fire as it tried in vain to recover from its sudden return to the sky.

The majority, however, slipped past the counter-attack and the screen of combatants, diving forwards into the much squishier psykers behind the armored Grey Knights. What ensued was too fast for my eyes to follow, but I did see the aftermath: an Eldar Seer's neck was snapped as they felt their arm ripped out of their socket. Shock and blood loss would finish the job. A heartbeat later, two mantis-things were down in brutal vengeance. Several Howling Banshee aspects carved their way through to their base personalities, and the grim fight was over when Zara slammed her spear into the ground, bolts of lighting arcing off it like a tesla coil and frying the remaining daemons.

Skoola Boy thumped me on the shoulder, sending me staggering off to the side and bringing me back to the here and now. "Oi, Big Boss! C'mon, dere's a ded big scrap goin' on, and I wanna try out this new spinna-shoota dat yooze gave us, Big Boss!"

Mogorp was already doing that, emptying the huge ammo bin that had been mounted onto his back.

The Grey Knights were advancing with similar abandon, with Porthos at the left flank (probably something to do with how he was haphazardly swinging his new Windmill of Doom around), his whirling blades carving a bloody pathway made up of the weaker daemons, closely followed behind by Athos with his halberd to finish off any wounded, with the massive bulk to his right that was Aramis, who was blazing through the monsters ahead of him with the heavy bolter that he had constructed at the beginning of the charge. Each shell was predictably accurate, and flared into bright flame as their incendiary payloads burst open inside of their targets.

Combat really got hectic as the bulk of the Eldar psykers and their secondary personalities joined the fray, their bonesingers' hastily made robotic constructs acting as a shield of wraithbone skeletons that kicked and punched their opponents, dragging them down by way of sheer numbers to allow the more skilled and powerful Seer councilors to finish off their opponents.

Zara in particular favored the use of psychic force blasts, which threw her enemies around like rag-dolls, often setting them alight while they were in mid-air simply for the humiliation that they would suffer on the way down.

A trio of Imperial Sanctionites – Ishabeth and two others - were also making progress, with the former using walls of what looked like shredded paper to absorb and disperse attacks from the more longer-reaching of the Chaos attacks.

"Sanctionite Elrik, you have targets to your left and front!"

The short psyker had a madman's grin as he held the newly constructed minigun, his partner-in-battle Alfons clipping on the ammo feeder. Taking the minigun rig together, the two hefted the massive weapon onto its mount and pointed the weapon's rotating barrels at the advancing pack of daemons. It was a familiar design to me, having used them a little while ago. Each of the six barrels were about the length of my arm, and would spit out a single slug about as big as the tip of my pinky.

At somewhere in the region of a thousand meters per second, thousands of bullets at a time.

With the pack of Chaos hounds barely twenty feet away, the two began pouring a lead-based river of destruction at the fleshy daemons that approached. The firing of the minigun was best described as a combination of the sounds of an earthquake, beehive and chainsaw that had been blended together to create a buzz/hum sound which... well, made me want to piss my pants. Mostly because I wasn't holding the trigger down.

Ducking down low, it was there that I too joined the fight.

A spider-crab-wolf daemon dropped down in front of me. It was hairy, had a lot of legs and far too many teeth for my comfort. The four bright yellow eyes fixed onto me as it turned in my direction. Spreading its legs out in a combat stance, it snarled and then exploded as I launched a grenade down its throat.

Bad idea.

The hard exoskeleton? Yeah, that just made the thing an even bigger grenade. I only managed a surprised yelp before being peppered with fragments of armored skin. A dozen or so cuts instantly sprang up over my body, making me feel like my skin had just been set on fire.

I landed heavily, with bits of spider-crab-wolf daemon landing all around me.

Someone shouted, approaching as they called out to me. "Dammit! Michael, are you alright?"

A hand grabbed me, drew me up and back onto my feet. It was an Eldar Ranger, one of the subordinate personalities. Rather than a long rifle, this one seemed to prefer a longsword/shortsword combo, and used them effectively.

"Hold up. Aren't you guys meant to be snipers?"

The camouflaged warrior shrugged. "Multiclassing." He said, glancing behind me as a scream came from that direction. "More of 'em. Stand back, mon-keigh."

Leaping forward, the lone ranger ducked and weaved his way through the advancing daemons in a deadly and graceful dance of death, his sword flickering out to nip off a leg here, an arm there, stab an eye or an ear, and generally caused a lot of havoc among the more fragile daemons. They screeched and retaliated with their usual ferocity, but I managed to frag a pair with a grenade before they could cause any harm to the ranger-swordsman.

As he continued on into the distance, I noticed that more and more were turning towards me.

Well, the grenade-usage was useful and all, but... Of course, that meant that most of their attention was now focused on me.

"Shit."

Pulling out both bolt pistols (having hurled the oversized bolter at the nearest foe), I leveled them at the advancing abominations, resisting the urge to either throw up or curl up into a little sniveling ball.

Instead, I let my senses become enveloped in the noise and the bright flashes of light that were the report of the twin bolt pistols. No wonder the people of the 41st millennium were so keen on dakka. It made them forget, it made them safe from the horrors that were leaping at them from the other end of their barrels.

A second spider-crab-wolf daemon landed on my back, curling its hairy appendages around my neck. I let out a strangled shout, and tried to shake the thing. It was the size of a large dog (if you cut off its arms, which was something I was more than enthusiastic of doing), and with proportionally large legs. Not to mention the various other extra bits that would never be found on an animal more than four miles away from ground zero of a dirty A-bomb.

With a bright flash of pain, I felt it pressing one of its fangs against my neck.

Seeing my plight as I was spinning about in a circle, someone shouted out. It was incoherent. It was possessive. It was fucking scary. Raw warp-stuff filled the air.

The scent of roses filled the air, choking it with the pungent perfume. Rose petals themselves followed, like an angry swarm of bees. They were like a storm of red and purple and pink, blotting out the senses with their vibrant colors, strong scent and the buzzing of their passing.

Something behind me screeched, and I realized it was the spider-crab-wolf daemon. The weight was suddenly gone, and it was thrown over my shoulder to briefly appear as the rose petals were channeled into every orifice. Eyes, nose, mouth... all were punctured and filled with the paper-thin petals. I could see that the daemon was literally choking on them. Then the roses themselves began to bloom out of its skin, blood red flowers that burst out of its back. Chunks of its exoskeleton corkscrewed through the air from the force of the blossoming, bloody flowers.

I almost threw up as one landed on my chest. "Ew..."

"My my, so squeamish already?" Teased a familiar voice. I felt a familiar presence behind me, folding her arms around me and pressing her chest to my back.

"Oh, you wouldn't believe what other Slaaneshi cultists would do for their pleasures, dear toy. For one, it involves much more amusing fluids." Recounted the Rose, nuzzling the back of my neck like a doting lover.

Which, of course, she was far from being. Doting, yes. Lover? Hell no.

"Big S says I could keep whatever toys I wanted." She murmured into my neck, as if by way of explanation, and then turned me around. Her usual expression of carefully teasing amusement was gone. Gone gone gone.

"So guess what, dear toy? Once this is over, once everyone's all dead, you're mine."

Instead, her wide, empty eyes were set above a grinning face as she looked down at me. Hair cascading down around her, the battle around us continued on without

"You know what that means, right? It's going to be real fun! Pleasure without limit, without rest!" She laughed, then the Rose leaned harder against me, pushing her face closer to mine. I was starting to give way, leaning back to stay away from her. Soon enough, she was practically on top of me, either hand pinning my elbows to the ground.

"And we'll be together. By ourselves. Wouldn't that be wonderful, dear toy?"

Ugh. Tempting as it was... no thanks.

I gathered my knees underneath her, and kicked out. The hundred pound bundle of tightly coiled muscles above me was propelled into the air, launched much like a catapult's ammunition as my legs went from horizontal to vertical in a rather rapid fashion. She was flipped up and over my face, landing in a sprawled heap somewhere 'above' me.

"Oh, I've always loved flying, dearest. Perhaps we can try it some other time? I do know a winged daemon who adores being ridden."

Snarling, the buzz of the chainsword now in my hands shook my arms as I swung it about experimentally.

"Shut up, will you? If you want to screw around that badly, why don't you just fuck this chainsword, huh?"

The Rose's eyes lit up as she gave me a Cheshire-cat grin."I'd be delighted to."

"Oh for the love of..." I facepalmed. Really dug myself into that one, didn't I?

Giving up on any witty repartee (which, when I thought about it, would have only encouraged and delighted her), I simply decided to decapitate her with the humming teeth of the chainsword in the most viscerally satisfying manner possible.

Feeling the eyes of the Orks upon me, I went for the only battle cry acceptable for anyone with the name Big Boss 'o Da Boyz.

"WAAARGH!"

We met, and the Rose's petals were streaming past us. My vision blurred and my nose began to clog up. Dammit! Gunning the tiny but powerful engine of the chainsword, I swung weakly forwards. It was an easy strike to dance around, and she retaliated by deftly knocking the chainsword out of my hands with a dropping axe strike of her heel.

I went for a punch, which she simply grabbed, twisted out of harm's way, and then used as leverage to draw me close, and mashed her mouth against mine. For an instant, I couldn't feel anything. Literally, nothing could be sensed. All the pain, strain and aches of my body disappeared. Fatigue and tiredness disappeared in an instant. Then... Oh God, it was wonderful.

Pleasure surged through my body, accompanied by her own moan of ecstasy. Her leg snaked up and curled around my waist, letting her climb up so that we were eye-to-eye. Heaving chest and snatched breaths made my cheeks burn as her arms wrapped around my neck.

Then we were suddenly hit by a bolt of lightning. Or something bright and flashy, anyway. I didn't have time to take notes while I was stumbling back from the sudden attack.

Dirt and shards of flash-fried grass whizzed past my head.

"Ah, you survived that, mon-keigh." Quipped Zara as she blew smoke from her smoking Singing Spear, and walked over to me.

I stared at the small black crater where the Rose had been standing

… whoa.

Then I remembered just who had struck who with a bolt of lightning. I turned to Zara.

"That wasn't what it looked like."

She shrugged. "It looked like a Slaaneshi cultist seducing you, trying to claim you for her own while you were trying to fight her off."

"In that case, then it was exactly what it looked like." I straightened out my buzzing, Einstein-esque hair. They were sticking out from the electrical current still dancing about in the air, and I swear I could taste a coppery tang to the air I was heaving in and out.

"Good. Nice headbutt, by the way."

"Buh?"

The less pointy end of Zara's spear helpfully closed my open jaw, and – slightly miffed – I turned to the crater.

"Lightning?"

"Lightning? Yes. With a touch of wind and fire, might I add."

There was a giggle from behind us.

"Oooh, that was fun! I feel tingly all over now." A diabetes-sweet murmur of pleasured delight made my spine tingle as I turned to Zara. "Can we do it again? Maybe we should all stand around in a circle and have it happen in the middle! But don't add the fire, it dries my skin out really fast..."

I sighed as I reached behind my back.

"Y'know, I kind of expected that. Catch."

Tossing Zara a reloaded bolt pistol, I drew my own. In unison, we both emptied the contents of the Space-Marine grade side-arms into the Rose's face.

Predictably, she called up her whole field-of-petals thing and detonated all of the mass-reactive rounds before they so much as touched her pale purple skin. Laughing and dancing on the spot, she wove a protective mesh of rose-petals about her, each bolt round she caught blossoming into a ball of petals.

"That is getting rather boring, dear toy. I do hope you can come up with something more original. Doing the same thing over and over again is so drear-"

The thrown bolt pistol was ducked under, but then she was smacked over the head as the second caught her on the forehead.

"Owie..." She complained, holding up both hands to press down on the bump the five kilogram weapon had left on her head.

"Okay, time to play something else."

A barrage of razor-sharp petals came our way. They were forming complex patterns as they came at us, each one glowing a bright color as it passed by, and each successive wave of brilliantly colored petals made way for another dizzying mosaic of color and death. Through the curtain of blazing petals, we dodged and weaved through tiny gaps left by the expanding spheres, falling back and advancing as we could.

Zara blasted a few away, but more came before her concentration could be gathered for another petal-clearing blast.

"Aww, fuck this!"

I let my attention slip for a brief second, and paid for it by having a half dozen petals slice past, tearing open a large chunk of my leg.

But that had been enough.

"Move, Zara, MOVE!"

The giant brick (or paving tile, considering its dimensions) – two hundred feet square by twenty – slammed into the ground where the rose petals had come from. As it touched the ground, a great gust of wind threw me back, and my balance teetered, threatening to let me fall. The localized earthquake was more than enough to finish the job. I fell onto my back, and lay there as the dust and dead rose petals settled around me.

Just... just a little rest...

Shake. Someone was shaking my shoulders.

"... mon-keigh? Mon keigh! Wake up!"

Slap.

"Michael!"

I shot up into a seated position.

"That h-*THUNK*

Ow.

Zara and I clutched at our foreheads, now freshly pained from the sudden impact.

"What in Khaine's name was that for, Mi-er-mon-keigh?" Zara demanded.

"Why do you lean over someone when you're trying to get up? Like, right in their faces! ? That's just asking for a forehead tap, Zara." I answered sharply, still dusting off chips of brickwork from my clothes.

The Farseer sighed, and went for her spear, picking it up and then dusting off her tabard. "Well, excuse me for being concerned about you, Michael!"

Wait a second...

"Did you just call me Michael?" I asked.

A flustered Zara – now that was rare – ripped off her helmet and snarled at me with cherry-red cheeks as she brought the full force of her personality to bear. She shot at me a pained glare, and gestured wildly with her spear. "O-of course! It is your name, isn't it?"

Trying to pacify her, I attempted to justify myself. "... the last time someone with your face called me Michael, it tried to kill me, remember?"

She vented the contents of her lungs, whirled around and stormed off.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid mon-keigh! Alright! I'll take it back!" Turning back to face me, she approached, each sentence's weight enhanced by sharp gestures and an almost pained expression on her face as she screamed at me. "Bloody hell." She spat. "You just got your primitive arse saved by me, and this is what passes for the thanks I get? I've seen Slaaneshi cultists before. It's like... what was it that you mon-keigh call it? Drugs? An addiction. You would have lost everything, you idiot! A person who surrenders himself to Slaanesh no longer becomes himself... they become just like an addict, caring for nothing else but their next pleasure. You would have become a slave. You wouldn't be... you."

Zara fell silent, and her cheeks deepened as she half-turned to look away. I stepped forward, and gingerly put a hand on her shoulder. She didn't push it away, so I just left it there.

Unsure, I weakly apologized. "Zara... I'm sorry."

Slap.

Left cheek. Ow. She was fast.

"That, Michael, was for making me worried."

The Farseer then enfolded me in a hug.

"This, Michael, is for making me worried." She whispered. "And don't you ever do it again."

I returned the hug, and could feel that the much younger-looking persona of Zara, rather than the veteran Farseer, was the one with her arms around my neck. I'm pretty sure that the Farseer still hated me.

We stayed like that for... I'm not sure how long, but it was long enough.

I knew that when the large brick exploded.

"That was worrying for a second, there. But anyway, I got out, dear toy!" She chimed, but then her laugh choked into silence as she saw the two of us. The Rose was standing in the mass of rubble, more or less unharmed, but her expression was frozen still in confusion.

As she stood there, taking in what she saw an processing it, I saw the amused, almost childish demeanor of the Rose of Slaanesh fade, melting away like ice under a blowtorch.

What was underneath was... scary.

Her body was alight with a strange aura as she stood, a dozen different motifs – from flowing tribal slashes to hard edged lightning flashes - and patterns crisscrossed her purple skin. Eyes like the glowing heart of a furnace burned bright purple as she strode forward, her trail marked by the rising brambles.

"So, you'd rather play with that old hag, rather than me?" She asked, completely unaware of everything else around us as she stepped out of the rubble. "I mean... don't take this the wrong way, but I offered you my body, my pleasures. A world's worth of wonders could have been yours. But... you refused me. You – instead – take this Eldar crone and choose to play with her?"

Confused, the Rose cocked her head to the side, her eyes locking onto mine, unblinking as her wide-eyed stare bored into me.

"All of Chaos had prepared itself to accept you as another of its own. You could have become immortal, and all pleasures would have been at your fingertips... but... you refuse it for her? I mean, really? If it had been that failed excuse for a witch, or even that newly inducted Sororitas... warp damn it, even that bespectacled tech-adept... but her? I mean... all considered, the size difference and... well..." The Rose stopped, unable to continue as she just resorted to gesturing vaguely at the Farseer.

"HEY!" Indignant, Zara jammed her helmet back on and pointed her spear out at the Rose, an offended tone to her voice.

The Rose tilted her head to the side. I expected her playfulness to come again, for her to smile and again earnestly enjoy the psychic 'guerre a trois'. But instead, her soft features sharpened into a frown. She gestured once, a sharp flick of the wrist to point her open palm to Zara.

"I'm done playing with you, crone."

Zara snarled.

From where I stood, a few things started happening rather quickly.

Her armor paled into a light brown, sharpening at the edges. In her right hand appeared a single curved scimitar; a Mirror Sword of the Howling Banshees. Stretching out her other arm, a new weapon also grew out of the wraithbone palm; a slender shuriken pistol, her preferred sidearm. Out of Zara's back flared a complex device, made up of both wings and a heavy pack that crackled with energy.

"Are you ready, Slaaneshi whore?"

"Are you done playing with your wraithbone toys, hag?"

The pounding pulse of invisible force slammed into the Rose, throwing her into the air. Another slammed her back down into the ground, then two more rapid 'punches' of psychic force basically made a fine impression. On the ground, that is.

Then, the Farseer leaped forward with a swift movement that seemed too fast for someone who had just become encumbered with so many pieces of equipment. A blink later, she had disappeared into a halo of light.

I saw the Rose's face freeze for a moment, before the Warp Spider's jump generator dumped Zara right above her. The sword flashed, but the Slaaneshi cultist had managed to move her neck out of the way, only to fall victim to a heel drop that would have snapped anyone else's neck.

The two landed heavily, with Zara's shuriken pistol already spitting out a stream of razor-sharp discs. One shuriken cut off a corner from the brickwork that she had emerged from. As it fell, I swear I saw my own reflection in the newly sliced face.

Rose petals swirled through the air, but many were swallowed up by the sudden appearance of a dozen warp portals, the jump drive on her back crackling energy as Zara forced open a maze into the reality of the mindscape.

"DIE!"

She thrust at a portal beside her, and another portal in front of the Rose suddenly ejected a sword.

Rolling away, the Rose returned the favor, pushing a stream of roses through the portal.

Zara was already gone. She ducked and weaved through the attacks, simply not being where the attacks landed as she sent herself through a maze of portals and passageways, twisting through the flumes and apertures in a dizzying display of Jumping.

"Can you keep up with me, you Chaos begotten witch?"

"Can you keep up with your master, you saggy old bitch?"

"WHO SAID MICHAEL WAS MY MASTER! ?"

I facepalmed as the Rose began laughing, and Zara realized what she had just said.

Stopping for a moment, she snarled as she steadied her aim.

Then a dozen rose petals shot forth into her, preceded by a dozen cracks appearing on her chest and legs.

At the back of her armor, a dozen blood red flowers burst out in a grisly spray of fine red crystals. It seemed that it took all of a few seconds for the pain to register, Zara's throat managing a strangled cry as it realized what had happened, and then the Farseer dropped to her knees, before falling, face down onto the floor.

The Rose smiled at me, and stepped out from the rubble of the giant brick.

"See? A broken doll is useless, right? That means you can play with me now, right?"

Aw, fuck.

I had long ago established that trying to shoot at the Rose with regular pistols and 'low velocity' slug throwers was a futile gesture. But then again, I hadn't tried a grenade launcher before then.

"Hey, hey! Listen! Why aren't you lis-"

The stroke of the trigger was accompanied by a sound that could be written down as 'Phwoomp!'

A heartbeat or two later, the Rose was palming a 40mm grenade shell in her hands. Its detonator was sliced neatly off, and lay at her feet.

"Short. Stubby." The Rose observed as she held the shell in her hand, then giggled. "I hope you're not representing yourself here, dear toy."

I snarled as I cast away the useless grenade launcher, but then she disappeared, a dozen booming impacts shaking the ground, blinding me as the dust whipped past my face. The Rose of Slaanesh was gone; by the her-shaped hole in the ground, I figured that she had been pounded into the earth, and wasn't getting up anytime soon.

As soon as I felt that it was safe, I ran over and crouched over Zara, gingerly trying to get her into a position from where I could assess the wounds that had ripped through her armor with such ease. It wasn't easy, getting her psycho-reactive armor to turn itself over. Between her state and mine, Zara may as well have been a statue of granite with her wraithbone armor locked up into a self-preserving freeze, and myself having to continually concentrate on other things, my hands kept on slipping over the smooth plates of her second skin.

Her back was covered in some kind of red crystal, and with a sudden chill I remembered that Eldar blood didn't scab over, but instead crystallized. Just as Zara's had.

"Damn."

Zara... did she have a last name? I wondered if she did. Farseer Zara was all I knew of her. Her personalities... well, they were scattered all around, weren't they? The battlefield had become infinitely huge, now. The two dozen coalition psykers against the many Chaos psykers... we could have spread out over an area so huge now, seeing as I could see flashes of lightning and the destructive whirlwinds of fire in the far, far distance.

Quickly, I dropped a ring of walls on either side of us, boxing the lot of us in.

Behind me, Zara let out a tired sigh and fell back down. "M-michael."

Her voice filtered through her helmet, shaky and distorted. I realized then that one of the rose shards had clipped her mouth, and most of the helmet's right 'jaw' had been shorn right off.

"Can I take the helmet off?" I asked her.

There was a slight, weak nod, which sent me scrambling to pick at her neck, where the helmet was held in place.

"Alright, alright... calm down."

Halt. My hand jerked back as if it had touched white-hot metal. That was a challenge there. It didn't tell me anything, but somehow I knew that something had just stopped me from working the catch. Wraithbone, after all, was psychically activated, wasn't it? It wasn't too far-fetched to think that you had to do the psychic equivalent to hurdles to open it.

This time, I pressed my palm against her neck. Open.

Nothing. Zara's shallow, pained breaths continued to seep out of the ragged hole on the side of her helmet's faceplate. Anger shot through me, heating my cheeks. I snarled and gripped the clasps tighter. Open. Now.

The psychoplastics peeled away, as if it were butter under a blowtorch, my hands revealing a bare neck; it was bleeding along one side, a choker of red crystal marking where the rose-petal had passed. There was a strangled cry from Zara as the helmet was eased off her, and then coughing. She supported herself, her elbow sliding under her to prop herself up, refusing to grab onto my shoulder for support. She looked up at me, and froze. I knew something was wrong, and turned around, quickly scanning my s-

Damn!

Standing right behind me, The Rose observing the two of us with a detached curiosity as she again cocked her head to one side, in the universal gesture for confusion.

"Why do you care for her so much, dear toy? Your broken doll is useless to you. The last time you two interacted, she presented a slap as a gesture of affection!"

Soft, supple arms wrapped around my neck, a delicate hand caressing my jaw. "I haven't hurt you... yet. I offer you many things, dear toy. I offer you my body, I offer you pleasures beyond compare."

A flexible tongue began to lick at my ear, her soft bites setting my earlobe ablaze. If she could make me shake and tremble like this just from nibbling on my ear, then... what could she do if I were a volunteer? If I decided to have her, here and now? What pleasures c- Dammit, Michael. Focus! FOCUS!

"I heard that you were called a 'governor' by the Imperials." Her voice – soft and playful again – whispered in my ear as I tried to reach for Zara, her hand stopping me mid-motion. "Of the two trillion inhabitants of our galaxy, there are maybe two million such individuals who can claim such a title, including yourself."

She slipped around me, graceful and limber. "Of those two million or so, I have met four face-to-face, and killed one."

Reaching up, my hand was pressed against her face. I couldn't resist. Her eyes were enchanting. Literally. My body had become frozen. Unable to move except for what she allowed.

"Those four could – theoretically – order an entire world to bow down or burn. They decide the fate of billions across entire star systems."

I was allowed a voice again.

"And your point is?"

"That, with the 'Imperials', they mock you with their label. You command... what? A house? Yourself? You have no authority, you have no power. Not now, anyway." She purred.

"Let me guess: with you, I will have that power?"

Her smile widened.

"Exactly, Michael."

My name slid off her tongue, dripping with sweetness and sensuality, with promises and pleasure only a single monosyllable away. I closed my eyes, trembling as a shock of pleasure raced up and down my spine. Just what could she do?

Curiosity and carnal need pushed and shoved all other thoughts from my mind as she climbed on top of me, her arms wrapped around mine.

"You, Michael, shall be the greatest Governor of all." The Rose murmured, as if lost in her own world. She was talking to herself, I realized. Plans and promises dribbled out of her. "Entire worlds will be doomed by your command, a billion voices shall scream your name. Stars will bow or burn by your command. Power greater than that of any lapdog psyker of the False Emperor or the dead Gods of the Eldar will be held in your palms."

I managed a smile, through the haze of her enchantments. "All for the right price, I assume? That's... tempting."

Her eyes and smile widened, her hips were grinding against my stomach in anticipation. "Yes... yes..."

I interrupted her. She was losing focus; my arms were free, now.

"So, tell me... why don't you have this power yourself?"

"Slaanesh has not yet seen it fit to allow me such power, as I have already come at the limits of my strengths." She explained. "You, however, have the capacity to wield such powers."

"That makes me think, though. What's in it for you?"

"Me? My price is simple: A place at your side, and in your bed." The Rose giggled. "I may not have power to match your own, but I feel that you should be a very... interesting man to be about. That counts for a lot. Nobody else is quite like you, Michael, not anyone that I've ever met before. You aren't zealous like those Space Marines, you are your own man, aren't you? I love that kind of man, and sadly enough, until now they've all been rather fictional."

I shook my head.

"And all I have to do is sign here, initial there?"

A brief flash of confusion crossed her features. "... what?"

I drew my head back, a-

"Get away from them!"

A kick sent the Rose into the sky, traveling at a velocity most seen in the trajectories of artillery shells. The shockwave caused by her sudden acceleration kicked up a dustcloud going in all directions, choking my already taxed lungs. My nose felt like it had just missed being lopped off in a dramatic and violent (not to mention bloody) manner.

The younger, much more emotional Zara lowered her leg, which still crackled with eldritch energies, and dropped to her knees. She was breathing heavily, and it showed. I wasn't sure about the absolute mechanics about this, but it seemed like she wasn't exactly swimming in psychic power juice at the moment. The most fitting analogy that cropped up in my mind was that the girl had almost suffocated herself while trying to blow out a candle.

I gulped as I stood back up. "W-whoa."

To think that, in all the times that I had met her, she seemed so... weak. Well, I guess it was because I had been somewhat of a shoulder to cry on, so she had absolutely no reason to... err... overreact to me... but... I gave out a long, slow sigh.

Looking at her now, she wasn't quite in the casual garb that I had seen her wearing recently. Instead, she had a black suit of wraithbone armor. Nothing fancy, just... well, it was the armor the 'Guardian's used, right? It appeared to be a cut-down version, without any embellishments, a helmet nor, it seemed, any weapons. A blank slate armor, if I could call it anything.

"Just what are you, anyway?" I hurriedly forced the rest of my question along, before the worried Zara could become worried about the implications of the question. "I mean, everyone else had a job or something... but I haven't figured you out. Just what are you?"

Young-Zara blushed. "I was... I'm... well..."

She took a deep breath, slowly falling to her knees as she let it out. "I'm nothing. I only exist for the reasons of holding memories that the other personae do not wish to hold on to."

A pensive look flashed across her face just before the younger Zara clenched her fists and stood back up.

Her voice was – now that the adrenaline had faded down – shaky and uncertain. Almost familiar. "M-michael. Please h-help me... I mean... the Farseer. I'll... I'll go call for help."

I nodded , and as the slim dark shape disappeared into the twilight's gathering darkness, I bent down to scoop up the battered Farseer. "Hey... Zara? You aren't dead yet, are you?"

The wounded persona made a noise between a cough and a snort of derision. "Saved by my emotional baggage personified." She growled. "How... embarrassing."

"Get a therapist." I suggested, shrugging. Reaching underneath her armpits, I lifted her up onto her feet, draping an arm over my shoulder so that I could support her until she could stand by herself. Even this action caused Zara to radiate an aura of agitation. She clearly wasn't happy about this; you could feel it in the air, like having to stand in stinging rain. "Can you walk?" I asked. Even so, my eyes were scanning the distant horizon.

All considered, I was actually surprised that the Rose had not already shrugged off this attack and had made another pass at me.

… but, y'know what? Seems like whoever decides what happens in my life just loves to prove me wrong sometimes.

"Michael! Hee~ey!"

Dammit...

"Zara. Projectile weapons don't work, neither does dropping things on her. I don't think las-weapons will even hurt her. What else is there?"

Her eyes fixed upon my hand.

Alright. No more projectile weapons.

I reached into the ground, my hand clawing into the dark earth below.

Following behind me as I pulled my arm back out, the jet-black chainsword was soon gripped firmly in my hand as I drew it out of the earth, almost five feet long and weighing in somewhere around the twenty-pound region. It was light, as far as the AK-47 of mechanized close combat weapons went; made of more brittle materials than its real-life cousins, I never intended for this particular one to be a durable weapon, anyway. The blades hummed with anticipation as the backs wing shroud resonated with the buzzing motor. It was a grey color, and bore no markings.

Holding the snarling weapon in both hands, I stepped between the Rose and Zara.

"Still trying to protect that broken doll?" She asked, tilting her head to the side. "Perhaps you enjoy a broken woman? Oh, if you do..." The head rolled back, and a throaty laugh sent my spine tingling.

The Rose licked her lips, her eyes bright.

I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth. The stance changed from a ready stance to a crouch. I straightened one leg, lifting it into the air, then stomped on the ground, sending my consciousness through the earth beneath. This world was malleable. Some rules of the universe could be bent. Others, broken. Right now, I was taking a leaf out of the attack patterns of alchemists. A dozen fists made of compressed earth burst out from underneath her, but the Rose had already leaped up into the air.

Another stomp sent a half dozen roughly formed longswords shooting up to join the sky-walking Slaaneshi cultist, but as the heavy blades hummed towards her lithe body, the Rose twisted with an uncanny flexibility, managing to avoid each blade as they passed by.

She landed with the grace of a cat, her palms slapping against the ground as her knees folded up beneath her. Bent over and crouched down on all fours, she looked up at me, face grinning with insane ecstasy as her hair finally caught up with her.

There was a soft, amused giggle. "I didn't know you could do that."

I shrugged. "Me neither."

With all considered, I was probably just as surprised as she was, that visualizing and then willing what you wanted to happen would actually work. Now, without missing a beat, I slapped both hands onto the ground.

There was a single command as I visualized what was going to happen. "MASH!"

A line appeared in front of her, separating the two of us. They then shot off at right angles, glowing trail marking the square boundaries of this new attack. The earth bulged as a square section of the ground flipped up, hinging on the edge closest to her, and the heavy brick flopped over to slam down on the Rose.

She was dancing back, having escaped the artificial jaws, and then were chased by the miniature mountain range of swords that followed after her, still too slow to catch up with their target. The Rose landed after drifting some distance, her toes skimming the ground for a few feet, throwing up a trail of dust, before landing on the ground.

Then the Hammer of Michael struck home.

It was a tank. A Leman Russ carbon copy, at least, of my first contact with the 41st Millennium. The shell of one, that I had constructed in the sky. The three thousand foot drop made it a little hard to aim, so instead of slamming down from above like the wrath of a vengeful god, the tank simply landed beside the Rose, its solid mass compressing the ground beneath it. The ground shook as an artificial earthquake as a tank at near-terminal velocity slapped the earth, knocking both the Rose and myself onto our knees.

More miscellaneous items fell: Giant fruit the size of small buildings (from 8th Grade art), a rather mangled bust of myself, a rather realistic wooden replica of a hand grenade the size of a helicopter...

I stopped caring after the play-dough collection began to rain down, crude parodies of cars, airplanes, people and various other objects that I had tried to replicate with the soft, malleable plasticine dough.

The Rose landed atop an airplane, which had both wings broken off but the tail-mounted engines intact.

"Is this what I think it is, dear t-"

She stopped, realizing that I wasn't where I had been standing.

The shimmering black wings of the Swooping Hawks was definitely not something designed to be used while you're not in Aspect Warrior armor. It was like getting a wedgie, except that it encompassed your whole body. Luckily, I wasn't going nearly as fast as I had seen some of these particularly hardy Eldar warriors had in the twists and turns of their dogfights.

Instead, I was going at a steady forty miles an hour when I lowered the humming chainsword just enough to catch the Rose's face in a high-speed fly-by.

Rip and tear. The chainsaw bit deep into the gnarled wood that she had placed in the way, and was ripped out of my hands as she brought down the staff onto the shroud. The weapon shattered, and I tumbled through the air, fighting for control as I wrestled with the desperately flapping wings. It took me a hair-raising five seconds to regain something resembling a coherent flightpath, and crashed into a play-dough airplane.

Alright, one more bad idea off the list.

Stumbling out, I had about a heartbeat's worth of warning before a massive rose-stem – cut down to a fine spear-tip – plunged halfway into the soft dough behind me.

Crouching down, I roadied it as far away from that thing as I could, keeping low as the Rose sent more barbed lances as thick as my wrist through the air. What the hell was she thinking, anyway, trying to stab me with these massive weapons?

It wasn't until the first rose-petal fluttered past my face, as big as a dinner plate, that I realized that she was taking advantage of my allergies. I coughed, spluttered, and then breathed a sigh of relief as I managed to palm a rebreather over my face. It was something of the same model as the one used by the Kasrkin, except more portable. I knew, however, that this would mean that time was at a premium.

The power sword was the next option, rising out of the ground at my command.

Hefting the katana-shaped weapon, I pulled it free and turned to where the black roses had appeared from.

The Rose was grinning, her eyes blank as she too began to bring up weapons around her; slender rapiers and stiletto knives all the way up to broadswords and battle-hammers that a Space Marine would have had trouble lifting. I noticed, as the shining white weapons were pulled free from the ground, that each had a flower theme to it.

Gathering around her, they shot into the sky, and then it began to rain weapons.

The first was a trickle of knives, each one falling from the sky. I side-stepped one, only to suffer a near miss from another. Steadily, the blades became larger as I fought to keep my concentration away from the obvious question: What was happening to Zara?

Obviously, I had now become her target, and right then...

A sword slipped past my attention, and went right through my thigh. I didn't even have time to scream before a second one passed through my palm, pinning that to the ground as well.

The Rose was advancing upon me again, as I struggled to keep still and not collapse.

"So, dear toy... heh, Michael." She licked her lips with the tongue of a snake, before flashing a wicked smile. "I was rather... disappointed." A three-foot long sword fell between her feet, and she rested her hands on the pommel, leaning forward to do so. The Rose grinned at me, her eyes flashing with an evil light. "I'd have thought that someone who had managed to survive old Belavich would have had more talent." She straightened up, inching forwards, getting closer and closer as I tried to act. Pain and my transfixed limbs were paralyzing me as surely as any poison.

"Instead, I have this disappointing fight. You didn't even scratch me." She giggled, finally reaching my hand, and licking my blood off the blade. Seizing the sword, she pulled it out of the ground, and held it tenderly in her hand.

"I honestly have no idea why my Prince Slaanesh wished of you." The Rose shrugged, grabbing my wrist. The pressure of her tight grip was powerful, and more blood flowed from my palm as she held it to her lips. "No real power, nor any skills. You have some idea of the pleasures of life, but not very much." She twisted my wrist around and around, and I realized that she was just playing with me for the hell of it, for the pain that she inflicted in spite.

"I do wonder..." She sighed, pulling her hands away from the sword's pommel and pulling out a small knife. Its blade wasn't larger than my index finger, made of mirror-smooth steel. And, most importantly, The Rose's eyes fixed themselves upon my neck. I found my breathing shallow and fast, just like Zara's. Pain and terror was rushing through my body, and I struggled just for my eyes to follow her movements, let alone resist.

"I do wonder..." The Rose whispered, repeating herself, as she pressed the flat of the blade against my neck "If he will be satisfied with just your head?" As my eyes widened, they began to search for anything that could save me, scanning everywhere. All that I noticed was that she was gently rocking back and forth as she held the short sword between her thighs, her breath coming to her faster as she licked her lips, sweat starting to form on her brow as her rocking hastened. I realized where the pommel was, what it was pressed against.

Oh God, she was getting turned on by this.

"Or... perhaps your heart?" The blade trailed down, leaving a line of fire as its tip traced a curved line from my throat down to my chest.

There was movement behind the Rose.

Someone's heel drop hit her in the small of her back, driving the sword up into her.

A scream of both ecstasy and alarm filled the air, pounding at my ears as the knife flashed, slashing a line from just above my heart to my right shoulder. The sword in my thigh cracked, and fell apart into petals of red as I stumbled, finally able to land on the ground.

"That was for the Farseer."

Zara the Howling Banshee stabbed her left foot into the ground and then brought her right around, the appropriate boot snapping the Rose's head round, then spun again to kick her away with her left leg.

"And that was for Michael, bitch."

"GWAHAHA! Dat'z more loik it, pointee eahs!" Drawled the Ork wierdboyz, their twisted and battered gatling guns in their hands.

"I do presume that this isn't a new and potentially dangerous combat style? Recalling correctly, a sword is supposed to be held in one's hand, correct?"

"JUST SHUT UP AND BLAST HER." Growled the towering Avatar of Zara, her glowing red skin crackling as she brandished the massive Wailing Doom, her earth-shaking footsteps getting closer as she pushed past the two Orks and hurled the weapon.

The Rose struggled, jumping up onto her feet as she recovered, and managed to move out of the way of the howling blade. It struck one of the tanks that I had tried to drop on the Slaaneshi cultist. There was a flash of light, and I glimpsed hell for a brief moment before it all disappeared, leaving just a crater of ash.

Wraithbone spread through the ground, zig-zagging into an unescapable webwork of white lines on the black earth. The Bonesinger's instrument (it looked like a bagpipe, but only the Eldar knew what it was called) cast its shrill tones into the air, enchanting and terrifyingly beautiful as the black robed woman advanced.

The air beside the Rose shimmered, and a portal the size of a basketball appeared. She turned to look into it, but a red gauntlet shot out, punching her in the head. The wraithbone shot out of the ground, moving in three dimensions, and wrapped around her ankles as she recovered from the sucker punch. For a brief moment, I could almost laugh at her pain if it were not for mine.

"Boom." Whispered the camouflaged form of Zara the Ranger as she stroked the trigger of the oversized weapon in her hands. The ringing in my ears took a second to fade, since 'sniper artillery' was the best way to describe its size and effect.

The Rose's violent movements meant that she lost her left arm to the shot, rather than her head. That earned a 'tsk' of disappointment from the Ranger. A monomolecular shuriken sliced open her thigh, and she screamed in fury as more Zaras – the ones that could fight plus one – advanced upon her.

Assailed with a mishmash of combat styles that covered everything from medieval age sword-swinging to modern sniper tactics, she went berserk. Wings sprouted from her back as horns began to spiral out of her temples. Fingers lengthened into claws as the Rose began to transform into something very unlike the woman that had tried to tempt me.

Someone flipped a trio of missiles to punch her out of the sky, and I saw at least one lance of las fire rip across her chest. A cannon boomed just after one of the wings disintegrated, shredded by the flak. Around us, the Zaras prepared and then fired cannon that I could fit my head into, each shell pushing the Rose back, little by little.

The Rose screamed, a screech that tore at the mind. But Zara – all of her – kept on fighting. Reality began unzipping behind her as she warded off the attacks, before a final lance of light pierced her shoulder.

Hissing at us, her blazing eyes drowning in rage, the Rose whispered.

I shall be back. I shall claim my prize, and none of you shall deny me.

"Come and try, Whore of Slaanesh." The Zaras replied. "For we will deny you of anything. Except the consolation prize."

Another, vaguely phallic missile hissed out, and was slashed apart before it could blow up in her face.

The Rose snarled once more, and then retreated into the portal.

I fell over, exhausted. A few Zaras crowded around me, before one pushed past. One that was familiar; the dark haired, timid bearer of all their mental trauma.

"Where is everyone else?" I asked, looking around for anyone that wasn't Zara.

"Keeping daemons and sorcerers busy while we took care of this one." Answered Zara the younger.

She draped one of my arms over her shoulder, and pulled me up to my feet. Together, we limped my tired body over to Zara the Farseer. When we got to her, I was worried; she was chuckling. As I was laid down beside her, Zara the younger looking over our wounds, I asked her what was the matter.

Weakly, she shrugged. 'Oh the irony' were her last words before one of the Zaras stabbed me with a needle, and I blacked out.

Again.

But this time, it was different.

The darkness was comforting, promising nothing more than rest and silence.

Escape.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't last.

I awoke to Vincent (not very high up on the list of things I'd like to wake up to, but at least he wasn't trying to eat my face), who was slapping me in the face, his bespectacled mug a study of concern.

With him treating me like that, I headbutted him, just for petty revenge, and then fell asleep again from the dizzying pain in my forehead. That guy had a hard skull, let me tell you.

The next I saw of him, he was clutching his forehead, pained but obviously relieved. "Gah. Ow. Okay. You're awake."

His face was smudged and smeared with blood in some places, his clothes damaged and bandaged up in a dozen different places. A quick check revealed that my body, however, bore none of the wounds that I had taken when in the mindscape.

I looked around. We were inside my house, with me on the couch. Just... just how much time had passed?

"How long was I out? Where is everyone? What happened?"

Vincent chuckled, and took a deep breath: "In order; about an hour since that psychic kamikaze by Batel's... er... father." He said the word hesitantly, as if afraid to associate the young girl with such a monster. Glancing around, he sighed. "Everyone is... everywhere. We're cleaning up the wounded and the dead, or catching some rest. Most of us are okay... or at least are going to be... that little girl... she's like... uh... y'know, a Pally? Like she can do Righteous Lay on Hands and... well, bring you back from the dead."

I paused, looking at him in confusion. My voice ventured into more familiar territory; "Okay..."

Chaos Epilogue[edit]

"Rhak'ha that was one hell of a battle."

"Many surprises, indeed."

"Who knew the Orks... well, anyone could work together?"

The Terminator shrugged. The Tau battle-suit shrugged as well. Madork Gunna looked up from reloading his WAAAGH!-Gun.

"We'ze all bleed red." He answered, almost philosophically. "'cept you greyskins. You bleed blue, don'cha?"

The battlesuited commander cocked his battlesuit's helmet to one side. "I do not intend to find out the difference in the color of our blood. The sight of my own blood tends to make me squeamish, Ork."

They laughed, in the laughter of soldiers desperate to forget the battle that had just been fought. Except for Madork. Da Big Scrap at Mikkey's Place was something that would be talked about amongst the Orks for a long time.

A cough, and Trooper Vekt tried to sit up.

"Stand down, trooper! You must rest!"

Black armored, the blood-caked gauntlet pressed against his chest, pushing him back down. A Sister of Battle, tirelessly attending to the faithful. And the xenos, too. The Tau Fire Warrior - Talon - gave him a grim smile as he moved supply boxes of medicines to where the were needed.

"Rest, Sohm. You will need your strength. For her."

He glanced up, and Sohm followed his gaze. Meliya was asleep, having allowed herself to finally collapse with exhaustion - with permission from the Canoness, of course - on the chair beside Sohm's bed. Her pale arms were all she had for pillows, resting at his side.

The man smiled, faintly, and brushed his fingers through her hair.

Thank the Emperor. He didn't lose her.

She sighed, as if about to awake.

Thank the Emperor, I didn't lose him.

"Losses?"

"Most of C-Company has been lost. The survivors are being amalgamated into the other companies. A-, B- and E- Companies are going to be back to full strength, but it cost us D-company as well."

"How are replacement promotions?"

"We have achieved seventy four acts of valor in this battle, including one brave soul who managed to... well, as the Terrans would say it: waste a trio of Raptors, at least. He - and the others - will be awarded with promotions."

"Understood. Armor and supplies?"

"Taxed, but the Cog-boys are dealing with it. There's talk about... talk about hybrid vehicles being made. Some scrapped tanks, for example, are being turned over to the xenos for repair, in exchange for parts from them... I'm not sure if that is quite... possible."

"If anything, the Emperor shall will it. Eldar, Tau, Ork and Human have just worked together as a coherent army without divine retribution. If anything, their machines could, too."

A grin. "I suppose that will mean you won't be shooting yourself for faithlessness?"

"How are the Psykers?" Asked Tomas, dodging that question as he turned around to face the priest. Jeremiah sighed. He knew what Tomas was really asking about.

"She's fine, Commissar." He smiled faintly. "In fact, other than a few tired muscles, I'd say she's better than ever."

"Really?"

Jeremiah made a sharp side-step, which was why Tomas didn't hit him as the excited Sanctionite tackled him from behind, bearing him to the ground with her hug.

"See for yourself." Chuckled the confessor. "And stay safe, you two. If you can't stay safe, however, make sure to name it after me."

But they weren't listening, he knew. A dazed smile on his face, Tomas felt warm. Maybe it was just his imagination, but he swore he could feel her heart beat through two layers of armor - hers and his.

"How are you?" Asked the giant little girl.

"Better." Replied the Grey Knight Justicar. "Thank you..."

"Emma."

"Emma." He confirmed, his gaze panning out to the dozen wounded and barely-walking Grey Knights, now returned to their full strength and allotment of limbs. "Thank you for your assistance."

He stood up on her palm, which had - only a minute before - been glowing with a divine light. The Grey Knight was not usually an optimist, but...

"May I ask you a question, Emma?"

"What is it, Mister Knight?"

"Are you the Emperor? I could swear that you are... well, perhaps a previous incarnation?"

"No. I am not the Emperor."

He sighed. So it wasn't true. Somehow, the Knight must have bee-

"Yet."

His heart soared as two eavesdropping Sisters fainted. Samisha was going to go ballistic.

"Losses?" Her voice was monotone, flat. Controlled... for now.

"Twenty eight percent, across the Coalition. We got off lightly, all considered."

"Our losses?"

"... Almost forty percent of our original force."

Zara dropped her head down into her hands, and sighed.

"Stones?"

"All collected, milady."

A nod. Good news, at least.

"Seers?"

"Lucian, Bezel, Hast and... Leonael" The Councillor ecalled

"Their spirit stones have been recovered, as has all the others."

"How many bonesingers in our number?"

"We have begun raising the Wraithguard already, L-"

"Good. Leave. Now."

The black robed figure left the room. Zara curled herself up in the corner, and began to cry.

So many. So gods-damned many.

Do not cry, daughter of Rekanel. Do not be sad... the dead... the dead shall rise again.

Chaplain Morteus closed the eyes of the Marine, and laid him to rest. Their bodies were not yet cool, yet they were already burying them, taking apart their armor, pillaging their ammunition... he kept the bile in his throat, although it meant that he would punch a hole in a wall to relieve his anger. Drawing his fist out of the cracked ceramics, Morteus sighed. This was wrong. But still, it was necessary.

Emperor forgive me. He prayed, as the Techmarines got to work, taking apart Brother Malakai's armor.

The Apocetharion as he pulled his gauntlet out from behind the Marine's neck, the flask of preservative fluids bubbling as the last of the air flowed out of it. Another fallen's progenoid glands had been successfully harvested. The Marine sighed, hating this ugly task as he moved on to the last of the fallen; the Commander's body lay on his back. His genes would be harvested, and his armor dismantled. It would be necessary, to recover from their losses.

Nodding to his aide, Apocetharion Thanatos knelt down as the young scout readied himself.

"Shall I speak the Final Rites, Brother-Apocetharion?" Asked the Scout, already recalling the ritual to his mind.

His jaw was strong, which was why it didn't break as Eziak's right fist connected with his chin.

Seizing the unfortunate scout's armor by the collar, the shattered throat of the wounded Commander growled his defiance.

"That... will not be necessary."

The shock was apparent as the white-armored Marine began shouting. "APOCETHARION! Wait a tick. I am one. SOMEONE GET ME A MEDIKIT, NOW! Oh, here's one..."

Chapter 22[edit]

"A twig is but a trifle to snap, as it is alone and weak. But a bundle will endure more than just the flex of a brute's muscles." - Anon.

My body felt… weird.

All the slashes, burns and wounds that I had been collecting during my time in the mindscape, all the injuries that had been carved into my mind's perception of my 'self'… they weren't there. I could still feel them, if I ran my hand over where they were supposed to be, but otherwise my flesh was unmarked by the grazes from various close calls inside of the mind scape.

I guessed that meant that Porthos was going to be missing out on his Windmill of Blade-shaped Doom, then.

Testing eyebrows and fingers, then down all the way to my toes, I found that each pulled muscle and strained joint was now perfectly fine (except for the ones that had been injured during my brief fight with that daemonhost). It was as if the last few hours of my life had never happened.

Even so, my body felt heavy, slow and cumbersome. My senses were dulled, and my skin tingled – the kind of sensation you'd expect from standing beside a big generator while its running. I guessed my mind was just exhausted.. Well, the fact that I had been physically curb-stomped by the daemonhost of Chaos didn't help, either.

Relatively speaking, considering injuries both mental and physical, I was in great condition. Less could be said to the people who had actually been hurt.

Or killed.

I froze for a moment, my breath catching in my throat as I remembered the battle that had raged about me. It was all exciting and all, but... people had died. Gone, forever. No way to call them back, and for some not even a body to be found. Shivering, I clenched my hands and balled them up into fists.

A tap on my shoulder made me jump. There stood Vincent, who had been standing beside me as he waited for me to re-adjust to consciousness.

No fluff, he launched straight into a report. "You were out for about an hour, then woke up long enough for me to tell you what happened, then you passed out again." He informed me. "It has been... oh, say about three hours since the end of the battle."

I nodded. It had felt like forever, but the mind war must have been happening at the speed of thought; far faster than real time. I had been thankful for the dreamless sleep. A rumble in my gut clenched my throat shut, and I gagged. Things felt like I was about to upchuck, and violently. I looked around until Vincent handed me a bucket – one that had been taken from behind the garden.

Good guy, he nearly thinks of everything.

He looked away as I regurgitated the contents of my stomach, paused, then emptied out the rest of my guts into the bucket.

Now that I was awake and puking, he said, it was the perfect time to get up so everyone could 'debrief' me and the others. Miles had insisted on it, having been drilled the habit of 'after action reports' to be done after every combat that he had been involved in. It was critical, he said, for learning and not making the same mistakes again.

That, and if I remembered, it had also been a habit of Vincent's to do the same after every session of tabletop games.

Vincent seemed to remember something, and reached around to my coffee table. He returned with a glass of water in hand, which he passed to me. Even though I had been puking only a little while ago, I felt too full already, my appetite and thirst long gone.

"Miles told me that would help." He insisted. "Make sure you stay hydrated, or else you'll probably pass out again."

A rush of heat washed over my face as I reluctantly reached out and grabbed the glass. I began to slowly sip at the water, and looked around for the missing friend. "How is he, anyway? What about Alice? Batel? The others, what about them?"

"Gee, thanks for your concern." Vincent chuckled grimly, and it wasn't until now that I noticed that the left sleeve of his jacket was gone, and his arm was covered in burns and scars. All over his legs and face were more injuries, and… well, it looked like he had been in a war. Which was true. He closed his eyes, as if recalling a memory.

"Alice has a nasty burn around her throat… I'm not sure about anything else. She can speak, but Miles told her to be careful, so she's staying away from talking for the moment. But she hasn't been pointing at anything else right now, so she'll be alright after her throat heals up. The Sisters are taking care of her now.

Miles is fine, although he kinda smells. His clothes soaked up most of the damage, even the cannon shells from that Defiler he stomped into the ground. I think Emma did something to it; like reinforced the materials somehow."

Vincent hesitated, and I could see him going through a mental checklist. "That girl… Batel. She's asleep. Actually, 'comatose' would be a better word for it, but Emma says she just needs rest before getting woken up again. An-"

I held up my hand, stopping him before he launched into a grim report about the armies. Looking him over, I gestured vaguely at him.

"What happened to you?" I asked. Vincent adjusted his glasses rather nervously.

"Stuff." He quickly answered. I cocked my head to one side.

Hesitating, he continued on. "I think the lascannon was the worst of it. Lost a toe in my left foot when it burned through my shoe." Vincent waggled his left foot, which had a hole in the shoe. He smiled weakly, and sighed. "Best thing about it is that the blast cut off the nerves, too, then cauterized the wound; I don't think Emma can grow it back, but that means I don't get to bleed out and aside from the gap it doesn't really bother me."

I nodded, cautiously.

"What about the neighbors?"

"Emma says that she used a weirdness-censorship spell-thing. Rubric, that was it. The Rubric of Ignorance." He explained, waving his arms around in the usual 'I'm doing googly magic' gesture. "She made sure that we had the entire battle in private, although it wasn't perfect. Your neighbor, that Collins woman, came knocking later on. I told her we were playing games. Y'know, Dawn of War. She asked about all the... well, the battlefield. Emma came along and told us that it was alright." His face grew serious. "Then she... Collins, I mean, just walked off. No questions asked, she just upped and left the place without another word."

Settling down, Vincent clicked his teeth together, making them chatter as he thought this one through. "Later on, I checked with some of the other psykers. That Jedi mind-trick kind of stuff is very hard to pull off unless you got some seriously advanced powers. Whoever Emma is, she ain't just eleven years old."

I nodded, having already figured that part of things out.

Looking at Vincent, then at my hands, I murmured to myself. "So, nobody's calling the cops on us?"

"They didn't see any reason to, after Emma went off and stuffed around with their heads." Vincent sighed, and shrugged. "Hey, I'm not used to all this weird stuff, but I know the fluff. That girl… she's one hell of a psyker. Probably up there with Librarian Tigrus or that dick... eh... wossisname... Eldar guy, started the whole Armageddon wars."

He licked his dry lips, and changed the subject. Or at least went to a different tack than before.

"And speaking of which, so are you, apparently. Jeezus, Mickey. You? A psyker? I mean... whoa. Just... dood, you don't want to have a daemon crawl out of your eyeball, so I'd say get yourself some wards or something, cuz... that kind of thing may be funny to read about, but with that stuff actually happening to you? Christ, that would hurt..."

I blinked, wondering.

How could you just accept these things? I mean, where was the denial? Or did he already get over that when they had first met the miniature armies a week or so ago? Vincent was sitting there, grinning. It seemed like an entire lifetime ago that I had been able to just relax and mess around with friends. But in reality, it had only been… what, a month? Two?

Looking at my hands, I wasn't even so sure now. It felt like forever and a day, actually.

Murmuring, my head still hung between my hands, I quietly spoke to my friend.

"You alright with this? I mean… why aren't you freaking out?"

"Oh, would you rather I started freaking out?" Vincent asked. He shrugged. "I guess I'm just insane already; it isn't like we were normal in the first place. But... hey, look on the bright side! It's freakin' epic, if you ask me." Grinned Vincent, his voice exalting.

"I mean… look at it! Warhammer 40,000. It's all real! Best of all, I'm still alive!" He sighed, and shrugged. "There are a few things rather inconsistent with the fluff and all, like how the bolter shells ain't made of deuterium, but what looks like a ferro-ceramic jacket built around a rocket motor, designed to fragment from the inside out, but… it's real. I mean… holy shit, the Space Marines, the Tau, Eldar… It's all here. Even… even orks and... and Chaos."

He slowed down, his fanboy rabidity fading as reality caught up to him. I guess that was his coping mechanism, then.

"Do I just squee about it and have fun? No, I don't. But it's distracting me, which helps me cope with... the things that are going on. Also, it helps that I can laugh at them, or else I may as well risk going all bat-shit crazy. And the second one ain't the best of choices, if you ask me. Being normal is boring, but going insane is just not fun either. Oh, and hey, like I said: I asked that Librarian... uh, Vasili. I guess this is a cursed blessing, huh? With you being a mindscape psyker and all?"

"So what should I know about me being a psyker?"

"Be careful, really. Think of it as burning bandwidth; you can only use up so much before they start billing you for extra usage."

Smiling sadly, I motioned out to the armies.

"Is that it? I'd have figured as much."

Vincent gave a bitter laugh, and sat back.

I nodded, silent but glad of the change in subject. I wasn't sure if I could have said anything else.

"You don't have a lot in the way of baseline skills, but once you level up a few times you'll start pulling in the feats and tricks."

"..." I stared at him blankly, falling back into a familiar and comforting routine of straight man and dope. "Vincent. English, please."

"You got a steep learning curve ahead of you."

"Ah. Okay then..."

We lapsed into an uncomfortable silence then, with me staring at my feet while Vincent picked up a pen and began to idly twist his fingers around it, sending it flipping up and down his row of knuckles.

Looking around me, I spotted a squad of Tau Pathfinders and Space Marine Scouts patrolling, a silent Devilfish drifting behind them as they made their way across the doorway.

"How are they all holding up, anyway? The minis, I mean."

"Well enough. They're used to it… well, more used to it than we are."

Vincent stood, adjusting his glasses (which were chipped on the left lens), and walked out of the room with a slight limp. He was still feeling the loss of his left toe, then. My black-haired friend turned around, and looked back over his shoulder, beckoning me forward. "C'mon, Mike. Miles wants his AAR."

Hauling myself up, I set the contents of my stomach down on the floor and then staggered along, following Vincent's wake as he moved us off into the kitchen.

Miles and Emma were there. For simplicity's sake, everyone shorter than a foot tall referred to us 'Terrans' since there were basically none amongst them that were from Earth and 'humans' tended to include a force that covered roughly a third of the miniatures.

"Michael. Over here." Miles was the first to greet me, having settled down onto a stool and poured himself a glass of water. He was drawing out a second one, which found its ways into the pale skinned hands of Emma, who wandered off before I reached the kitchen counter.

I slid onto a stool, and looked around me. Alice was not here, as was Batel. Vincent had already settled down onto the last of the three stools here, and was now nursing a glass of water.

Running my hand over the edge of the counter, I looked around for a little while, taking in all the battle damage around this part of the house. There were scorch marks and craters all over the place, and I knew that it would be a lot of work to get this place back into presentable conditions. It seemed like even my kitchen had not been spared from combat, as there were dents and scorch marks on the counter top where bolter shells and grenades had gone off.

"Water, Mike. Get hydrated."

Cold glass was pressed against my knuckles, and I jumped at the sudden chill, knocking over the glass of water that Miles had touched against my hand. The glass of water fell onto its side, smashing the lip.

"Damn." I sighed, hands trembling as I reached out to grab a cloth and gather up the shards of broken glass, apologizing as I dumped them into the trash can (which had suffered a blast of some sort near its base).

"Sorry, Miles."

He looked shaken as well, and I guessed I didn't look to good. His face was etched with worry, and he quietly studied me as I worked away, gathering the remains of the glass.

"Mike... you probably should get more water into your system. Dehydration dulls you down, and I guess its also making you a little more jumpy than usual."

"Uh-huh." I agreed, and filled up a new glass for myself. Having topped it up with water, I brought it to my lips and slowly, steadily drained the glass as Vincent began going over some basic questions.

"How the hell did you meet up with Emma, Miles?"

"She kinda jumped me at the store, told me that there was something important that she needed me to do and then told me to go for my gun. I didn't know much else after that, since I kinda packed up and left"

I looked at him, frowning. Had she done the same as she did to Collins, and Jedi mind-tricked him?

"Then?"

"Well, I went for my rifle and my pistol... oh, hey, while we're still on that subject; can I have my M9 back sometime soon?"

"Yeah, sure. Think I left it by my bed. Go on, though."

"She jumped into my car and we drove off. On the way there, she was whispering something under her breath, and my clothes started feeling lighter and stuff."

"So she probably did something to them. I'll check her on that later on, but the important thing is that they're okay now, right?

"Yep." He confirmed, and took a deep breath.

"Also. You wanna go over this? What went right, what went wrong? Basically, let's start from the beginning; everyone was caught off guard. Whoever was on station at the time had broken contact with that vehicle and were heading off to unprepared hidey holes. Not good. We'll have to keep them on guard and reporting what's going on until they step through the doors, and have prepared places to hide in until the visitors leave."

I nodded.

"Then came the actual combat; it seems like the Chaos forces had a free ride out from the curb all the way up to your front door. Nobody contested them in open, flat terrain from a superior position, and by superior position I mean every goddamned window on the front side of your house. It should have been a fucking turkey shoot for us. Assuming we stuff up and this happens again, that means that we need to make that front yard of yours an absolute goddamned killzone for anyone that's stupid enough to try it."

Miles had a more serious mask on now, his voice becoming a series of snarls emphasized with sharp gestures. He had sketched out a rough diagram of my house, and was stabbing each of the locations as they came up in the discussion.

"Then there was the breakout from your front door to all over the living room. We did good there, boxing them in: that let us contain the Chaos force and lock them down. Everyone got together, and with the charge of the fucking mini brigade, the minis did the good old divide and conquer. Could have done better, though, from the reports I've been getting; everyone wasn't communicating, and we slowed down enough to let them recover and get their feet underneath them again. We lost momentum and the initiative of that battle, and the opposing forces turned it into a meat grinder."

He sighed, gesturing at the front garden.

"Basically, that's all I got for now. But the general things are this; better preparation, more cooperation – maybe a universal comms system would help – and if we get the change fortify the fuck out of your front door. Do it subtly, though. Potted plants with false bottoms, maybe? Don't know, don't care, just do it."

I blinked a few times, and nodded.

"Yeah... this never happened before, though..."

"And it won't happen again!" Miles snapped, and gritted his teeth. "Casualty rate was at about twenty to thirty percent. We don't exactly know how many are around to get an actual figure, Its higher amongst the Orks, lower with the upstairs people, but the Tau got hit the hardest. Imperial Guard lost the most at about a hundred eighty odd casualties. We have about fifty percent wounded or incapacitated, and basically won't be fighting anytime soon."

The words struck me like a gut shot.

"I... I see."

"You wanna visit them all, Mike? It's probably the best thing that you can do right now."

I nodded. "The armies, then. First the Imperials, upstairs."

But before that, I needed to throw up again.

The aftermath of a battle – let alone a war – has never been pretty, for the field or for the warriors involved. 'Tired' was actually the best physical or mental state you could be in. What smiles there were amongst the Guard that were to be seen all seemed forced, their laughter hollow or bitter. Most were silent, going about their duties with the knowledge that their friends were gone, and would never be back.

Standing in the domain of the Imperial Guard – up in one of the bedrooms on the first floor – I then noticed that things had changed. There had been a need to skip the second-to-top step before the landing halfway up my stairs as the Imperials had begun to fortify it; Miles had offered his skills to help construct better defenses, and they had readily accepted him, but for now the small outpost and the huge climb was the only thing keeping any new attacks out of the first floor.

The Hammer of the Emperor had once made their barracks from bricks; lego bricks, to be exact. Now, their habitations had evolved from the lego brick bunkers that had been their initial billets; the modular nature of lego had been a welcome sight, and they had adapted the 'technology' into their new buildings; each grey brick – to me almost as fine as sand at their smallest – would take longer to combine into a building, but was infinitely more adaptable to the needs of expanding to allow more space.

Or, I grimly reminded myself, to shrink back down after taking losses.

The motor pool was – like the many aid stations around me – a buzzing hive of activities, with red robed cogboys and their newly instated adepts, were busy in the process of getting everything back into shape for combat; thankfully, a lot of the tanks had been stored up here while the Chaos incursion had flowed into the living room, and had been out of the most brutal fighting, at least, until they were gathered together with the rest of the heavy armor for the crushing counter-assault that followed that first terrible half hour of battle.

Even so, their lighter vehicles were the ones that had fallen prey to wandering Chaos tank-hunter teams. Chimera APCs were the hardest hit, although these workhorses of the Imperium had fared well, and their parts were durable enough that they didn't need much in the way of repairs before they got back to running around. Fighting, however, was out of the question for some, with great rents in their armor and gaping holes in engines.

I sat down as the Imperials crowded around my knees. Turning to a Lieutenant – his name was… Ambrose, wasn't it? Second Lieutenant Ambrose - as he walked about on the bookcase beside me, I motioned him over.

"Who's in charge?"

"Seniority falls on to…" He checked his dataslate. "Major Drai is in charge now, until General Faust recovers. His second is… Commissar Tomas, by seniority."

I nodded, numbly. "How is he, anyway? Faust, I mean."

A few more taps as the Lieutenant called up the data. "Wounded, but stable. He's got shrapnel in his right leg, arm and chest, and lost two fingers on his right hand. Recovery time is… two weeks, at most. The xenos have offered their own medical technologies… he ordered us to accept. We refused the Orks, though."

The two of us shared a nervous chuckle. The Orks' grasp of medical technology was… primitive, at best. For example, 'anesthetics' and 'concussion' tended to be the same thing, and delivered via a mallet.

"What about everything else? If this happens again…"

The Lieutenant shrugged, continuing to thumb through the dataslate he held in his hand. "An expeditionary force is being dispatched with elements from the Adeptus Mechanicus, to gather more resources which can be used to replace our losses. Your friend… Vincent. He offered to transport them to a mineral repository."

Again, my head bobbed up and down. "Yeah. Probably headed out to the junkyard. That sounds great. So, we'll be having replacements?"

"Men? No. Machines, maybe. Our fabricators aren't exactly in top condition at the moment, so…" The LT hesitated, and sighed with a frown on his face. "I'm not sure, but the summary is that it will be difficult. Logistics has always been the General's field. We just made sure to use up our supplies at the rate he projected, or else we'd have some trouble transporting it around."

I arched an eyebrow, and shrugged it off. I wasn't used to all these supplies and whatnot. My job did not involve much in the way of logistics; moving things around, sure, but… well, I was an artist; sketches, commissions and such stuff was my main trade, rather than… well, this. Miles was probably the one better asked about this.

"I see." I replied, rather lamely, and turned away. "Look… I'm not sure if I should be the one you're talking to about all this logistics, Lieutenant. Tell your commander, go see Miles. He might be able to help you with logistical problems."

"Sir, yes, sir."

I stood, feeling a little awkward. The man, probably a good decade older and a lot more experienced in the ways of war, considering that he was a Cadian, had called me sir.

"As you were?" I ventured, touching fingers to temple.

He smiled, clicked his heels together again, saluted back and nodded.

"Sir, yes sir."

I stepped outside, and let out a long sigh. Next up...

"I didn't think that a Cadian would have done that for anyone but an officer." Miles observed as I stepped out of the Imperial fortress.

I snapped out of the daze of thought, and looked up at him. Miles was a good deal taller than I was, and the differences between us were what you'd expect from a recently retired combat engineer and a reclusive just-out-of-college artist.

"Hmm?"

"You've earned a lot of respect, Mike." He simplified for my sake, and I nodded.

"Yeah... thanks? I don't think you've got You helped us a lot out there today."

Miles shrugged, and pointed at my laundry cupboard. "Broom in there, right?"

I frowned. "What do you need it for?"

"Cleanup, remember?"

"Ah... yeah..." I had just assumed that Emma had taken care of that as well.

But hey, life isn't perfect, is it?

"So..." I paused, a little unsure. "How is... cleanup... going?"

To that, Miles let out a massive sigh of relief. "Thank God you have a fireplace, Mike. We've been burning everything we can in there. Bodies, mostly. Half a dozen of those meltaaaW weapons have been helping us with the rest. There ain't much left of that disintegrated guy, so it wouldn't be much of a problem... although there's the van. Maybe I could see how well these guys can disintegrate something..."

"Give it to the Orks." I replied instantly. "Clear it with the psykers, Eldar and the Inquisitor first, but see if you can get that thing scrapped by the Orks. The van probably wouldn't be 'tainted' and they could take it apart easily." I looked at Miles, who nodded his agreement. But something was missing... a crucial det- ah. Right. Fuel. "Although I'd appreciate it if you got rid of the gas in the tank first. We don't want them finding out that there's huge tanks of stuff that burns inside of every four-wheeled vehicle around here."

"Righto, Big Boss." Sighed Miles. "You got a hacksaw, too?"

"Garden shed, should be. I'm off to see the Space Marines. Back in a bit."

The Space Marines, living in the room next door, were in a similar state to the motor pool; they were a buzzing nest of urgency, with the armored figures hurriedly making their way from place to place. After seeing the Guardsmen, and glimpsing everyone else, I understood why they did this. Work already tired soldiers to the bone. They didn't want them to rest, didn't want them to think, didn't want them to remember their dead friends and fallen brothers and sisters.

A dreamless sleep to the exhausted, and no allowance for time to think for those that weren't; it was a cruel act, but a merciful one.

I stepped in amongst the stoic warriors of the Imperium. The Adeptus Astartes regarded me through their hard stares and emotionless eyepieces. A few put down their work as I shuffled into the room, careful not to raise my feet above the ground; it was better to be pushed out of the way rather than crushed.

Sitting down at my usual spot, which was by a table that had become the main command center, I looked around at the casualties.

Though their armor was incredibly tough and made them much less vulnerable to enemy fire, this also meant that the Marines were throwing themselves into more dangerous situations than the average Guardsman. That also meant that the Marines had taken some rather brutal losses when faced up with their corrupted counterparts. Red-armored Techmarines and their hastily recruited apprentices walked from Marine to Marine, overseeing and aiding the repairs. I saw a pattern there, the reverse of what I saw with the injured: The suits of armor with minimal damage were the first to be repaired, given precedence over the more mangled armor.

The cold logic in that was clear; the sooner they could be repaired, the sooner a Marine could fight.

I looked to my left, meeting the sound of approaching footfalls.

"Chaplain Morteus." I spoke, sitting beside my usual spot.

"Michael." He greeted, making his way up a ramp to stand level with my head. "We are faring well, all considering the battle that had just taken place."

"How is everyone?"

"You ask the right person." The black-armored battle-priest sighed, and looked out at the Marine-village beyond. "We are Space Marines, Adeptus Astartes. We are used to battle, to fight for every breath we take from the worlds we protect. We are the Emperor's finest and we will not sully the memories of those who gave their lives for this place with tears or grief. We shall mourn their passing, that is certain, but they have achieved a glorious death performing the duties befitting of a Marine; a death in battle, with their brothers at their sides, their enemies in front of them and the ones that they died to protect safe behind them. That is all any of us could ask for."

"I don't see Eizak around… how is he?"

To my surprise, the Chaplain began to laugh.

"He almost died, yes, and he is still alive. We were about to administer the Final Rites, but he knocked the apocetharion's aide out, and sat back up. Well, tried to, anyway. His body is… gone. Legs, arms, internal organs are all a mess, according to Asclepius – our Apocetharion – he will need to be in kept in stasis until Techmarine Abelus can prepare a Dreadnought for him. We'll rebuild him, eventually. He'll be stronger, tougher. More deadly." Morteus chuckled. "Although, with Commander Eizak, 'tougher' is a rather hard goal to set."

I stared at him, not quite understanding what the hell he was going on about. "So…" My words failed, and I sighed as I sat back down.

"Morteus?"

"Yes, Michael?"

"How can you laugh about your commander almost getting killed?"

"Simply because he did not die." Morteus answered, with a definite confidence in his voice. "However, I cannot say the same about many of my battle-brothers." He turned away, and slipped his helmet back on. The Chaplain tapped the nose of his helmet a few times, before returning his gaze to me.

I decided to question him some more. "Do you ever get used to it? To seeing people you know, people that aren't there anymore? How do you deal with that?"

"A wise question, and one that will be answered." There was a bitter chuckle. "We are the Emperor's finest, and they finer than we. The fallen have given their lives to defend Holy Terra itself; from the forces of Chaos, no less. The Sons of Dorn – The Black Templars, that is, and we Imperial Fists - are honored indeed, to be able to aspire to the greatness of their forebearers." Morteus sighed, his hand reaching out to idly touch the yellow shoulder plate, which was adorned with the clenched black hand of the Imperial Fists.

"We will carry on our duty, Michael. We shall defend this place, your home. For Terra, and for the Emperor."

Another voice approached. "And the next time we meet, we shall be prepared for them." Vasili rumbled, clad in loose robes as he advanced. I assumed his armor was being sent in for repairs, so it was only now that the heavy musculature of a Space Marine was truly emphasized. These guys must have been hopped up on steroids since the beginning of their training or something…

"It is fortunate, brother, that we have not acted rashly; though Chaos may taint this place, and a crusade of purgation is appropriate according to dogma and doctrine, we will have to stay our hands for the moment. They will be purged in due time, that is without question… but we must act cautiously, for though our current status with the Warp may stifle their powers, it also acts to dampen ours as well. The senses of our psykers are dull, though the majority of our powers remain… we will need more than just our current forces to effectively work against the machinations of Chaos."

Looking at the two as they continued to debate, I turned to watch the rest of the Space Marines. To my surprise, there was a pair of skimmers entering the normally sacred territory of the Space Marines; a Tau Devilfish and a Wave Serpent, both hovering just above the carpet, wheeling around as it dropped their ramps.

A series of small barrels, filled with burn cream, were wheeled out of the Wave Serpent, and the Tau landing just in front of the main supply dumps to bring out miscellaneous boxes out of their transport. Most surprising of its cargo were the gun drones – with their pulse carbines swapped out for cargo nets – along with a mechanic.

The techmarine stopped them, and there was a brief moment of chatter. The Tau mechanic shook hands, and the crimson armored Marine lead them off, chattering incessantly with his slimmer xeno counterpart.

"It's funny, huh?" Asked Vasili, again by my ear. "Two months ago, we would never have done this."

"I know. I had to keep cooling you guys off."

"Especially the Adepta Sororitas, Michael. They had a preference for flame weapons that you most certainly did not appreciate."

"Did you just tell a joke?"

We shared a brief, much needed and (with a hint of guilt) slightly enjoyable, laugh, then began to bid farewells. I still wonder how these people can even smile, after losing so many of their friends and brothers over their years of service to their Emperor.

"Well, now that you mention it... I do owe those S-O-Bs a visit. Good night, everyone."

"Good night, Michael. Vasili has told me of your mind-war exploits. You would have made a fine Marine... you may still do, actually. You are not yet old enough to be discounted for service." Morteus grinned, his face matching the white mask of his helmet.

"Good luck with that." I replied, straight faced in a rendition of Vincent's style of humor. The two laughed, and bid me good bye. I stood, and headed back outside into the hallway, where I would then pull down the ladder up to my attic. But before I left, I turned around to face them.

"Oh, yeah, before I forget; anything you guys really need that I can possibly get a hold of? Food, water, anything?"

"Our current priorities are centered around the restoration of our war-making ability." The Space Marine answered. "We require raw materials, which can then be used for producing new parts for our damaged equipment."

"Aye aye." I replied. "I'll see what Vincent can do about that."

Of the many factions living under my roof, the Sisters of Battle were the least hit; they were sited primarily in the attic, and their fortress-abbeys didn't so much as get scorched by the forces of Chaos below, which was why the most serious cases out of the human forces – simply a matter of biology rather than dogma now – were being treated up there. Since the ladder was pretty much the only way of getting up there without extensive climbing or tunneling through walls, it was a given that the bastion of the Adepta Sororitas would become the haven of the humans.

I ran into a tall, rather lanky white haired young woman halfway to the Sanctuary, as they were calling the place now.

"Alice?" I asked, not quite recognizing the girlish friend of mine beneath the hollow stare and sunken eyes. She had just exited out of the bathroom, and held one arm loosely in the other as she stared off into space. A cold, mechanical part of me listed off her symptoms.

Shock, most likely.

Emotional trauma like none before. Between the members our group of friends, Alice was probably the most normal. She hadn't been shipped off to a warzone, she hadn't been raised by the internet nor had she been utterly traumatized by her father. As for me, I had long ago ended the 'being normal' thing when these miniatures rolled up in the house. Possibly before even then, too.

"Uh... hey, Alice?"

It took another try before Alice looked up at me, once bright eyes blank and dull as she met my gaze. Her neck came into view, and... I was glad that I couldn't see the scarring in detail. The daemonhost had literally branded the shape of his palm onto her neck, the flesh all burnt as her flesh had now had become a mottled pink-brown color.

She had rubbed burn cream over it, and had now moved her hand to slowly massage the skin just past the marred flesh. Briefly, I wondered why Emma had not already healed it, but it was likely that more serious injuries were being treated by her as Alice's wound settled in.

Looking at the scar tissue now, I wondered what it must have felt like for such a thing to happen. Alice's eyes darted away as she followed my gaze. Just as quickly, I turned away as well, embarrassed. Ashamed... guilty? Maybe all three, as I was the sole reason of her being in this mess. If it weren't for me, she would never have met the miniature armies living in my house. Because of that, she had been involved in the battle of Belmont street.

"You alright?" I asked, desperate to end the awkward silence that had settled in between the two of us. Obviously, she wasn't, because as soon as those words left my lips I found her starting to tremble. Not physically, but it was something that I felt.

"Alice... look, I'm sorry I got you involved in all this."

A nod,a simple acknowledgment of my apologies. I nervously rubbed the back of my neck, trying to feel out the words that had to be spoken. Sighing, I approached the nearest wall and pressed my forehead against it.

"I'm sorry. About all this. I mean, I almost got you killed." I choked out, my fingers trembling as I looked across the hallway, towards the pale haired young woman.

She looked at me, again, and her expression said all that need to be with the tightening of the corners of her eyes, the slight, sad smile that crossed her face for just a brief heartbeat, the blink-and-miss it tilt of her head to the right. It all communicated one fact, stated with unshakeable confidence; it wasn't your fault.

I sighed, and nodded. I was being irrational about this.

"I'm sorry."

She laughed, bitter and sad. Though she did not speak, making no sound, I knew what she would have said: "I know."

Alice stepped forward, wrapped her arms around me, and gave me a brief, tight hug. I fumbled through my thoughts for a moment, before returning it. We shared a small, wonderfully comforting moment where I had no worries in the world, but then we returned to reality.

Letting me go, she reached up, and pulled down the ladder from above. Motioning me forward, she gestured for me to go, up into the domain of the Adepta Sororitas.

I let out a long held breath, and climbed upstairs.

Up in the attic, things had become considerably more well ventilated – in the good way – since my last visit. It had been a rather long and dusty morning and afternoon, all spent moving junk and bits and bobs out of the attic (and mostly down to the basement, a decision which was met with much glee from the Orks down there), and now there was plenty more rooms upstairs.

However, out of all of the camps I had most recently visited, Sanctuary had to be the most... festive. It was an extended religious sermon, with hymns raised up in prayer that stirred the very soul as a hundred voices were raised up in prayer, and while the dead were mourned, their deeds were what was being celebrated.

Of the sixty to seventy Sisters that had come here, perhaps twenty had fallen in combat, or otherwise rendered unable to fight. Each of their names were now engraved upon the memorial that was the pillars of the doll house. I felt a little queasy, knowing that each of those names represented one life that had been given up for the sake of this house. They may have been glad to give it, as some Sisters had said, but that fact still niggled at the back of my mind.

Reaching out, I gripped the sides of the trapdoor and pulled myself up. My muscles still ached in places, but for the moment I ignored my protesting arms as I lifted myself up.

My entrance was far from quiet. There were at least a dozen Sisters turning around as I planted my feet in their domain.

Sister Samisha Ludmilla, Canoness of the Sisters of Battle, stood with a hand on the hilt of her sword, an escort of other Sisters about her. As she stood there, the story of her battle came into view her armour pockmarked and scarred by bolter shells, and the tabard about her waist was scorched by the promethium she so loved to spray around.

"Michael." She nodded her greeting, expression hidden behind the metal faceplate of her helmet. Samisha strode forward, all confidence and poise as she let her hands rest at her side.

"Hey." I greeted back, and looked around to the others, exchanging hellos with those that I knew already, and got to know those that I had not.

Sister Yolanda, Sister Brita, Sister Tellanel, Sister Annette, Sister Olivi and Sister Vera.

By the end of this, I wondered how many – if any – of these women-warriors would still be alive. I shivered, a motion that had no chance of slipping past the sharp eyes of the Adepta Sororitas.

"Something troubles you, Michael?"

I nodded.

"Yeah."

The dead and wounded were still being moved about, the more stable cases being shifted out for less able hands to take care of them as more serious injuries were tended to. However, it seemed now that there was a stability in them, where most of the serious cases had been taken care of already – either by the physicians or by the psychic – and it was just a matter of time before the injured were back to being upright and fighting. So that they could again risk their lives, gambling their souls for a greater purpose.

Samisha turned around, and followed my gaze. I suppose she understood what I was looking at, being a veteran of however many wars by now...

"How is everyone holding up?" I asked.

"Well enough. We are servants of the Emperor, Michael. I am sure Brother Morteus or Marty has already explained this to you, bu-"

"Excuse me? Marty?"

There was hesitation from Samisha. "Er... I meant Justicar Amadeus. His full name is Martello Amadeus, and..."

She stopped, leaving the rest of her sentence hanging in the air.

I sighed, and shook my head in my amusement. Miles himself had explained this to me. Give soldiers any respite from death, and they more usually than not seek out life in its fullest. Life-making in particular. I suppose those sworn to the Emperor's service would be a little more subdued, but... well, if something looks like something...

The best answer that I could come up with that wouldn't see me immolated was: "I see."

Now it was Samisha's turn to sigh, the sound echoing out through the audio filters in her armor.

"Well, either way I suppose we should appreciate the timely arrival of you and your supply party."

"I suppose." I replied, and couldn't help but start smiling. I remembered running over that daemonhost with the car with an intense satisfaction. "We flanked them. By accident, too."

"Quite fortunate, then." The Canoness responded, amusement beginning to creep into her voice.

"Oh, before I forget." Swerving the conversation out to my real purpose for being here. "Anything you particularly need in the way of supplies?"

Samisha turned around, and gestured forward another Sister – the leader of the Hospitallers, a veteran combat medic named Sister Tellanel – who rattled off items from the top of her head; I struggled to keep up, but got the gist of it: Medical supplies, mostly. Water, disinfectants and suchlike. "We can't go wrong with those," she said. "... as well as anything we could use as extra bedding; the wounded need to be made more comfortable."

I nodded again, noting it down, and then said my farewells.

With clumsy old me around, I didn't want to accidentally hurt anyone by galomphing around here for too long.

"I'll be going, then, 'll get a hold of that stuff for you."

The Sisters saluted, and bowed. "Thank you, Michael. We shall see you soon."

"I hope so."

Back on the ground floor and in a quieter corner of my living room, the Tau were by far the most heavily hit of the crews; because of their location, the Tau base had become a prime target for any wandering Chaos troops seeking 'blood for the blood god'. Though the Tau combat doctrine's preference for delivering large quantities of hot plasma in large amounts at long range served them well in the flat open space that was my living room - they possibly tacked up the largest amount of kills in terms of heads, with the inescapable danmaku-style light show that they and the Imperial Guard were giving the enemy – their armor and structural engineering were poorly suited to receiving fire in equal amounts.

The conical, domed structures typical of Tau architecture were devastated by artillery potshots, despite even the unimaginably huge volume of firepower that had been expended to protect this place, and as such an untouched building was a rare one; smoking craters (my carpet!), chunks of ceramic wall and wrecked vehicles were being cleared up even now by the duty-bound Fire Caste. My eyes quickly scanned the skeletal remains of vehicles, many of which also belonged to Imperial or Eldar forces (the Orks had already dragged whatever wasn't being actively protected back down to their basement).

I approached the ever growing graveyard of vehicles, arranged carefully in neat rows, whatever parts belonging to them carefully placed beside or behind them; sometimes, I saw a Chimera APC, its turret having been blown off by an explosive shell (that had, it seemed, struck where the turret had connected with the main hull), was now nestled haphazardly atop the broken vehicle a crude parody of what was once a proud war machine.

The Imperial tech-priests were clambering over everything, scavenging what parts they could extract to be inventoried then re-distributed to other machines, putting them back into operational capacity. The clang of hammers, the hiss-buzzing of plasma welders and curses of disgruntled tech adepts, however, could not camouflage the most prominent sound; music. It was a tune that touched the soul; a slow but strong song played by the massive flute-pipes of the Bonesingers, which followed a set and precise cadence as the player swayed gently from side to side. They were growing a long, narrow barrel to replace one damaged in battle, the Fire Lance's tip having been snapped off by enemy fire.

Turning to the edges of the vehicular graveyard, I saw more of the gracefully slim, black-armored figures darting between the vehicles. The Eldar were mixing in with the cobalt blue, more 'chunky' battle-armor of the Tau as their bonesingers talked with the Earth caste support crew, or otherwise sung to the wraithbone, building new parts that were – unlike the slim and smooth Eldar construction, held the more rigid geometries of Tau and Human parts.

It seemed that cooperation between Eldar and Tau were a little less strained than that between human and xenos, and in the eve of battle the hesitant allies were starting to gain some ground.

Unity, it seemed, was a journey made upon a river of blood.

Sitting down at the edges of the graveyard, I watched a group of mixed engineers with interest. A bonesinger and a helmetless Warp Spider conversed with each other, tinkering with a Frisbee of Doom – that is, a Tau Gun Drone – as they were given the run down with a blue-armored Tau Fire Warrior; probably a combat engineer or something similar.

The top plate – the only thing Drones could consider anything like armor – had been melted, the layers of armor burned away by the miniaturized sun.

Something round was being produced by the two Eldar, and soon the Warp Spider reached across, picked the newly made armored dome up, and set it on top of the Tau Gun Drone.

Nodding, the Fire Warrior reached underneath the Frisbee, and seemed to play with a few switches. A few moments later, and he stepped back. A thumb was applied to a button. Nothing happened. The Drone was then upended, and the three worked furiously at the circuitry.

There were a few sniggers from the tech-adepts off to the work-group's left. They were clearly enjoying the frustration of the xenos, and took little effort to hide their amusement. Chuckling over, they returned to their work and went about tinkering with the Chimera, carefully threading each link in the tracks together to replace the one that had been salvaged from the disabled APC's hull.

However, one was still staring. A red robed tech-adept pushed past his fellow cogboys, limping slightly as his charred robes billowed about in the wake of a passing Devilfish's engines. He strode out, uncaring of the questions that were thrown at him from the other machine-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus as he joined them.

Two seconds later, a boot was swung back and then forth, connecting with the FoD with a sharp clang, and the Drone was hurled into the sky, propelled initially by the force of the impact, and then – with a sputter and a cough - by a jet of blue ionized gases as the drive engines kicked in.

Bewildered and bemused, the three aliens turned to the smug human.

"I do wonder, mon-keigh, is how are you able to simply hit the thing and make it work?" Asked one of the Eldar.

"It may take two seconds to learn how to hit a machine, xenos, but it takes two decades to learn where to hit a machine." Smugly answered the Tech-Adept.

There was a laugh from the more light hearted Tau engineers. "Oh really?"

"Yeah, really." Grinned the Techpriest of Mars. "I can assure you of that."

Smiling, I left the group of technicians to their work.

The Eldar, as we all know, weren't too happy about being sited in the toilet when I had dispersed the armies of the 41st millennium across the various rooms of my house. However, the white ceramic of the bathroom (and the fact that I never really used it unless it was an... er... emergency) had been enough like their home – the massive Craftworld of Ulthwe – that they didn't murder me while I slept. Either that, or it was the literal army of humans between the stairs and my room that kept them out.

All considered, I tended to bet on the latter.

Opening the door to the bathroom, I found the place eerily still, but not dead. The Eldar were all arrayed about a massive wraithbone tree, their armor and helmets gone. Instead of vaguely bullet-shaped helmets, their hair was flowing freely in the artificial wind of my passing. The vibrant rainbow of colors that I saw amongst that of the Eldar was breathtaking; there were the common blacks, browns and blondes, but also blood red hair, pink and green and orange and... well, you get the idea. They had been gathered, formed into a silent ring around the center of their room, where something had been built.

I peered closer.

A small shrine had been erected near the center of the alien settlement, the inscriptions of battle-poems arrayed around a wraithbone 'tree' that was still growing as Eldar survivors formed into a procession in front of it, each laying a glittering red stone at the roots of the tree, and patiently watching as the red stones were absorbed into the glowing white . Tiny warp spiders – the real ones, not the warriors – skittered across the pale, smooth surface, watchful as they guarded the souls of the Eldar dead. Unlike the others, this race of ancient psychics were not going to let go of their fallen as easily as the other races.

The constant amongst the alien settlement was the music; like the songs of the bonesingers, this one was slower and more mournful than my usual fare. It was a beautiful piece and I would have enjoyed it were it not a tribute to the fallen. Psychically charged, it was music that tore at the soul, a requiem that made me want to listen to it forever, yet at the same time want to shut my ears and lock it out. Kind of like death, really; fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

I blinked, remembering what I was supposed to be here for.

Focusing my mind on my sight and blocking out the sounds of the musicians, I searched the white bone-architecture of the Eldar and amongst the many space-elves that populated this bathroom-turned-wraithbone forest. I gave up on doing anything meaningful; with the crowd gathering – and none at all in their Aspect Armor – I couldn't do anything but sit down, lost in admiration as the reverential procession continued, each soul slowly and lovingly integrated into the mass of the fallen spirits.

But... why?

"It is our afterlife, mon-keigh. Our paradise." A voice answered my silent question, coming from behind me. It was a familiar tone, haughty with an irritatingly sharp inflection on the words 'our'.

I turned around to face the Farseer, who had her trusted aide and fellow psyker Yoza in tow, both adorned in white robes – much like the rest of the Eldar – and carried with them long, slender staffs that were a lot less pointy than the singing spear and witchblade/spear that both usually carried.

"Zara... I... uh... what's going on?"

She was staring at me, her eyes connecting our minds with a pseudo-telepathy. Mostly because I couldn't do the 'sending', she was helping me along with that half of the conversation.

"We honor our dead, Michael. Too many Eldar have been killed."

I nodded. "Far too many have died... can you explain more? Why the big tree and the red stones?"

A nod. "The Prince of Excess – Slaanesh – fights with his rival Gods for dominion of the warp and the materium. He was... he was born of our decadent ancestors, and his birthing scream consumed so many souls to be consumed... and..."

She stopped, waving things off to Yoza. "Explain this to him. I find this too demeaning a task, to have to explain such lore to him. I shall meet you later, with the rest of the bonesingers."

Yoza politely stepped out of her way as Zara stomped off – no doubt I felt that she was going off to shove that staff of hers up someone's nose -

"Scattered, the Eldar gods were." He sighed, and shook his head a little. "Not the time to be silly with word-games. Enough of the history lesson. Here's the basics: When a being with a connection to the warp dies, its soul is released from its body. With no Eldar Gods to act as a beacon for Eldar souls, they are instead consumed by Slaanesh or whatever nasty happens to be around."

I nodded. Yoza continued.

"These spirit stones – we call them 'waystones' – are the Tears of Isha, a gift to us as a people and a race, given to us by our Goddess of Healing. They, at the time of their wearer's death, call to the soul of their wearer, sheltering it from the warp and the predations of Slaanesh."

He waved me forward, and I followed him as he sprinted – I moved at a crouch-walk – over to a new building I had not noticed before.

"Specialists called Spiritseers, usually imbed these souls inside of the Infinity Circuit, an amalgamation of every Eldar soul which is found at the center of every craftworld. For the moment, we have a rather smaller version – we call it the Forever Tree, for lack of a better name."

Another stone had been placed at the center of the tree, and now it slowly traveled up the trunk with an escort of the crystalline warp spiders. We both stopped, watching as it reached the tip of a branch and split the wraithbone into two new paths.

"However, we cannot keep it safe like this. Because of that, the Spiritseers have been working with the Bonesingers. We are loath to do this, to deny our brothers and sisters paradise, but... I do not think they wish for paradise, while we are still out here, in this place."

Yoza turned again, beckoning me towards one of the windows for the new building.

Inside, I saw a Wraithlord. It was colored bone white and midnight black. The teardrop shaped 'head' was easily one of the largest components on the machine of war, and featured a pair of stones set into either side of the bulb, both glowing a dull red as the bonesingers and spiritseers worked with a skeletal construct – I realized that it was another Wraith-soldier - and a pair of gun-drones rigged with hooks to ease the left arm – with a massive power-fist like weapon attached - onto the mount that had been prepared for it.

There was movement to my right, and I turned to Yoza, who had been joined by a pair of Eldar. They weren't dressed in the slender armor of warriors, but instead were in the robes of artisans.

He introduced them; one was a woman named Adora and the other a rather more eccentric looking fellow going by Zain'han. The latter was the most senior of the bonesingers, having mastered the path of the Singer more recently than the others and – as everyone else admitted – possessed a deft touch with the shaping of the wraithbone, which I presumed meant that he was the Steve Jobs of Eldar bone-shaping.

The introductions were concluded with a smile and a nod. "Well, nice to meet you."

Zain'han grinned, a small flute-type attachment for the bonesinger's... instrument whirling about his fingers, his deft digits twirling it around in a complex pattern of flicks and flips.

It was then explained to me; what I was seeing was what humans would call a 'dreadnought', a machine in which a fallen warrior could still continue to fight for their people. Constructed from the psycho-reactive 'plastic' that was Wraithbone, the souls of the fallen were attached to this matrix of organic circuitry and thus a Wraith was born. As I watched, the Eldar bonesinger placed both his hands on the left arm of the Wraithlord, and pushed.

"And now," Chuckled Zain'han, "it begins."

The bonesingers below gave way to their spiritseer cousins, and the two chanting Eldar artisans walked up to the two eyes, held pale hands over the smooth red stones, and sliced open their hands, letting a few drops of blood dribble down onto the stones. 'Eyes' glowed a blood red in response, and the wraithlord shook and trembled as power surged through its many limbs.

"Rise, wraithlord of Ulthwe."

A rumble, like that of an elephant's, shook the small building and my eardrums. The Wraithlord stood up from where it once knelt, and then stood stock-still as a statue.

Silence and stillness, that was all that existed for a minute.

The red stones glowed. "... So... Our Guess Is That This Means That We Have Died, Then?"

"Yes."

"Noted." The Wraithlord articulated, flexing slender fingers and slim legs as it tested out its new body. The massive bulb of its 'head' shifted this way and that, before fixing onto the bonesinger and spiritseer below.

"When Do We Go Back To War?"

Gently, as if the wraithbone were newborn flesh, the bonesinger caressed its knee.

"Soon, Wraithlord Laesar." He replied. "Soon."

As the last of the acclimatization was being completed, with the modular weapons being fitted on as the Wraithlord adjusted his/her/its limbs to the large sword in its right hand and the 'bright lance' on the left shoulder.

I turned again to the two wraith-constructors.

"Hey... could you do this kind of thing for a human?"

A shake of the head from Adora. "Their soul would have been released already, and not trapped within a waystone. We cannot retrieve them, a-"

I interrupted the Eldar woman with a sharp hand gesture. "The people I have in mind are still alive. I think they just need something like a dreadnought. A body from which to move with. Can you do that?"

Zain'han was still grinning as he laughed. "Of course. Prosthetics and the like are easy with wraithbone, so long as they have something of a psychic presence. I've also been wanting to try some new designs as well... so, who exactly did you have him mind?"

"Many of the wounded. Tau and Human."

Adora fell into a sly and thoughtful smile. "Oooh, I've never tried that before. The Tau may be difficult, with their lack of psychic presence, but their own technology will compensate for that. As for humans, we may need to do some experimentation first..."

We fell into speculation after that, as the procession went on behind us, the plans were laid down between the more eccentric Eldar bonesinger and his spiritseer partner.

At the end of the quick planning, the foundations had been laid; , the forces under my roof may not have been returned to their absolute 100%, but we were getting there...

Quite unlike the others, the Orks were having the equivalent of an after-match booze up, shouting and jovially recounting their exploits during the previous battle, with re-enactments aplenty. I came downstairs, and called out for Madork.

The under-boss and my right toe Ork in the hierarchy marched up to me, his pointy stikk decorated with a pair more heads and hollowed out helmets. And, curiously enough, a blob of blu-tack. One belonged to a Chaos Marine, while another seemed to have come from a Chaos cultist.

Madork Gunna, Scourge of the Basement, under boss of Big Boss Michael, Biter of Ankles (his latest title) and the proud owner of the Waagh!-Gun, stomped on the ground for attention. "Oi, Big Boss! Dat Deffgunna boy of yerz sez you'ze gonna give us a scrap!"

"Scrap metal, Madork. As in, stuff to make armor from."

"Uh... wot?"

"We'ze gonna giz ya a big trukk, soz you boyz can take it to smalla bitz an' make sum trukks out of it."

"Ooooh." Madork grinned, and began rubbing his klaw in his hand – the equivalent of a squeal of joy – and his (normal) left eye twinkled with a mischievous delight. "Oi gotcha now, Big Boss. I'll send my... er... dat is, yer mekboyz ta start takin' dat Gargant-trukk to bitz."

"Yeah, and make sure you do it quickly, or else someone else will get the trukk. 'kay?"

"Right, Big Boss! See, boyz? Big Boss Mikkey'z gone an got us a big trukk to take ta bitz! We gets ta make ourselves some stuff! Now get off yer chair crushas, an' grab some metal!"

Following the Orks as they made their way outside, I let them out like a long cat that was green and stretched between my basement door and the van outside.

"C'mon, boyz! Let's get it!"

The Orks attacked the van with a gusto that could only be compared to ants taking apart a recently deceased animal, carrying off chunks of metal that they had managed to chop off – I already saw some Big Meks holding the scraps of metal and fitting it onto their newly built shields.

"Oi, boyz, lookit this! It's like a zzap gun!"

Spark plugs were gone, then.

"Ey, wots dis? Its loik a button or summat..."

"Naw, you'ze can pull it out! Ere, gimme a hand with dat."

"Gorkanmork! Dis 'ere iz 'ot like me tailpipe!"

There went the cigarette thingy...

"Oi, Madork! Oi bet ya ten teef dat you can't make that honkin' noise from 'eadbutting the middle of dat big steerin' fing."

"You'ze on, 'Ardenuff."

There was the sounds of someone getting a run up from the top of the driver's seat, the faint 'Waaaagh' of a single ork flying charge, then the sudden and sharp honk of a horn.

"Daim, you'ze did it? Alright, ya want me mouth open or shut?"

"Don't matter much to me, 'Ardenuff."

"Roight, then. Ten teef, wazn' it?"

I decided to walk back inside with the sounds of teeth being punched out of their owner's jaw.

"Michael." Emma poked me in the left eyebrow, waking me up.

"Hmm?"

"I require your assistance."

"How so?"

"The witch... that girl named Batel. She is ready to be awakened..."

Here's what happened, in less words: After busying herself with the wounded, Emma had given Batel a psychic examination, checking every corner and cranny of her mind for any further taint of Chaos.

"... I have removed the more malignant psychic taints within her mind."

"Okay..." I ventured, unsure of what to say now. "So how do you need my help?"

"Wake her. She knows not of me. I wish to keep it that way for the moment. Alice should not be speaking, and has no significant psychic talent. Miles knows not of her either, which leaves just you and the boy."

I cocked an eyebrow, cutting off the other names until one remained. "Vincent?"

Emma nodded. "Yes. Him. Of the two of you, she... trusts... him more. Bring him upstairs, and see if you can calm her when she wakes."

"Calm her?"

"She has been... traumatized." For the first time, I saw hesitation in her eyes. Emma was... worried? "Her sleep is unsound, and her dreams less so. I am... concerned... for her safety."

I nodded, and sat down.

"We'll take care of her." I promised.

Emma closed her eyes for a brief second, and I felt a flutter of energy as she let out a deep breath.

"Thank you."

Vincent let out a breath, through his nostrils in a gushing jet of warm air and frustration.

"Okay, you being around when she wakes, I can get, but what about me? Why do I have to get dragged along here?"

"Because, out of the four of us, you were the one that has spent the most time with her, Vince."

"Uh huh. And that's important... why?"

"From what I hear from Emma, you're the one she trusts the most out of everyone here." Now, a sly grin shot across my face. "As bad as an idea it is to trust you with anything, Vincent, you got point on this one. I'm not so sure of myself right now."

Grumbling something about other people being just as untrustworthy, my friend sighed again as he fell into step behind me.

Despite that logic, it wasn't the only reason I wanted Vincent around. It was that if I trusted anyone to be able to put her down if need be, that would have been him. He may have been running on adrenaline at the time, but it was still him that had nearly toasted Batel earlier with a packet of flour, without so much as a blink. Screams, maybe, and swearing, but that was unflinching instinct that had allowed him to fight under stress.

If she went ape shit on us, I wanted him to have my back.

There were a few suspicions and doubts about this girl in the back of my head, particularly because the first time I had met this particular person, it had been with her driving a knife into my shoulder. Which – despite Emma's medications – still hurt like a psychic son of a bitch. It was the daemonic component of the wound, she had explained. It was like how it had corrupted a small part of my soul, and was now still hurting despite being excised, as that part of me was still gone.

I jiggled the doorknob to open my bedroom door, and slowly crept in. It was an uncomfortable feeling, seeing Batel there on my bed. Even in her sleep, she was obviously terrified. Even though she had been forced to stay asleep by some psychic lock, her dreams were anything but controlled. You didn't need to be a mindscape psyker to tell that. I didn't know much about her dreams, but from the vibes that I could feel from her, they weren't pleasant ones.

My gaze tracked across and up, locking on to the bedside table. Raquel and a squad of Guardsmen – who were nervously looking from one witch to another - were sitting beside an Eldar grav-tank, a 'Falcon' tank-hunter.

They were working together, sure, but I noticed a few things that worried me; they were on entirely separate sides of the tabletop, and had a few weapons pointed in each others' directions. Working together in a battle was one thing. Working together in relatively peaceful times were another can of worms altogether. They were professional, at least, and hadn't been going for the others' throat... yet. A gruff sergeant seemed to be the leader of the ten-man section, while the Eldar were being oversee disturbingly blunt in their assigned tasks, however, with all of the weapons available ready to be brought to bear on the young girl's head; if necessary, they were here to kill Batel.

He must have noticed, because now my bespectacled friend stepped forward and forcibly rotated the Falcon around, to point at the wall. I followed suit, doing the same to the heavy bolter of the Guardsmen, ignoring their protests.

"Stay there." I warned them. "We're looking after her, now."

The guardsmen were already on their vox set, asking for confirmation of this development from their superior officers. The answer must have been blunt, because soon they were hurriedly packing their gear back, moving away from both the Eldar and Batel.

"Vince, with me."

Vincent nodded, and sat down beside the bed with me as I nodded to Raquel.

She closed her eyes, murmured something, and then drifted off to the mindscape.

One... two...

Batel's eyes shot open, and immediately filled with tears. There was a hoarse, croaking cry from her as I reached out, grabbing onto Vincent's shoulder. She catapulted upright just as I pulled my friend between Batel and myself, her arms thrown up high and wrapping around his chest.

Vincent found – to his surprise - that Batel had pressed herself against him, crying uncontrollably as everything caught up to her. Without the psychic mind-screwing of Chaos, the rush of adrenaline from going all out with her powers (supercharged by a God, as the hypothesis of the psykers guessed) or forcibly kept asleep, her dammed up emotions burst like a balloon pricked by a high velocity AP shell.

Clinging onto the heavy denim jacket and my friend for dear life as she sought comfort, Batel dragged him down to the floor, where both knelt as she exhausted herself again with the outburst of emotion. Awkwardly, he reached up and cradled her in his arms, trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, he went for the standard 'just hold her' option.

Zara 'hmpf'd in amusement, her psychic presence crystal clear even though her body was still in the Eldar bathroom bastion below.

She needs a good cry, that girl. The Farseer admitted. It seems like she has and will continue to see the boy as a source of comfort and protection. Her mind may be a turbulent place, dazed and confused, but with him... well, at the very least you will have less on your hands.

Batel's sobs quietened down, with Vincent gently cradling her head, rocking her back and forth as she began to calm down a little more.

Zara, I find that – sometimes - letting out your emotions can be extremely therapeutic for us. I replied, smiling to myself as she finally looked up and then went a deep red. The fear was still there, that much was obvious, but now it was overridden by the sudden embarrassment of her situation. The distressed damsel wasn't quite helpless, but the comfort of a friend – someone who had (as Emma had told me) been one of the few people who she could vaguely trust – was definitely helping her recovery along.

Oh, and his face... that expression of absolute confusion about whether to enjoy this embrace or not, the perfect expression of pants-crapping and agonizingly hilarious worry...

Yeah, it was worth it. He was going to hate me for this, but it was going to be worth it.

Back in the kitchen, I refilled the glass of water, and drained it for the third time since I had returned to this hub of activity.

Rinse, repeat.

Topping it up again, I noticed that someone's eyes were on me.

"Emma?"

The girl nodded, her long black hair rising slightly as the static electricity in the air began to move around. I could feel something like electrical currents humming as the small girl in front of me stared into my eyes. They were an electric blue, held a maturity and hardness far too old for any normal human, and quite frankly scared the shit out of me.

Yes, she scared me, but for a good reason: Two or three hours ago, she had just curb stomped a daemonhost without breaking a sweat, and managed to utterly wipe the floor with anything else that challenged her. If what the Eldar had told me was true, she had also been responsible for halving the casualties during the battle.

Still, she looked about ten years old, twelve at the very most.

Hopping off the tall stool she had been perched upon, Emma regarded me with a focused but neutral gaze, having to tilt her chin up slightly to make up for the rather noticeable gap in our heights.

"Michael."

I nodded, for the fifth time wondering how I should treat this young girl: She was obviously something capable of incredible amounts of power, but... well, she still looked like a little girl. The kind that went skipping off to their grandmothers in red hoods kind of thing.

Sucking in some fresh air, I breathed out a sigh. "Thanks."

Confusion briefly twitched across Emma's face. I hurriedly explained why: "For your help, I mean."

Understanding dawned, and the girl nodded. "The servants of the Chaos Gods had overstepped themselves, threatened people and risked destabilizing the planet's balances of power; as the one who holds dominion over this earth, I acted accordingly. Either way, they should not have been allowed to spread as they have; the forces of Belavich the Shadow-Caller are threatening indeed, with how they have been gathering."

Wait... what? I quickly gestured for her to stop.

"Whoa, whoa, back up there. Belavich is that Chaos Sorcerer who we just handed his ass to on a nice silver platter, right?"

"I assume so, but this force was but a raiding party; it was a large force, for sure, and a tax to his resources, but far more mighty engines of war have been brought to this world by the ill advised servants of Chaos. The Gods they will soon come to know are much different, here in the past."

"Like Slaanesh."

"Slaanesh – according to my future self – has not yet been born in this era, and will not be for another twenty-five millennia at least, but his influence can still reach us here, across time and space."

"Where are they, anyway?"

"They?"

"Chaos. Human ones, not the gods."

"They are... wait a second." She reached forward, and snatched the glass of water from my hands.

Whispering into the edge of the clear glass, she closed her eyes, and I felt a ripple of power expanding, like a brief blast of wind. There was a sensation that a million ants now crawled over my skin. In the haze of her scrying, Emma spoke. "The main concentration of Chaos forces are situated in the house of Batel, to the north. They are primarily Tzeentchian and Slaaneshi, although we also have Khorne's forces present in there. There is another 'faction' – Khornates and worshipers of Chaos Undivided – who have entrenched themselves in the slums south-east of here."

Okay. That got me lost now. "So..."

"I will have to take care of the lackeys of the Blood God." Emma informed me. She wasn't asking me if that was the correct course of action; she was telling me as such, with the unshakable confidence of a grizzled war veteran. "Of the Dark Gods' servants, they will be the ones to act first, and so must be intercepted before their rampage begins."

"Alright, so you're gonna go do your superhero vigilante thing. What do we do?"

"Hold the line, and hold this house. Rebuild your war machines and restore your men and women to full fighting strength. Keep Batel safe. She is the key to their warp portal, and so must be kept out of Chaos hands."

There were a few grim nods amongst the miniature soldiers around me, and I also found myself nodding with them.

"She'll die before we let that happen." Hissed a grizzled officer from the Imperial lines.

I gave them a sharp look, which they decided wasn't worth defying, and then turned back to Emma.

Looking out at the gathered friends, I looked to each one in turn, before sucking in a breath and started doling out instructions.

"Vincent. You're going to be doing scavenger runs with the Mechanicus and Tau. Let's see what you guys can make to replace what we lost."

"One step ahead of you, Mike."

A nod from my bespectacled buddy came as he looked up from a sketch, the tech-adepts of the Adeptus Mechanicus and Eldar Bonesingers, Tau armorers and an Ork Big Mek surrounding the square of white paper, also nodding as they readily received their task.

I moved on.

"Miles; go and liaison with the Space Marines and Imperial Guard; they'll be in charge of securing the house; fortify the fuck out of this place."

Miles nodded as he cleaned his rifle, a small crowd of Orks looking up appreciatively at the huge 'Waagh-cannon' as it was handled as easily and as deftly manipulated by 'oomie 'ands as one would see a chef prepare a meal.

"Roger."

The Space Marine leadership grimly saluted, along with their Imperial Guard counterparts.

"Alice, you're in charge of getting the consumable supplies and stuff; food and medical equipment, mostly. You just might be able to grab some for them at the stores... the tab's on me, by the way."

Alice looked up and nodded as she fished out a scarf for herself.

"Alright... that's most of us... so... let's get on the warpath, then."

Chapter 23[edit]

"Flux capacitors. ALWAYS the flux capacitors! Haven't seen a decent one since the 500s, dammit." - (Salamanders) Techmarine

-MONDAY-

Beep beep beep.

Crunch.

VRRRRR-skweeeeeeeePSHHH

Krrrknnk!

. . .

Beep beep beep.

That was a tank was doing the usual routine of backing up.

Crunch.

Into a wall.

Today, it seemed like it was a Space Marine tank. The turn (reverse) signals on the Land Raider acted as an impromptu alarm. As a testament to the power of their weapons, a Broadside's attempt at the use of its railguns as anti-aircraft weapons against the skittering daemons clinging to the roof overhead had managed to punch through the floor above us and turn my alarm clock into a relic; that is, an extremely holey [spelling intentional] object that had then been laid to rest with great reverence by the tech-priests.

Seven o'clock, and it was time to rise and shine. Wake up to a whole new day, the first in the way to preparing for a full scale war between us and the forces of Chaos. One that would decide whether my home would be a wreck or a fortress.

I blinked once, and sighed. Five more minutes would have been more than welcome.

Mondays were the worst, weren't they?

I hadn't really remembered much after the impromptu war council, but it seemed like everyone had decided it was safest to stay the night here, together, where we weren't liable to be picked off one by one by Chaos forces.

That left the problem of bedding, as while my house had enough rooms to fit about five people and have them live here with room to breathe (or maybe even eight, if you squeezed up some), we had been stuck with just shy of a thousand (or somewhere in that region) to provide for. Thankfully, the vast majority were the size of my thumb.

Of course, we eventually came to the conclusion that there was enough space if we got creative. Miles had carefully extracted the mattresses from the other bedrooms and I had gotten the pillows and blankets out from the cupboards.

I had gotten one of the aforementioned mattresses, while Miles piloted a couch to dreamland. Alice was upstairs with the rest of the Sisters that had adopted her as one of their own, and Batel again got my bed. Vincent said he'd figure something out later, and Emma – having refused the offer for my mattress - curled herself up in a blanket right in front of the fireplace, with only the rug underneath. Given the pile on that thing (and my experiences with such an arrangement), it was actually pretty comfortable.

That had been last night.

Something shifted around beside me, somet-no, wait. Someone... under my blanket?

I threw the corner aside to expose the slight form of the to-be God Emper(or/ess) of Mankind, curled up on my makeshift bed. Immediately, I felt bad, because as soon as I threw back the cover, Emma began to shiver from the sudden chill. It was hard to remember who she was, and what she had done, when she was wearing the body of an eleven (tops) year old girl that was shivering from the cold, her face squeezed up from the sudden discomfort. Thin, lanky arms wrapped around her chest, trying to keep herself warm.

An eyelid cracked open, revealing a bright blue eye that swiveled about as the mind behind it took in the situation. Showing no embarrassment, she sat up and began to rub the sleep from her eyes.

"E-emma?" I stuttered.

The girl yawned, letting her tonsil wave good morning to me, and then she looked straight at me.

"Yes?"

"May I ask a question?"

"I assume my response will be irrelevant."

I ignored that, heading straight for the obvious question. "Why are you asleep in my bed?"

"Case in point." She deadpanned, looking up at me with passive eyes. My confused look was met with a shiver and reaching out for the blanket. "To answer your question; the fire went out. It was cold. You were warm and – admittedly - comfortable."

"Buh?"

"The soldier is asleep on the couch and there was no room for me but on top of him – which would have raised legal and moral questions. The witch is in your bed and would have been my choice had she not been under the vigil of several flavors of armored weapons platforms. The attic and the Sister were inaccessible because I could not reach the chord for the stairs. The... eh... the..."

She paused, frowning to herself.

"The Vincent was asleep at your computer, along with the Adeptus Mechanicus. There was no room for me there."

I rubbed at my eyes, groaning slightly from the sheer stupidity of it all. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up, mostly from the cold. Blinking, I frowned. The Vincent? What the hell?

But Emma was smiling now, a warm stretch of the corners of her mouth as her eyelids sagged down, an expression of innocent satisfaction spreading across her features.

Goddamit, she actually looked cute.

"Also, you have a paternal touch."

I coughed. Paternal? "... uh... do I want you to explain this?"

"Yes."

"Really? I'm not s-"

"The body that I currently inhabit is still juvenile. It yearns for the touch of a parent, even though I myself have no such desires. There is no doubt that you would make an exemplary father, should you find a suitable partner and succeed in making offspring. Like I have said; you have the touch of a father..." A grin crossed her features, cat like and mischievous. "I do wonder if you will let me be your child in my next life?"

I blinked once, twice, and my jaw dropped open. "Wait, WHAT?"

Emma giggled that girlish chuckle that was so very unfair.

I knew that it was the kind that made you want to forgive her every prank, the carefully practiced (I suspected, anyway) giggle that had melted the hearts of fathers, suitors and friends since the dawn of mankind, but... dammit! Why the hell had her stoic attitude disappeared? She was supposed to act like some aloof, time-worn sage that was far beyond surface appearances of being a rather troubled looking ten year old girl, but now she was asking to be my child?

"Just teasing. You boys are easy to mess with." She chuckled, before sitting there and smiling at me. "I really do worry."

I facepalmed. "You're right there, but you don't have to be so blunt about it."

"Agreed. Anyway; when I grow up, I'd much rather be your wife."

Silence. I goggled at Emma as she burst out laughing, and my thoughts could only jumble together one word: What.

My my my, Michael. You really are an easy one to tease. Perhaps I should do it more often. Chuckled Zara. Her psychic presence was there, a gentle pressure to the back of my mind. It was best described as the feeling you get when you have a hat on, but you could still feel the breeze through your scalp.

Oh dear. Comparing me to something you can wear? How exactly am I supposed to be worn by you?

Considering the size difference, butted in Emma. I believe you can be slip on quite easily around his finger.

Care that to repeat that again, hag?

Tut tut tut. Name calling, are we? Fifty thousand millennia of civilization, and hag is the best insult you can come up with?

"Can we all behave like adults here?"

Absolutely not.

"No, I'm still ten years old, remember?"

"Then can you, Emma, at least stop acting like your personality got ripped straight from a Japanese eroge?"

"You know about those?" Emma chuckled, a sly smile drawing across her lips. "I only ever came across them recently, but I never knew you were into that kind of entertainment."

What is an eroge? Michael? What is a loli?How does a candy have relevance to...

Don't think about it, don't think about it, if I wanted to live another hour do not th-

Eugh. Mon-keigh, that's just DISGUSTING! You pervert! IDIOT! No wonder your race fall craven to the Prince of Pleasures! They're just children! How could you do that to them?

It wasn't like I found out about them on purpose. Seriously, you couldn't browse anything on the internet without tripping over half a dozen porn sites of various interests.

Good Khaine, that place is an absolute sinfest! And you wonder why your society is so messed up?

Hey, it isn't that bad. I mean, there are places that do decen-

I. Do. NOT. CARE!

Surgeon's Law. Rule 34. Two of the most important principles of the Internet.

What are they?

Important.

You godsdamned idiot! I already figured that out!

Oh God, she was just lik-

Stop comparing me to those 'tsundere' characters, dammit! I am not a hormonal teenage girl with a crush that she can't admit!

Oh? So does that mean you will tell us who has been getting your panties in a twist?

I DO NOT WEAR PANTIES!

I facepalmed. What.

There was a magnificent roar that shook the house.

You brought this down upon yourself, Farseer.

… that came out wrong. I wear a battle membrane to help me interface with my armor! I don't have any room for underwear and suchlike!

Zara... you're kind of transmitting wildly here...

DON'T MISUNDERSTAND ME, DAMMIT!

Standing up, I walked over to the nearest door and began banging my head against it as Emma continued to tease an ever more enraged Zara, with the occasional psyker joining in to ask them to keep things in between their minds and not disturb the others.

Of course, they were immediately booted by two of the more powerful psykers in the house.

I just can't win with these two, could I?

Emma, why did you do this...

Because being cold, emotionless and logical all the time is boring, Michael. I need to remind myself that I am human every now and again, don't I?

[8:39am, Garage of 28 Belmont Street]

Slowly, the Chimera was lowered into place.

The answer had been simple. The question had been as well.

"What do you need?" Asked the bespectacled Vincent.

The three miniatures, representatives of the Adeptus Mechanicus, Tau Earth Caste engineers and Eldar bonesingers, were universal in their answer:

"Raw materials."

And so, the Expedition was underway.

Yes, it needed the capital 'E'.

The vox-set crackled to life inside of the Chimera as Vincent lifted up the last of the Rhinos – this time transporting Techpriests – and carefully set them down into the flatbed of his pickup truck.

I was packing away the rest of the tools – mainly cutting/smashing tools such as the crowbar, hammer, a massive wrench, and a hacksaw – in the toolbox Vincent kept on the back of his pickup's flatbed. Tying everything down with the extra rope that the always-prepare-yourself mindset of my friend had prepared for us, and went to work helping the rest of the vehicles camouflage themselves.

Over the vox – a spare earbud headphone that had been hooked up to a vox-caster now residing within my breast pocket – crackled a new voice – that of a Guardsman.

"Igloo One-One Actual, this is Igloo One-Two. That's the last of them, I think."

Sergeant Sohm Vekt, still a little dizzy with the 'downers' that they had given him for the pain, fumbled the voxcaster's handset as he brought it up to his ear.

"Igloo One-Two, Igloo One-One Actual. Confirmed that all Akameka victors are loaded up. We're moving out now, so make sure you guys strap yourself in."

Turning around, he searched the interior of the Chimera, but couldn't find his commanding officer.

Where the hell was he?

Motioning the vox-operator to follow, he crouched in the cramped interior and pushed his way over to the top hatch, where he popped it open and lifted himself up.

Sure enough, Commissar Sturm was standing atop the lead Chimera, his gaze carefully scanning the vehicles and machinery being loaded up around him as Sohm scrambled up to get his torso through the 'manhole'.

"Commissar?" Sergeant Vekt asked, his voice questioning and a little unsteady. Tomas turned back to him, his fierce gaze just as hard and sharp as the teeth of Sohm's newly acquired chainsword. "We're all loaded up, sir. Igloo One-Two just confirmed the last of the tech-adepts have just boarded the Quadus Mobilus, sir."

The capped Commissar nodded, and held his hand out for the handset. It was quickly passed to him, and Sohm signaled to the vox-jockey to clear the channel.

"This is Stormbringer to all callsigns, secure yourselves and get ready to move out. Watch your fire sectors, but remember to stay out of sight; Barbecues, you have our rear. Smiley and Igloo victors have the right and left respectively. Specters and anything with AA capability have the skies. How copy?"

A chorus of affirmatives came from the Tau – the 'Barbecue' callsigns, referring to the Fire Caste that made up their number - and Eldar (Specter) forces accompanying the utility truck, their Wraith guard elite as silent as their namesakes as they made their way slowly up to join their living brethren. The Smiley callsigns – Space Marines – were already squared away and waiting for the others, as their number had been made up of more mobile portions of a Smiley task force – Scouts and Assault Marines, mostly, but also the Techmarines that were with the Adeptus Mechanicus.

That, of course, left the Imperial Guard to make up the rest of the expedition forces. They had elected Commissar Sturm as their overall advisor in the 'non-combat' role, but if the shit hit the fan, then it would be back to business with their own combat commanders – this being Chaplain Morteus, the newly appointed Shas'vre Talon, Seer Councilor Yoza and Lieutenant Vekt.

The majority of their vehicles were transports, with a few medium vehicles – Eldar and Tau hover tanks with a pair of Space Marine Land Speeder derivatives - thrown in for protection's sake.

"Switch me to the driver's channel." He instructed, and Sohm passed the command on. "Vector, do you copy?"

Vincent – with a bluetooth headset jury rigged to connect with a vox-box – chirped onto the channel, the grin pasted to his face apparent even over the buzzing comm-lines."Vector copies, Stormbringer. Are we ready to move out?"

"Yes, we are. And... Vin- err..." The Commissar irritatedly corrected himself. "Vector, interrogative: why are we using these new vox-routines?"

"Oh... because... it sounds cool?"

Silenced stretched across the live comms. Everyone was listening in, and waiting anxiously for the response.

Tomas waited, if a little impatiently, for the young nerd to respond to the comms.

"It is confusing, you know." He not-so-subtly offered, to allow their driver some breathing room.

"Well," Vincent agreed, grasping at metaphorical straws, "that's just it. It's confusing... that way we'll have more security if someone starts... eavesdropping on us?" The finish of his excuse was less than convincing, but that was all lost over the static of the bluetooth-to-vox relay.

"Hmm... agreed. We shall give these new vox-routines a trial run, then. All victors, forward!"

Pushing the pedal, my friend bumped out of the driveway and down into the street.

Damn near ran over my toe, he did.

[8:49 am, Fridge Pass...]

Alice looked Batel up and down. Something was wrong here. She quickly scribbled onto the pad, and then held it up to Batel's face.

Whose shirt is that?

The purple haired, red eyed girl looked down. "Michael's."

Why?

"My clothes are... unwearable."

So he let you borrow these?

"Yes."

You need some proper clothes.

"Y-yes... I know that."

Wanna grab some of my stuff?

"If it isn't too much trouble..."

It's not far from here.

"Oh, really?"

You're pretty much my size.

"You're fast at writing, aren't you?"

Very.

Batel nodded, and allowed herself to be lead off by the more forceful personality.

I just love dressing people up ~ 3

[9:58 am, The Junkyard...]

Half-skidding to a halt outside of the hut – the only break in the rusted fence surrounding the junkyard – Vincent slapped the horn a few times, buzzing whoever was inside with a blast of sound.

"Hey, Sal! Ya there?"

He tried the horn again, but found no response. Curious, Vincent stepped out of the car and closed the door behind him. Approaching the hut with some concern, he thumbed the send button on the vox to answer the flood of interrogatives that were sent his way, asking for situation reports and information.

"All victors, standby. The person who runs this place sometimes walks around when nobody's around, so I'm guessing he's inside somewhere..."

The radio chatter died down a little as he made his way forward, cautiously slipping the chain-link gates open. Peeking in, he found the hut and main courtyard lifeless.

Again, Vincent thumbed the send button. "All victors, interrogative; did we bring any psykers here?"

He was answered – to his dismay – by a full round of negatives.

"Alright... stay in cover, and stay out of sight. I'm going to have a look around."

Going back to his toolbox, Vincent extracted a slender crowbar and hefted it, testing the weight and feel and reaffirming his familiarity with the improvised weapon.

"Stormbringer to Barbecue Two-Three, advise that you boost it up to the top of the cab and see if you can spot anything before it hits us. All Igloo victors, stay down."

Two-Three... that was the Tau Stealthsuit team.

"Vinny! Yo, over here, man!"

Salvatore half-waddled out, a little unsteady on his feet and wiping sweat from his brow with a dirty rag. The operator of the junkyard when he wasn't studying for an engineering degree, the many scrap parts were easily converted into the materials he required for his many side-projects and hobbies involving contraptions that would have made Rube Goldberg proud.

He was dressed as a stereotypical mechanic would have been; navy blue overalls, steel toed boots and a rag in one pocket, with a few of his more well used tools in a bag that had formerly been used as a webbing vest by a US Marine. Sal also had a bandana on to keep his dark brown hair out of his face, and was dragging behind him a large segment of flat plate that seemed to have been cut from the side of a large vehicle – bright yellow and about a third of an inch thick, it was probably a bulldozer or something.

"Vinny boy, nice to see ya again! So: what can I do for ya?"

"I need the parts, materials and equipment to refit and rearm a battalion's worth of tanks."

[10:15am, AmmuNation Firearms Supply Depot...]

"A hundred shells of .45, a hundred of the 9mm Paras. Two hundred of the five-fifty sixes, and enough gunpowder to make a mess of a house. What are you gonna do, start a small war or something, Sergeant?"

"No, not that! It's just that there's the 75th Battalion that's comin' into the range this Saturday, remember?"

"Oh, right! So, Sergeant Henderson is playing the logistical corpsman now, huh?"

"Kind of. I'm setting up some extra ammo and stuff so that the visitors can have a little extra fun, yeah?" Miles grinned, hoping that his friend and former squadmate would buy that excuse.

"Ah, I see. And what about the gunpowder?"

"I was thinking of blowing up something if they let me load tracers. Maybe a barrel or a can."

"Okay, sarge." Chuckled the former squadmate. "Just don't buy the farm on us, okay?"

[10:19am, Coffee Plateau...]

I looked at the scrap of paper that had been carefully scribbled upon in a blocky gothic script, and looked up at Sergeant Vinters.

"So... this is training?"

"Essentially."

Peering at the bold font, I looked at him again.

"Are you sure?"

"We've lowered the bar a little from our standard routines. We don't expect you to become a Space Marine after all, but at the very least you'll be a little more fit than before."

"'Fifty push ups'." I read off the list. "Are you serious?"

"It's half of what is expected, and we're letting you use two fingers."

"... damn."

"You may want to get started. We don't set a time limit on it, but you will do fifty push ups."

"Again; damn."

[Alice's House]

"Uhm..."

Green just isn't your color, is it?

"N-no..."

Hold on.

Darn, and she thought that dress looked pretty good. Oh well, it was a nice try.

"H-hold on! Pink? Are you serious?"

A pause.

You're right there. Let's move on...

[The Junkyard...]

Sal blinked once, twice, three times. As a friend of Vincent's, he knew what kind of a poker face he could pull. And the kinds of things he said seriously weren't always so serious. That was the main part of his brand of humor; say something utterly ridiculous and manage to keep a straight face through all of it, then laugh his ass off at the dumbstruck expression that would inevitably appear.

"... seriously?"

Vincent began to laugh, an infectious one that soon began to spread to Sal, shaking jowls and moistening the corners of his eyes.

Good, he was joking.

Calming down faster than his friend, Vincent rubbed the back of his neck and began looking around, joining Sal to start picking their way through the nearest pile of scrap metal.

"Just kiddin' about the tanks, but yeah, I do need lots of raw materials. Iron or steel. Any hard metals, really. I'll head deeper into the junkyard and see what I can find."

"Sure, Vince. Just take care of yourself, though. Been getting a lot of weird things comin' out of that place."

Vincent nodded, and then fished around in his pocket. Finding what he was searching for, he brought the scrap of paper out and passed it to Sal. "Uh huh. Oh, and I'm looking for this stuff here. Mostly small bits that you'd keep in your 'tronics shack. I'm thinking about making one of those 3D printers. A fabber."

[The Living Room]

"Aaaaand..."

I fell flat onto my face, cheek dissipating heat into the cold, hard wood of my floor. My shoulder was protesting too much for me to push up again, and I double-tapped the floor.

"T-time out."

"... five, counting that abortion of a push up. Alright, looks like your left shoulder is still a little bit too messed up for you to do much, so we'll focus on getting your running ability up."

I looked up at Sergeant Vinters, who shrugged and then kicked his assault pack on, boosting up to the kitchen table.

"Why?" I gasped between breaths.

"Because, if we do fight something big again, I want to make sure that you can at least run away from it. That way, we can blast it from a distance. This time we'll also be giving you incentive to run."

A Tau hover tank – this time a Hammerhead - came from around the corner, the two Gun Drones in their recesses swiveling about as they tracked for targets.

"Their burst cannon, I have been assured, have been set to 'sting, painful'. They have also told me that they won't shoot for permanent damage, but maximum annoyance." Grinned Vinters. "Have fun!"

I sighed, and began running as the hover tank shot at my heels.

[Alice's house...]

"...".

Well?

"..."

It fits?

"..."

Too much?

"Too little."

Silence.

A sigh.

True.

She didn't want Batel catching a cold in that getup, after all.

Then again, she didn't want Michael, Miles or Vincent bleeding out of their noses, either.

[Basement Door...]

"Silverite." Growled Justicar Amadeus, striding up to his most troublesome subordinate.

"Yeah? Wassup, Ammy?"

D!

"And hello you too, Kettle." Amadeus sighed. "The usual demands, Silverite: get rid of your hat, use my proper name and for the love of the Emperor fix your behavior."

The Grey Knight touched the brim of his hat, and dipped it down to his superior officer. "'salright, Ammy, nobody gets hurt."

Facepalming, the Justicar then gestured at the Grey Knight's back.

"Then at least explain that."

"Oh. It's a rokkit."

"A what?"

"A rokkit." Repeated Silverite, as if that explained everything.

"It's an Ork contraption of some kind, but what is it?"

"Their equivalent of an assault pack, Ammy. They use it to get to battle more quickly. They calls it a rokkit."

He gave the rocket pack a meaningful and what would have been an affectionate pat were it a less volatile piece of equipment, which was why he went from ground borne to screaming through the air in the space of a few seconds.

8O!

[...]

Sal had been distracted with the task of going through his miniature electronics store, going through boards and wires and motors to retrieve the list of things that Vincent had asked for. That let them offload the majority of their men and machinery, which had split up into their individual teams and were moving off.

All considered, things were progressing rather nicely, in Vincent's opinion. They were deep in the junkyard, and like a fungal colony the scavenger teams were spreading out into the 'yard, scrounging up materials and useful items. SOP was simple: find something, drag it out into the nearest collection point, then continue on.

The finger pointed out the sun that was beginning its slow climb up towards noon as the two – a larger Asian man and a much smaller human Guardsman Sergeant – wandered around the junkyard, on guard for the scavenger teams to call for help – either to lift or kill something. Sohm had attached himself to Vincent's collar, the rappelling equipment making for an easy way to keep himself stable.

Vincent spoke first. "Matahari."

"Matahari." Repeated Sohm.

"It means 'eye of the day'." Informed the bespectacled young man.

"I see. It appears that the grammar structure for Bahasa Indonesia is similar to Mahlashian Low Gothic, but uses words butchered from multiple other sectors."

"Yeah, pretty much, but on a much smaller scale, though. Many words are polynesian in origin, but we have a few borrowed from English, Dutch and a bunch of 'modern' words as well."

"So it seems." Sohm agreed, his voice drifting off to someplace else. The bespectacled Indonesian coughed once, lifting the section of I-beam up onto the flatbed. "I'm sorry, Vincent. Its just that these languages... they're very interesting to me. Ancient Terran languages... those boys at the Administratum Lexicanum are going to go red in the ears when they hear about this!"

Both shared a smile as Vincent grabbed an iron plate and placed it on the flatbed, letting it join the ever growing pile of materials. The vox in his ear crackled, shifting to some classical sounding music. Vincent took a moment to listen to it; trumpets, string instruments and drums played over into a bombastic anthem, with the faint sound of marching footsteps and thundering tank treads in the background. He frowned, wondering what would be transmitting on the vox channels; they were getting close to, but not quite at, the level of civilian and military channels, so there shouldn't be anything on there... He tapped the button to clear up the signal.

"-eka... five, we... raw... ack."

Boosting the signal, the vox jockey twisted dials and pulled a lever.

"Didn't catch that, Akameka Two-Five. Say again?"

"Vector, Vector, this is Akameka Two-Five. We've found some raw materials that you need to lug back. Estimated weight is fifteen of your kilograms. We're out by the south-west corner of the junkyard, by the big yellow vehicle."

"Roger Akameka Two-Five. On my way now."

[The Back Yard]

It was a perfect shot; no excess of smoke, no real problems with the smoothbore barrel either... accuracy was pretty much dead on; they killed that can of 'evil' stew pretty well.

"Wow."

There was an appreciative, mechanical purr from the red robed techpriest, who shared a quick congratulations with the loader and gunner of the Leman Russ.

"I know, huh?"

"Whoever knew that those things could shoot forty five cal?"

"We did." Casually replied the tech-priest. "There were actually some modification made to the barrel, but now we have adapted our Battle Cannon to fire this caliber of bullet. That is pretty much a standard procedure when those Administratum brown-noses send us the wrong size of shells. We have begun producing alternative loads for better armor-piercing and infantry clearing purposes, but in general we can start using your autopistol rounds, Miles. They're pretty effective for any large and soft targets, so we have good anti-monster capability. Some of the guys have even hollowed a few of the shells out to pack explosives inside."

Miles nodded, and ticked another item off his list.

[Alice's]

Wow.

"Uhm..."

Just... wow.

"It does look good, but..."

Simple is best, I suppose.

"Yes, but..."

Never knew that it would suit you this well...

"Uh..."

You look great, Batel.

"Th-thanks, but..."

You look rather flat back there.

"Huh?"

Turn around for a second.

She did so.

Has someone been starving themselves?

"N-no! It's just that..."

Then you're good.

The pad swatted the back of the black skirt around Batel's legs, and she jumped up slightly, like a startled horse.

"Hey!"

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

[Figure this one out on your own.]

Outside, the sun was starting to burn the sky; it was a deep orange when Vincent's pickup truck coasted up my driveway again, this time with a huge collection of metal bits on the back.

He pulled himself out,and then frowned at the four wheels, engine block and chassis (well, most of the chassis) sitting out in front of the curb.

There was a steady line of mostly two inch by two inch chunks of metal connecting the car to my basement window. He found me staring at him from just outside the window, and made a 'what the hell?' gesture; both hands held palms up at elbow level, and then a shrug with a look of confusion on his face.

I returned a shrug, and looked back at the four psykers staring up at me.

"Psychic training? Really? Now, of all times?"

Zara and Yoza nodded, both stern faced. Ishabeth and Vasili added their own agreement.

"Your physical body may not be up to Space Marine standards, but your size makes up for that in a fight." The warlock said. "That means that your weakness lies in someone attacking you through the mindscape and your mind. The last time was fortunate as there were many of our psykers and only a few of theirs, so the odds were skewed heavily in our favor, but if they were to do something like... oh, say, this."

He reached out with his psychic powers, his arm stretching out to point at me, and then he squeezed.

Suddenly, I was on my knees. There was the feeling that someone had opened up the top of my skull and poured arctic water in. It was like a brainfreeze without any of the delicious ice cream. I was silenced with a second gesture as I clutched at my head.

"I... get... it!"

Zara nodded, and Yoza let go of my muscles, let me collapse and then stand back up again.

"Okay. You got a point there... how about we start after dinner? We need daylight for the other things on the to do list, but psychic training can be done at night, right?"

The two Eldar psykers looked to each other, then agreed.

"Alright. We shall begin at eight o'clock, Michael."

"Good."

Then I swatted Yoza, cupping his slight figure in my hand, before I sent him sailing through the air. He screamed a little as he was hurled above a gathering of Imperials.

A thrum of psychic energies rippled through the aether, and Yoza seized control of the forces acting on his body. Now in control of his flight, he guided himself with little pulses of deflecting winds, sending him into through the top hatch of a Leman Russ tank.

There was a second scream.

The tank commander popped back up, her cheeks bright red as she pushed him out feet first. Yoza was apologizing profusely, especially since his hand had yet to leave the busty tank gunner's chest. I wasn't sure if he was really meaning it, since I had a feeling that he had a goofy grin plastered onto his face.

"So... uh... let's help Vincent get the metalwork in, shall we?"

Zara nodded mutely, and walked off as Yoza sat on the edge of the Russ' turret, smiling as he pointed me out. The tankie nodded, her eyes tracing the most obvious flightpath as the Eldar warlock explained himself.

I pulled the curtain back as another quartet of tires squealed to a halt outside.

Vincent was staring rather mutely as Batel and Alice came back. The rake – one he was using to get the ground back level and clear of metal bits, filling in shell holes and the remains of where Emma had used her psychic lashes to strike at the ground – had long ago stopped moving.

"..."

Miles joined in as he walked out from the back yard, empty shell casings in hand, goggling at the former Chaos Cultist as she walked up the driveway.

"Uh..." Vincent stammered... "You're back?"

Batel's face flushed red. She didn't like the attention. Well, sort of didn't dislike it. Alice was grinning from ear to ear, and walked up to Vincent.

She gently punched him in the arm, enough to knock the stunned young man over. He fell, and then scrambled back up onto his feet. She held up a sign, reading

Vincent: 'You, Alice O'Grady, are a genius.'

Miles turned to face the (sort of) Sister of Battle. Vincent had already turned to face the young fashionista. "Buh?"

"A genius that can make anyone look pretty!" Miles finished, grinning triumphantly. Batel flinched.

Something clicked in Alice's head as Batel's shouldered dipped down ever so slightly. She whirled about on her heel (two inches), and apologized to her newly made friend. In frantic scribbling.

It wasn't like you were hard on the eyes in the first place, Batel!

A trace of a smile crossed face as Batel allowed herself a small chuckle.

She was dressed in a rather more modest dress than the one that she had first appeared in; some snug fitting (but not tight) blue pants, a white long sleeved white blouse (untucked, with the top buttons undone) with a dark grey pullover vest (with red diamond pattern, and a disappointingly high neckline) to complete her ensemble.

"I... I know."

The dark skinned, purple-haired girl sidestepped the dumbstruck nerd, walked over to the door, and let herself inside.

Both Miles and Alice shrugged, as Vincent continued to stare off into space.

He did this for quite some time.

Finally, their patience ran thin. "You or me?" Asked Alice's body language.

Miles deferred to the young woman. "Go ahead."

Alice reached out, and snapped her fingers in front of Vincent's nose. He flinched, looked around him, then continued with his sweeping.

I chuckled quietly to myself, and decided to find myself a car jack; the Orks seemed to be having some problems with the wheels.

Chapter 24[edit]

-TUESDAY-

3am, the living room...

Slipping out from the couch, Emma almost dropped the foot and a half drop down to the floor, but managed to stop herself before she actually hit the floor. The chill of the night air bit at her body, the precious body heat already bleeding away. Looking around the living room guiltily, she made sure that everyone was still asleep before rising back up and rubbing her hair down, making sure that it was straight. She may have been a deity, but taking on human form meant that she had to obey the laws of physics and electrostatics. Namely, when you kept rubbing your hair against a pillow, you would get a bed head. Licking her palm and smoothing her hair down, the to-be God Emperor of Mankind strode out to the hallway, mustering as much dignity as she could with four feet seven inches of height and dressed as she was in rubber ducky pattern pajamas. They had once belonged to Michael's cousin, and had been stored in the attic. One spin through the washing machine and a psychically enhanced drying experience later, and they were wearable.

Emma's mouth twitched into a smile. Compared to other things she had worn over the years, though, they were practically sterile so there wasn't much to complain about.

The hallway of Michael's house was like the spine of this building; everything flowed through it. The front door hung on its hinges, the only thing stopping it from opening a flowerpot used as a doorstop. Emma sighed as she looked at it; the lock had still yet to be replaced.

On the tables and windowsills around her, people moved. They were the tiny, miniature warriors of the Imperium and beyond. An amalgamated squad – under Michael's orders – was on watch tonight. Rotating in and out through the night to stand guard, the combat team of five Space Marines, bearing the heraldry and colors of Imperial Fists and Ultramarines, crouched cautiously beside the squad of ten Imperial guardsmen. They also had in their mix a trio of Ulthwe Rangers and the seven surviving members of a once twelve strong Tau Fire Warrior team.

Sensing her approach long ago, the Imperials supplicated themselves before their God Empress, much to Emma's annoyance.

"I have yet to earn the right for your respect." She intoned softly, and lifted her hand, palm up. The Imperials rose, and shuffled about awkwardly. "So until that time, Space Marine, rise and be back to your duty."

A wry smile came to her lips as she watched the Marine – a veretan of centuries of warfare as well as thousands of battles – defer to her and rise as she had commanded. She hadn't talked like that since her name had been Joan.

The culture shock of such a carefree world had been one thing, which made the presence of Chaos almost welcome. Problems regarding the size difference between the untrained, untested Michael and centuries-old warriors as well as the fact that this allowed the former to kick about the latter like a child's toy (or adult child, as it were) was a whole new can of worms for her. But for the Imperials, the knowledge that their God-Emperor had, in a rather twisted way, come to aid them was... comforting.

Her size and gender were a source of some confusion, but the psykers and religious figures – Jeremiah and Morteus especially – had convinced the rest of the miniature Imperials that she was what she claimed to be; her psychic fingerprint had been absolute identification for those that could see it, as well as the fact that she could quite figuratively blind people with the brilliance of the 'light of her soul'.

Through this, her worship began a few thousand years – almost twenty – too early. The Emperor of Mankind sighed, pouting with her arms crossed and brows knitted, in the childishly infuriating way that would send people to the ground clutching at their chests, had it not been for the steel in her eyes.

Emma looked up as a door clicked shut.

Batel was standing there, just outside the study with her hand on the doorknob. What was she doing? The shortest of the Terrans arched an eyebrow, and watched as the repentant witch slunk off back to her bed.

Going to the door herself, Emma pushed it open, thanking Michael's maintenance of the house; the door opened with a whisper quietness, and the contents of the room couldn't help but make Emma feel something tugging at the corner of her lips. Vincent was asleep, again at the keyboard, the positioning of his ear promising a long line of Zs in the morning. Something about his sleeping face made her giggle, simply because of the contrast between the much more animated face he showed around his friends.

His glasses lay a few inches from his face, neatly folded and placed carefully on top of the table. On his shoulders was a blanket, carefully wrapped around the youth, and no doubt recently placed. Emma chuckled once, and closed the door. Meanwhile...

It was a sea of green. Thankfully, it wasn't a sea of Orks. The green color was, in fact, coming from a field of grass. Looking at it more closely, it was obvious that they weren't really biological grass; the astro-turf like 'grass' was completely rectangular.

A work in progress, at the least.

Kneeling down, I placed my palms against the vibrant blades of grass and the soft, damp earth underneath, and as my fingers moved through the green shafts, they gained definition and became more realistic, becoming steadily more defined as I concentrated on their details..

I closed my eyes, and focused.

There.

Opening my eyes, I watched the ground. Soon enough, it happened: A single white shaft, no bigger than a strand of wire, sprouted from between the emerald glass.

It gained color, deepening in hue. The shaft sprouted leaves. The sapling grew quickly. Branches shot off in different directions, leaves burst out of the hardening bark, they shone in the morning dew, grew bright orange, wilted and fell off. So the cycle continued.

The clouds in the sky charged along overhead as time flew, crisscrossing the sky above in the eternal daylight.

The tree matured, shed leaves, and regrew more.

All through this, I carefully directed the flow of its artificial life. Branches zigzagged above me by my will, and each leaf that fell down was done at my bidding. I stood, and watched as bark layers hardened, cracked and peeled off.

Reaching out my hand, I held it in front of my face.

Growing at thousands of times its natural rate, a branch reached out, a single blossom bursting open, an apple forming as months were compressed into seconds by my will alone.

The weight too much, the stem snapped, and a perfect, blood red apple fell into my hand.

Holding it up, I inspected it, gave it a buff with my shirt, and bit into it.

A voice behind me accompanied the clapping of hands, enthusiastic and excited but soon tapering off into a rather self-conscious silence.

"Impressive, M-michael." Zara the younger stumbled over her words, but the appreciation was there.

That, in itself, was already more than enough.

"Too rushed." I admitted, chewing through the crisp white-green flesh with obvious distaste.

I looked up at her, my face carefully neutral as I relayed the grave news: "The apple tastes like chicken."

Zara the younger giggled, her eyes bright as she watched my face contort into an expression that was predominantly made up of confusion and amusement.

Just how the hell does an apple taste like chicken, anyway?

I looked up at my companion, who was standing just outside of arm's reach. Her chosen form had not changed very much; her long black hair had been tied into a pair of long, brush-like tails. Her skin seemed less pale, more healthy as it showed the beginnings of sun-kissed browns. The almost frail appearance before had become that of a comfortably healthy, if rather slim, young woman in a plain white summer dress, with a wide brimmed sunhat (little red ribbon included) and a pair of sandals with decoration to match.

Her ensemble was... appropriate. Knowing the psychic prowess of the person she was a part of, I shied away from more... uh... appreciative words.

Damn right you'd better. Chuckled another aspect, from a far off place.

Hefting the apple, I offered it to her. Amused, she gave me a timid smile and accepted it. Turning it over in her hands, she flushed almost as red as the apple itself as she looked at it.

"D-does it really t-taste like chicken?"

"Find out for yourself." I chuckled.

Zara the younger brought the apple up onto her lips, and after a slight hesitation, she leaned forward to take a bite out of the fruit. There was a sharp crunch as enamel met apple, and then a yelp of surprise. The Eldar girl sputtered as the sharp sweet/sour taste of the apple was suddenly replaced with a rather more different flavor.

"Mel'ksna! That was what your chicken tastes like!" She yelped, and thengiggled. Her smile was infectious, and it took an effort of will superior to that at my command to keep myself from giving back a bashful smile.

Although...

"Uh... Mel'ksna? This is chicken. You know, cock-a-doodle-doo?"

I pictured a chicken, then tapped the ground. Soon enough, there was the cluck-cluck-cluck of a hen as it pecked at my toes. Zara stared at it, wide eyed as she inspected the ruffled feathers of the dark brown hen.

"That doesn't sound like cock-a-doodle-doo, Michael."

"That is because it's female."

Frowning, I tried again.

A cockerel joined the hen, and choked out a few sounds.

Finding some paper, and a pen, I wrote COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO on it, and pointed at each letter in turn.

As if understanding, the cockerel stared at the paper, then crowed out.

"DOCKLE-DOC-A-OOD!"

Great. I had just – somehow – created a dyslexic chicken.

Zara the younger burst out in peals of gut-busting laughter, which shook her shoulders and belly as she clutched helplessly at her sides. Her legs became unsteady, unable to support her as hysteria threatened her balance. She fell to her knees, and I caught her before she fell and started rolling around and staining her dress on the grass.

"... wait. That's not a Mel'ksna!" Laughed Zara. "They're... bigger." She stopped, and smiled again. "Let me show you."

She waved her arms, and out popped a chicken.

CLUCK.

Oh?

CLUCK.

Oh.

CLUCK.

I looked up to stare at the massive cockerel that towered over us, easily twenty feet tall.

Oh. Crap.

Luckily for us, gravity was will at Earth's normal: 9.81 meters per second per second, downwards. And this chicken was to scale with the smaller, more terrified bird that had just crapped on my right toe. Even the legs. Especially the legs.

It took a half step forward, and its left leg snapped underneath it.

The giant chicken collapsed without much ceremony and one terrified cluck later was struggling on the ground, sending up feathers the size of surfboards as I screamed and ran, dragging Zara the younger along with me.

The screams were answered by Zara the Farseer, who stepped forth from a halo of light, before getting a face full of alien chicken feather.

"What have you done this time?" She shielded herself from a second feather, and then looked at me as I collapsed, Zara the younger collapsing on top of me as she too fell down, exhausted. The stern Zara the Farseer looked down at us, as Zara the younger rested her head against my heaving chest.

"Why is it that every time I leave you alone with my... other self... that I will soon return to find you on top of each other?"

I ignored her, instead looking back to where the giant chicken had once been. "What. The hell. Was that?"

"Mel'ksna. A large food beast found on the low-gravity world that you humans called 'Old McDonald'." Recalled the Farseer, almost off-handedly, before adding another detail. "Before the Biel-Tan Craftworld reclaimed it, anyway."

"Ah."

I reached behind me, and pulled out a flamer from thin air – the kind used by the Space Marines. It was bloody heavy as I hefted it at the chicken, and I wasn't quite prepared for the recoil, which sent flames everywhere except – thankfully – at the younger Zara. I teetered, and regained my balance as the chicken started grilling. Newton's Third Law, right.

I grinned sheepishly at the younger aspect of Zara's personality. The other aspect – the Farseer – was not amused.

"Want some breakfast?"

9am

And on the third day, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Well, Emma had explained that she hadn't been quite dead back then, but then went into far too much detail on how complicated re-structuring your body was after the trauma of crucifixion was. Getting hung up like that lead to a lot of strained muscles, complete and total exhaustion and then after that getting lanced in the heart was really, really painful.

I walked – perhaps even staggered – out of my bedroom, listening to the rain drown out the ambient noise with its smooth, steady drumming on the roof. Thankfully, the mood was rather dissonant from the weather, with a cheerful if soggy atmosphere drifting around the house as everyone got to fixing up the place and their equipment.

"Mother Terra sends her cleansing rain." Murmured Samisha from below, and I found myself smiling. At the miniature scale, getting hit by a raindrop would be... hmm... I did some quick maths in my head, and found that it would be like getting hit by a terminal velocity basketball, or something similar in size and weight.

Which would, of course, really ruin your day.

I descended the stairs, down into the hall that was the main artery of in-house traffic. We had re-arranged things again, so now I had my bedroom back. It was just that we had moved the bed out from the Space Marines' Fortress-Monastery and shoved it on the other end of my bedroom. It was a bit of a tight fit, but now we all slept comfortably. Except for Vincent, who was getting back troubles from falling asleep at my/the computer too much. Emma had refused to heal him up, saying that it would be a valuable lesson for him.

Speaking of Vincent, he was holding my new phone; the other one had become a relic; blasted apart by cannon fire then butchered for electronics later on in the aftermath of the battle.

"Mike!" Shouted Vincent, who ran up to me with a flustered urgency. Wait, it wasn't just urgent; it was borderline panic. A chill settled into my gut, something that made me want to curl up and hide in a corner.

I braced myself for bad news. "Yeah?"

"Phone for you!" He hissed. Vincent pressed the black cordless phone into my hand, and then ran off.

Confused, I pressed it up against my ear.

"Hello, Michael here."

"He~ey!"

Oh.

"Mike?"

Oh.

"Mi~ike."

Oh. Shit.

"Are you there, Michael?"

I looked around desperately, trying to find some place without the sound of machines and men preparing for war. Things were getting really busy now, with everyone gearing up and getting better, and that meant that things were also getting noisy. As in, drills and welders and hydraulics all over the place kind of noisy.

"Uh... hi, sis."

Vincent was nervously glancing in my direction, while already beginning to organize routes of retreat for everyone as I made the call. He seemed awfully sharp today, considering the week so far. I put it up to the fact that my younger sister had always scared him so much. Something about 'the Ree' had made him all tense whenever she was mentioned in a conversation, or – god forbid - actually turned up. At seventeen years old, with a head of blonde hair in a short haircut and supported by a gymnast's build, I didn't quite see why Jane scared him so much. It was probably the whole (as Vincent described it) 'goddamn ninja' level of stealth that she could use when she decided that she wanted to be moving around quietly, with the sudden popping up when you least expected her and, when the three of us were younger, making everything seem like an accident or our fault when she wanted to get us into trouble.

"Mi~ike, Vinny handed me off..." She singsonged. "Again."

"Really?" I deadpanned. "I wouldn't know why..."

"So, what'cha doin' today?"

"Uh..." I watched as an Ork buggy rolled past, a modified RC dune rider that Miles had brought in. It had been upgraded, plastic parts replaced with metal and scraps of armor welded or riveted on in the most crude of repair jobs. The paint was still wet, which was why they were riding around it; it was like blowing on the paint to dry it faster, they said.

"...stuff."

"Like?"

The fake smile in my voice was still there as I passed through a door and almost stepped on a passing platoon of Guardsmen. "Projects. Building things."

"Oooh, sounds fun. What are you building?" Jane queried playfully.

Machines of war, weapons, armor and vehicles, you know, the usual... "things."

"Can I help?"

"No!" I replied, a little to quickly and sharply even for my tastes. It felt like a really rushed, lame excuse, so I quickly apologized. "I mean, no, we couldn't use your help."

"We?"

"Miles, Vincent and me." And the Tau. And the Eldar. And the Imperium of Mankind.

"Ah. Why can't you use my help? I've been doing a lot of tinkering with your old scooter, and Sal at the junkyard said I could start working for him, taking apart engines. And stuff."

I sighed. Again. "I'm sure we don't need your help."

"Why not?" Whined my sister.

"Because... it's... uh... complicated?" I asked. There were a few furious nods from the people around me. "Yeah, let's go with that. Complicated."

"Really? Why is it complicated?"

Ugh. This routine again. Questions, questions, questions until you gave in. It was like waiting for the Orks to run out of ammunition. (We had been waiting for almost two months now)

"Because it's delicate. Dangerous."

"Oh." Jane deadpanned. "How?"

"Uh... lots of big things moving around?" I ventured. Also, half of the stuff that we were handling could kill you if you didn't handle things properly. You could – as Miles had assured me – set it on fire, but you'd better damned well handle it properly, because otherwise things were going to get really interesting around the house.

"What are you doing to grandad's house?"

"Fixing the carpet. I'm thinking of re-doing the floor."

"Ouch, bro. So what happened to the carpet?"

A bunch of mini-sized idiots with flamethrowers, laser weapons and plasma artillery happened, but I couldn't quite say that at the moment...

"I made a bit of a mess last weekend. Oh, and someone totaled their car just outside, so we've got to re-do the garden as well. I'm thinking of adding a barrier wall." With gun emplacements, bunkers and a minefield. Maybe a few hydrangeas, too. And perhaps an apple tree that has fruit which doesn't taste like chicken.

"Are they okay?"

"The driver was a bit loopy when he came out of the car, so we had to call for some help." The truth. Technically.

"Uhm... can I ask what the details were?"

"He's... taken care of. We sent him on his way."

I turned a corner, out into the kitchen, just as Batel opened up the fridge door. The one that was level with my face.

Well, to be frank, it hurt.

Batel's face drained of blood as mine drained out through my nostrils. She squeaked, and backed away. "I'm sorry!"

Vincent joined in as well. "Michael?"

Goddamit, it was like a Jackie Chan movie. I didn't know which, and I'd tell you, but my movies were kind of crispy at the moment.

Alice poked her head around the corner, and for once spoke. Her voice was scratchy, a little strained but still distinctly feminine. "What happened there, guys?"

Oh boy.

Jane piped up.

"Michael. What are two girls doing in your house? I can hear them, you know."

"Uh..." Actually, there was more like just this side of two hundred than a mere two...

Batel frowned, and synched with Jane as both asked the same question. "Who's that?"

Vincent mouthed the word; 'sister', then pressed finger to lip.

"It's Alice and her friend. They've just dropped by to say hi."

"And that's alright with you."

"Yes, it is."

"Then I will, too!"

Click.

...

The 'dead line' tone was like a tolling bell of doom.

Crap.

Ashen faced, I looked at the silent masses, all staring at me with faces that begged for an explanation. Slowly, I thumbed the red 'hang up' button, and then scratched the back of my neck nervously. Weakly, I asked the rest a rather obvious questions. "I really dug myself into this one, didn't I?"

Vincent nodded sagely, though I could see his fingers trembling as he pushed his glasses further up his nose. Emma stared at me blankly while Batel flushed red with rising panic and rapid fire apologies.

Alice facepalmed, and nodded again. "Yep."

"This is... unique." Commented the soon-to-be God Emperor of Mankind.

"The Emperor's finest will not cower before a mere girl, Michael!"

Emma raised an eyebrow. So did a few Space Marines.

All the blood left the brash Lieutenant's face.

"Uh... I uh..."

Sighing, I tapped my foot irritatedly before looking around the assembled commanders, leaders, friends and Emma.

"So," I began. "how are we going to bluff our way out of this one?"

"I can simply Ask her to leave." Emma suggested, her voice emphasizing the 'A' enough that it warranted a capital letter. She had returned, both disappointingly and reassuringly, to the almost emotionless, completely focused state that she had initially presented us with.

"No." I flat out refused her. "I'd rather not screw around with someone's head – especially that of my sister - unless we really can't help it, Emma."

"'cuz we all know that she's screwed up enough already." Muttered Vincent.

Around me, the Imperials began to shout and protest as I sat down and waited for her response. They had accepted her now as the past life of their Emperor. What I was doing right there was blasphemy, pure and simple. Refusing a God(dess?) as she gave me advice and offered me her help.

Instead, she nodded once. "Understood."

The crowd became silent.

Emma cocked her head to one side, and asked a second question. "Alternatives, then?"

Zara flashed a grin, victorious and proud. "We use an illusion, of course."

I turned to face the new speaker, as she strode across the kitchen table as regally as a two inch tall figure could stride up to a much taller and more imposing five foot something human.

"Buh?"

Zara was – as usual – enjoying my confusion. "We create a construct of the mind – essentially, we make her see what she expects. A more 'transparent' kind of mind scape layered on top of reality."

I looked at her, and nodded. "So basically we pull the wool over her eyes?"

Zara snorted. "A gross simplification, Michael, but it captures the spirit of our purpose. Considering that we have at our disposal some of the more powerful psykers in existence, it should be simple child's play for a vanilla human to be fooled by us." She grinned, before turning to Emma.

Child's play. How appropriate.

Vincent shrugged as he shook his head. "She's a sharp one, so don't underestimate her. Even if I'm not sure what kind of stuff you'll be slinging, she'll know that something's wrong if everything doesn't add up."

"Noted." Deadpanned Emma, who nodded quickly to confirm that.

"Then let's get started." The Farseer motioned around us. I blinked, and then grinned. Already, the Eldar psyker had created an illusion; everything appeared as if it were four months ago. My house was actually tidy, for once.

But a few seconds in, things started going wrong; a throb usually associated with headaches pulsed in the back of my mind, and I clutched at the back of my head as the pain grew, setting my head aflame.

I was fighting the illusion, I realized. My mind was fighting against the illusion cast over my senses.

Michael?

Zara? Her psychic echo resonated within my skull. What was going on?

MICHAEL!

I stepped forward, and immediately felt the pointy ends of the invisible but not intangible Exorcist rocket artillery vehicle plunging into my heel. There was a squeak from an invisible Sister of Battle as Zara screamed from her perch on the dinner table, and through the pain I could see everyone fading back into view.

Damn.

My face was probably really, really red, but that wasn't the matter as a century's worth of soot and fume stains went into my foot.

I'll spare you the purple prose: it hurt like a bitch.

Vincent shot forward and was in a heartbeat's time behind me, arm whipping around my neck, clapping a sleeved wrist over my mouth as I screamed into it like a cloth gag. Victorian era/Orkish surgery procedures at its finest.

"Fghnn fhhk fffghnhnn!" I choked like that for a while, screaming bloody murder into his sleeve, before calming down and finally tapping Vincent twice on the arm. He let me go, my obligatory expletives expended, and then stepped back. I sat down gingerly, and inspected the damage. I now had a series of heads turning to face the Farseer. She had already dropped the illusion, and was staring at my feet as Emma placed her healing hands over them and began to seal up and disinfect the wound.

The feeling was... pleasant. Like having your feet rubbed in warm oils, I found the skin under my foot was now smooth, missing even the scars I had worn on them since a child.

"We're gonna have to work on that." Zara managed, after we hung around in an awkward silence.

I noticed that she was tired – though my powers were limited, I could still sense the 'cost' of the illusion. Amadeus had explained to me that it was like momentum; 'smaller' souls, like the minis, could be cast under illusions much more easily than 'larger' souls like Vincent, Alice, Miles and myself, which were more massive in our presence. Just like how she tried to fry my brain, she would strain herself greatly to get an illusion of the quality that was needed to get my sister to believe that everything was okay.

"No. No illusions; you're straining yourself, even I can see that. Plus, it's just way too dangerous if she starts stomping around the Tau base. Or upstairs. Stepping on one of our hospitals is the last thing I want her to do."

To that, we had the first unanimous agreement that I could remember since these guys had appeared in my house.

So in the end, we decided on using as little large-scale warp-magic illusions as possible and had everyone hide as best they could; in cupboards, mostly, as well as anywhere that was either impossible for my sister to get at or somewhere that was explainable. I didn't have anyone hiding in the bathroom cupboard, although my study room now had an extra dozen (or three) tanks inside. The Orks were told in no uncertain terms that they were to not leave the basement under any circumstances.

And so, the preparation for Operation: Sister Invasion continued.

'Diorama project' was the best excuse that we could come up with to explain the field camps, which did not have Terran mobility in mind when we built them. Vincent had been complaining about it, and so we settled on the agreement that yes, if we had the time we would start thinking about getting the bases more mobile once all this mess was over. He then argued that the Tau weren't Terrans, but were geared up more like Protoss with a penchant for long range.

I told him to shut up.

Miles had packed away his guns, stowing them carefully inside of the Space Marine's bedroom cupboard, and hurried outside to do some quick gardening (despite the rain. It didn't seem to bother him that much), covering up shell holes and the remains of the small bonfire that had consumed the bodies of almost two hundred Chaos cultists (well, the body parts added up to roughly two hundred, although battle recordings had placed their numbers further into the four, maybe five hundreds. Kind of says something about 41st millennium tech, doesn't it?).

Vincent had brought his camera out, having dug it up from inside his truck (which had been parked inside of his garage). His laptop was set up on the kitchen table (and the Adeptus Mechanicus absolutely forbidden from that area). He had also picked up a very large number of circular bases from inside of his car – he played Tau and IG – and dished them out to anyone in the 'high risk' areas. The amount of stuff he was ferrying from my house through to the garage was best classified as 'worrying'.

He was helped by Alice, who had gone out around the back to get the gardening tools. She was – despite her lack of a voice – as energetic as I had seen when she had returned with the Sisters of Battle, and was hurriedly picking her way through the entrance hall, doing her best to cover up whatever she could.

Batel rushed around in her newly given ensemble of blue jeans, white shirt and a black pullover vest. She was aiding everyone as best she could, but soon enough found herself bouncing between Vincent and Alice, helping either as they hurried to get the place looking as normal as possible with the incoming threat of my little sister.

Me? I was hobbling around on one foot, trying to get myself a bandage or something.

Emma tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to face her, and was handed a white box with a red cross emblazoned on the front. Re-inspection for the wound.

"Thanks, Emma." I accepted it as she knelt down and inspected my wound.

"Y'know, getting nailed in the foot is quite painful."

"Learned from experience, huh?"

Her next words held a grizzled maturity that could only make me laugh.

"Damn right I did, boy."

After that, it was coordinating with the minis to get them hidden.

"Contact! Small blue car, single passenger. Appears to be a female, can't be much older than twen-"

"Yeah, we know. That's my sister." I crisply interrupted over the vox, signaling at Emma. She nodded, and disappeared up the stairs, to hide up there until Jane left the house. Looking around, I felt a tingle of pride in the fact that everyone was already diving for their hiding places, packing up into the swift hover vehicles of the Tau and Eldar (and, surprisingly, an Ork hovertrukk). Completely unnecessarily, I shouted out. "Take cover, everyone!"

They did, and I smiled to myself as Tau were hauled on board Eldar Wave Serpents by the human passengers, Space Marines welcomed onto a Devilfish and Orks allowed to climb on top of them (there were now a multitude of grapple points – essentially staples and creatively re-shaped paper clips that had been welded on to the hulls – for them to hang on to).

"She's passed marker two-five!"

That meant that she was exactly twenty five feet from the front door. Assuming that she had been walking, that meant we were three seconds away from getting visitors.

TV, on. The last of the Devilfish banked around the corner, and climbed up the stairs.

"Two seconds!"

"Watchman Two-Four, break contact and get in cover!" Barked Lieutenant Ambrose, who then clipped himself onto a rappelling line and jumped from the top of the table down into the safety of my DVD cupboard's unused back sections.

"One!"

I turned around, and walked towards the door.

"Contact!"

SLAM.

A bright pain exploded in my left toe, mainly because a door had been practically kicked open into it.

I stifled a howl of pain, and in burst my little sister.

"Ya-hooo!"

What kind of a greeting was that?

The door burst inwards, and like a miniature hurricane my sister flourished into the room. She was grinning like a cheerful maniac, and quickly made her way across to where we had been gathered. Spotting Miles and the others, all crowded around the dinner table, her smile widened (how was that possible?).

"He~ey."

Quickly, Vincent disappeared, running away from the short, blonde haired girl. She had the same, dark blonde hair as I had, but rather than wear it long like she used to, I saw that it had been cut short into a rather messy version of a pageboy cut. Her bright yellow rain jacket had been undone, revealing a rouge red shirt underneath, which was just too short to cover her entire midriff. She was also wearing blue pants, with various trinkets hanging off each belt loop, and red shoes that were rather soggy from the trip up the driveway.

"Jane." I hissed, through gritted teeth.

"Hmm?"

"That. Hurt." I grimaced, pointing down at my feet.

Confused, she arched an eyebrow. "Huh?" Her eyes followed my fingers, looking at my battered toe.

"Oh!"

This was arrival plus fifteen minutes, and the lot of us were sitting around the kitchen bench; Alice, Batel, Miles, Jane and myself. Vincent had left the party.

I was still getting weird looks from Jane as I let my gaze drift around the room: My house was as it had been when my grandfather had decided to give me the place. It was quite the change, with the only reminder that this place had been a place that had held many warriors within its walls being the Tau base sitting in a corner of my living room.

Given that we had less than an hour's warning before she actually walked through the door, it was quite an impressive feat of cooperation. Even though the more expensive ornaments had now been stowed away, things looked like only I had lived in this house, and not that sloppily, either. Floor was clean, shelves were neatly decorated.

It... almost made the place seem... normal.

And had not, only a few days ago, been the battleground for the clash of five armies.

I hadn't seen a single moving mini in quite a while now, as we introduced each other and got up to speed. Miles was still a checkout boy at his family's place, Jane had now started applying at the local colleges and beyond. Alice was working on a new piece, and I had been doing a few sketches - of the minis, of course – and had them laid out on the table in front of me. Couldn't really help but smile to myself; Jane alone out of my family was the most social. Even shy, evasive Batel was talking to her now, although she still had a lot on her mind.

And lonely.

Jane was chatting, getting to know Batel, who was dodging her questions as best she could.

"So, how did you get to know my brother?"

"We met at a supermarket." She answered, a slight quaver of uncertainty outlining her voice. "He and Vincent helped me with a problem I had."

"Oh? Recently?" Jane picked at the explanation.

"Yeah... not too long ago."

It had been just four days ago, in fact.

"So, did they fix your problem?"

She hesitated, almost flinching from the pain of her memories. Psychic domination like that was never pretty. I found myself nervous, too, with my mind reliving that moment where she had stabbed me with the dagger. I found myself drumming my fingers against the wood of my table

"Its... a work in progress." Batel admitted.

"Ah. Is Vincent working on it in the garage?" Jane queried.

Batel's head shot up at the mention of my friend's name, and cocked her head to the side, wondering... oh, right.

Vincent had cleared out pretty quickly when my sister had come in, and now he had practically locked himself in my garage, working on the 'fabber' project that he and the Adeptus Mechanicus had started up yesterday. That, and the fact that most of the dismantled vehicles were sitting around on the floor or up on the benches meant that it was getting rather crowded in there. Oh, and Emma was hiding in there as well – we couldn't go crashing about with her being upstairs.

"I suppose..."

The corners of my sister's lips curled up into a smile.

"Then let's give him a visit!"

Jumping up, she almost knocked over the chair (nice reflexes, Miles) and marched Batel with me in tow off towards the garage.

"H-hey! Wait up!"

Vincent sighed, tapping a few keys on the keyboard. Dammit. He was a geek by definition, but his specialties lay far from that of a programmer.

"Dammit, I told you I couldn't program a fabber..."

The online community had given him a lot of help, and admittedly his progress so far had been the results of careful and painfully 'cramped' instructions from a website, and a lot of copy and pasting in the way of lines of code. Tapping in a few more commands, he pasted another chunk of code and saved it.

He looked at the jumble of electronic components on the table in front of him. The base of a fabber – in this case a 'reprap' freeware 3D printer – sat on top of a bench, the parts for it were scattered about. It had been like that ever since late last night, where they had finally started on the project. Right now, only the motors that would move around the 'printer' part of the the 3D printer had been completed, and with Jane in the house the production had ground to a standstill. Sighing, Vincent palmed his face one last time and looked at his roster; the roster for the technicians and skills under his 'jurisdiction'.

Most of the Adeptus Mechanicus weren't that very good at programming; they were mostly mechanics and technicians, people who repaired and refurbished and reassembled, not program. Generally speaking, combat engineers and the like were what he had on hand, and they were more into the physical side of machines, rather than people had a job that involved chasing electrons around in a circuit or program a machine... especially one in what was quite literally a foreign language to them.

He wondered if Luke could help him with something like this.

Tapping a few more times on his laptop, he sighed and pulled the lid closed. On cue, the laptop obediently went into stand by mode.

Picking himself up, Vincent fished out the bluetooh headset vox-caster and hooked it up to his ear. The funny thing was that with their tiny electronics and the big-scale electronics running, he had a radio and communications system that would have taken up an entire backpack, or at the very least a much heavier brick-like object that he had to strap to his belt. Or something like that.

He tapped the send button. "Akameka Actual, do you copy? This is Vector. Oly oly oxen free."

"All in the free, we're all free." Came the crisp counter-signal.

From inside a drawer, a red-robed tech-priest pulled herself out via four tentacle-like mechandrites fixed to her back. Wryly, the leader of the Skitarii – a female Tribune with a deceptively young face by the name of Amisa - let her feet touch the ground and walked over to the boy she now called – affectionately – her 'apprentice'. Despite being a part of the Tech-Guard, the rust-red shield and white-hot lance of the Adeptus Mechanicus, Amisa was also a well learned Tech-priest, and would have made herself into a fine Enginseer were it not for her bloodlust and applications thereof. She had been teaching Vincent the more rudimentary basics about the Cult Mechanicus, allowing him to act as a heavy lifter (something he excelled at) while the others worried about the finer points of vehicle maintenance.

"Akameka Actual copies five-by-five, boya." She chuckled, intoning a term of endearment from her native planet. "How is that fabber coming along, Vincent?"

"Slowly." Vincent admitted. "Programming has gone to hell, so I'm thinking we just download the standard software from the reprap website, but I'm not sure if it will be functional."

She peered at the contraption around her, letting the agile mechandrites carry her around until she was resting on top of the main crossbars. The idea of a reprap taken from the internet was readily accepted, once the wording was changed so that the designs came from 'Terran info-banks' and would only be slightly modified in a way that had been found to be 'morally acceptable' in the faces of the more conservative tech-priests, since any deviation from the original plans were heretical.

The fact that a large number of melta-guns were being waved in their general direction at the time helped smooth things over immensely.

"The x-y-z axis motors should work just fine." She concluded. "All I'm worried about is the feed system, since we've changed it around. We're just swapping out the soldering iron for a tuned up plasma cutter and changing the hopper so we can fabricate using metal parts."

As Amisa continued on, Vincent let his fingers idly traced out the sheet of rumpled paper, smudged with pencil and ink, one that had been their guide and blueprint up until now. He frowned as he tapped on a deviation from the original schematics.

"There isn't anything that needs to be changed when it comes to operating the thing..." Vincent frowned, tapping the paper one last time. "I'm just worried that there might be problems with how that tip is going to work out; it takes a lot more energy to keep that composite metal melted than it does plastic."

"... I see. In moments like this, I can only say that I hope that the Omnissiah shall guide your hand."

A sigh, coming from the larger, followed by a bang as he Bowed in Frustration.

"Alright, alright. I'll see if I can do something..."

Looking across to another box, Vincent opened it up and whistled. A red-robed techpriest poked his head out.

"Ulrich?"

Silence. Vincent let out a sigh. He was always like this...

"c0gb01?"

A mechandrite saluted from the depths of the darkness that enshrouded its owner.

"j0."

"What do you think about this?"

"p12337y fxxxin 7121pp1, b055." [Pretty fucking trippy, boss.]

Outside and in the hallways, Batel was worried. She was chewing on her bottom lip, which was a red flag of warning to me, and I was starting to hear her click her tongue – never a good sign from the normally silent young woman.

Miles stood between the garage door and Jane, unmoving as he stared her down.

"I'm not sure what you're hiding in there, Miles, but I'm pretty sure that I can at least look at it."

"No." Miles replied. "Its probably safer for Vincent that you stay here. He's worried about static." he explained, going back to the semi-rehearsed excuses that we had come across while we were talking about hiding him in there.

Bang.

Something hard hit something hard.

Well, something not-quite-hard hit something hard.

"What was that?"

Momentarily distracted, Miles half-turned to try and assess what had happened to Vincent inside of the garage without actually opening the place up. "Uh..."

The soldier didn't stand a chance.

Jane rushed him, crossing the half-meter with ease, her palm connected with his chest, and he was thrown off balance by the girl as she pushed her way past him with graceful ease. Michael's heart caught into his throat as he dashed forward, sending Miles into a graceless tumble at the mercy of gravity as he chased after his sister. Batel jumped lightly over his prone form as he groaned something about being careful, which left Alice to kneel down in front of him and poke him in the cheek with her fingers.

"You alright there, Miles?"

"CONTACT! She's outside the garage door, maker one-zero!" Shouted a Tech-priest. "Miles is stalling her, but I don't think he can keep her out for long!"

"Bolt!" Hissed Vincent, as he went back to his stuff, shoving mini-scale keyboards and mice into their pottles then sealing them.

The twenty techpriests and engineers (they were like rabbits, in Vincent's opinion. One would happily go about its business alone, but put more than two together and suddenly you had twenty staring at your microchips) scattered, running for hidey holes an-SLAM~!

"HE~EY!"

The most feared girl in the house (Zara excepted) practically knocked the door open.

[-FREEZE: Codeword: Mike Foxtrot-]

Jane's expression went from cheerful to puzzled as the machine-code burst through the air, freezing tech-priests and their in place, sending skull probes and servitors to the ground. It was too late to recall them now, so they were frozen in place. Bonesingers halted in place, letting their armor protect them as they hit the ground and posed themselves.

"Huh?"

"That was my computer!" Vincent lied, gesturing first at the laptop which had been brought into the garage and then at the dismantled rapid prototyper sitting on the bench. "I'm trying to get this to work."

"Looks like one of those claw-grabber machines you find all over the supermarket and stuff. What's it do?"

"It makes things." He replied. "Using these motors here, make objects by building it up, layer by layer. I'm trying to mod this reprap to make parts using metals, rather than plastic."

I nodded in agreement, getting lost as Vincent explained the process that would hopefully boost our repair ability.

"But wouldn't you need to get the metal really hot? I mean, melt the machine kind of hot?"

Yes, it did, but then again we were using a 41st Millennium Tau fusion gun set to a more dispersed projection level and placed directly against the metal components. It had proven to be quite effective at getting around that problem.

I nodded, pointing at the arrangement of fusion and melta guns, formed into a cross and shrouded by grilles, that would move with the fabricator arm. "My friends and I worked around that problem."

Jane nodded, understanding dawning across her face as she inspected the components. They were unrecognizable, under the shroud that made them look like perforated cylinders, and continued her wide-eyed inspection of our efforts.

Her gaze drifted across the table, to the dozen or so technicians that were left in the open. She moved over, despite the protests from Vincent, and inspected the models. "What are they?"

Amisa, a half-dozen other techpriests, a trio of bonesingers and a Drone (Pringles, with appropriate logo) were frozen, stock still as they held themselves in either regal poses or in comfortable crouches.

Oh. Shit.

I facepalmed, and quickly explained. "They're 40k figures."

"Oh. Toys? Like, for that game you and Vincent used to play?"

A spark jumped across the shock-pistol attached to Pringles. Thankfully, Vincent was in the way.

"Yeah." He nodded, trying to keep someone from losing their temper and deploying 41st Millennium cutting tools on my sister's face.

Walking over to the table, Jane ignored the nerd's protests and picked up a bonesinger, picking the slim Eldar woman up in between her dainty fingers. She turned the armored figure over in her hands, running a third over the smooth plastic-like wraithbone plates.

"Wow... you've really done a great job with these..." Jane smirked, shooting a glance at Vincent as he slowly ripened to a tomato-like red.

The psychic wraithbone engineer had activated something similar to an armor lockup, freezing her joints in place as the pincer-like fingers clamped down on her stomach, holding the Eldar woman in place.

I wished he could snatch the Eldar out of her hands, but it would probably injure – if not outright kill – the Bonesinger if they struggled. So, we were forced to watch on helplessly as the statue-like bonesinger was inspected by my sister's probing fingers.

As her digits explored the armor, which stood stock-still on the outside, but inside the bonesinger was squirming about in her suit. I could feel her mind panicking, transmitting like crazy to the other psykers.

Eldar shared a unique relationship to their armor, made of wraithbone, a material that was essentially condensed warp energies turned into a psycho-reactive plastic, which – according to technical reports from the Adeptus Mechanicus – actually shifted around to accommodate the wearer when they were running around or moving, and had a limited self-repair function to its already resilient nanostructure.

In simpler terms, it was superior armor weight-for-weight to all examples found in the main front-line troops, though it didn't increase the strength of the users when being worn, unlike the some of the armor deployed by the Tau and Imperials, and was used in rather thin sections rather than the thick armor plates.

Most likely because it wasn't very fast at moving around, and huge armor plates would have been cumbersome, forcing the Eldar into slower engagements that didn't suit their fighting style. The semi-psychic soldiers of the Eldar – the Aspect Warriors – were always looking for hit-and-run tactics rather than long, drawn out engagements.

"You've got every little detail here... its almost like they could spring to life at any moment..."

A second Bonesinger twitched, still holding the massive, reality shattering D-Cannon normally reserved for Wraithguard in held his hands, slung at the ready and sitting comfortably at his hip like an '80s action hero. Zain'han may have been a Spiritseer and Bonesinger, but before that he had been quite the Dark Reaper and knew his way around weapons of war; heavy ones were a specialty. He also did not tolerate the man-handling of his subordinates well. A machine-priest had learned that lesson well.

Yeah. Just you go ahead and grab her in the wrong place, lassie, and I'll show ye how we can spring to life right in your face!

Jane jerked around, turning to face Vincent. "So, did'cha make this model yourself?"

"Huh?" Vincent looked up, just in time to see the Bonesinger's chest pushed in front of his face. Jane was pointing accusingly at the rather ample amount of deformation found on the breastplate.

"I mean... her boobs are like... y'know, out here." Jane set down the model and demonstrated, placing her palms pointing inwards, held out about half a foot from her own ample bust. "An' I know what a Bonesinger's supposed to look like, and... well, y'know... figured that you must have pushed out her breastplate. And stuff."

Silence reigned as Vincent and Jane stared at each other, and in the corner, a Tech-Adept was slowly bashing his way through a wall, his head leading the way as he attempted to not succumb to his Weakness of the Flesh.

Vincent shook his head at Jane, and sighed. "Nope. I didn't make these guys."

"No? I thought these were the space elves, and they were supposed to be... y'know, flat."

"..."

Everyone, with the exception of Jane facepalmed. Hooo boy... someone was going to have to pay for that later on.

"They're an entire race of peoples, Jane. There's going to be a bell-curve variety in... sizes." Vincent painfully explained, palming himself in the face as he tried to not think about what would have happened to Jane had she known about these guys.

"Yeah, but look at... huh? Where did it go?"

"What did?"

"That model..." Jane's voice tapered off as her train of thought tried to find the rails again, pointing at the now bonesinger-less tabletop.

"Oh, never mind, never mind!" Vincent jubilantly proclaimed. "You wanna see what we've been building them for, right? Ri~ight?"

I grinned as we lead her off, with Miles and Alice chuckling as they followed. Goddamn it was good, finally getting a one up on her...

Gasping, panting, Adora stumbled back into the safety of the darkness as Vincent, Michael and the others staggered out of the room, hastily leading Jane away from the minis. She had bolted as soon as she had been set down and the woman had turned away, and now she staggered along an unknown tunnel, probably freshly constructed by the servitors which now roamed the floors

She tripped, her mind already racing with vectors and trajectories, the cold, calculating brain of the Eldar engineer pathing her fall and inevitable impact with the box full of nails.

Until a pair of metal mechandrites, slender tentacles of steel and motors, coiled around her arm and waist, pulling her back from the abyss.

Amisa caught the Bonesinger in her arms, and dragged her back from the sudden drops.

"'salright, hun." She chuckled, as the exhausted and (admittedly) violated Eldar fell unconscious in her arms. "We'll take care of ya. Hey, greyskin!"

"Yes, Gue'la Amisa?"

"Go find the Eldar leader... Zaim, I think his name was. Tell him we found his friend."

"N-no! You shouldn't go in there!"

"We have shared a room before, Michael. I'm thinking you're hiding something from me!"

She barged into my room, practically kicking the door down as she stepped inside. It had changed a little since the battle for my house, with a mattress on the floor beside my bed, transplanted from the room across the hallway. I now slept on my bed, Miles the mattress and Vincent the couch downstairs

Emma was sitting on the bed, dressed in a borrowed singlet (although she was wearing some pants that had formerly belonged to a fifteen year old Jane), a scrunchy in her mouth as she held her hands up behind her back, ready to tie her hair into a ponytail.

She stared back at us, then calmly continued tying her dark hair.

Jane blinked a few times, then turned back to me.

My mind wasn't quite functioning at the moment, with me panicking and all. Jane turned to face me, and pointed at the room.

"Your room is... kinda normal. Kinda smells funny, though... like... Are you hiding something?"

Normal?

What! ?

Emma faced me, and mouthed a word; cloak.

So she had let herself become invisible?

I thought I was going to have a heart attack there, and slumped against the doorframe with a sigh of relief.

"Hey, hey!" Jane turned around as she heard my head hit the wall. "Hey, Mike? You okay there? You are hiding something from me, aren't you? You got drugs in the house or something, cuz I'm still smelling something that ain't right!"

"Must've been the Indian we had last night." To be honest, I never mixed well with really spicy curries, but Emma had insisted when she and Alice came back with food for the night. I tried to look pale and sickly, something that I was exceedingly good at given the moment, and Jane bought it. I think. "I gotta go... just need to grab a drink."

We lead her back down into the kitchen, dancing the tango of the deceiver and the deceived as she began to inspect and question, her suspicions raised as we drifted off to the corner of the living room that was normally occupied with Tau.

Shall we Ask her to leave now, Michael? Chuckled Zara, who no doubt sensed my frustrations. And thoroughly enjoyed them, too. I sighed, watching as Jane scanned the house around her, eyes narrowing as she scanned the tables and the cupboards. She was suspicious already? What of? Zara and the other command teams were hiding in the back of the pots and pans stored in the lower cupboards, so it would take a lot of rummaging and time to get at them.

Though I am amused by this, you must remember that I do not take any actual pleasure from seeing you fall over each other in trying to appease your sister, that would be too Slaaneshi for my tastes.

So what exactly would these tastes be?

Chocolate, cookies and cream. Maybe some vanilla if I'm feeling a little imaginative with the rum.

... what.

My question still stands; do you wish for us to Ask her to leave?

I shook my head, and gave her a firm 'no' in response. That was worth the strange look I got from Jane, as my hair settled back into their usual places. I wasn't going to have someone mess with my sister's head. She was unstable enough as it was. The psychic presence of the Farseer retreated, and I found myself face-to-face with my sister.

Her face was inquisitive, puzzled. She stared at me, her eyes piercing as she worked to overcome the difference in my height and hers. Jane was holding herself steadily, locking the two of us into an interrogation without questions, but would yield many answers.

She might have made an excellent Inquisitor one day. Murmured a voice. Raquel?

Jane blinked, and looked at me. She was thinking about something...

"Hey, Mickey?"

"Yeah?" I answered, if a little nervously.

"You're spacing out on me again..." She giggled.

"Hmm?"

She game me a friendly, if slightly worried, smile and then gave me a light punch to the shoulder. "What have you been doing, anyway? Its almost been three months since you last got in touch with mom an' me."

That's right... I gave her a call the week before the miniatures appeared, and then... I guess I had just too many thing on my my mind.

"Dioramas." I blurted, cheeks flushing red. "Lots and lots of dioramas. Things have been... busy. Its quite a big project that I took up, and I can't afford to lose on this one."

"Competition?"

We were walking and talking, and I was leading her back to the living room, and back to the Tau base. She was keeping pace with me, pretty much side-by-side with me as we made our way through the house.

"Pretty much, yeah."

"What's the prize?"

The privilege of existence was the answer I wanted to give, partially because it was true and partially because I wanted to see her eyes pop out like they did when she was surprised, but instead I restrained myself and simply sighed. "A solution to my problems."

"Money?"

I flinched, nodding. "I've been talking with a guy that works for Games Workshop since last month, showed him some of my sketches of the guys that had built these." I gestured at the buildings. "He likes what I've been doing, apparently, and I might start doing book covers and art for them. I've been selling the completed buildings to the model shop for quite a bit, too. Most of the stuff you see here isn't quite finished yet."

Well, the outer shells, anyway. Most of the internal components had been hollowed out and used in the new buildings. The minis – for the most part - weren't particularly fussed about having their buildings removed, since the had been expanding other parts of their bases anyway. I had also taken away a lot of the destroyed buildings, and had them ready to go and get sold. I gritted my teeth. The praises that had been sung in my name for the making of such realistic battlegrounds had stung me to the core.

Though people – once living and breathing beings, had shed blood for those same places... I... we... we needed to make room. Needed them for replacements. And why throw away perfectly good buildings that would set most people back a couple of hundred dollars for a set like the ones that we had made?

"Nice." She grinned, but there was something off about that smile.

There was an awkwardness around us. Jane knew that something was wrong, and so did I; I didn't usually act this way, nor was the house usually so... sterile... and now she would be starting to catch on to it.

My sister Jane had moved on, now looking at the Tau hab blocks and buildings, curiously poking around the conical structures. It had been a while since she had last seen my work, and considering that the hurriedly fabricated Tau buildings were rather roughly cast, it wasn't a surprise that she probably thought that they were still a work in progress.

"Might sell 'em later on. Gonna have to finish them in the first place, though."

She nodded, crouching down beside them. Reaching out, her fingers closed around the Tau motor pool. I hissed at her in warning.

"Stop! I haven't finished that, so don't touch it!"

Jane's hand flinched away from the crane set on top of it as if it were suddenly red hot. Her head swung around, an expression of shock and surprise on her features. Not the good kind; she was afraid.

Oh.

I chewed on my lip nervously... I think this was the first time I had shouted at her in a while.

A long, long time ago, it had happened, but...

"S-sorry... it's just that. Yeah... things have been kinda... strained recently." Like, y'know, my sanity.

Jane nodded, ignoring the questioning looks from Miles and Alice, and continued to poke around the Tau base.

"You've really worked hard on this, haven't you?" She smiled, a lot less energetic now as she slipped into uncertainty.

I could almost read her mind; 'what's wrong with my brother?'.

Huh. Maybe I did.

"Michael."

"Hmm?"

"Are you alright?" She queried.

"Yeah. We've just been having a lot of trouble lately. Y'know... that stuff."

"Something to do with those bandages?" She asked, pointing at my collar. I nodded, covering them up with my shirt.

"Ran into some trouble."

"I see... something to do with Batel?"

How sharp. She definitely would have made a good Inquisitor.

I agree. Chuckled the mind-specter of Inquisitor Danilov.

I smiled, sadly, and nodded. Jane shifted around uncomfortably, looking around her.

"Yeah."

"Wanna talk about it?"

NO. SAY NO, MON KEIGH!

"Its... complicated." I admitted, as Jane nodded, her eyes distant. Distracted.

Mon-keigh, you will not give us away! I will not have you hint at it like that! Its like playing chicken with a Wraithlord, and Gods forgive me, I know what that's like! Are you listening to me?

"Girl trouble?" Grinned Jane.

"Kind of." I admitted.

If you start talking about flowers, Michael, I will personally end you, do you hear me?.

Jane tapped her chin, thoughtful. There was a sudden tension in the air, like the feeling you get when standing near a big radio tower.

"Troubles... what about some random voices threatening you from the shadows?"

Oh. Zara was stammering, audibly shaken even through the psychic channel. Oh Gods.

My sister sucked in a deep breath, and let it out.

Your sister! She's a psyker! She's a flurgen sensitive!

What?

SHE CAN HEAR US!

I was faintly aware of a thrum of power, of my skin prickling from a sudden cold as Jane's expression perked up, her eyes darting around in a searching pattern, trying to find Zara. The way it felt, I could almost visualize a sphere expanding out from the core of my sister's soul, and then it all focused, her attention tunneling towards the kitchen where the Farseer hid. She fixed upon the kitchen cabinet, and started moving towards it, before Emma stepped out from nowhere, palming the back of my sister's skull, and sending a pulse of refined warp-energy through her fingertips.

Jane suddenly and wordlessly went limp and simply dropped into Emma's waiting arms, which struggled to keep my sister from crashing into the ground. 'Went out like a light' was the best way to describe it.

Emma knelt down beside my sister, and did the usual checks – pulse, breathing, sleeping – as Miles set her down.

"She's unconscious, Michael. Her body and mind is already fighting... she's going to be up in the next five minutes." She grinned. "So, Michael, I'm going to make this into a lesson and ask you; what shall we do?"

"I suppose asking her is out of the question now, isn't it?"

Emma shook her head. "She's aware, Michael."

Well... damn.

Chapter 25[edit]

Alright.

I was in a mindscape. Since accelerated reality = more time to think, it was obvious that I had been brought here to get advice. The Librarian – Vasili – that strode out of the murky brightness which enfolded the two of us was a giant; towering over me in his bright blue armor with a two-head advantage. Scriptures and prayers were either written on strips of parchment sealed by bright red wax seals or written onto the ceramite armor. They were – as far as I could tell – details of past glories and achievements. His thundering footsteps shook the ground as he moved parallel to a massive shelf that would make most normal librarians weak at the knees. He closed his tome, and shelved it in the bookcase beside him.

Looking towards me, Vasili sighed.

"We have deliberated, and we have come to a conclusion. She – your kin - is a sensitive."

I blinked a few times, trying to process things. "... she's a what?"

"A sensitive." Explained Vasili. "This is a rare case, Michael. Sensitives are what we call a certain demographic of the very weakest of psykers. They are those that can see and sense the Warp, if you could call such 'unrefined guesswork' a sense, but they are unable to manipulate the Warp. Think of it as a man who can read but cannot write. Those people cannot survive well in this world; there are a few in Eldar society, according to the Loremaster that I consulted, but our own human sensitives do not last very long when put under the gaze of daemons. They die out a long, long time before we can find them, so few have been recorded, I believe, but archives for them do exist when they... crop up."

Messily, I could assume. Verbally, I could only make one noise; "Ah."

Vasili nodded, and smiled warmly. "She poses little threat to us, should you handle her carefully. Back to reality you go, then. Lets see how you dig yourself out of this one, Michael."

"A lesson in manipulation, huh?"

The Librarian grinned. "Pretty much."

"Do I get to die creatively this time?"

"Nope." He pointed the bolt pistol at my head, and stroked the trigger.

I shook my sister's shoulder, her head rolling back and forth. "Hey, sis. Wakey wakey."

"Hmm?" A murmur, a blink. The eyes of my sister tracked up and locked onto mine.

"You're awake?" I asked.

"Duh." My sister giggled, smiled briefly, then nodded. Her discomfort was apparent, and she began shuffling around. I watched as my sister curled her arms around her knees, hugging her legs close as she sat on the couch.

"You had a nasty bump on your head." I supplied. Her hand instantly went up to the back of her head, and she began to rub the aching spot that she would no doubt have felt from being given the equivalent of psychic tasering. Jane shifted about uncomfortably, and then looked up at me, questions already racing around inside of her head.

"So... what happened?"

"You missed the top step." I explained, then hesitated. "You went down, hard. Miles managed to catch you when you were going down, so you'll be alright. Just try not to move around too much, or you might do something to yourself." Again.

Jane thought about this for a moment, and frowned. "I don't remember hitting the stairs." Her twisted eyebrows deepened, her face inquisitive as she looked around me.

Vincent – under his own power and presumably of his own will, it seemed – had returned with a pair of mugs, both filled nearly to the top with cool water. He nodded to Jane, who accepted a cup before the second went to me. He was nervous, twitchy.

Jane's glances seemed to act like a whip, making him flinch as she directed her gaze to him – not visibly, but I could feel something jump inside of him whenever she turned to look at him. Well, that was exaggerating things a little, but whoever she reminded him of scared him. A lot. Like, more than Batel's step-father kind of scared, since all he did there was smash my fence palings over his head. Sighing, I rubbed at sore eyes and tried to settle down the best that I could while the awkward silence stretched on.

Well, this was Jane. That, and he had just found out that she was psychic (kind of). That must have been even more worrying for him. Maybe I should hold off telling him about the fact that she couldn't pry into his mind?

Nah, that would be too cruel.

Zara. Tell him, please.

Jane raised an eyebrow at me. Vincent shivered visibly now, like someone had poured ice down his back. Trust me on that one; I know how he reacts to ice going down his back.

"Okay." Jane blurted. She stood, shaking a little, but remaining upright. "Something is wrong here..."

"Huh?" Queried Vincent. He was nervous. So was I. The minis were tense, silent as they slowly crept back and away from the girl – going deep into the depths of my house.

"Yeah... as in, weird things..." My sister bit her lip, something that had once been adorable but now chilled me. "Oh, God, you'd think that I had gone crazy if I told you."

"You weren't crazy?" Quipped the bespectacled one, who suddenly got a dope slap to the back of the head.

I rubbed at my palm, now rather sore from the slap, and put up my best front, trying to seem concerned at Jane.

Actually, it wasn't that hard to look concerned at the moment. She was my sister, after all had been said and done; there wasn't any way that I was going to leave her out to dry like that. Massaging my palm from its recent meeting with Vincent's head, I did my best to look inquiring as I faced my sister. "What's wrong?"

Jane shook her head, sending white-blond strands out around her. "Just... things. Half-remembered. Its like... something else happened before I fell down the stairs. Voices... and stuff. I don't know... something definitely didn't - and still doesn't - feel right."

Yeah. Put that way, it sounded like a police-abuse cliché. Alice drifted into the room now, and sat down. She left the door open, to where I could see into the hallway beyond. There stood Emma. I looked at her, and raised an eyebrow. She looked thoughtful for a heartbeat, and then held up a sign for me to read.

Tell her.

I turned back to Jane, who was contemplative as she stared at the floor, trying to think her way through this problem; I could empathize with that, seeing as I had some problems getting over the fact that I was a psyker too.

"Well..." I drew in a breath, and exhaled.

"You're hearing voices, right?"

My sister jumped, then nodded nervously.

Zara.

Jane looked at me questioningly. Nothing was happening... oh for goodness sake. Closing my eyes, I grit my teeth and clenched a fist.

Zara? Zara, you missed your cue. That was it right there...

Still nothing. Licking my lips, I relaxed and let out a breath. A brief pulse of energy rippled across the room. Jane jumped, her skin prickling as Vincent gulped.

Zara, please.

Can you hear me, mon-keigh?

Jane jumped.

You have been hearing voices in your head, haven't you? They're ours, sister of Michael.

My sister blinked once, twice, three times. Yeah, she heard Zara alright. Her eyes narrowed into pinpricks as Zara called out to her once more. A sound that was not heard, but felt with the person's very soul. It must have been creepy, you know...

Jane. Allow me to introduce myself. I am a woman of far sight and grace.

I coughed, loudly, and saw Jane's lips curl into an amused smile.

And your brother is a stupid little... oh, the orks would call him a 'git'. Your brother is a git, who likes to ruin any attempts at dramatic introductions.

The sensitive seemed to get it, and turned from me, whipping her head around so fast that I feared that she would need a neck brace, to the figure that was now climbing up and out of the kitchen cupboard that she had been in.

Ah well, lets try this again: Allow me to introduce myself. I am a woman of far sight and grace. I am the Farseer of Ulthwe, Zara the Evenmaker.

This particular model of Vyper heavy jetbike was one that had been custom built to carry the Eldar 'heavy artillery' when it came to psychic attack power; Zara sometimes rode into battle on the platform that normally housed a gunner and their turret, her hands gripped firmly to the railing that made it seem more like a high-tech chariot than a fast attack craft.

You can hear me, sister of Michael, because you are a psychic.

My sister dropped to the floor, her eyes rolling up into the back of her head as I scrambled to catch her.

… a fragile one, at that.

Zara. I did my best to send a bad vibe through the air, thinking bad thoughts in her direction. Not that kind of bad thoughts, though, because they would have gotten me killed.

Sorry, sorry... look, Michael, you don't have to look at me like that!

Jane stirred, and woke again. She looked around her, to the concerned faces of Alice, Batel, Miles, Vincent and myself. Emma wasn't concerned, but she was there. It was the thought that counted, right?

"Uh... hi?"

"Yeah... that was our fault this time."

"Huh?"

Zara stood on my shoulder, pushing aside strands of my hair like vines, and the entirety of her training in the art of deception was now straining as she tried to keep her stance apologetic.

"Well, I suppose you weren't aware of the fact that you could detect psychic activity, have you?"

"Uhm... well..." She was staring at her and the half-dozen minis that had come out of the woodwork – sometimes literally – and fidgeted.

I wasn't sure about this. Should I really be enjoying my sister's discomfort? It was a rare event, something I hadn't seen in years, and was utterly adorable. I swear, she could weaponize that expression. Also confusing me was whether to remain detached and aloof or just hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay.

No, seriously.

"Jane, just put aside the fact that Zara is a fully functional and intelligent humanoid that is two or three inches tall for the moment. We'll explain how that is possible at a later time."

"O... okay..."

"Alri-ight." I stretched out a little, and settled back down. "We'll start with blunt and simple: You're psychic. That's the basic thing."

A nod.

"Uh... well, that's about all I know about it." I admitted sheepishly. "Vasili and Amadeus are the experts here, so... Librarian? Justicar?"

Both the figures approached, striding out from behind my stereo and stepping onto a Wave Serpent to ride the skimmer out to Jane.

"Yes, Michael." Vasili answered for the two of them, his voice still carrying as he called out to us

But it was the Grey Knight that explained what Jane was.

"M'lady, my name is Amadeus, Justicar of the Space Marine Grey Knights chapter." The silver-white armor that encased the Space Marine bowed slightly. "From what I am aware of, you are a sensitive. You aren't that powerful; you can see, but not shine, so to speak."

A slight nod. "Y-yeah."

"However, aside from that, I think you may be more concerned about the fact that there are three inch tall miniatures that are talking to you. Oh, and by the way; these weapons are functional, so please don't try anything uncivilized towards us."

Jane paled a little, and then nodded. "Uh huh. Sure..."

"Any questions?"

Silence.

I really hated the fact that I was enjoying this a little too much...

Twenty minutes later.

"So... these guys came alive?" Jane poked a Space Marine in the chest, causing him to stagger back. Incensed, he cocked his bolt pistol and pointed it at my sister's face. She peered at the tiny barrel, which I knew would really, really hurt if it ever shot her in the eye. Seeing as these guys lived by the maxim of any professional soldier, which was 'plan to kill anyone you meet', he was no doubt already pointing at her eyeballs, which were roughly the size of a small car to him.

"Oi, cool it." I warned.

Assault Marine Sergeant Vinters grimaced, then stepped back, slapping his bolt pistol onto the magnetic plate fixed to the side of the assault pack that he wore and did the Space Marine equivalent of running into a corner and adopting the fetal position by slamming the visor of his ancient helmet down and crossing his arms over his chest.

I turned to my sister, then shook my head. "I've never had that many models in the first place, Jane. They sure as hell didn't come alive from any of my collection, or Vincent's. Miles collects guns, last I heard, so he's out. Alice's clothes coming to life would be straight-up creepy, so yeah. Batel... I don't know. Batel, what do you collect?"

"..."

"Right. Batel doesn't collect miniatures either. Maybe its just better off asking these guys themselves? They are intelligent – more intelligent than I am, actually – and they can talk... Its about time we compared notes about this."

Back in the early days, the lot of us had been more eager to share weapons fire than notes about where we had come from.

Librarian Vasili stepped forward, indicating that he would pick up the explanation from where he was. "Many of the Space Marines here were all a splinter group that had been operating near the Cadian Gate during the Thirteenth Black Crusade. I myself had been investigating a Chaos temple, preparing it for purification when I stumbled across a sorcerer and his artifact. The rest of us claim similar fates, such as a squad of Ultramarines encountering a daemon summoning, an assault group of the Crimson Fists swallowed up by a new Chaos weapon, a scout group tasked with recovery the armor of their Initiates finding their former masters turned against them... the stories go on, and will be collated in time."

"I come from a Devastator Squad of Salamanders making their final stand with their backs to the doors of an Imperial medicae facility." Put in another Marine. His name was Brother-Sergeant Jorj, a Marine who I was told was most notable for the fact that he could drop the quarter-kilogram shells from his heavy bolter down the throat of a target with an almost delicate grace.

An Imperial Fist Terminator raised his arm. "My brothers and I hail from the center of a Space Hulk, I am certain that we had encountered something Chaotic within the warp... again, like the others, we experienced something that sent us here, but I was unable to remember what."

"We were engaged with an Imperial force suspected of Chaos taint." Explained Vinters, who pulled off his helmet and began to idly clean the eye pieces with the tip of his pinky finger, which had been modified with the addition of a toothbrush like surface to the tip. "They had taken root in the central block of a spire. From what we were able to gather, they planned on dropping the spire down onto the hive city below. We landed in Thunderhawks preceded by a brace of drop pods, and then my recollection ends when we reached a public transport hub-station.

"Squad Dallus of the Iron Snakes were performing an undertaking in the coreward edges of the Reef Stars. We were retrieving an artifact that had been stolen by Chaos and then... well, we found ourselves here soon after we destroyed the artifact."

Amadeus now chipped in his story. "We, a combined force of Grey Knights and Sisters of Battle, had been investigating an artificial structure in the from the advice of a cabal of Inquisitors from the Ordo Hereticus and Ordo Malleus, who were working in concert with each other regarding a heretical daemon summoning... Inquisitor Danilov and his retinue were our on-site Inquisitorial presence there. The place – a ring-like structure approximately ten thousand kilometers in diameter, orbiting a gas giant much like Jupiter, was curiously close to the Dulemid system that the Cadians had been on when they had disappeared, but about a half century before they had disappeared."

"How about you guys?"

General Faust chuckled, limping forward to put in his own two bits as he thumbed his way through a dataslate. He looked in askance to the leaders of the Space Marines and Sisters of Battle, and with a deferential nod, Vasili and Samisha stepped back to let him take the stage.

Faust tapped once more on the dataslate, and began to speak. "We... that is, the 918th Cadian of the Imperial Guard and attached elements, all came from what looked to me like some warp-storm that broke out on the surface of a planet named Dulemid IV. About thirty, maybe forty five percent of our force is actually amalgamated from other regiments, but the main thing is that we were all within lobbing distance of a Chaos stronghold when we went feet-first into the Warp. All of our forces were concentrated around the central continent here, trying to capture or destroy a collection of artifacts that had been stolen from us and desecrated by the Chaos forces. We believe that someone in there had triggered a warp storm that swallowed the entire system whole. Now, our regiment's got elements from all over the place; we have mostly Cadians from other regiments, though. No other elements in real numbers."

Colonel 'Jim' Angruss of the 1337th Supply Corps saluted smartly. "Same story as the others in the Cadian regiments, except that we were a rear-line unit, making a supply run through a town that had been supposedly secured, but then our units were ambushed. Thankfully, we were transporting a load of heavy bolters and ammunition, so those were used against the Great Enemy."

I turned to the Farseer.

Zara pitched in now. "The Eldar under my leadership were using the webway to strike out at a Chaos incursion that I foresaw in the near future. Our venture was successful, and we made off with a few icons of power that would have been the core of their strength; we could not risk any surviving if we attempted to destroy them, so we took them with us. The majority of my forces were almost out of when the gate on the other side was damaged, collapsing in on itself and throwing us into the warp. We had been trapped for nearly a week before we found ourselves here in your living room."

All heads now turned to the Tau.

"The warriors of Vior'la were experimenting with new faster-than-light drives." Firestrike explained, a drone opening up the holographic projector and beaming up a sphere – the planet they had last been on, apparently. The graphic zoomed in on one particular continent, then traced a jagged lightning bolt from somewhere in a mountain range out to the coast nearer the equator. "We were an escort force to transport the drive across the surface from the research facilities to the shipyards, as there had been attacks on the continent across what was known as the 'Kandor sea'." The appropriate region flashed briefly. His optical mount – his head was actually closer to the ribcage of the battlesuit he wore – cocked to the side. "They were there, and we suddenly found ourselves here after the transport took a hit. We assume that the drive activated from the energy of the lascannon that penetrated the hull of the transport skimmer, and transported us through to here."

"And what about you guys?" Almost a thousand eyes turned to the Orks. "How did you get here?"

"Dunno." Chuckled Madork Gunna, shrugging. "Me an' da boyz wuz waaghin' it a' sum 'toom wurld' dat dem Chaos boyz were at. Found sum big ship dat been razzed up an' pranged on de surfes'. Waagh! Merglock – dat's da Warboss dat Big Boss Mikkey stomped – gone up an' gave dat ship a big smackin' and right proppa razzin' up again." He scratched his jaw, an action that sent sparks flying. "Sum of dem loota boyz gotz some good stuff – moloko wid da buzzies, deyz call it." Madork was starting to fiddle with his Waagh!Gun now, shoving mini shotgun shells into one of the holes in the side of the weapon.

"One second we'ze was laughin' cuz one o' da wierdboyz drank sum o' dat moloko stuff an' was fartin' like someone shoved a rokkit up his grothole, an' den da next fing we'z knows, da grass was huge." Spreading his arms wide for emphasis, Madork grinned as he remembered that particular string of events. He chuckled darkly as he flexed his power klaw.

"O' course, we blamed da weirdboy fer dat wun."

"Wait." Jane held up a hand, and most of the conversation died away. "Wait wait wait... so... all of you were fighting over an artifact or artifacts of some description, and then you guys turned up here?"

Silence.

'Uhm... yeah.' was the general response. Turning to my sister, I nodded as well. "Yeah, pretty much."

"Wait a second. So all of you got here because of some Chaos forces, an artifact, and an accidental... something?"

The denizens of the Warhammer 40,000 universe scratched their heads at that one.

"Correct." Agreed the scholastic Ork. Skoola boy.

Danilov shrugged. "I say that there was something about those Chaos artifacts."

"Just artifacts, Inquisitor." Contradicted the weirdboy. "Some had been in Imperial hands for quite a while, so it is safe to assume that they are not completely Chaos owned. Perhaps corrupted by the pointy boys, yes, but not their own."

"Artifacts, then."

"What were they?"

"Various." Justicar Amadeus said. "These incidents happened all over the known universe, sister of Michael. I doubt that they were... connected."

"Then why did all these unconnected incidents – across several centuries, too, it seems – bring you all here in one place at the same time?"

"..."

I grinned, pride bubbling me up into a pleasant euphoria as Jane stumped detectives that were backed by decades of experience. She really was a sharp one. She chewed on one lip, casting her gaze over the rest of the others.

"Well, it just seemed so unlikely..." The Grey Knight found himself trailing off, and falling into a sullen silence as he stroked his helmet's jawline thoughtfully.

Another voice murmured from the group. "It is improbable."

"But still possible." Drawled Danilov. "We shall look into it later. But for now, what other questions do you have?"

Jane nodded. "About where you came from..."

Over the next two hours, stories were bandied about, and Jane got to know the miniature warriors better past them pointing weapons at her.

The Eldar told her of the Craftworlds. Giant, continent-sized ships that held together the last of the Eldar; from an empire of hundreds of trillions reduced to a few million in what was a cosmic blink of an eye – a scream that had torn open a hole in reality itself.

The Space Marines had regaled her with tales of their Fortress Monasteries, the massive structures that housed the majority an entire Chapter's capability; though while the assets of the Chapter were abroad, the bulk of their armories, workshops, homes and shrines, their libraries, museums and miscellanea were found in the fortress-monasteries. Imperial Guardsmen told her of the locales they went to on break; the upper Hives of Armageddon, the fields of Jumael and the giant granaries that lined each spaceport. More spoke of the death worlds; spiders and scorpions that were the size of tanks, trees that you could build a skyscraper inside and how much my own backyard had found itself with both at one stage. The Tau attempted to educate her about the Greater Good, something she found herself admiring yet disbelieving, since she was completely unable to grasp. Humans were selfish like that.

She had changed a lot, and she was still a little shaken when she stepped out front and sat down on the steps. I came out with drinks, and passed one along to her.

We both sat there, simply enjoying the silence as she soaked in the

"So... I guess this is why I haven't been able to get at you for a while, huh?"

"Yeah. They shot the telephone on the third day. Complete accident, mind you. They didn't mean to. We only got a new one a couple of days ago, actually."

"How long have they been here?"

"Couple of months now. Oh, and they've pretty much made sure there are no rats or anything in the house; somebody got bored, and decided that cockroaches, flies and rats were good target practice." I chuckled. "We're part of an extermination company now, clean out a house a day, make decent extra money for repairs and anything else we need."

Which reminded me; I had called in sick the past two days. Needed to get back to work tomorrow... gah...

Jane was grinning again. I found my own lips curling into a soft smile.

"Can I come back here?"

Shaking my head, I sighed. "We're at war at the moment, so I'd say that you'd want to stay away from here unless you can't help it."

"Huh?"

"You know those Chaos guys that they were talking about?" Waiting for Jane to confirm it, I found a bitter smile creeping onto my lips as I explained myself. "Yeah, some of them ended up here. We've been fighting them starting last weekend."

Laughing sourly, I felt my head fall down between my knees. "Our casualties ran up almost twelve percent during that one engagement. Almost a hundred fifty something dead. Our ratio was something like four or five kills for every one we loss. Thing is, we've been working on ways to lopside the kill-death ratio further."

"I... I see."

Thoughtful, we sat in silence for a little while. Jane chuckled as she held a hand to her mouth.

"Something to do with that thing Vincent was trying to put together in the garage?"

"Is trying to put together." I corrected her. Jane shot me an inquisitive look. Thinking about it... I sighed, and nodded in resignation.

"... sort of."

My sister giggled, and returned her attention to the drink in her hands. "But... uh... yeah. It's dangerous for me to be around, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Thank God and whoever for understanding younger siblings. People who ignored other people's warnings and opinions were the cause of grief for far too many. I smiled, and gave my silent thanks. "We don't know when or if they'll be attacking again. Or if we're going to be attacking them, actually. We're not sure about anything anymore, except that we're going to fight. The rest? I don't know. I just don't know. We're... we're at war." I grimaced, and felt another sigh escaped my lungs.

There was a squeeze on my shoulder; Jane's hand rested on it, comforting me. I found a pressure on my back. Emma was there, arms wrapped around my neck as she hugged me from behind. Alice sat down on the steps beside us.

"Do not worry, Michael." Her voice was quiet, raspy and hoarse. Yet strong; it calmed, soothed. I wondered if there was a psychic component to it, but decided against it. There was raw power, but... something else.

The other Terran friends of mine padded out to the front, Vincent coughed from behind me. "We will be here. We will be helping you too. You are not alone."

"Damn straight." Grunted Miles, stepping out from inside.

"Agreed." Croaked Alice.

Laughing, I turned to the others. "I know you guys were eavesdropping, you know that, right?"

"Yea, don't worry about it." Miles shrugged. "We know that you knew that we were eavesdropping."

Vincent groaned in mock agony, play-punching Miles on the shoulder. "Really, Miles? Do we need to go into that? Because the last time you and Michael did the 'you know that I know that I know' debate, it took you five minutes to give that last answer."

I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you know... yeah.

Rinse, repeat, finish after five minutes and two drinks of water. Heheh. Fun times. The challenge was keeping track of the number of times you said 'I know that you know that'. If you went over to stayed under the number of times the other person said it, then you lost. And the two of us hated losing.

Miles grinned, and shrugged. Jane brightened up, giggling a little at the comedy sketch that was unfolding before her.

"Yeah, I remembered that one!" She chuckled, smiling with her teeth showing.

Though smiling, I groused a little as I muttered: "Well, ain't as funny as what happened with the minis."

"Oh?" Curiosity piqued, Jane turned around to face me.

"They set fire to all kinds of things." I explained. "Especially Alice's friends." Glaring pointedly at Alice, who simply stuck the tip of her tongue out to me. I returned the gesture.

Vincent contributed: "And they shot his alarm clock."

Jane did her best 'omg' face, though there were splashes of laughter throughout the portrait of disbelief. "Shot?"

"Railgun." Miles elaborated this time, waving inside. "I think its got about the same power as a decent rifle round; went right through the floor and up into his bedroom, through the table and then gave the alarm clock a case of religion."

Raising an eyebrow, my sister gave a little chuckle. She ventured forth. "Made it holy?"

"Yep."

"Not quite as fun as those ork stikk bombs that they gave you yesterday, though." Grinned Miles. "That was a frikkin' hand grenade right there."

"Stick bombs?" Jane looked at me, and then gasped as her face lit up. "Not quite as fun? What about that time with Henry? The one time at the river with that can of spaghetti?"

My friends laughed.

"Oh God, that was a bad idea if I ever had one." Vincent groaned, palming his face a little. Being a pyromaniac was a problem unless you happened to be a demolition/mining explosives expert. The younger brother of my bespectacled buddy happened to be latter while he himself was the former, and we had gone about making a big small hand grenade made up of fireworks and a soup tin. Entertaining as it had been, the explosion had been quite... spectacular.

Jane was laughing as well, and I smiled slightly as she did.

If anything, this circle of friends knew how to cheer each other up.

Such... hm... I don't quite know your language's word for this...

Fun. Try fun.

I shall think on it, Michael.

"So, I guess this is goodbye?" My sister looked up at me, and then frowned as I shook my head.

"Nah. See you later, more like." I chuckled. "Goodbye sounds a little too final, to me."

Jane smiled, ruefully, and glomped me. I hugged my sister back, and then let go, walking her out to the car.

"I'll see you around, then?" I asked.

Her eyebrows furrowed into a frown. "What about the war?"

"Call ahead. We'll make sure not to start anything with you coming around, or better still warn you away if we're in trouble. And make sure you stay away, and do not call anyone. We can handle ourselves out here."

Jane nodded, understanding, and then paused as she slotted the keys into the car. Deflated, melancholy and much less... vibrant... than she had been when she first arrived here today, my sister gave me one last smile, and then slipped into her Toyota.

"I will."

Thought for the Day: "Two are better than one: they get a good wage for their labor. If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up." - Ecclesiastes 4 : 9-10

Chapter 26[edit]

I slumbered.

Now, I usually don't use slumber as the word for what I do when I rest my head on a pillow and fall asleep, but it was appropriate this time. It was a rare time that I experienced this one true unconsciousness; the peaceful rest of someone who had finished a hard day's work and was now looking forward to dream's embrace. Or just silence. That was good, too.

Clutching a pillow to my head, I slumbered.

Too bad it didn't last for long.

The bed shifted, the weight of another making the surface warp towards the center of their mass. My arm was lifted off the bed as the other slipped in, wrapping around the slim frame of my warm bedmate, and I sighed slightly, warming the back of her neck as she echoed my sentiment. The night was cold, and it was snowing again, promising a powdery field that I would have to scoop up the next morning. Oh well, time to enjoy what I had right now. I pressed my lips gently against the back of her neck, and she snuggled a little closer in response. My other hand wormed its way around her from underneath, and thus settled we fell back to sleep in each others' arms. Well, she fell asleep in mine, btu that's not the point.

Morning came easily, with the sky brightening slowly as sunlight started streaming in through the window. The curtains had been positioned perfectly (through weeks of adjustment) to throw a narrow beam of lukewarm light over my face just as the clock struck seven thirty, just in time for the bedside clock to go up like a little brass bomb. Ringing, the alarm clock was rattling off its usual fanfare of chirpy tones, and I reached out for it. Gently, I slapped the top of the clock, settling it to silence. It was an older model, a classic box with an old school readout and a big button on top. It was something that had been with me for years. I slapped it down one more time, to make sure that it would stay silent, then prepared myself for the daunting task to leave the warm haven that was my bed.

Stretching came first; my legs, back and arms flexing as they worked out all the stiffness of sleep, and then it was out of bed. Rolling my neck, I picked through a pile of discarded clothes that sat on my table, and after a little rummaging I found a long sleeved shirt to throw on, and tousled hair was raked back with my hand as I opened the door and padded down the stairs, collecting the neon green bunny slippers ('Rad Rabbits') as I left the room.

My nose was immediately assaulted by the smell of flowers warmed by the sun, and the smell of toast, garlic butter and bacon. The crack of eggs, the rustle of salt being poured. Eyes still closed, I enjoyed the fragrance of a beautiful morning as I listened to the rattle of cutlery. Slumber's sand was wiped from my eyes as I rubbed my face, and I yawned. It was enjoyable, for once. Mouth agape, the yawn stretched my cheeks as I arched my back, letting my tonsils (or had they been removed? I couldn't remember. Maybe when I was eight...) wave hello to the world.

Ah, that felt good.

There was a deliciously smooth, throaty laugh from behind me. I couldn't help but let my lips curl into a smile as – still posed triumphantly from my victory over sleep – I turned to face the voice. Zara stood there, her ebony hair bundled into a long ponytail that was tied around the back of her neck. She had dressed in a loose fitting shirt and shorts, although I could only tell that because the bottom half-inch of the shorts were poking out from under the shirt as she bent over.

"Whoa. You look good this morning."

"And good morning to you too, mon cheri."

Amused, I found that my tone was a mix of disbelief and curiosity. "French?" I asked her in mock disbelief. "... really? French?"

A giggle, and then the crack of another egg added to the frying pan. "Thought I'd try something new today. You know, mix things up a little."

"I'm sure you did..." I drawled, closing in on her. French today, it had been German yesterday, Indonesian the day before. The two of us shared a quick peck to finish our greetings, and then I started helping her with breakfast.

Firstly, to the fridge! Fingers finding the handle, I wrenched it open, stepping back to allow the door to fully open, and in doing that caused her back to bump against mine, and we both chuckled. Knowing that a more delicate task was at hand the two of us danced back to back as we tried to cook and gather at the same time.

"Juice?"

After a slight pause behind me, the answer came. "Hmm.. how about mango? We still have any?"

"Sounds good." Picking up the appropriate box, I shook it and nodded, satisfied with the swirl of the juice inside, guessing it at about a third full, or two thirds empty. It was all about perspective, right? Whatever. There was still enough for this morning's meal, and that was all that mattered. Of course, that meant that a part of today would become 'get more mago juice' day. Smiling to myself, I figured that it wouldn't be too bad.

Enjoying the quiet of the bustle for breakfast, no words were bandied about between us as we focused on the tasks at hand. I picked out the cutlery, the plates and the various other vessels for our meal. Juice was poured, eggs were cooked. Toast popped and forks clattered on the smooth wood of the table as we gently bumped against each other when we passed by.

More feet. Coming down the stairs, it was a much smaller figure that now joined the two of us in the kitchen.

"Mickeeey~"

I laughed as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and then charged me.

Her 'pajamas' were in fact one of my older shirts, oversized to the point where they completely covered her thighs and hands. She staggered over, zombie like until she hand her arms wrapped around my waist, where she then latched onto me as I tried to shake her off like a hula hoop. Zara chuckled, patting the shorter black-haired girl on the head, before joining her younger sister in giving me a hug.

Lacing fingers through my girlfriend's hand, and then poking Emma in the forehead to elicit a giggle from her, I smiled.

"Morning, girls."

- Scene Break -

"And breakfast... is served."

With appropriately over-dramatic flair, I served toast, sausages and egg for the two girls, despite the fact that Zara had cooked most of the foodstuffs that we were about to eat. Emma cheerfully began to dig in, while Zara and I took a moment to play 'keep the tomato ketchup away from the other while trying to get as much of it on your plate as possible'. It lasted for about half a minute, before Emma asked for it. The ketchup was immediately surrendered to her Highness the Princess who is holding a Fork and pointing it at Us (in a threatening manner, it seemed). Holding said piece of cutlery in an overly imperious manner, Emma made her demands; stop acting like we were kids, and pass the ketchup (please). Oh my god, she was adorable. Giving it up to her, Zara and I found our laughter slowly dying down to chuckling and a few very unladylike snorts as Emma rolled her eyes up to the heavens.

"Any friends coming today, Michael?" She asked.

"No, not really." I shrugged. Today was going to be a pretty slow day for us, and I figured I could probably spend it watching movies. The DVD cabinet was still stocked up, and I was itching to see those old Jackie Chan movies that Vincent had let me borrow. Some of those had been sitting in my little cabinet for years. "You going to invite some other kids around?"

"Maybe." Emma allowed, still thinking. "How about you, Zara?"

"I was thinking maybe going up into town." She mused, her quick and efficient movements spreading the butter over bread as she hummed softly to herself. "See if Miles has any mango juice in stock."

I nodded my assent.

"Sure, Mile's shop, then... today is Saturday, right?"

"Mhmm."

"Vincent's on roster for Saturday..."

I grinned.

- Scene Break -

"Hee~eey."

The pitch was off. Sort of. It was a little deep, even though I was stretching my vocal ability to replicate the sound of my sister's greeting. Reacting to the sudden sound, there was a suction of air as Vincent jumped half a foot up on the sudden muscle spasm alone.

"Oh sh-" The Asian boy sitting at the counter almost fell off his chair, the magazine he had been reading tumbling out of his hand as he stumbled on his ass. He whipped around, and spotted me. Desperately, he searched the room around him, his eyes flickering back and forth behind his glasses as he scanned his surroundings for any sign of my sister.

There was a sudden, relieved sigh from Vincent. Flopping over on top of the counter, he sucked in an equally thankful breath and let it out again.

"Thankgodthankgodthankgod."

Laughing, Emma, Zara and I were almost doubled up as our friend again delivered when it came to him and his fear of my sister.

The thanks to whatever deity Vincent prescribed to stopped. Slowly, ever so slowly, his head rose up from its face-down position, eyes peeking up over the rim of his glasses to glare at me. Vincent may have been scared of my sister, but I was scared of them both when they were in their respective 'scary' moods; Jane when she was really, really hyperactive, and Vincent when he decided to throw on his 'scary face'.

"Michael." He droned darkly. "You almost gave me a heart attack. Why did you almost give me a heart attack? Why, why, why?"

Chuckling, I brought my hand up in a pacifying gesture, waving him down.

"Sorry, Vincent, I'm sorry..." Still unable to completely stop laughing, I leaned on the counter for support as my friend maintained Asian Martial-Artist Death Glare #3. It had been perfected by the likes of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee; tilted slightly forward, eyes half-hidden behind the brow, mouth sealed up in a tight compression until the lips were a little pink slash across the jawline. Vincent could certainly pull off a variant, which was #3-v. It involved the addition of glasses.

I laughed even more at that. Certainly, Death Glasses were more funny than scary. "Hey, look, I'm sorry, okay?"

Mock-grudgingly, Vincent muttered something about his pulse and more about his health, before arching an eyebrow at the two baskets that I was carrying. He beckoned me forward, grabbing the scanner, and then I pushed the piles of shopping across to him. Dutifully, my friend scanned the boxes of food, cans of spaghetti and a packet of flour.

"You gonna head to the bookstore?"

"Maybe, what for? Got a letter for the young lady there?" I grinned, as Zara (on cue) burst into laughter as Emma simply grinned.