Sunday, April 10, 2011

Radical: Healing

Radical, part II.  For more check the table of contents here.

It was three days before I could return to the front line. The Sisters Hospitaler had reattached the tendons in my legs so that I could walk again, and I was returned to my squad as quickly as they could make me able. Our front line had been secured a few hours after I was pulled from the field by Inquisitor Fane's acolytes when the Harbingers arrived. Never in my life have I seen a sight as magnificent as the rain of steel that fell from the heavens that day. Space Marine drop pods are a marvel of technology whose secret resides rightfully only with the Astartes. Should radicals ever get their hands on them our forces would be hard pressed indeed to repel their attacks. The Harbingers emerged from their fallen pods, bolters screaming, tearing down the foul machines that had torn the Imperial guard to pieces. I believe that we owed our lives to the Astartes that day. Without their fearless presence holding the line we would have surely fallen.

Sister Superior Halquin welcomed me back to the squad with open arms and a warm smile. She was a pretty woman, with light red hair, and when not in combat she wore a pair of pince nez glasses. She'd told me once that she'd never intended to join the Order Militant of the Adpeta Sororitas, but wished instead to be a simple librarian of holy texts in one of our convents. I feel that while a library may have missed a fine tender in Kora Halquin, the Cleansing Fire commandery gained an irreplaceable warrior. Our squad had lost two sisters during the fighting, Sister Candice and Sister Delilah, two faces whom I still miss.

We were held off of the front lines for now while our rhino was being repaired and our armor tended to. My armor in particular needed great care from the enginseers, damaged as it was from the heavy bolter fire I had taken. While we rested and waited in the landing zone where the resupply ships touched down and unloaded with regularity, bringing new arms and equipment into the fight, we were asked by several of the reserve Guard units to give blessings over their platoons, a service we were happy to provide.

The Guard, more than anyone else, had suffered the most. Lightly armed and armored, they had been cut down in vast numbers by the corrupted servitors we had faced, and for every one of the tainted machines they had brought down they lost five or ten fighting men. As if that weren't enough, the taint of this planet drove many more insane. Some turned on their brothers, others collapsed on the field of battle, screaming and clawing at their eyes until they had to be put down, but the worst were the ones who simply turned their weapons on themselves and forsook their duty rather than face their enemies. Tanks were left uncrewed as their drivers or gunners went mad, and a full third of the mighty earthshaker cannons of the basilisks were silent, lacking the men to fire them.

I was tasked with giving last rites to those too badly wounded to fight on, and I walked the narrow rows between the beds of the medicae with soft words as comforting as I could find. It was there that I found the Sergeant. He was an older man, badly burned all across the right side of his body. One of his squad mates had been carrying a flamer when he'd been hit by a blast from a lascannon. The Sergeant was the only survivor. He spoke to me awkwardly, half of his mouth fused together, but his voice was still strong. “You're a pretty thing,” he had said. “A beautiful vision to see before I die.”

It was not the first time I had heard that from the lips of a dying man that day, and it would not be the last. “You've done your duty well,” I said, as I had been saying all day. He must have noticed the strain in my voice. The heat from the meltagun had left my throat still raw and hoarse.

“No tears for me, Sister. Save those for a hero, not just some old man doing his duty.” He reached out with a hand that had been cooked smooth, reminding me more of the fin from some aquatic animal than an human limb. “Save them for that Inquisitor.”

“You've met the Inquisitor?” I hadn't seen Argus Fane since the first day of the invasion. “He saved my life; swatted one of those servitors right off of me with that Daemonhammer of his. Why should I shed tears for him? The Emperor protects him, I'm sure of it.”

At that the old Sergeant laughed and shook his head. “Yes, I'm sure he does. But that man isn't going to walk away from this world, no ma'am. He'll be leaving this world in a black coffin, you mark my words.”

I was shocked at this horrific statement, and I hurt my sore throat when I snapped back, “You watch what you say about the Inquisitor. He serves the Emperor's will, and he won't fall so easily as you might think.”

“Calm down, pretty sister,” the Sergeant said, putting his hands up innocently. “The Emperor has plans for every man, and Argus Fane is going to die here. I've seen it.”

“Seen it? Seen it how?” I immediately suspected witchcraft, and was about to call for a weapon when he answered me.

“You're young yet, very young, so you haven't seen what I've seen. Men like the Inquisitor, they pass through like storms, pulling the rest of us into their wake. I saw it in his eyes, that look. It was the same look my old colonel, may he sit at the Emperor's side, had when we landed back on Jilika. He was coming to the end of his road, about to be forced to retire. He might have gone on to teach at some Schola somewhere, or an officer's academy, and that would be the end of him. He was a good man, and he'd done his duty well, but he'd never be remembered, nobody was going to write books about that old dog. So when we landed at Jilika he had that look in his eye. It was the look of a driven man, one who was going to die gloriously. The Inquisitor's got that same gaze, Sister. He's chosen his fate.”

“What happened to your colonel?' I was already enraptured with this old veteran's story. I was, after all, fighting in my first war, while this man had seen who knew how many conflicts. “Is that what happened? Did he die gloriously?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, laughing again despite his injuries. “Bayoneted a Lictor. Saved our entire artillery line in the process. I watched him do it, too. Stuck his blade so far into that thing's skull that when he pulled the trigger on his lasgun the whole damn thing exploded like a grenade. Flying bone fragments tore him to pieces. It was a good death.”

I smiled then, and placed my hand on his forehead. “May the light of the Emperor guide you wherever you travel, old warrior, that you may find peace at his side, your duty done.” He smiled at me then with the half of his mouth still capable of it, and I walked away.

When I returned my squad was arming themselves again, and Marise threw me a bolter as I approached. “Fasten up your boots, Regina. We've got a special mission.”

“What kind of special mission?” I asked, checking the clip on the bolter.

Sister Superior Halquin answered me as she fastened on her chainsword. “We're to press forwards towards the mechanicus facility along with the rest of the commandery. The Inquisitor's riding with us. We're going to hit the enemy's flank and try to disrupt their servitor manufacturing plant.”

“Are we getting any support?”

“Grey Knights,” Marise said, grinning like a school girl, and Halquin clicked at her.

“That's enough speculation from you, double check your melta. We've got enough to worry about without you getting everyone all worked up over hearsay.”

“Grey Knights? I thought they were just a myth!” I said, but a sharp gaze from the superior cut off any other questions I had.

As we loaded into our repaired rhino I was excited. The fabled Grey Knights and the Inquisitor himself! Soon I'd be fighting again, destroying the enemies of the Imperium alongside legendary warriors and the hero who'd saved my life. If I'd thought about what the old Sergeant had said instead of losing myself to the thrill of it all I would have fared much better over the next few hours. But Emperor I was young, so young.

So ends the second passage of the Personal Record of Palatine Regina Winterfield concerning the fate of Inquisitor Isimbard Kane.

No comments:

Post a Comment