Part the First
Edmund vs The Gladiators
Edmund Filo was not a man to be taken lightly. He had, in his time, been a liar, a thief, a cut-purse, an assassin, a naval commander and, once, a gourmet chef. It was this vast experience that made him such a success both in his chosen career, and his everyday life. Several years before he entered the gladitorial arena on Cumsaka V, Edmund had gotten into a tarot game with an Inquisitor, a Rogue Trader and a High Lord of Terra. How a man of his meager means had managed to gain entrance into such prestigious company would have remained a mystery of the ages had not subsequent investigations revealed that he had drugged all of the wine with hallucinogens and seduced the Inquisitor's mistress.
The result of this historic card game became legend as a man with no political standing whatsoever came away from the table with a Warrant of Trade, an Inquisitorial commission and a three legged dog named Vexillarius. Recordings of the game reveal that Edmund cheated unabashedly and poorly and touched none of the wine. For three years Sir Inquisitor Lord Captain Filo, as he liked to call himself when the actual Inquisition wasn't chasing him, robbed, pillaged and generally made a nuisance of himself throughout the Davoth Subsector in the cruiser he had won along with the Warrant of Trade.
He was, eventually, shot down by a combined armada of Inquisition, Imperial Navy and Tau vessels which caught him in orbit over Cumsaka V. It is rumored that he was considering whether or not to fire a vortex torpedo at the planet and hollow out its core, eradicating all life on the planet, just see what it would look like. As his cruiser burst into flames and crumpled under the stresses of the excessive firepower brought to bear upon it, Edmund escaped, along with his dog, in a life pod which crashed to the surface of the planet along with thousands of tons of debris.
The northern continent of Cumsaka V was devastated, four fifths of its population killed in a single day. Rescue efforts were minimal, and the refugees of the northern continent simply tried to live on. The feudal planet had been kept in the bronze age for millenia and was not up to the task of dealing with such widespread destruction. A few men and women tried to travel to the southern continent, and those that did were greeted warily. The only survivor of the destruction to truly flourish was, in fact, Edmund Filo himself. Leather shields and wooden spears proved little match for a man portable lascannon.
Eventually, as they are prone to do, the power pack of his lascannon was bled dry and Edmund was forced to flee the palace he had commandeered and the harem he had gathered in search of climates less prone to lynchings. Thus it was that he found himself on the southern continent when The Games were announced. It was widely known that the winners of the games were taken to the stars by the local clergy, an Imperial Cult which worshiped his angels. Seeing as Edmund was, by now, tired of relieving himself in cisterns, he decided to have a go at the games.
“These primitives should be easy pickings, eh Vexillairus?” His three legged dog looked at him in his normal state of timid confusion, and Edmund scratched him behind his ears. “Exactly right, my faithful companion. What kind of training have they had? Hack, slash? Child's play. They know nothing of riposte and parry! Come, let's see what they've got.”
As he approached the man taking tournament entries Edmund adjusted his necktie. While many fashionable people in the Imperium wore cravats or scarves, Edmund didn't consider himself a pompous ass, so a neck tie and sensible jacket worked just fine for him. “Excuse me, base primitive and awful smelling chap of questionable parentage, is this where I sign up to murder your kinsmen and gain passage off of this filthy rock you call a home?”
The foul smelling primitive wiped the sweat from under his armpit and eyed Edmund in a way that Edmund could only assume was some kind of pre-evolutionary thought process akin to that of a bacteria or possibly an upwardly mobile sea cucumber. Then the man said, “Ya.”
“Fantastic! Where do I sign? Wait, I forget, do you sign things here? Can you people even read? Perhaps I'm supposed to simply spit on the parchment.” So he did. The base primitive looked down at the puddle of saliva that now coated his papyrus and made a noise that sounded like a dying whale. Edmund took this to mean approval. “Excellent. I'll just see myself in, then. Have a beautiful day and pray that someone invents soap in the near future, my good man!” Edmund waved and headed into the colosseum, his three legged dog tailing along after him.
Inside he met yet another foul smelling proto-man and was handed a sword of terrible quality, a shield of questionable value and a stack of bronze armor which made Edmund frown in disgrace. After changing, Edmund looked down at himself approvingly. The bronze armor covered one shoulder and only one shoulder. The leather codpiece was absolutely vulgar and everything else was bare to the wind. Edmund thought he looked rather dashing. “The ladies will slip right off of their seats when they see this, eh Vexillarius?” His three legged dog cocked his head to the side and made a sort of sad, crooning noise.
“Don't worry boy, we'll find you something to spend the night with as well. Probably not a dog, I think they eat those here. What about some sort of large arachnid? That seems like the kind of thing that would live here.” Vexillarius wagged his tail and licked Edmund's outstretched palm. “Good boy, that's the spirit. Always stay positive, that's what I say.”
A while later the big bell rang and Edmund was ushered off into the colosseum along with a crowd of other, similarly dressed gladiators. Feeling that he wouldn't stand out quite enough, he tied his neck tie around his head. The heavy wooden portcullis lifted before him, and he was shoved out onto the battleground. He had never seen a stadium so big before. The sandy ground stretched a kilometer in diameter, and the stands housed millions of screaming people. There were trees on the colosseum floor far to the north, and a castle in the middle. Old ruins were staggered west and East of him, and bags of sand were piled high just to his right.
He waved to the crowd and the volume of their cheering went up several notches. “I told you they'd approve of the look,” he said to his dog, who seemed both excited and afraid at the same time. Immediately a much larger man in a terrifying bull headhelmet pushed Edmund out of the way and raised his massive axe above his head. The crowd got even louder, so Edmund stabbed him up between the ribs for stealing his spotlight. This seemed to be the cue for the games to start, as every other gladiator immediately drew their weapons and charged at him, so Edmund beat a hasty retreat in the direction of the castle, Vexillarius trailing behind, having quite a lot of fun in his favorite game, being chased.
“This whole thing is getting a bit ridiculous, isn't it, Vexillarius? I didn't know I was supposed to fight all of them at once.” Across the arena Edmund could see other warriors by other gates, thousands of them, all confused as to why his group was moving and theirs weren't. This resulted in dozens of massed melees as all of the primitives assumed the games had started without their knowledge. One of the gladiators chasing Edmund threw a spear and it whizzed by Edmund's head and stuck in the ground ahead of him. Without slowing down he plucked it up as he went by and tossed it casually over his shoulder. A scream of pain came from the group behind him and Edmund smiled. “Rather easy to hit when they're all grouped up like that. Like Orks to a slaughter, eh?”
As it turned out, the castle was rather a ways away and Edmund was starting to get tired. Luckily, the group behind him were even more tired, probably having less experience in running away from threats and more running towards them, which generally tended to be a much shorter trip. By the time Edmund crossed into the gates of the castle he had gained a good hundred meters on the frothing barbarians, which gave him time to catch his breath and look for something to bar the gate with. Seeing a large, curious looking lever, he pulled it, and a portcullis slammed down directly on top of the first of the gladiators, impaling him quite thoroughly. The rest of the group hit the portcullis hard and snarling, trying to bash their way in, so Edmund began sticking his sword into their faces until they stopped. At his feet, Vexillarius ran in circles, barking.
Feeling himself relatively secure, Edmund wandered off looking for something else to do about the barbarians at the gate. He found, to his surprise, some sort of ancient machine made of wooden beams and rope. It looked like a large lever, pulled all the way back, with a basket on one end that was filled with tiny round jugs full of some kind of liquid. Intrigued, Edmund poked a bronze switch with his sword, then leaped back as the entire device lurched, the basket flinging its contents directly at the portcullis. The jars broke across the wooden beams and a wave of fire washed over the gladiators trying to make their way inside. Burning like several dozen very pained candles, they died and made a nice flaming barricade for anyone trying to get into the castle.
“Well,” Edmund said, looking down at his dog. “That seems to have worked out quite nicely. Shall we see if there's anything to drink around here?”
Several hours and three bottles of cheap wine later, Edmund heard the great bell again and climbed up to the top of the castle walls to see what the big fuss was about. There were dead bodied everywhere. The forest was on fire, the ruins were ruined and all of those sandbags were now just dust. Ten men stood in the entire arena, Edmund included. All but Edmund were covered in blood, their armor torn and rent, their weapons destroyed. Edmund was just about to try to snipe one of them with a bow and arrow he'd found lying in the castle keep when a booming voice filled the whole colosseum, silencing the crowd.
“Proud men of Cumsaka V! You are the heroes of your people!” Edmund looked around to find the owner of the voice and spied a giant of a man standing in some kind of bulky ceremonial robes walking towards the center of the arena. He was flanked by a pair of emaciated servitors who were carrying speakers to amplify his voice. “You have been chosen to leave your people and your world behind now. You will come with us and become heroes of the Imperium!”
“About time,” Edmund said, leaning against the palisade at the top of the wall.
“To become the Emperor's own Space Marines!”
“Oh bloody hell.”