Dining on Ashes
The Last of the Few
You Know Her
With one heavy footfall after another, the warrior giant advanced up the narrow spiral stairwell.
His ceramite boots were too wide for stairs that had been built for the tread of common men, the shoulders of his power armour far too broad for the tight, human-scale confines of the towering minaret. The edges of his wargear’s pauldrons would catch on the walls from time to time, gouging lines out of the fire-blackened granite to mark his passing.
He was forced to negotiate places where the sides of the passageway had been blown in by shell impacts, picking his way over heaps of sooty debris, and often, the grisly remains of slain defenders.
The damage and the carnage grew ever worse the closer he got to the top. The tower had been home to a lascannon nest that rained beams of crimson hell down on the enemy throughout the night’s fighting, drawing concentrated fire in return. At length, he emerged into the smoggy cold of the day as the spiral stairs deposited him on the highest level that still remained intact. The beheaded ruin of the minaret hummed with a hard breeze that carried particles of gritty, dirty sleet with it.
The dead – men and women in the grey carapace armour of the resident garrison – lay where they had fallen, half-buried in drifts of ash and broken brickwork. Some still clutched their guns to them, the muzzles of the rifles glistening with the oily rainbow sheen of heat-damaged metal. He saw burst flesh seared from within marking many of the soldiers, and toxin-bloated faces on others that stared sightlessly at the sky. Death had touched them with terror and agony in their final moments.
Compelled by a sudden impulse, the warrior checked his air sensors, then removed his grey-hued battle helmet and mag-locked it to his hip. He looked up past the missing roof of the tower, to snatch a glimpse of what the fallen had seen.
Above, the forbidding sky had a strange, sickly hue, lined with striations of black cloud reaching from north to south, and on the wind were sounds that might have been voices, if one listened for them. Hundreds of metres up, above the perimeter of the great aegis field, metal birds caught the weak sunlight as they wheeled and turned around one another, trading streaks of sun-hot plasma from their guns. The keening whine of their engines and the faint chug of their weapons reached him over another, steady sound coming from far away – a low drumming like the beating of a gigantic heart.
Past the atmo-fighters locked in their endless dogfight, the strange storms of brassy lightning, and up into the higher ranges of the reddish Himalazian sky, shapes loomed in the heavens. Great baroque forms floating in near-orbit, some on fire, others crackling with arcane energies. Starships as big as city-states drifted there, their numbers and their masses so great that their proximity tormented the planet’s gravitational and magnetic fields, warping weather patterns from pole to pole.
The skies of Terra were no longer the domain of the Imperium of Man, the warrior reflected. The skies belonged to Horus Lupercal, may his name be blighted, to the treacherous Warmaster and the Traitor Legions at his banner. Only the stone and the mud were held by those who remained loyal to the Emperor, and even those elements were in danger of slipping away.
After a breath, the warrior took another step, moving onto an unsteady outcropping of broken masonry and laser-scarred ouslite. He let his gaze drop to the riven battleground beneath the minaret, and the fields of destruction rolling away to the broken horizon.
The spindly tower was the only one to have survived the recent onslaught, emerging from the cracked and shattered domains of the gigantic Colossi Bastion, reaching to the burnt sky like a skeletal, accusing finger atop a beheaded mountain. A vast, seemingly endless landscape of rubble stretched towards the gutted shell of the bastion’s sibling fortress, ...
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