The universe of Warhammer 40,000 is, as we all well know, dark and full of terrible things lurking in the corners. Below is the second chapter of a multi-part story. It was supposed to be arriving in the summer, but circumstances and real life delayed our campaign momentarily, so here is the second part of the story of Imperial Guard Corporal, Rosa Dominguez. She’s having a very bad day, and she’s not alone…
Chapter 2 – Descent
Fire. Its world was fire and fury. It gripped with every limb to the corners of the metal structure. It knew it was falling, and it knew that to release its hold was certain death. The structure grew hotter on re-entry. There was sound now too. The roaring overloaded the senses. The burning pipework started to warp in its hands, metal contorting to the heat and searing the leathery skin that pressed against it. And yet it clung on.
A single unwavering instinct in its head.
* * *
Chapter 3 – Meeting
Rosa dreamt of unnatural muscle writhing in the half-light. Animal clicks and inhuman breathing mixed with the friction of sinew and bone cracking and twisting. An iris of darkness surrounded the view of pinkish blood-webbed movements. It was a scene of utter revulsion; from the stygian dark around her vision, there was a malevolence, an intelligence. It was watching and waiting, and it desired something deeply. Something from the slithering mass was reaching out and touching her cheek. It was soft and exploratory, it pushed up against her with intent.
Rosa started awake to her foxhole tarp collapsing in on her, she batted it away, watery yellow light momentary blinding her before she was confronted with the outline of a figure. That training kicked in again, and she raised the lasgun she’d cradled through the night, safety off, sight aligned. The figure stepped back, still unclear to Rosa’s squinting eyes. Her brain quickly opted for the lowest Gothic she could manage, “Who are you?” She demanded in a hoarse throaty call, cracked by sand, dust, and fumes. The figure raised both hands, keeping the gnarled wooden staff in one, and stepped back again. “I said, who are you?” She was up on her knees now, rising, her eyes adjusting. The figure was a man, human, and clearly aged. His hands remained up, he didn’t look armed or appear to present any kind of threat. After Rosa had got to her feet, she realised he didn’t even look particularly, well, civilised: beard growth framed his head, his mouth hidden from view and his leather parchment skin betraying a labourer’s life. He was babbling too, some kind of dialect that was indecipherable to any modern ear. She quickly looked around, keeping the sights trained on the man. The shuttle was still there, no longer smouldering; the fire must have burnt itself out. Instead there were livestock of some description meandering around them. Some kind of light-haired ox, she reasoned quickly.
So the babbling man was a farmer, and based on his flowing robes and staff, not a likely threat. The closed shuttle door meant he hadn’t even poked around in there, or else he couldn’t figure out how to open it. She started to try to communicate a bit more basically with the man. A few hand signals followed her lowering of the gun and he seemed to relax. Eventually she even managed to find a few common words with the man and he seemed to indicate that there was a population centre of some sort nearby. It could be three people or three million, all she could get out of the old fellow was a word she was sure meant ‘lots’, or ‘many’ and even then that could be something to do with how far it was. Having seemingly recovered fully from his gunpoint ordeal, the man, ‘Grinto’, mimed some more events for Rosa, he’d seen the crash landing of her shuttle in the distance, as depicted by the whistle that accompanied his hand descending. Thank Him for the galaxy wide accepted forms of sign language. He’d evidently followed the smoke from a distance and brought his herd along.
Rosa eventually managed to get Grinto to stop his incessant and nonsensical talking and signalling after a short time, and even managed to obtain something that looked like a thickened dairy product from him. The smell of the stuff as it was squeezed from a pouch was akin to a guardsman’s boot at the end of the basic training period, but it tasted fairly hearty, which made sense given the size of the oxen surrounding them. Rosa had heard about belly-churn, which this evidently resembled, and anyway, provisions weren’t to be turned away.
The two parted ways as Grinto excitedly repeated her name, rolling the ‘R’ with an enjoyable lilt in his voice. Rosa grabbed her backpack and slung her rifle. She had time to do one last sweep of the shuttle for anything valuable whilst dodging the peak of the planet’s sun, then she set off to find some kind of populace.
The shuttle had added smoke and fire damage to its list of dubious attributes, and there was little worth taking that she hadn’t already snagged: a few rehydration packs, some dried recaff and a handy beret, worth taking for the sun protection. Rosa looked around and eventually decided to call off her search and get started on her trek, when she thought back to what had happened back in space. Chaos, red lights, alerts sounding and the panic to get to the shuttle. Not just a panic of leaving on time, an icy panic of fear and paranoia. What caused it? What happened? The shuttle showed no obvious damage aside from the effects of the crash and the fire. What scared her so much?
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