Aurelia (Short Story)
||This article, Aurelia, was written by Das2Eazy. Please do not edit or 'acquire' this fiction without the writer's permission.
“Milord?” A small voice broke him out of his stupor. Even with his eidetic memory, it took him a moment to remember the girl-child sitting on his lap.
She was such a small thing, he thought. He could envelop her head with one of his hands without difficulty. As could an Ork, and the very thought briefly reignited the dying embers of rage from the battle that took place days ago. As quickly as it came, the rage subsided. It had no place at this moment, her safety was what mattered.
“Is there anything you need, child?” He asked, taking care to lower his voice and dampen his vox speakers with a thought impulse. In moments of peace, he would usually isolate himself before removing his helmet to breathe in the air if it were possible. Not this time, not with the girl-child nearby. He did not want to scare her with his grotesque, corpse-like features. Children should not be subjected to the kind of fear reserved for the mortal enemies of mankind.
Children should not be subjected to the destruction of their world by xenos invaders.
“What do your colours mean?” She asked with infinite meekness, befitting a child of her age and stature. Her eyes immediately widened after her query, as if she just realized she had committed a sacrilegious act by asking the question. So, she quickly averted her gaze. “Sorry, were you sleeping? I shouldn’t have woken you up.”
“Why do you ask?” He interrupted her, wanting to see where her thoughts led. She remained quiet for a few moments, and he suspected that she was still too afraid to answer. As such, he remained silent as well, giving her all the time he could give.
“Pa once told me that the Emperor’s Angels are symbols of an ideal. That the colours of their armor have meaning.” When she finally spoke, her voice was as quiet as before.
“Your father is correct.” He responded, recalling that she had told him that her parents were dock workers. There was a chance that her father had been privy to stories by Imperial Guard troops taking their leave or merchants wandering for trade opportunities. His acknowledgement of her father’s wisdom gave her enough confidence to look up. The glimmer of pride in her eyes prompted him to continue.
“I wear the colour of bone on my armour to symbolize our final fate and destination. Even the Emperor’s Angels succumb to death’s caress. The purest shade of white on my right arm to honour my progenitors, the legendary White Scars of Chogoris. Darkest black upon my back to represent humanity’s eternal duty and burden. The Aquila on my chest is crimson red in remembrance for those who have fallen.”
“What about gold?” He hummed, a non-verbal signal for her to continue voicing her thoughts. Her interruption did not irk him, but had surprised him. “The stained glass of the church had Angels wearing gold. The Emperor too, he wears gold. How come you don’t?” The confusion and traces of innocence in her eyes made him chuckle. Children never ceased to amaze him.
“In place of gold, we use black iron to remind us of our humble beginnings.” The girl-child made a noise of wonder, and he would’ve continued when they both heard a noise. Guttural growls accompanied by stomping feet approached their location. Judging by the sheer volume of the noise, he concluded that there were too many and too close for comfort.
“What is your name, child? He asked, slowly rising to his feet despite the sharp jabs of pain that his transhuman body was too overwhelmed to compensate. Pain lanced from what was left of his right arm, as he tried to clench fingers that no longer existed.
“Aurelia.” She was barely audible now, fear gripping her small heart as the noises grew ever closer. Seeing this, her protector removed a braid of pure white that was attached to his right pauldron and wrapped it around her neck.
“Pleased to meet you, I am Casimir of the Lightning Wraiths.” With a degree of gentleness that a loving father could only possess, he patted her tiny head once with his remaining arm. “Promise me that you’ll watch over this? It is important to me.”
“I promise.” Her wide eyes began to shed tears, but she made an attempt to compose herself for him. As he rose, her hands grabbed the ends of the braid tightly as if it was a lifeline.
“I will make sure that you will live to see the future and play a part in it. That is my promise to you.” Casimir told her as he walked out of their hiding spot, sealing the entrance with a slab of metal, and faced those who desecrated the girl-child’s - no, Aurelia’s - home with fury beating his hearts.
It had been 73 Terran standard years since that day, but Aurelia remembered it like it was yesterday. Despite his grievous injuries, Casimir had defended her hiding spot from a seemingly neverending mob of greenskins with every ounce of strength his transhuman body possessed. His brothers found him surrounded by corpses, clinging onto the last vestiges of life.
He knew that death was coming for him, but had demanded his brothers to rescue Aurelia immediately. Blind from both pain and a brutal cut that poured blood over his eye, Casimir only allowed himself to rest forevermore once he heard Aurelia weep for him.
Little did she know at the time that the man who saved her, the one who ensured that she would see her parents again, was a hero among heroes. Preceptor Casimir Arslan, Chapter Master of the Lightning Wraiths, had given his life to save a mortal child. Nothing in the galaxy could explain the weight of realization and guilt that fell on her shoulders when she was made privy to this information.
With this knowledge, she did what she thought was the most appropriate course of action to honour a hero’s life. Which brought her to where she is now.
“This is Shipmistress Aurelia of the Burden of Duty. I, and thirteen other ships of the Lightning Wraiths Adeptus Astartes, have come to assist in the defence of the Cadian Gate.” Aurelia spoke into her personal vox, hailing the fortress-world as her hazel eyes glancing at the tear in reality known as the Eye of Terror.
“Acknowledged. The Lord Castellan is most grateful for any additional support, especially from the Astartes. Relaying your defence vectors now.” A tinny voice from the voxcaster responded, and a moment later, the coordinates appeared on her holo-table’s display. After relaying her orders and a tactical briefing with Viceroy Zebediah Ahab, she felt the Burden of Duty lurch as it made its way to its assigned positions. From her holo-table, she could see the rest of the Lightning Wraiths fleet make their way to their own positions.
As she waited, Aurelia gently stroked the pure white braid of white horse hair wrapped around her wrist. His final gift to her before he perished. A soul tether, the Lightning Wraiths had called it, a symbol of mourning. For a long time, she had wondered who Casimir mourned for, but felt that that was a secret that only he had the right to divulge. A secret that he carried to the grave.
Her hand then thumbed the blue feathers of the vaunted Ayur Hawks of the chapter’s homeworld. A tick she had picked up throughout the years, one that was born from anxiety. And like all times she had devolved to this curious mannerism, she repeated a personal mantra that gave her strength in her time of need.
“Once more into the fray, Casimir. May you and the Emperor guide my hand on this day of days.”