Aurelia: Part II (Short Story)
||This article, Aurelia: Part II, was written by Das2Eazy. Please do not edit or 'acquire' this fiction without the writer's permission.
Klaxons blared as the entire world faded in and out of sight with bright red flashes of light. She could hear the panicked conversations of her crew and the pitiful moans of the injured. Aurelia picked herself up from the ground, unable to determine roughly how long she had been unconscious. She could feel something warm and sticky flowing down her temple, but ignored it as it was not important as of this moment.
“Mister Schultz, I require -” Whatever command she had in mind for her executive officer died in her throat as she caught sight of his bifurcated body, courtesy of a panel of metal from the bridge’s ceiling. Cursing softly, she addressed the next ranking officer - a grimacing lass going through damage reports despite bleeding from a head wound - and relayed the orders intended for her deceased XO.
“Vybranych.” An impossibly deep voice boomed from her personal vox-hailer. One of the Astartes stationed on her ship and if she were to guess, it was Tariq Mak’hann - Sipahi Cavus* of the 3rd Squad. “Vybranych, respond!”
“Cavus Tariq, I assume that you are the one defiling my old ears with your voice at this most crucial time?” Normally, most people would have balked at her tone when communicating with an Angel of Death. However, her crew was already familiar with the eccentricities of this particular Lightning Wraith.
“Of course. Who else would waste their time ensuring that the vybranych is safe and sound?” The madman on the other end of the vox laughed heartily, but Aurelia had already gotten used to his mannerisms and could only shake her head with a fond smile. “However, I advise that you fortify your positions. We have been boarded and I’d rather not arrive at the bridge with only dead bodies to greet me.”
“Understood, I expect that you are making your way here posthaste?” She assumed then that she probably has a concussion due to the fact that she was struggling to piece the events that led up to this point together. She could remember the first ships that poured out of the Eye and how her Battlefleet engaged Khornate vessels that made a direct flight path to the Fortress World. After that, all she could remember was a blur of screaming and explosions.
“Just stay alive until I get there, Aurelia. There’s a lot of filth here that needs to be cleaned.” The vox-link cut off with the revving of chain weaponry and she was brought back to the pandemonium of her bridge. As her body went on autopilot, relaying orders to subordinates and preparing for the imminent arrival of enemy forces on the bridge, her mind drifted back to her conversation with Tariq.
In particular, her mind zeroed in on a single word: vybranych. An odd word from the mother tongue of her childhood saviour, Preceptor Casimir Arslan. It is roughly translated as ‘the chosen’ in Low Gothic and was a term of respect from Astartes who knew of her first encounter with the chapter. However, Aurelia did not like being called as such as she did not like the connotation that she was singled out by the Preceptor as if she was a crucial piece of an unknown prophecy.
In her mind, the only ones who were allowed to use the term were the ones who personally knew Casimir or senior members of the chapter’s high echelons. Tariq was both, but she also allowed his referral to her in such a manner because they mutually respected each other. There was also the Sipahi Cavus’ insistence of overwatching her safety. When word got out that the vybranych would be serving the Lightning Wraiths, Tariq had pledged his blade and bolter to ensure her safety. Ever since then, Tariq always ensured that he would be stationed on her ship.
“Shipmistress, the enemy is quickly approaching the bridge! They are -” The crew member delivering the warning through the vox was cut short by an explosion.
“Ensign Natalia, where did that message originate?” Aurelia barked at the officer from earlier, who just had her head bandaged by one of the other crew members.
“Corridor 17-C, ma’am. 100 metres away from the bridge.”
“Close the blast doors, stall for time and find cover. Janek, how’s the Navigator?” As the crew carried out her orders, Aurelia turned to address another officer.
“He’s going ballistic ma’am, screaming about an unholy presence aboard the ship.” A stocky man with a balding head and greying beard responded, his eyes darting to the Navigator’s sanctum.
Any further orders suddenly stopped when the unmistakable clang of melta charges being mag-locked broke through the noise. A second later, the blast-doors began to glow white hot before an explosive charge blew open the melting door and sent slag flying into the bridge. A few unfortunate souls had been in the process of finding cover when they were hit by flying slag, dying in agony as they melted.
From behind the smoke, a cacophony of battle cries sounded and soon a horde of deranged cultists poured through the opening.
One of the cultists lunged at her, knife in hand, while screeching blasphemous praises to his dark gods. She sidestepped the lunge and when the cultist turned to try his luck again, an upward palm strike on his chin snapped his neck. In one smooth motion, she turned and drew her sidearm to shoot another blabbering cultist right between the eyes.
It was one of many weapons discharges as the remaining bridge crew opened fire into the smoke. The blast doors served as a funnel, forcing the single-minded traitors to enter through the sole opening. Aurelia personally felled forteen cultists and crushed the windpipe of another that crawled its way to her command throne after having his legs shot off. For a moment, Aurelia believed that they could survive long enough for Tariq to arrive. That moment was quashed when monsters entered the bridge.
Almost too quickly for the human mind to comprehend, humanoid shapes clad in midnight blue dashed into the bridge with a trail of lightning lagging behind. The first to fall was Natalia, as she was impaled and hoisted up in the air by one of them. Towering over everyone in the room, a Traitor Astartes clad in the colours of the 8th Legion barked in laughter as those nearby fell backwards in shock and fear at the sounds of the ensign’s wails of pain.
The rest of the battle that took place after the Night Lords’ arrival was so one-sided that to call it a slaughter was an understatement. All of her crew, brave souls all, fought to their last dying breath. Those who somehow survived the fighting were flayed alive and their screams were broadcasted to the entire ship through her vox-hailer. In spite of all this, the Night Lords had spared Aurelia from both a quick death and a slow, torturous demise.
The reason why she was spared was soon revealed to her when another Night Lord made its way into the bridge. Unlike its kin, who have remained human despite their souls being blackened by crimes carried out throughout the many years since the Great Heresy, this was grotesque in every way she thought possible. Its arms, once coated in baroque ceramite and adamantium, were now skinless appendages with criss-crossing wires and metallic protrusions. Bat-like wings protruded from its back and twitched with the creature’s every movement. Its helmet was now its face, as the ceramite faceplate had morphed into that of an insectoid which moved erratically as if it were tasting the air.
“So, this is the mortal that has been giving our fleet problems.” Its voice, raspy and grating, was almost as unnatural as its features. It stalked towards her, clawed feet crushing human remains with a sickening squelch accompanied with copious splashes of blood. “Commendable, I must say. It’s not everyday that we come across a mortal officer that could match an Astartes ship master’s every move.” As an act of defiance, she spat at its leering face and watched as its insectoid mandibles made an approximate of an annoyed scowl. Before she knew it, she was lifted in the air by the creature. One of its grotesque arms grasped her by the neck and was squeezing tightly, preventing her from breathing.
“Such a waste of talent, serving the Corpse-Emperor’s lapdogs. Alas, your mind and body would be a perfect vessel for our next daemonic slave, so all is not lost.” The thing before her suddenly screeched and Aurelia fell to the ground along with its severed arm. A figure in pitch black power armour stood before the beast. It’s right arm was missing, shorn from the elbow down by what probably was a crude blade. In its other arm, a beautifully crafted sabre dripped black ichor onto the deck. All over its body, warp-flame danced to the beat of unseen winds.
The Night Lords were quick to respond to the new threat, as those armed with bolters immediately opened fire. The unknown warrior charged towards the closest to it, unperturbed at the withering hail of fire that the traitors have unleashed. Before her eyes, she saw bolts pass right through the black-armoured warrior as if it was a ghost. The traitors were soon begotten with casualties, some from accidental friendly fire and some from the blade of the unnatural being.
The saber, glinting brightly despite the low light of the bridge, moved in graceful arcs in the air. Each swing was purposeful, almost impossible to follow with mortal eyes, and was delivered with great force. Those who attempted to defeat the warrior with combat knives and power weapons found themselves pushed back by the relentless assault of a warrior that flowed between strikes like water around a rock. While this all occurred, Aurelia backpedalled to a command console and fumbled across the ground to search for a weapon to use.
“I am Khar’Rakkin! Face me, you dog!” The monster that had nearly killed her screeched as it flew towards the swordsman. Without even facing the Night Lord, the unknown swordsman swung his blade in an overhead arc, simultaneously parrying Khar’Rakkin’s attack and building up his momentum for a strike that killed the last Night Lord bar the Chaos Champion.
“What are you?!” The mutated traitor growled as the killer of his men faced him. To further fuel his ire, the warrior remained silent. It made to speak again, but screeched in agony as one of its wings exploded in a burst of gore. Aurelia, with bolt pistol in hand, fired another shot and grimaced as the mutant dodged the bolt. As its attention was redirected, the unknown warrior leapt from his position and jammed his saber into the monster’s neck. Khar’Rakkin gurgled as blood flooded his throat before he became silent forevermore as his head was severed.
Silence soon stretched between the shipmistress and her ethereal saviour.
It took a step towards her and she raised her weapon out of fear at what it might do. It was a pointless gesture, but she did it anyways. Her sidearm would never hit its target as the traitors have tried and failed to do. Her saviour knew this as well and kept on walking despite the threat. It was approximately arms length from her when it stopped moving. With exaggeratedly slow movements, it raised its only arm and gently touched the dangling Ayur Feathers wrapped around her wrist by the soul tether. It’s face, whatever was left of it, was scrunched up in frustration. As if it was trying to remember something.
“Casimir?” Aurelia had seen Casimir’s face before, in portraits that the Oathtaker** had shown her when she began her service. Despite the warp-fire clinging to every surface of its blackened armour and the touch of decay upon the remains of its face, she could see that what stood before her was indeed the man who saved her all those years ago. Casimir’s expression remained conflicted, but she could see the faint signs of recognition dance across its features.
“Brachiszek?” The voice, deep and altered by vox-speakers originating from his helmet grill, made the warrior turn. Standing by the door, Tariq and his squad had their weapons trained on the apparition. Her ears faintly heard the muted clicks of inter-squad vox communications over the thrumming of the ship before the squad had spread out, weapons still aiming at the unknown entity.
The thing that had been Casimir began to approach Tariq, but the Sipahi Cavus raised his bolter. “Take one more step and I will shoot you!”
To her surprise, Casimir only smiled brightly at the threat while shaking his head. In response to Tariq’s threat, the undead warrior made a few odd gestures with his only arm. Aurelia could not understand what the gestures meant, but Tariq seemed to have as his grip on his bolter tightened and his body tensed. She opened her mouth to speak, dumbfounded and confused at the odd gestures, but Casimir suddenly dropped to one knee.
The sudden explosion of green light caught her attention and when she turned to face its source, her breath hitched at the sight before her. A green pillar of unnatural energy reminiscent of the infamous green beams of Necron Gauss weaponry was shooting out of the Fortress-World into the Eye of Terror. To her surprise, it appeared that the Eye was shrinking. When she looked back to where her saviour had been, he was nowhere to be found was empty space and a card from the Emperor’s Tarot.
Aurelia slowly approached the card and recognized it immediately. The Extinguished Star, a sign of portents that has yet to come. Heavy footfalls caught her attention and she turned to face Tariq, who had holstered his bolter.
“What did he say to you?” From the corner of her eyes, she could see the rest of Tariq’s squad fan out and double check the corpses strewn all over the bridge. One of them approached the Navigator’s quarters, calling out the psyker’s name to calm him down.
“He did not speak at all.” He tried to jest, but she could sense that it was forced.
“But he spoke in a form of sign language.” Aurelia pressed, not liking his deflections.
“He called me a liar. I believe that he was referring to my threat.”
“You called him brother.”
“I did, as I do with all of my fellow Astartes. Haven’t you spent enough time with us?” At his dismissive tone, Aurelia’s temper finally snapped as stress finally overwhelmed her.
“Do not lie to me, Tariq. I have studied Casimir’s mother tongue. I know the difference between brachiszek and tovarszis. You referred to him as a brother in a familial sense.” After her outburst, Aurelia was breathing hard and glaring at the old warrior. He remained silent and she feared that she had ruined whatever friendship they had. Suddenly, his helmet let out a loud hiss as it depressurized and Aurelia braced herself for what she was about to see.
When Tariq removed his helmet, Aurelia breathed in shakily upon seeing his features. She has seen many things throughout her service with the chapter, seen monsters and xenos that drove many people of lesser willpower mad. Despite all of the things she has seen, she has never gotten used to the sight of a helmetless Lightning Wraith.
Gigantism had exaggerated his noble features and he would have been handsome, if it only wasn’t for the translucent and emaciated skin that clung to the contours of his skull. The intertwining estuaries of veins and arteries filled with rich, crimson fluid could clearly be seen despite the negligible presence of illumination in the bridge. His eyes had the milky white discoloration common among those who were afflicted with blindness from birth. She knew from experience that he could see her in darkness as clearly as she could see him in broad daylight. He truly looked like his namesake, as did many of his chapter, a vengeful wraith arisen from the grave.
However, to her surprise, there were tears in his eyes. Tears born from pain deep within, of sorrow that had never seen the light of day as it was buried under a mask of eccentricity. Tariq had once told her that the transhumanity of the Astartes did not only mean that their physical prowess was enhanced, but it also meant that they felt emotion exponentially more than mortal men and women. As she recalled these words, Aurelia looked deep into a soul that has felt grief so profound that it would never be made known to her.
“Casimir Arslan was a hero among heroes, a mighty warrior and a great diplomat. To many, he was the Preceptor, the Lion of Antora, and many more titles of great renown. For 457 years, he was, and always will be, my younger blood-brother.”
*- A Sipahi Cavus is the Lightning Wraiths’ equivalent to a Veteran Sergeant.
** - An Oathtaker is the Lightning Wraiths’ equivalent to both a Reclusiarch and Chief Apothecary.