Pegasus (Part 1)
Hey again, since I’m working on a few Praetorian marine related projects at the moment, I thought it was time for something special. What follows is the first part of a multi-part story involving the Praetorian Marines. Those who’ve read up on the other short stories dotted around this site might have a clue as to where this one is going, but rest assured, the events described here will form a key point in the history of the Praetorians!
What’s so special about a short story you ask? well, if you stay tuned to the Praetorian Marines, you may just find out!
Hope you enjoy!
Pegasus – Part 1
Mercutio ducked the blade as it swiped perilously close overhead, and slammed his power-armoured body mass forward, barging Hafẽr away. His opponent recovered quickly however, immediately thrusting the sword once more at Mercutio’s abdomen, only to find it easily parried. The fight continued in this way, Hafẽr the more aggressive of the two yet Mercutio the more skilled; neither one gaining the upper hand.
The dust rose in a hazy mist that obscured the pair of Space Marines from view, as their heavy boots jostled and stamped upon the sand around them. The sun bore down upon the clash with a shimmering brilliance, sparking off the silver and white armour they wore and coalescing with the clouds of sand into a golden nimbus.
The Julii continent was enjoying its height of summer and the people who lived there found their work cheering and pleasant, rather then hard and laborious. For the Space Marines of the Praetorian chapter, the work never changed with the weather. They still practised their weapons drills; they still studied in-depth tactica, anatomy and diplomacy; they still sparred with one another for three hours at midday, as it was now.
Hafẽr and Mercutio had been sparring for only half that time, but already they felt the sweat running down their backs, the exertion in their lungs and the gnaw of overworked muscles protesting throughout their bodies. It was a hot day to be training yet neither would willingly yield; for the duel was as much against one’s own prowess as it was against an opponent’s. Rather, they would continue on until the Brother-Sergeant called for a stop, and then they would return to other duties devoted to the art of battle: such was the life of a Praetorian Space Marine, and it would never change.
Hafẽr’s sudden kick caught Mercutio solidly and completely off-guard; his leg buckled under the sheer force of the blow, and he found himself on his knees. Racing to react, he rolled aside from Hafẽr’s attempts to follow-up with more attacks, but was left unable to regain his footing. Hafẽr pursued him as he dodged, swinging his sword wildly as he tasted his impending victory.
Mercutio sensed it too, and in growing desperation he moved to draw his Bolt pistol from its holster. Not quickly enough however, for Hafẽr saw him and responded just as quickly, kicking the gun from his hand before he could fire; and then Mercutio was on the back foot once more, parrying and dodging and rolling away from what he could.
I am going to lose. He thought, and a pang of shame ran through him.
And then he saw it; a chance. A crazy and reckless way to snatch victory.
Even had Mercutio been able to discern other options then, he would not have taken them. It was in Mercutio’s very nature to choose that which he saw at the very moment, that split-second instance in time. It yearned to him as the Astronomicon calls out across the stars.
This was his way, he took chances. He did the unexpected.
Do something different. The notion flashed through his head as he took the chance.
Springing forward as a tiger leaps after its prey, Mercutio barrelled his whole body forwards and upwards against the flailing Hafẽr, striking him off-balance. The force of the clash took them both to the ground, but Mercutio now reacted faster and twisted Hafẽr’s blade from his grasp, knocking it out of reach. They struggled upon the ground momentarily as Mercutio’s knee found its way to Hafẽr’s throat, and then he began to press his weight upon it. Hafẽr’s attempts to dislodge and strike him grew increasingly feeble, and his breathing became shallower and limp until at last, after a few seconds, he began slapping the ground with his palm.
Mercutio instantly relented and stood, taking a moment to retrieve his weapons before offering a hand to the still grounded Hafẽr. The other man hesitated at first, but then grudgingly accepted the help and clambered to his feet.
“You win again,” he wheezed in a tinged sullen tone.
“It was a good fight, Brother,” Mercutio replied earnestly, sheathing his weapons. “I am fortunate that my record remains untarnished.”
Hafẽr stooped as he tried to regulate his breathing, and said nothing.
Sensing the foul mood, Mercutio attempted to make light of the events; first insisting upon his luck as the winning factor and then heralding Hafẽr’s own abilities that had almost led to his first loss. His words had the desired effect; Hafẽr gradually regained his composure as well as his confidence, until soon he was as eager as Mercutio himself to begin the fight anew. Hafẽr made comment of some secret techniques he wanted to try, as they took their stances once more and poised themselves for battle.
“Brother Mercutio!” a voice interrupted. “Brother, you are needed.”
They both turned to see another Space Marine hurrying toward them. Mercutio recognised the man as Brother Cand; a young Legionary recently promoted to the 5th Company who, although not a part of Mercutio’s own squad, was still well-known and well-liked for his honourable conduct.
“What is it, Cand?” Mercutio asked, letting his stance drop.
“Mercutio, excuse the disruption… You have been called upon by the Praetor himself!” The young man replied.
“What jollity is this?” demanded Hafẽr. “Praetor Cassius wants not of a dog like Mercutio! Return to your duties young Cand, and we shall return to ours.”
Mercutio held up his palm in order to silence his friend. “Forgive Brother Hafẽr; he is eager for another chance to lose to me. As you can see, our schedule dictates this time for training. Do you know what this calling is about?”
“Don’t tell me you believe this ruse,” Hafẽr interjected. “Young Cand is having you on!”
Cand shook his head. “I’m not,” he insisted. “And I don’t. All I have been told, is all that I have told you; but even I can tell this much; It is for something different.”
The Midnight Request
The moon rolled lazily up the curtain of night, shining intermittently through the gaps in the clouds that had rolled in when dusk first fell. Now they trapped the heat of the previous day under a blanket that plied the dark with humid warmth. Across the fields and waters surrounding the fortress-monastery the sound of insects chorused noisily, drifting to the heights of the immense steeples and towers.
Most of the windows had been set open in a bid to dispel the heat, and there were now few lights left on within the gargantuan hallways and rooms. One in particular lay illuminated and framing the silhouette of a power-armoured and robed figure, gazing out as he was upon the lands that he called home.
“Vitma,” an oldened but potent voice beckoned from behind him. “Do your reflections bring you clarity this evening?”
Vitma Chaepak made no movement from his place at the window, yet he spoke in reply. “I’m afraid not, Brother Teo, Cesaré’s peace is failing me tonight,” he sighed.
“Perhaps you should look to yourself and those around you for solace, rather then the moon?” Teo suggested. “Although I’m aware your people have a penchant for such practices.”
Vitma turned at last to face his old mentor, and saw him clad in a robe of his own and his head hooded. Beneath the hood’s shadow Brother Teo wore a smile, albeit one punctured with lines and the stresses of age. Yet still there lay a perceptible kindness and optimism to the wizened man, as though the dreams of youth still whispered to him.
“We Samnites face trials beyond the normal Praetorian. The mind is a powerful tool, yet we alone have the knowledge in how to use it to its fullest extent. In return, we are burdened with powers that threaten not only ourselves but the world around us. It will do you no ill to share your concerns with your fellows,” Teo continued. “They are the only ones who will understand.”
“You speak as though we Samnites are superior to our kin,” Vitma pointed out.
Teo laughed, a hoarse bleat of a noise that quickly died, but it was an unusual sound to hear from one who looked as he.
“Walk with me Brother, through the library,” the old man said after the moment passed. It was clearly meant as an instruction rather then a request, and so Vitma agreed.
They strode at a leisurely pace through the vast chamber that housed the library. Books, parchments, storage caches and strange artefacts of unknown origin lay arrayed in an unfathomable order upon thick oaken shelves, so tall that they stretched up to the lofty ceiling. The air was thick with the scent of must and paper, and the room echoed quietly with the sound of other patrons and chapter serfs as they moved about their business. Teo led Vitma along a boundary route, perhaps intentionally keeping the younger man in sight of the moon that eased him.
“It is no secret that you are the most promising of our number,” The old man spoke at last in a quiet voice. “Captain Fetori himself has made his praise known to you on more then one occasion.”
“Do you wish to make me bashful?” Vitma responded pointedly.
Teo laughed again and placed a gauntleted hand upon his brother’s shoulder, only to remove it at the sight of Vitma’s disapproving expression.
“I am merely establishing the fact in your own mind, young one.” Teo spoke solemnly.
“Young one?” Vitma protested. He might as well call me a child…
Teo ignored him and continued, “You will need your talents soon enough; I have a request for you, if I may?”
Vitma said nothing, though he did not need to wait long for the old man to elaborate.
“I wish for you to practise the technique of telepathy. Particularly, I want you to practise it against your fellow Praetorians.”
Vitma’s face spoke volumes.
“By the Emperor’s throne, whatever for?” He hissed.
“There’s more I’m afraid. You must be able to determine what they are thinking, and you must learn to do so without them even knowing of it.”
“Are you mad?” Vitma’s voice echoed throughout the library and the cavernous room fell silent as all within stopped to listen. Teo looked pained and gestured to keep their conversation quiet.
“Listen to me, Brother,” he spoke in a stern tone that Vitma had not heard in decades. “This will be important to you in the near future. It is imperative that you can master this skill, and that is all I can say on the matter.”
Vitma paused and Teo drew to a halt beside him. He glanced out of the window and saw Cesaré shining brightly through a gap in the clouds. There was no solace in its glow, no guidance.
Why do you fail me tonight? Vitma questioned in his head. Perhaps this unease is a calling instead of a warning…
“Do you suspect heresy?” Vitma said with a weary sigh.
Teo shook his head.
“Is this heresy?” Vitma asked again.
Teo laughed once more, “All will be explained in time. Just promise me you will learn as I have requested.”
“You are being deliberately cryptic.”
“Would you deny an old man his last bastions of enlightenment?”
“Only when such frivolities bring trouble in their wake.”
Teo smiled warmly, clearly amused by the conversation. The young Samnite looked back to the moon, only to witness its shape become smothered beneath the tumbling folds of cloud. The night immediately grew darker, as did Vitma’s own outlook of the future.
“Very well, Brother Teo,” he said at last. “I will do as you have asked.”
I hope you like this first part of the story… Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!