Rite of Passage: A Praetorian Marines story
Rite of Passage: A Praetorian Marines story
Part 1 – The hard choices
The call from above came once more and the Velites hurried to obey it, as the trenches shuddered violently around them. The ground tremored under their feet causing even the best of them to stumble and lurch, as dirt and rocks cast about from the explosion hung in the air and dimmed their vision. Finally, after a span of several seconds, the motion stopped and the Space Marines in training let out a collective sigh of relief.
Isolde Lucé brushed debris from her face and squinted through the clouded dust that now filled the trench. Her squad numbered nine men and women, herself and the Sergeant included, but they were cut off from any of the other squads or support.
The explosions had been growing longer and louder since the day began, and it was still only mid-morning as they now sounded from mere feet away. Whatever the strange and nefarious devices used to create such cacophonies were was unknown and unimportant; all that was certain was that the sound heralded an imminent death. And here they where; the forces of the Praetorian Space Marines, trapped like rats in the recesses of this wasteland.
As it was, the Praetorian Marines detachment upon Gulla had not numbered many to begin with. Rather, it was a scouting force composed primarily of Velites from the 10th company, with some support from the other divisions. Jump-pack and armour-clad Triarii had been the first to explore the surface and thus the first to go dark; there had been no sound from them for the last two days, and then contact had been gradually lost by several more squads throughout their tenure on the planet.
It was only within the last few hours that those in command had discerned the truth; they were under pirate attack. Insidious Xenos swept across the surface of Gulla with incredible speed, rounding up the hapless Velites caught in the open within minutes, using poisons, gasses, nets and cords to subdue the victims. Those Praetorians who had found cover in time had escaped the initial attack, but now they lay scattered, unsupported and vulnerable to the subterranean explosives employed by the cunning Xenos.
Isolde had witnessed the intent of the weapons first-hand; either the Space Marines died in the explosions or they fled from their hiding places, only to be herded and captured like the others. Soon, it would be her turn to make that choice; unless the squad Sergeant made one for her. She wondered whether death would be a better alternative to what these foul creatures had in store for her kin.
“BRACE!” The Sergeant called again, and they hurried to hug the walls and rocks of the trench once more. This time the blast was so severe that Isolde toppled over completely, falling face-first atop one of her fellows, a young but simple-minded recruit by the name of Semardes. Once the tremors subsided she picked herself up and muttered her apologies with an outstretched hand. He said nothing in return, but clambered back onto his feet and readied his Boltgun once more.
“A lot of good that is going to do you,” spoke a heavily-accented voice from behind Isolde.
“What do you mean?” she asked, turning to face the speaker.
It was of course, Yomon, as she had guessed. The only Cartmien recruit in the squad, and so the accent made its owner unmistakeable; let alone his physical appearance. The Praetorian chapter drew its ranks from several local worlds, and with that practice came great differences in culture. Yomon was fair-skinned and had red hair, but he was also powerfully built even for a Space Marine, and had wits almost as large. As though he needed even more to define him from the others, he had garnered himself a reputation for a sense of humour, and being a strong shot with the rifle.
“The Bolter, naturally,” he clarified with a nod to the weapon in Semardes arms. “We’re not going to get a chance to use them at this rate.”
“It makes me feel better,” Semardes muttered darkly.
“He’s right, of course,” Isolde stated. “And protocol dictates that we stand ready at all times…”
Yomon pulled a face akin to one of puzzlement, or was it incredulity? It was hard to tell what he was thinking at the best of times.
“Oh, right you are lass,” he said a moment later. “But I know that all the Boltguns on Terra are useless without something to point them at.”
She said nothing, but looked to the weapon in her own hands, as though appraising the gun for the first time. It was heavy, it was bulky, but was it pointless? In the current predicament, it may seem to be a useless block of metals and plastics, but should the situation change then so too may the object’s worth. All that was required was hope. Hope made the Boltgun useful still, and in that she shared sentiment with Semardes, despite his blunt words and sullen tone.
“Do you know what’s going on up there?” Isolde asked, in a bid to change the subject.
“Not a clue. The Sergeant seems to be plotting something, though,” Yomon responded.
“He’s gonna send us over,” Semardes spoke in a vile tone. “You can see it on his face, plain as day.”
The others followed his gaze toward their leader. Indeed the Sergeant did seem to be contemplating something, for his face was riddled with a deep unease and the pallor of a dying man. Isolde had never seen him look so desperate, and it shook her confidence to see it there now. She knew it could not be fear, Space Marines cannot be afraid; but they can worry and fret at the consequences of actions that shape the galaxy.
Her sergeant was worried.
“I feel the same, in truth,” Yomon quietly admitted. “I detest the thought that our training will end here, on this rock, rather than amid the paradise fields of Elysium.”
“I don’t want to die without killing any Xenos scum,” Semardes put in.
Isolde shared both of their concerns and some of her own devise, though she stayed silent. Thoughts and images of her life so far played across her mind, and she mentally clutched to the greatest of her memories; her triumphant induction into the Praetorian chapter.
“Velites!” came the sharp, clear call of the Sergeant, to which they all responded.
“One more round!” He shouted into the trench, gesturing to clarify his instructions above the din of battle. “Then we attack, by the Captain’s command.”
He snatched another glance at the battlefield and drew his power sword before continuing.
“Run true, my brothers, move strong! Into the lion’s jaws we hurl so let us be like poison. Remember, one more round… and here it comes-”
“BRACE!” the now-familiar shout rang again.
The trench shook with renewed vigour, the Velites found their balance undone once more, and the tremors lasted for far longer than any before. It was clear that they could not stay any longer even if they had received no orders. And then, just like that, the vibrations died off, and the squad was on its feet and clambering up to the surface, as the Sergeant whirled his glowing sword above his head and spurred them on with shouts inaudible above the sound of gunfire.
Isolde followed close, charging forward to keep pace with her squad over the uneven ground. The rocky surface of the battlefield was slick and wet in several places which made the going treacherous, and a couple of her brothers stumbled as they ran, though her own balance stayed true. The glowing balls of searing energy arced slowly overhead as a Praetorian Ballista covered their charge, and Accipitres speeders zoomed ahead spouting gouts of promethium-fuelled flame.
Sharp, whistling noises hurtled past her head and she saw two Velites go down, but she kept running. Then large black shapes emerged from the smoke and flew past them at incredible speeds, knocking down several others and covering them with razor-wire nets that dug and cut into flesh. She kept running, though it was quickly only herself and three others still charging.
Then she saw the enemy at last; just dark shadows in the gloom perhaps, but unmistakably alien, and so she raised her Boltgun to her shoulder and fired. It kicked and shuddered tremendously with every shell fired, but it was impossible to tell whether or not her shots where actually hitting the Xenos. She prayed that her hope in the weapon would be rewarded and her aim would hold true.
No matter, she thought. Just keep firing. Just keep running.
And so she did for the next few seconds, until the moment Isolde caught sight of a bouncing, spherical object on the periphery of her vision. She attempted to dive aside, but the grenade detonated too quickly; the blast threw her into the air only to land awkwardly upon the rocks, sprawling her body and bludgeoning her head into unconsciousness.
Part 2 – Seizing the Initiative
Quiet. That’s what it was. Not silent by any stretch of the imagination, there was plenty of noise around her, yet it was subdued, blurred to the senses.
Something was going on. That much was certain. Where those sounds voices? Unsure, Isolde lay in wait and tried to listen more clearly. Her eyes remained closed, and her breathing shallow. Sure enough, her hearing eventually managed to decode the mess of noise that was speech, though parts of it were strangely foreign and unknown to her.
“Let me go, Eldar scum,” the voice of Semardes punctuated the other chatter like a knife through flesh. His tone was dangerous and demanding, with not a trace of doubt; but it was greeted with a villainous hissing sound that Isolde soon realised was laughter.
“Let me out of this cage and I’ll give you something to laugh about. We’ll see how funny you find my boot up your ars-”
Semardes was cut short by the smack of something hard striking him.
Isolde struggled to reclaim her senses, and forced her heavy eyelids to open and take in the scene around her. When her vision finally cleared, she discovered herself laid amid a pile of corpses. The lifeless, pale eyes of her fallen Battle brothers stared back at her with expressions that relayed a painful death, and they had been stripped of their armour and weapons before being unceremoniously thrown atop the pile of their brethren. It was then that she noticed her own armour was missing and that to her fortune, the alien pirates had mistaken her for dead. What was more, they had neglected to take away the blade strapped to her left thigh, though whether that was due to a lack of diligence on her enemy’s part, or simply that they did not see the combat knife as worth taking, she could only ponder.
Without moving, she scanned the immediate area carefully, noticing at least four of the lithe, black-suited aliens stood within close proximity. They stood within some kind of camp, clearly a temporary measure whilst the battle continued, and they kept vigil over a row of still-living prisoners whilst their leader dealt with them.
For his part, the leader now knelt beside Semardes, who sat hunched over in a thick, black, metal cage. The pirate’s armour was adorned with spikes and cruelly sharp implements, whilst his long, sweeping black cape, though ragged and torn through age, lent him a powerful sense of presence compared to the other Xenos. In his right hand he held some kind of ornate hammer, which was now stained with human blood.
“So, the Mon-keigh makes threats, does it?” Isolde heard the leader say in a quiet voice. “This is good news, I enjoy it more when they try to resist.”
He rested the hammer under Semardes’ chin and forced his head upright.
“It means the pain will last longer,” the alien chuckled. “I will look forward to watching your face contort in exquisite agony.”
Semardes spat upon his captor’s helmeted face, to which the leader merely laughed and turned away.
Things looked bad; aside from herself, all of her fellow Praetorians were either dead of bound in cuffs or cages. There was no sign of any weaponry or armour about them, save for the contemptible rifles the Eldar held, and a collection of viciously styled jetbikes just visible at the far end of the camp. Isolde’s only chance was to wait for an opportunity to present itself, and catch the aliens by surprise; without her armour and against the ranged poisons of the enemy, it wasn’t much of a chance at all.
And so she lay still, hardly daring to breathe lest she alert the notice of the guards around her, whilst their leader quietly relayed his orders onto them. She watched intently, taking note of her surroundings, her senses now working at full capacity as she planned out her movements, enemy lanes of fire and the best places of cover to which she could avoid them.
It was then that the leader gestured towards the pile of corpses in which she lay, ordering the closest guard over to her position. He stooped on the way, and picked up a strange object that resembled the shape of a gun; but it was only once the Eldar flicked a switch and the weapon sparked a small, blue-coloured fire that she realised it was some kind of Xenos flamer.
The leader moved off into one of the tents, as the guard approached to incinerate the bodies.
Speed was of the essence. Isolde rolled over the bodies of her fallen brothers, towards the alien, and in an instant her knife was drawn and arcing deliberately upwards to strike him across the chest. She knew of the Eldar’s reputation for unnatural speed and reactions, but she had surprise on her side, and the knife caught him across the length of his torso, plunging blood into the sky as Isolde sliced upwards with all her might. Then she caught the flamer when it dropped from his hand, as he collapsed in a crumpled and gory heap.
It only took a second for the other Eldar to open fire, with screams of annoyance at being caught off-guard; but as the tiny projectile blades flew around her, Isolde was already moving to the first gathering of crates that she had earmarked for cover. She was deathly aware that until the remaining Praetorians were freed she was living on borrowed time; as such, she scurried along the ground, keeping low to ensure the crates concealed her from the enemy fire.
Just as she reached the caged Semardes, a black-armoured Eldar jumped out into her path baring a pistol and a large blade that appeared to be unimaginably sharp. It glistened brightly as it swept viciously through the air, its wielder swiping wildly in a bid to end her quickly. He was fast, but thankfully not quite enough, and her reactions saved her from the first few attacks. She stood poised with her own knife to deflect the next, but the Xenos blade merely sliced through the metal in a single stroke, leaving Isolde holding nothing but a handle.
She rolled aside to escape his onslaught, to which the alien raised his pistol, yet for Isolde this was her chance. As the Eldar hurriedly tried to aim, she barrelled forwards, closing the gap between them in a single stride and knocking his gun-arm aside just as a round was fired. Still, the pistol was never the immediate danger, and so she clutched at the Eldar’s arm which held the knife and wrenched his wrist backwards. It snapped loudly, the bones breaking easier then she had imagined, and the knife fell to the floor.
Her adversary tried to strike her with the pistol, but she was already prepared for it, and a split-second later her fingers found his throat, and he was involuntarily twisted into a shield just in time to receive a volley of splinter rifle fire intended for Isolde. He spasmed violently as the poisoned blades sheared through his armour, but his ordeal was to continue. Summoning the depths of her enhanced strength, Isolde hoisted the Eldar off the ground and hurled him at the remaining guards.
Though the other Eldar were too agile to be struck by the lifeless body crashing into the crates around them, it was all the distraction Isolde needed with which to get close; The nearest guard looked up to witness Isolde hurtling through the air towards him, only a moment before she kicked both legs into his chest. The resulting sound was like a block of concrete smashing through branches, as the force of the impact launched the Eldar a good 20 feet through the air and straight into one of the tents, which collapsed into a heap of canvas, rigging and disgruntled shouts.
The last guard turned to face her with his rifle poised to shoot, but then, he paused. Having borne witness to the deaths of his three kin in such a short space of time, he panicked, unsure of himself. Isolde did not hesitate, however. The flamer in her hand seemed to almost leap into life as it spouted thick, gout of flame over the wretched Eldar. As he screamed and writhed in agony, Isolde swept a wave of fire over the camp tents, which caught up spectacularly well, until the occupants echoed the sounds of last dying guard.
There was no time to wait, Isolde knew. The blazing tents may have dealt with the immediate threat, but the huge plumes of billowing black smoke would serve as a beacon to the other Eldar still out on the battlefields. She bounded back over the crates towards Semardes, and with some effort on her part, cut the hinges with the sharp, Eldar knife that still lay on the ground. Semardes immediately dragged himself free, and with a grunt of discomfort got to his feet.
“Nice work,” he murmured, catching the Eldar blade as Isolde tossed it to him.
“Get the others free, quickly,” Isolde urged him. “We need to take care of the Xenos artillery, lest the pile of our dead ends up bigger next time.”
“We’ll take care of the guns, you need to stop him!” Semardes spoke forcefully, pointing over to the furthest tent.
Isolde turned to look, and there she saw the pirate leader, his armour badly singed and smoking, but alive nonetheless, skulking out of the remains of the tent. He noticed immediately what was happening, and as Isolde started in pursuit, he took off at a sprint towards the parked jetbikes. She powered after him, ignoring the roaring heat of the flames around her, running at an inhuman pace to catch the alien. But he was faster; more lithe and insidiously graceful, and he was astride the jetbike and zooming away whilst she was still a few steps behind.
Without a second thought, she leapt atop one of the jetbikes, and kicked it into life just as the Eldar had done. The engine whistled rather than roared, as its engines burst into life and then shrieked like a daemon as Isolde gunned the machine forward, tearing out of the camp at tremendous speed.
Part 3 – The hardest journey
Time spent among the Praetorians had always been one filled with the unusual and new. Strange, specialist machine spirits on devices for every purpose imaginable ranged from temperamental to passive, and even in the short while Isolde had spent within the chapter, she had learned that the Praetorians had some atypical equipment, thanks mainly to a traitor’s legacy. Thus she knew, that machine spirits were almost like living creatures; they were dominant and to be appeased, or they were submissive and to be tamed.
Isolde could tame this machine.
Though intensely fast, the vehicle’s spirit was meek and subservient to the rider, as though barely there at all. She had broken fiercer and more stubborn beasts then this, though none quite so fast, and as she streaked across the grim, muddied plains of Gulla, she exhilarated in the sensation of speed and the power it brought her. The wind whipped at her face and cascaded through her dark hair, biting at the exposed parts of her skin with an icy chill.
Ahead of her and to the right, a nimbus of water and dirt marked the presence of her target. The Dark Eldar leader was still tearing away as fast as he dared, and it was taking all of Isolde’s attention to keep up with him.
No matter what, he could not be allowed to escape. Should the Xenos manage to reach another pirate stronghold he would be nigh impossible to capture, resulting in further months of turmoil across the sector and for the Praetorian chapter itself. To catch him now would break the pirates’ leadership, and leave them isolated and vulnerable in their camps across Gulla.
And so she had to go faster, before it was too late.
Craggy rocks, thorny bushes and sudden ravines shot into view and then away again, as she raced over the porous ground. Every increase in her speed carried fresh dangers in the landscape; if she were to so much as blink, it could be the end of her. It was clear the jetbikes were made for an alien mind. The rapidity of thought and the reaction speeds required were taxing even to a space marine’s abilities.
She clung on against all odds, as she slowly gained on the Eldar leader; he was not much more than 30 metres away by now, and Isolde wondered if he was even aware that she was behind him. The prospect of a human chasing him down on a creation of his kin was apparently something he had not considered. Which was a good thing… It meant that Isolde still had the element of surprise.
She rested low in the seat, almost flat against the body of the bike in an attempt to draw close, and it was now that she came to realise that the only weapons in her possession were the broken knife and the evil blades on the jetbike itself.
Not ideal… she thought, but it would have to do. Just so long as her prey did not notice her approach.
As if sensing her thoughts, it was at that very moment that the Dark Eldar glanced over his shoulder and noticed her pursuit. With a yelp of surprise and anger, he unfurled a long, metallic chain containing a vicious barbed hook on the end, before slowing his bike slightly to draw level with her.
Isolde reacted instantly, swerving away just as the pirate leader lashed with the weapon, and then braking abruptly in order to avoid another deadly swipe of the chain. So it continued for a few moments; narrowly avoiding death at every second as the Xenos skilfully swung the weapon to keep her at bay. It took every ounce of her concentration to dodge the attacks and stay on the bike, and she became aware that it was something she could not keep up for long. Either she would be hit and fall, or the Eldar would reach the place to which he now fled, and the inevitable presence of his troops that awaited them.
Drastic measures needed to be taken and so, during the next attack she reacted without pause. As the deadly, metal chain whipped overhead, she reached out and seized it, feeling the cold, wet sensation as the vicious spikes pierced her skin. She guessed they had been coated in some kind of toxin, because almost immediately her vision swam and she was hit with the most incredible pain; a burning agony as though her arm were being ripped from the bone by a million insects. But the chain had already curled over her forearm, and so even though her grip slackened, the chain remained caught.
It only took a moment for its wielder to realise what had happened, instinctively trying to wrench the chain free and unseat her in the process. This was a mistake, because his efforts combined with Isolde’s own powerful yet ungainly leap, was all the momentum needed to see her land upon the bike beside him. The other, now rider-less jetbike shuddered wildly and toppled out of the air, diving clumsily and ploughing through the earthy ground in spectacular fashion, whilst the two enemies struggled upon the tiny space. Isolde kicked out hard at the driver, sending him sprawling over the top of the jetbike and onto the elongated nose of the vehicle. Desperately he clawed to halt his sliding movement, and an unmistakeable cry of pain sounded from beneath his helmet as one of the vicious blades of the bike sliced into his leg.
As Isolde hastened to take the controls of the vehicle and prevent them both from slamming into the ground, her adversary drew a pistol, a shot from which was narrowly dodged as it sailed past her head. She grasped at the alien’s arm before he could line up a second, and as the lethal blade projectile skimmed past her once more, she squeezed her grip with all of her might. It seemed Eldar physiology was no match for a Space Marine, even an undeveloped Velite, for the bones in his wrist gave way with a sickening crack whilst another scream of pain erupted from the pirate.
Even as the gun slid from his useless hand, the pirate’s other arm brandished some sort of two-pronged knife in his fist; its blades serrated and cruel as was typical of the Dark Eldar. He swiped at her in a fury born of pain and desperation, the first of which caught merely her clothing whilst the second cut deep into her arm. Now it was Isolde’s turn to scream, despite her training and intense conditioning, the venomous bite of that blade filled her with immense pain.
In the moment that her grip on the controls and the Eldar slackened, the pirate seized his chance and swung his whole body back into the seat, pushing Isolde off the jetbike in the process. She felt herself falling and clambered to regain her balance, but to no avail. With no purchase to stop her movement she toppled over the side.
And that should have been the end for her, only her torment was to continue. At first she felt an enormous wrenching pull at her poisoned arm, and then she was still moving forward, with the jetbike, her body flailing along behind and dragging through mud and what paltry vegetation this planet had. It was only then that she saw her arm was still wrapped by the chain, and that said chain had somehow caught itself upon the bike.
Despite all the pain she felt at that moment, despite the physical damage her body took as she dangled from the jetbike, buffeting and scraping along behind as the vehicle accelerated, despite her dulling sense and reasoning abilities, she somehow found a moment of gratitude at her luck in that she was still alive, and still trailing the Xenos pirate. This was another chance for her to do her duty, and to save her brothers from their fate.
Mustering her resolve and willing her body to move, she began to climb the chain that held her, exhaling loudly from a fusion of difficult exertion and the venom running through her still bleeding arm. Every inch seemed to take an eternity as well as an effort greater then Isolde had ever summoned before, yet summon it she did, and the Dark Eldar took longer still to notice her closing proximity. With a howl of desperate fury he gunned the engine forward, yet still she held tenaciously on. As the pirate realised that speed was not the solution, he slowed the bike and began to weave among the marshes and pillar-like rock formations that lay nearby.
Isolde’s incredible climb was halted as she found herself plunged through ice-cold water and murky ooze, and it was all she could manage to stay resolutely locked to the chain as her body clattered upon the edge of smooth rocks along their path. After a few seconds of this ordeal, the driver glanced back and yelled aloud to see her bedraggled body still clinging to the chain. Lacking other options he stooped to undo the bindings that held her, only to swerve violently seconds later as the bike nearly steered into rock.
Fortune favoured Isolde yet again; the Eldar’s drastic manoeuvre slowed the jetbike enough that she was propelled forward, and seizing her chance, she grasped the edge of the bike and pulled herself upright. The alien tried to move away as she sat behind him, but he was not fast enough to avoid her fist as she struck him hard on the side of the head.
The Xenos was stunned by the force of the blow, but Isolde did not tarry now that she had been granted this glorious chance. Freeing her injured arm from the chain at last, she began to bind the pirates arm tightly, using up the full length of the chain as quickly as she could. The bike swayed perilously close to the rocks as she worked, but she paid it no heed. Her course lay on a different path now, and as the pirate began to regain his senses she slammed the throttle forward and leapt clear, tumbling over the soft mud and water that broke her fall and speed.
The Eldar, now alone on the accelerating jetbike and his wits returned, reached for the brake, only to discover that his arm lay bound and out of reach. Quickly he tried to grasp with his other, broken hand, but that arm was useless and he could not work the controls. With a scream he looked up to see the solid rock approaching at tremendous speed, as the jetbike ploughed headlong into one of the outcrops, it’s alien engine detonating with a fiery explosion.
“Captain Mecri, she’s here!” A familiar voice could be heard in the blackness.
From her dream-world Isolde was roused, away from a battle in which she duelled a golden god with naught but her sword and bolter; a mighty Space Marine was she, clad in silver and white power armour, and yet now her vision was still and dark. After a few moments she heard the voice again, closer this time, and with it came the pain of venom in her arm and a thousand bruises and cuts across her body.
Carefully, she opened her eyes and found herself laid on her back, her sight filled with a blurred yet unmistakeably grim sky, and then faces appeared before her; friendly and smiling faces all, for they belonged to her friends and brothers.
“Blessed is she; by the Emperor… if she’s not alive!” Semardes said excitedly to the others, quite unlike his usual demeanour.
“You must have taken some real knocks there, lass,” the apothecary was saying through his helmet. “You’re going to have a few scars from this I’m afraid.”
“Get her loaded onto the Accipitres; we still need to organise the counter-attack,” the distinguished voice of Captain Mecri could be heard, before its owner kneeled over and gently raised her head with an arm.
“You handle high-speeds and combat well, young Lucé; Let us make more of your talents amid the ranks of the Cavalry Auxilia.”
Isolde smiled feebly despite the pain, and she spoke; though her voice was weak it still carried a note of happiness.
“I would be honoured… Captain… Just please, give me a bike that stays on the ground.”
Read more about Isolde Lucé here!
Thanks for reading!