Renascence Part III
The Chief Librarian of the Undying gently tried more of his weight on the injured leg as he stepped into the cool water. Pain like hot knives shoved through his calf ripped up his leg, but he allowed nothing to show on his face.
To his right, the grey hull of the shattered transport blocked out the forest vistas with a great dark shadow, its upper edge limned in fire where the sunlight of the dying day caressed it. The aft quarter of the transport sat in the lake its bow having carved a huge trench into the shore. Yet here, not 20 feet away, the bank was untouched. A tree cloaked in shadow hung above him hiding the purpling sky as he waded knee deep in the water. The forest was silent except for the distant noise of human voices and the crackling of a fire.
The Librarian bent to wash the remaining blood and crusted scabbing from his leg, careful not to disturb the carefully placed plastiflesh. The guard Colonel had done a fine job in repairing the leg. It would heal cleanly, and he could walk on it, albeit slowly. In truth, he admitted to himself with a wry smile, some of the apothecaries in his chapter had occasionally done less competent work. That man was a puzzle. That was for certain.
His musings were interrupted by a flash of silver in the water as a small fish flicked away from his feet as he moved. His lips moved in an involuntary smile at the audacity of the small water creature, to brave proximity with the deadly Lord Liche. He caught his own reflection in the water and stopped, smile still frozen on his face, quite surprised.
In his centuried lifespan, Liche had long since ceased to be interested in his own appearance. He had no mirror in his quarters nor did he feel the need for one. His marine physiology was so good that he seldom felt anything other than fit so what he found in the water was a bit of a surprise. The man who looked back was a stranger.
The face was thin and sallow, the skin stretched like old parchment around his dark eyes. The body was incongruous, being hard and muscled, but even here the age showed ever so slightly with tiny wrinkles and broken veins at the joints. From a distance he would look like an overbuilt Adonis but from up close his age began to show. His chest was covered by the ubiquitous marine black carapace, its glistening bio-plastic appearing as shiny and new as the day it was implanted. The carapace was mounted with gleaming metal fittings and connections. He had long since forgotten how many times those had been replaced. Liche’s lower body was clad in the padded knee length shorts that were worn to prevent underarmor chafing, their disconnected waste disposal connections hanging loosely from the waistband.
It dawned on the psyker, just how very long he had lived. How very far he was from that young, shy man, afraid of his own power, who had gone to the inquisition on his homeworld to turn himself in. He had expected to be destroyed for the filth he had discovered himself to be. It surprised him when he was discovered to be strong enough to serve the Emperor. It was a far better choice than dying.
When he was sent to the Void Phantoms, most of the others in his training class had mocked him. Calling him dead. Or pariah. But he had found a home with his chapter, and found that the choice of assignment, strange as it had seemed at the time, had been the right one for the young man he had been. He straightened up, surprised at his own woolgathering.
That choice was also the right one for the man he had grown into and the elder he now was. Veritas. Dignitas. Fidelitas. Young or old, these were concepts that he could hold dear and never be ashamed of.
“So did I do an adequate job?” The unexpected voice snapped the psyker around like a whip. On the shore, the guard Colonel stood with two of the men that had survived the crash. All had large bags made of torn seat coverings and chutes crudely stitched and snapped together.
“Far better than adequate, Colonel Senekal. Your skills continue to surprise me.” The Librarian rasped. The man just shrugged and dropped the bag at the water’s edge. As if on cue, the other two men set theirs down and quickly moved away in rather a bit of a hurry, disappearing into the underbrush. The Colonel swept his sword scabbard to the side with an instinctive motion and settled down on a mossy rock as the marine waded back to shore, his leg now clean. “What is this?”
“Armor.” He kicked the bag and it made a rattling noise. “For you.”
The marine looked at the guard officer in surprise, “But where did you?” he paused. “You took this from one of my men?” His voice had gone low and threatening.
The guardsman looked exasperated, and Liche could pick out the tiniest hint of fear as well, “Look, dammit! I know your thrice damned credo. ‘Honor the Battle Gear of the Dead’. We were respectful, okay? I gave the guys last rites and buried them myself. What the hell do you expect me to do, here? You are the only other combat effective I’ve got! We’re weeks away from the nearest settlement and our little rumble, earlier today has convinced me that this isn’t the world’s most pleasant neighborhood.” He paused, clearly reigning in his temper.
“Look, milord. I’m sorry if I bent your damned rules but that leg still needs support and we still need all the help we can get. I can’t wear powered armor. If I could, you bet your ass I would! But it requires crap like you’ve been mounted with and I don’t have it. So for once, quit being the Emperor’s thrice damned monk and try and help out, here!”
Liche finished climbing from the water and looked into the bag. The armor had been carefully cleaned and some sections clearly repaired. He brought out the bone coloured helmet and examined it critically. There was no trace of its former owner present. No blood, no damage. It almost looked new. He sat, heavily, to take the weight off his leg. Carefully, he set the helmet in his lap and looked down, almost speaking to it.
“They were my brethren, Colonel. My battle brothers. I – mourn their passing. You are correct in your appraisal of the situation. We have little choice, and I am sure that my brethren would want me to have what I need to survive and to help these people. Just as I would wish it if I were in their place. It is hard to leave them here, however. Alone in this place.”
The Colonel moved from the rock and knelt next to the psyker, grasping his shoulder, “Hey,” he said, shocked to note the trail of a tear on the ancient marine’s face, “I know. We’ve all lost men at one time or another. I’ve been there, too. But you know, as well as I do, that they wouldn’t want us to die out here.”
The marine nodded. “So we’ve got to do the work. Get the job done. You guys came out here to rescue civilians. A lot of them made it. That responsibility now falls to us. I’ll do my best to help you carry out your orders.”
“Is that all that this is to you?” the Librarian hissed, “Orders? I thought better of you Colonel!”
The human sat back, stunned. “Well that’s all that it is to you, isn’t it? That’s all us regular men ever are to you superhuman types! Except the Ultramarines. Maybe.”
Liche raised his dark eyes to the guardsman. “You operate under a common misconception, Colonel.” He rasped in his shattered voice, “That may be true of many of the Adeptus Astartes, but it is not true of the Void Phantoms. I personally commandeered that transport virtually against the orders of Inquisitor Varley. But our beliefs do not allow us to abandon the helpless. Truth, Honor, Loyalty. That is our motto. It is what I have been living with and for since long before your birth, Colonel. I fight for these in the spirit of the Emperor, just as you fight for his iconic corpse.”
Now it was the Colonel’s turn to look offended. “If you’re often a victim of misconception about your Chapter, don’t go judging others the way that they judge you. I don’t fight for the Emperor’s over deified carcass. I don’t fight for the Emperor at all!” Senekal watched the psyker’s face carefully, reading the shock and surprise that he saw there. “I fight for the Imperium,” he said, jabbing the marine with an index finger. “Which isn’t the same thing. The Imperium is this world and its inhabitants. It’s those poor folks over there,” he waved an arm in the direction of the campfire, ” just trying to live their lives out in peace. To raise their kids and to do the best that they can. The damned Inquisition would probably kill me if they heard that. But it doesn’t change the facts. I got into this whole thing for the people. It backfired on me and so now I’m out here in the stars. But you know what? There are still people out here. People who need help, people who need a defender, people who need a warrior. The way I look at it, better me than the Dark Angels.”
Liche nodded slowly. “We seem to have more in common than I would ever have dreamed, Colonel. I think we should be a bit more trusting of one another’s motives in the future. It is strange to have found so much common ground with one so different. I had thought that there were few left in the Imperium who believe as the Void Phantoms do.”
The guardsman just snorted and started unpacking the armored pieces and tossing them at the librarian. “You aint never been to Danika, then,” was all he said.