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Gauntlet

Submitted By: Date: September 1, 2005, 08:37:40 AM Views: 2420

Ezekial let out a grunt of approval as he flexed the arms of his terminator armor. He smiled inside his heavy helmet at the gratifying sounds of the gears, the oiled perfection of its reflexes in perfect rhythm with his own. It didn't maneuver any better than the power armor with which he was accustomed, but he enjoyed the power of its bulk, and the precision with which it was crafted. His promotion had been recent, and while in truth he had fallen from a squad leader back down to one of the privates, he was glad that his superiors had finally acknowledged his prowess and that he was now a part of an elite fighting unit. He uncurled the fingers of his power fist, then clenched them again, anxious to test their strength against the foes of the Emperor. After looking over his armor and primary close quarters weapon, confident in the power they both possessed, he examined the Storm Bolter at his left side. As he hefted it up to get a better view, he decided that in every way, it was an improvement over his old fire arm, though that too had been a fine piece of equipment and served him throughout many battles. This would be his first true battle in his new armor, and despite countless training sessions he was beginning to feel uncertain as to how he'd perform under its alien weight.

He turned his head as he heard his squad leader, Lucas, a Librarian and leader of this entire division, call out to his men. Ezekial's helmet swivelled back to the other eight members of the Librarian's body guard. He had learned all their names over time, but still spoke seldom to anyone save Julius, his closest friend in arms. They had known one another since their earliest days in service of the Emperor, and followed a similar path, Julius having been promoted to Terminator status only a year or so before Ezekial himself. His companion's head rose up, returning his gaze, scraping Lightning Claws against one another as if he could sharpen further the razor edges of the Emperium's finest equipment. Julius could sense his friend's growing apprehension, and leaned forward, speaking low so that only the two of them could hear: "Don't worry Zeek, I've seen you fight before. The Terminator armor never feels heavier than on the first battle, just remember that the stuff is strong and supports its own weight, you just fight the way we all know you can, and we'll not be disappointed." Ezekial was struck by his comrade's insight, but should have known that Julius could read his moods after knowing him so long. He nodded, confidence rushing back in at his words, convinced that nothing would stop him from carrying out the will of the Emperor.

Lucas was going over the battle plan one final time, Ezekial making sure to concentrate on the plan and remember every detail despite his familiarity both with the strategic concepts as well as the geographical layout of the area. It all came back as he listened intently to the Librarian's words, reviewing the methods of escape in case of emergency, the road ways which would carry him out of harm's way and back to his own battle lines. It had been determined that their Ultra Marines division had to push through this city scape in order to support their brethren further on down the road. The roadways that they were fighting for now were easily defended, and only after they secured these important transits could they break through the major knots of enemies that had dissected their main forces in the first place, and support one another where their forces were most hard pressed. It wasn't made any easier by their foes, the Necrons. Ezekial himself was unfamiliar with them, he hadn't even heard of the Xenos prior to this mission. After relating this with Julius, he'd been directed to an older member of the division known to traffic rumors, who could tell him both how to win in close quarters as well as strategically, assuming the stories were true. He was glad that the aging Whirlwind gunner could tip him off prior to the battle, especially concerning the strategy, as having previously been a squad leader he could understand and appreciate it. For now though he was the soldier, and took no part in the battle plans. His job was to accompany Lucas, along with the rest of the body guard down the main channel which led into the inner city. While the Ultra Marine division outnumbered their foes on this field, they were playing offense against a fortified position, and the fact that the Necron forces in the area had undoubtedly bunkered down by now, didn't make the situation any better. As things were, a full out assault by the superior marine numbers would funnel as they hit the main road they needed to secure, and would be met with enough fire to clog that pass with their own casualties and broken down armor.

The situation was poor, but Lucas had a plan. Little else beside Terminators had the resilience to run down that gauntlet, and even so they would be so weakened by the end of it that they'd fail to last long in the ensuing melee. So, using a special teleportation technology Ezekial hadn't seen until this point, they infiltrated deep near the end of the pass. From that point, the Terminators would be able to charge the most threatening sources of fire support, wreaking havoc throughout Necron formations long enough to allow the main body of the Ultra Marine force to advance unexposed to the main firing body. It was a sound plan, but it did put a lot on the shoulders of all the Terminators. Lucas yelled the order, the Terminators all stood, weapons at the ready, and they stepped out into the cool grey of the early dawn.

This was not the first time battle had seen this part of the city, and the streets were littered with fallen warriors and smoldering pieces of machinery from the previous battle. It was a shame that battle hadn't ended better, Ezekial thought to himself, then we wouldn't have to go ahead with this plan, fighting an entire army ourselves until reinforcements arrive. Directly out the door, no one could see any of the enemy, but upon looking left the enemy's battle lines became apparent. Likewise the right had their own battle lines, ready to make a mad dash as soon as the enemy's defense was compromised. Ezekial studied his enemies, and they didn't look quite as he'd expected. Most of what the old gunner had said had been true, or at least the basics of it; mostly the enemy front line was comprised of skeletal metal warriors with guns aglow with pulsating green light. He wasn't all that impressed at first, though the absence of their eyes he found a bit unsettling. With the first streak of neon green sizzling the air, he knew that the battle had begun.

They began running as soon as the enemy opened fire, and as Ezekial ran he took a quick note of how reliable his new armor was. There had to be three dozen enemies out there, and still not a single shot penetrated. After they'd made it about halfway to their destination, the enemy ceased fire, just in time for the young guard to hear the Rhino engines start up behind him. All was going according to plan, so far, but why had the enemy stopped shooting? In the heat of the moment, all he could do was continue to run with his unit, confident that nothing could pierce the Terminator plates that adorned him. It was then that Julius fell, and after letting out a cry of alarm, he turned on his heel to see exactly why. A few steps further and the rest of the squad turned around also, and back tracked to assist their comrade.

The thing on Julius' shoulders was terrible to look at, and despite the urgency of the situation Ezekial hesitated a moment. The ghoul was clothed in human skin, and the last two digits of its fingers were replaced with long knife-like blades, with which it had already begun to dig around for a soft spot in the Terminator armor. Julius, weighed down by the skeletal figure and being equipped with Lightning Claws, was unable to rise, and so his friend swallowed and swung his power fist around in a wide swipe, sending the hunched monstrosity reeling. As the squad stood an instant longer waiting for the two to catch up, more of the creatures leapt down onto the body guard, and Ezekial looked up to the building beside them. It was old and battle scarred, the windows had long been blown out. From the darkness within the unused monolith, shadows slithered and darted silently about, just before leaping down in ever greater numbers onto the unsuspecting marines below. An almost tangible wave of nausea swept over the men as the eyeless horrors whisked about draped in human flesh, but Lucas set a courageous example, stopping the descent of the next with the point of his Phase Blade, kicking the skewered husk off of its shaft to deal a blow to the next. His guard followed suit at the undaunted bravery of their leader, and continued the melee with a new fervor, bashing and slashing the disgusting creatures as they skulked and leapt about.

It wasn't long before a blade or two found a soft spot in the Terminator's armor joints, and two men being weighed down by the numbers were already choking on their own blood. Ezekial fought hard, but had trouble acclimating himself to the weight of the power fist. Assuredly the added strength was a bonus, but he sorely missed the speed with which he'd used his old chain sword. Suddenly, just as the enemy numbers had begun to dwindle, a slow and dark figure floated from around the street corner. Its torso was similar to the other Necrons', but it bore a crest almost like an extension of its spine curling up over its head, and slowly floated through the air on a broad platform where its legs should have been. In its right hand it carried a stave wrought with strange runic texts and bound in peculiar rings that skewed the light strangely, surrounding it with shadow. A bronzed sphere lay gripped in its clawed left hand, contorted with larger hieroglyphs carved deep into the surface, lit up strangely by the refracted light of the stave. Ezekial studied the sphere as the creature turned its head to begin reading slow, impossibly deep syllables from the artifact. The runes on the sphere inversed, filling out and jutting up from the outer most layer of its bronze skin. The uplifted runes cast shadows on the rest of the orb, which spread until the entire oddity was pitch black, and Ezekial felt a sense of forboding as he turned back to the battle. The slain ghouls were rising, a head rolled back to its owner as if by magnetism, and the caved in chest cavity of another inflated, ribs setting themselves straight again and melding back into their proper positions. They rose, as if nothing had happened, and immediately leapt back into the battle; horrified marines letting loose battle cries, curses, and shouts of alarm.

Again, the Librarian jumped fearlessly into the melee, severing appendages and lopping off the heads of his metallic foes. The heartened Terminators suppressed their initial shock and dove into combat with him, standing fast with Lucas against their unrelenting foes. Ezekial caught a glimpse of Julius through the battle, the Terminator armor taking countless slashes from the enemy as his comrade retaliated in kind with his Lightning Claws. After turning his eyes back to the task at hand, he saw his own adversary jerk with surprising ferocity, tearing itself loose from a shoulder he'd gripped with his power fist. A slash across the helmet left a resounding screech echoing in his ears, but the vast palm of the power fist found the clawed wretch once more and he fell with it to the ground, pinning the monster. As it began to squirm under the pressure, he looked back briefly to their hovering leader, just as it began another black ritual. Once more the deep bellowing voice spoke, uttering ancient words of power that seemed to linger in his mind, whispering insanity and etching the fear of that heresy into his memories for all time. It raised its stave into the air, and the light fled to it, seeping out in narrow unnatural streams from the rings that encircled it. The young guard's attention lapsed for a moment, and he blinked dumbly within his helmet, fighting disorientation. When his gaze turned back to the battle, everything was cast in a lambent haze of ghostly light, details impossible to see through the shifting bands of pale yellow. He stared down at his own opponent, who's empty eye sockets now rose to stare at him...and as the shadows played on its already horrific features, he felt for the first time in life, true unabated terror. He sprang up as nimbly as his Terminator armor would let him, tripped backward and began to scramble away to distance himself from the nightmare creature.

A number of other guards had reacted similarly, and in their own way reacted to their fear. Ezekial turned a frightened eye to Julius, who went about conquering his fear by descending into a slashing fury on his nearest enemy, a crackle of electrical energy heard every time he struck. Ashamed, several guards went about gathering their courage to confront these manifestations of horror, but only when they saw Lucas rise victorious from a pile of their mangled bodies did they scream in rage and fully recommit to combat. Soon after they had overcome it, the unexplained fear woken in all of them ebbed, and the spectral light of the stave diminished as the creature released its grip on the dawn's rays.

The bladed fiends began to fall back, hunched and skulking, when a pang of dread enveloped the marines, putting a sudden and abrupt end to their fervent onslaught. After a moment, several of the soldiers looked to Lucas, he could certainly rally the courage to fight on, and if he wouldn't run, neither would they. But the Librarian seemed distracted, staring at the street corner, his eyes glazed and far away. From the same dark alley their leader had emerged, five figures strode onto the main road. They were as tall as any marine, and each bore a weapon that stood taller still. The energies surrounding the blades were malignant and unnatural, reality itself seemed to bend around their baleful tendrils of phantom light. What caught Ezekial's attention most though were their eyes...set aglow with a malevolent flame who's condescending hatred seemed endless. His eyes traveled back to the Librarian, who's sword arm now hung limp at his side. Lucas' eyes were now filled with emotion, but it wasn't bravery and determination there any longer, those had been replaced by uncertainty and fear. Their leader's face now painted the perfect picture of doubt and terror, and at this three of the five remaining guards began to lower their weapons, readying to flee. Fighting the fear within himself, Ezekial watched as Lucas fell to his knees, Phase Blade dropping feebly from his fingers. Paralyzed with uncertainty, he didn't react immediately as the flying Necron flew at Julius! He blinked at the sudden motion, and quickly turned his gaze to his friend, who was in an instant on his back slashing up at the creature's underbelly as it jabbed down on him with its stave, now alight with crackling energies much the same as Julius' Lightning Claws. Had he rationalized, the young soldier might have thought it most important to deliver his leader from harm; but he was the last marine who had himself under control, and his first instinct was to rescue his friend.

As the Pariahs neared his leader, Ezekial went to aid his friend.. His great power fist clamped down on the electrified stave, and as he felt the burning of it through his own hand, he wrenched it away from its owner. As the monster lurched forward to make a grab for it, Julius thrust both Lightning Claws into its underside, destroying something vital to its anti gravity platform. The Necron priest slammed onto its side, one Terminator scrambling to disengage from it while the other stepped forward to deal it a finishing blow. By the time his friend had dislodged his claws from its underside, Ezekial had bashed its head into the ground twice. As the Orb began to transform again, he wrapped his massive fingers around the darkening runes, and crushed it into dust. By the time the two turned around, one last marine had found the strength to fight, and had died for it. They turned just in time to see the five looming figures encircling Lucas, the Librarian still frozen and staring into the endless depths of their eyes. It was no battle, it was an execution; still fighting to break free of his unfounded fear, Lucas made no move to escape as one began to heft its scythe up into the air.

"All my life they've told me I fought for a dead man, and all my life I've known they were wrong. Men die, but their ideals live on; I die here today because I believe in the Emperor's ideal, that humanity must cleanse the universe of those that would do it harm, and billions more will oppose you before they let you threaten that ideal. You may have killed me, but a thousand will replace me."

In the last moment of his life, before the phantasmal scythe fell, his eyes hardened again; staring straight back into the hellish gaze that had been his undoing, his last brave show of defiance to an enemy that had to strike at him from behind psychic shadows. There was no sound as the blade swept down through Lucas, only a puff of steam as his head rolled away from his shoulders, leaving a grisly, cauterized stump just before his kneeling body fell heavily to the ground. Ezekial and Julius watched in disbelief as their remaining two companions ran, courage spent, in the other direction toward the rapidly approaching Rhinos. So much damage had been done, and yet their fellows were willing to retreat without compensation. But even as the guards watched hatefully back at their retreating companions, an overwhelming drone began to sound in their ears, and as they watched wincing at the noise, a chittering cloud of chrome engulfed the runners, a vortex of metal insects who's echoes drowned out the cries of their victims.

No, they could not have lost so many and not complete their mission; as the first streaks of green began to lance through the air on either side of the street, the two remaining warriors looked at each other, knowing what their expressions would look like if they hadn't been wearing these heavy helmets. Even though he couldn't see it, Ezekial knew the devilish grin that was forming on his friend's face as he realized what was coming next; and slowly a smile crept across his own features as he too understood. Despite all that had happened, they couldn't give their enemies a clear firing range now; they only needed to last a little longer to ensure victory, why not throw these Necrons something unexpected?

With a roar the two charged the five demons, the five having already turned away from their fleeing enemies to clear the line of fire. Julius was faster, and before the hellish executioner even had time to face him, his claws were tearing into its back, tongues of green energy licking up the flashing white claws as they plunged deep into its metal skin. The others reacted quickly, bringing their terrible scythes to bear, but had to distance themselves from the raging marine given the length of their own weapons. In the time it took them for that, Ezekial crashed into one, tapping the momentum of his charge as he swung his huge fist at it, impacting it squarely in the chest. It crumpled, flying battered and broken a full body length away as the marine rolled to avoid being decapitated, a scythe whisking through the air and cutting half his shoulder pad cleanly off his armor. While it hadn't damaged the man, it made clear how little use armor would be in this fight. Julius lifted his weapons into the air, catching the shaft of one of the scythes between his claws. As he struggled, his partner was doing his best to wrestle another, but that still left one unchecked....

Weapons locked with his enemy, the unstoppable cutting edge of the Necron scythe hovering a foot from his face, Julius could do nothing as the third monster hopped around him. Briefly, fighting to free himself from this death struggle, he saw a green arc sweep in from his lower right side; and to his dismay he fell to the ground. As he brought out his hands to balance himself, still not quite aware of what was happening, his claws dragged against the scythe shaft, sending sparks of lightning and fire as the friction nearly cut the weapon in two. The scythe head came down to impact him, but the ethereal energies that once encompassed the blade had dissipated, and his thick helmet was struck with little more than a hunk of metal. The marine fell onto his back, and froze, confused and in shock...he still couldn't puzzle together what had happened. As he titled his head backward he could see his second adversary looming over him, its scythe still in full function and ready to deal him a final blow. Just as the scythe was in position to bring down on the befuddled soldier, the blue bulk of an Ultramarine Terminator impacted the machine, its hellish eyes leaving streaks through the air as it went down. Julius thought that he should have remembered who that was, it was on the tip of his tongue but for some reason this Terminator had slipped his mind.

As Ezekial pulled himself off of the Necron reaper, he set his foot on its torso, gripping its head in the large palm of his power fist, and with a violent jerk he separated the two. He turned to the last standing enemy, who seemed to be studying its weapon with intense disapproval. Suddenly its eyes flashed, and as they did the hell blade blazed back into life. He had to act quickly. Jumping over his comrade, he wrapped his fingers around the center of the shaft, between the Necron's skeletal hands, and pushed the weapon down and out of the way. Its gaze rose to rest on his face, just a few feet away, and their eyes locked through the Terminator's tinted visor. Ezekial froze, fighting his own fear, remembering his own contempt for those who had run. He couldn't perform under that gaze...now he knew how Lucas had felt...the commander he had failed, who he hadn't even protected long enough to truly know. That moment seemed to drag on for an age, all motion slowed and every movement seemed like it was through molasses. Slowly, ever so slowly he brought his Storm Bolter up to the creature's face, its eldritch eyes unchanging, filling his mind with its own intolerable, unresolvable, scathing hatred. Slowly he pulled the trigger, and with the first gun shot time fell back in step and he blinked away the flashes as shell after shell erupted from the barrel and into the Necron's loathsome countenance. It crashed to the earth, and his shoulders slumped in relief.

He fell to his knees, and then looked down to Julius. His friend lay there, on the hard earth having removed his helmet. There was a bitterness in his eyes, and he was trying not to look at his legs, though apparently having a difficult time overcoming the urge. Soon, Ezekial saw why. His comrade's legs, from the knee down were no longer attached, charred stumps left where they'd been severed. He spared a brief glance at his ruined shoulder pad, remembering the ease with which those abhorrent energies clove through matter. He dragged his partner over to a ditch, the most sheltered place he could find, as the first of the Rhinos began to make their way through the insect cloud. They had done their job, they had completed their mission. The Ultramarines would win this pass...but was it worth so much? He shoved the thought into the back of his mind. Of course it was, they were fighting for more than these dark roadways, they were fighting for the lives of their brothers, the Emperor...or was it mankind? It wasn't time to think about any of that. He unlatched his own helmet, meeting Julius in the eye, admiring the determination there.

The maddening chittering of the Necron swarms grew louder as their broken cloud reformed nearby, countless eyes all slowly turning to the same two Terminators. Julius looked up at the swarms, and spat. His friend looked up himself, preparing for one more battle.
"Wait." Ezekial turned to his fallen comrade, still staring back at the collective creatures so fixated with him as he spoke. "Prop me up against the wall, Zeek. I can't believe this is how we have to go, cuttin' through all the big ones just so their pets can finish us off; but so help me I'm not gonna sit feeling sorry for myself as these little bastards eat me alive." Ezekial grinned a little as he pulled his friend up to the wall, bracing his back against it since he didn't have legs to balance the awkward weight of his armor.

"My helmet..." he grunted, and his partner handed it to him and watched as even now this man dawned his armor for one final battle. Ezekial found his own helmet and latched it back into place as the swarm's separated masses clustered together and began to approach sluggishly as one ominous mass. Their drone became deafening as Julius reactivated his Lightning Claws, and neither of them heard as Ezekial opened fire with his Storm Bolter. As the teeming throngs of metallic beetles flew upward in a graceful and terrifying unison, ready to descend and consume them both in one fatal swoop, the younger guard regarded his crippled companion through the intercom...

"You know, this is going to make one hell of a story for Lucas and the guys." There was a pause, and at first the young warrior wasn't sure Julius had heard him over the noise, but he heard an exhilarated laugh in answer.

"Maybe, but what say we tell em' I killed the one who got my legs?" They were both laughing as their doom came to take them, meeting it with flying bullets, slashing claws, clenched fist and good humor.

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