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Traveller of Both
Time and Space: Episode 3
You are hurt, said a voice in his head, but Raja Shamshir Talatra felt no pain. Hands lifted him from the ground; two Tigers of Kali—Assault Marines in white armor and brown stripes—hauled him behind the cover of a Rhino.
Rest here, Raja, said the voice again, as the Marines gently laid him down. Reinforcements are on the way. The Red Corsairs cannot hold out for much longer.
Shamshir Talatra looked up. Librarian Chandramatie Bahl, his second-in-command for this mission, stood a few yards away, calmly directing the Tigers as they returned fire on the Corsairs. She glanced at him and spoke again with her telepathy.
You are badly wounded, but you should live, Raja. I am blocking your pain.
“Good,” he replied, and tried to stand. His left knee didn’t want to cooperate. Shamshir Talatra drew the Ebon Blade, stabbed it into the stony soil, and began hauling himself to his feet. Chandramatie Bahl came to his side and helped him up.
“You should stay down,” she said.
“I’ve often been told that,” he replied.
“The situation is in hand. There is no need to further risk your life.”
The Chosen of the Red Corsairs fired
their Tau pulse rifles again and two more Fighting Tigers fell, one with
his head shot clean off. “We can’t wait for reinforcements,” Shamshir Talatra
said. “The Corsairs know that they can’t win, but they’ll try to kill as
many of us as possible.” He handed her the plasma gun he had taken from
Traitor he had killed earlier. “Let’s see if they’ll be satisfied
with killing one more Tiger—an important one.”
“I really must thank you and your people again, Ethereal,” the red-armored giant chuckled, as he slowly ground his massive fist through the chest of his wriggling captive. Tissue ripped, bone snapped, and blood spurted as Clavius held the Tau leader in one hand and tore through his rib cage with the other. “Your weapons are superb. And your naiveté about my true intentions was refreshing. Usually, no one dares get within arm’s reach of a warrior of Khorne.”
Ethereal Aun Kdsh’yr Kor could only gasp weakly as Clavius finally located his spine and crushed it in his fist. The Space Marine, who had foresworn the Blood Angels to serve in a more brutal brotherhood, dropped his prisoner to the stone floor, amid the severed heads of the Ethereal’s followers. The heads were all that remained of an expeditionary team had landed nearby and had gregariously sought out new petitioners for citizenship in the burgeoning Tau Empire. After feigning interest, the Corsairs had violently declined.
Clavius licked some of the Tau’s blood off his gauntlet. “Not bad,” he said.
Here inside a squat stone building, Clavius idly wondered how much longer he had to live. A few more seconds? A few minutes? Certainly not much longer than that. Already he could see the contrails of more Thunderhawks streaking through the air towards the camp. If he were the enemy commander, he would have his men pull back and let the Thunderhawks strafe this position until only a smoking crater was left.
But Clavius had never encountered these tiger-striped Marines before. Nor did he care much. Somehow, they had found Clavius’ camp and there certainly seemed to be no escape. Clavius didn’t care much about that, either. Khorne demanded that blood be spilt, and so it had, and his bodyguard—aided by the weapons they had taken from the Tau corpses—was spilling more. And yet—
And yet, something nagged at him. Death—or something—was tugging at his arm, telling him to hurry, hurry, hurry. It was the same feeling he had had as a youth on Baal Secundus, as he traveled across the barren wastes to prove himself to the Blood Angels. It was the same impatient whispering that had driven him to leave behind his Loyalist brethren and embrace Chaos. Something within had guided him, over the years, to this time, to this place, and now that something strained for release. It would not be content to die in this bunker. Not when there was so much more blood to be spilled.
“We are running low on ammunition,” said Matthias, his lieutenant. “And more of them are coming. What do we do, Clavius?”
Clavius came and stood beside the former Exorcist. He peered out the window at the Fighting Tiger personnel carriers that surrounded them. “Keep fir—” he started. “No. No. Hold your fire. Hold your fire!”
Puzzled, the Chosen obeyed.
A bleeding Fighting Tiger in yellow and brown armor climbed atop the nearest Rhino. He spread his arms out, one hand open, the other gripping a large black sword. “Parley!” he shouted, in heavily-accented Imperial Gothic. “I would parley with Clavius, if he still lives!”
“I am Clavius!” the former Blood Angel roared back. “Who calls for parley?”
“I’m Raja Shamshir Talatra, co-regent of the Fighting Tigers of Veda. I command five hundred Space Marines.”
“Very nice,” sneered Clavius. “What do you want?”
“Because you used to be a Space Marine, I’m offering you a choice: come and fight me man-to-man, or stay in there and be blown to pieces. What do you say?”
“There’s no honor in killing you, Shamshri Talagra, or whatever your name is,” Clavius barked. “You don’t look very healthy.”
“I’ve fought worshippers of your god before, Clavius. They weren’t as picky as you. Maybe you’re just scared. Khorne won’t be pleased with you….”
“Speak not my master’s name!” the red giant bellowed. “You have not earned the right!”
“Then come out and fight, coward,” the Tiger Marine replied. He leapt down in front of the Rhino.
“I have your word that just you and I shall fight? Man-to-man?” Clavius called.
“I swear to you on my honor. Have your bodyguard come out with you, if you like.”
“Let’s go, men,” Clavius said, hefting his chain-axe. Something within him stirred, stretched. His twin hearts pounded like horses’ hooves. Suddenly, he felt strong, invincible. Was it the Black Rage at last? Or something older, darker? No matter. Clavius embraced it and his doom.
“Master, it’s a trick,” Matthias warned.
All at once, Clavius could see through Matthias and the others, as if their bodies were mere shells containing the flickering flames of their souls. He looked down at himself. If Matthias and his men held wisps of flame within them, then he held a mighty conflagration, a roaring blaze that would soon consume him and release itself upon this world.
“Of course it’s a trick,” Clavius
replied. “And I’m going to play it.”
They’re not coming out, Raja Shamshir Talatra thought.
They are, Raja, replied Chandramatie Bahl. They suspect, but they come anyway. Clavius’ will is very strong.
The door to the bunker swung open and the six surviving Chosen stepped out, Tau rifles raised, forming a semi-circle in front of Clavius. The ex-Blood Angel was huge, at least a head taller than any of his men, and almost twice as wide. Parts of his blood-red armor were scratched down to bare gray metal where he had scoured off the symbols of the Imperium. Stamped on his breastplate, where the double-headed eagle should have been, was the stylized skull symbol of Khorne.
Clavius seemed to grow even larger as he stepped forward, axe clenched in both hands. “You were a fool to make this challenge,” he laughed.
“No more than you for accepting it,” Shamshir Talatra said, standing his ground.
Suddenly, several things happened at once. The red giant pounded forward, while dozens of bolter rounds riddled him as the Tactical Fighting Tigers fired. Clavius crashed to the ground a few yards in front of Raja Shamshir. “The leader! Kill their leader!” Matthias shouted. Chandramatie Bahl and her Assault Marines ignited their jump packs and rocketed over the Rhinos. As the Chosen opened fire, dropping Raja Shamshir, the Assault Marines fell upon them and hacked them to pieces with their chainswords.
Shamshir Talatra looked up. Seven shots had struck him in the chest, but his artificer armor had saved him, though the force of the weapons had knocked him off his feet. He rose to his knees—with some difficulty now that Chandramatie Bahl was no longer using her psychic powers to block his pain—and watched the the Tigers of Kali sever the hands of the Chosen as trophies.
“You swore we’d fight man-to-man,” croaked Clavius. He began to heave himself up despite his many wounds. “You swore on your honor.”
Shamshir didn’t wait until Clavius was on his feet. He stepped forward and jammed the Ebon Blade through Clavius’ throat. “Honor be damned,” Shamshir replied. “Winning’s all I care about.”
Something bellowed from deep inside Clavius’ broken body. Raja Shamshir withdrew his sword and stumbled back a few paces as the former Blood Angel’s corpse stood up and began to twitch, then to shake, then to convulse violently.
“Flamers! Flamers!” he yelled. Two Tactical Marines stepped forward and bathed Clavius’ body with fire.
“No!” shouted Chandramatie Bahl,
but it was too late. Freed by the flame from its fleshy prison, the Bloodthirster
that had long lurked within Clavius flicked its razor-sharp wings, hewing
both flamer-wielding Marines in half. The beast formed itself a whip and
an axe out of the fire that bathed it and advanced on Raja Shamshir Talatra.
Posted March 2004.
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