Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Unearthly music accompanies their shifting ranks through the trees. I watch as they somersault over bushes and vault between branches before landing to resume their rhythmic approach. Their movements pull the low mist into fantastical shapes about them.
Canmer, my intelligence officer, swears.
“They dance the Nehardin! Commander Thorne-Regnault, witness this. There will be none left before this day ends. They intend to make us rue the day we came to this planet with this, their last stand.”
I’ve stood proud as Groume Knights in their powered armour lay waste to everything that opposes them on a battlefield. I’ve even seen them take on Shrifari, but those were regulars. These are Sturmclann: the legendary Shrifari special forces. Their youngest has been fighting for over a thousand years. Their oldest have been worshipped as divinities by fur-clad savages on planets further afield than man has yet reached.
They pick up speed and their bodies blur, shimmers of dazzling colour disguising their moves. As the first beams cut at them, it’s clear the distortion masks their positions, too. In a roiling wave of fractured colours, the Sturmclann unhesitatingly engage an enemy that outnumbers them a thousand to one.
They dance. They kill. They only draw recognisable weapons when my men mass to block progress of their Nehardin. Then they reveal a new dance, one of laser and blade, of deathdust and acid. Even when our screaming, bloodied ranks still that dance, their rent flesh spews blood that smokes as it sears the ground.
Such havoc will hopefully never be seen again. Worst of it all, they’re beautiful. Their forms are the epitome of martial grace, their deaths each a thing worthy of a glory hymn. I count myself a soldier, but their implacable will makes me feel as raw as the day I first stood upon a drill field.
As each one falls, the grey mist thickens, like it’s a living thing, anchoring itself on elfin corpses against the sun’s dismissal.
Finally, as the sun sinks to touch the horizon, the last of them is beaten down. There is a roar from our ranks. Our casualties are many, but Groume is victorious once again. Sturmcala is ours! But, after the victory cry, I see comrades look about at the devastation. As far as the eye can see, field and forest are littered in bodies partially hidden by the mist which mercifully softens the horrific spectacle.
From my vantage point, I see a lone figure step from the farthest treeline. A female in Sturmclann colours, hair in disarray, cheeks and brow marked with blue runes.
“Reap now the crop you have sown!”
Her voice carries. Heads turn. Guns come up. I see her drop a sparkling device.
With an earth-shaking detonation, the mist ignites. I find myself flying like a broken bird amidst fiery clouds of blazing debris. I don’t remember landing, only being desperate to escape the heat. I come round frantically trying to dig myself under the scorched dirt. What had been pristine armour is mere seconds from failure. Those who’d been fighting all day wouldn’t have the reserves I had. Of Canmer, there is no trace.
All around, the horizon burns. The darkening sky is streaked with smoke. Broken, twisted things make ominous silhouettes against the distant fires. Off to my left, someone is screaming. I reroute power to life support and sensors.
The screaming Knight and I are the only survivors. Over half a million dead! So be it. Sturmcala shall become a war grave. An uninhabited, terrible epitaph to implacable vengeance and the passing of a race.