I originally wrote this in 1999. Chris A. found it today and sent it on. What a great Christmas gift/blast from the past! I updated the regimental numbers and nicknames to suit what I'm doing today. Other than that, I left it alone as a snapshot of my writing back then.
I wrote this story following my first ever game of 40K using my Imperial Guards. Chris A. was teaching me the rules ... 3rd Edition and we played on his dining room table if I remember correctly. He won, but the deed was done. I was hooked.
Captain McKay looked in awe at the vehicles rumbling through the main perimeter gates of the firebase. The size of an Imperial Space Marine Land Raider and escorting Rhinos was an incredible sight to behold. He suppressed a momentary flash of anger as he recognized the markings of the vehicles. It had been many months since last the 4th Brodian 'Wolfhounds' had encountered 'The Undying,' the Void Phantoms Chapter of Space Marines. Their last encounter was...less than cordial.
The first Rhinos in the column came through the east checkpoint without issue, he grimaced in anticipation as the Land Raider came to a near stop and made a slight course correction as it continued forward. These Marines weren't going to leave the Land Raider outside the perimeter as he had been hoping. The checkpoint gate was built to regulation specifications. Modular deployment firebases, which take less than 2 hours to set up, were notorious for not being designed with big vehicles in mind. The standard gate module meant the Marine driver would have exactly 16 millimeters clearance, 8 on each side. The Captain raised an eyebrow as the Raider came through without so much as a scrape; a very impressive display of skill. But of course, no less than the best crews would be driving those titanic Marine transports. A grin cracked his face as he looked over the Marine Land Raiders and thought of the new jewel in his command. After the stellar defense of Katanka Pass against the Orks on Sonnak IV last year, the Brodian 2nd Dragoons had detached a Vanquisher battle tank to his regiment. The main gun on the Vanquisher could smash even Land Raider armor; woe unto the foes of the Imperium that could not build such monsters. He shook off his battle musings and returned to the moment at hand.
He inspected his uniform; every medal, ribbon, honor and piece of equipment was in place and the blood red of his uniform stood crisp beneath the gleam of Imperial gold. As he exited his "office" at a brisk walk, his stormy blue eyes quickly took in the firebase around him. Sandbags, gun emplacement, razorwire, traps and methods of mass destruction loomed as grim watchmen on all sides of the firebase. Fluttering proudly above it all were the unit colors and the Imperial Eagle flag. Good enough for now.
He went to meet the commander of these Void Phantoms. The Marine vehicles had already come to a stop on Kill Zone Beta, the one minefield that would be left unseeded until after the Space Marines had left. As his steps carried him down the north-east face of the hill his unit was defending, the Captain noticed a Marine in a deep blue suit of Terminator armor exit the Land Raider. That would be the Chief Librarian. His sergeant had already assembled his other officers; he doubled his pace and joined them at the head a few moments before the Librarian. Smoothly, he continued walking right past his Lieutenants to stand directly in front of the armored giant. The Captain looked up into the eyes of the Chief Librarian of The Undying and gave his salute.
"Welcome to Firebase Jacob, Lord Liche. Your supplies are waiting for you in depot three. Sergeant Gordon will show your men the way." The Captain felt sure his temper was well in control, but who could keep emotions hidden from a Marine Librarian? He was a bit surprised as Lord Liche returned his salute; this was no normal cocksure, self-righteous, arrogant Space Marine.
With a nod to McKay, he turned and motioned for four of his marines to go with the Guard Sergeant and tend to the supplies. "We have never met you and I, but our units have." The dry voice rumbled from somewhere deep inside that ancient blue armor.
In the looming silence that followed the comment, McKay could feel his face flush with his famous Brodian temper. Damn it all! He was supposed to be more in control than this. Months ago, a "clerical error" had put a detachment of his Wolfhounds against a squad of Void Phantom Marines. Both units had been sent to rescue a wounded Imperial officer. The Wolfhounds had been told to be "wary of heretical units" that might wish to capture the officer as well. When the Void Phantoms also came to the rescue of Colonel Manitou, a brilliant Tank warfare tactician, an engagement which resulted in the deaths of several of his lads and an unknown number of Marines ensued. It was no fault of the Void Phantoms, the young Brodian Second Lieutenant had confused their bone colored armor for Chaos troops. Those were the facts around the issue, but the Captain's temper would not listen to facts.
McKay spoke again, his voice controlled, his tone polite though his innards were red chaos. "May the Void Phantoms crush the bugs under the Emperor's armored heel. Trust that this pass will still be under Imperial control when you have finished with the Tyrannids." The Captain paused long enough to take a breath. "Else, be confidant that we will all be dead."
"The Imperium would expect nothing less." The Librarian hadn't moved. McKay looked up for a moment into the dark warp eyes of the Marine. Was insult intended? Was there more to those words than face value? Probably. The Captain took step back.
"If you will excuse us, we have preparations to complete and defenses to strengthen." He turned to go without waiting for a response, his self-control stressed to the limits. A brief memory of one of the dozen letters he had written, particularly one to a widow with four children because of these 'Void Phantoms' came flashing to mind. He could hear the Marines as they got back into their various armored transports.
"Captain McKay." An amplified, though still disquieting voice checked his stride. He turned to look at the Librarian, his blood only just beginning the familiar process of cooling.
The ancient Marine's body had turned slightly as if he were about to head back to his vehicle. Two pairs of eyes locked. One pair ancient and dark with the warp; the other stormy and flashing blue. Again, echoing out from a shell of metal came the Librarian's unsettling voice. "My friend, it is said 'without zest, Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori.' " Then the Marine turned and his armored steps carried him toward his transport.
The Captain let out a surprised snort. "Friend?" Well, in any case, the Librarian had done some investigating before he arrived. "Dulce et Decorum..." was the motto of the Wolfhounds. Then, as McKay thought about the exact words the Librarian had spoken, a stunning realization descended upon him. He could feel his rage draining away like blood from a new wound. The motto came from an old Terran poem, brought to Brodia with the earliest colonists in a personal journal. The last lines of the poem were; "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest; to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori."
'Sweet and Fitting is it to die for the Fatherland.' To the Brodians, that particular motto is remembered as "the old lie" and not for what it translated to. But, that was not common knowledge! It was a cultural quirk, a holdover to the days of the old Brodian pagans!
It was a custom, in any Brodian military unit, that anytime anything went wrong as a result of officers, or the Administratium, or especially the Ecclesiarchy, that "Dulce et Decorum" came into conversation. The phrase had become a saying of almost all Brodian Imperial Guard units for anything that was totally screwed up; especially if it would eventually result in somebody getting killed.
Well, the "rescue" of Colonel Manitou and the colossal botch that resulted certainly qualified as a "Dulce et Decorum" situation. Captain McKay watched the Land Raider leave the compound with the same skillful driving that brought it in. That unusual Librarian was somewhere inside the mammoth. Quietly, in his native Brodian; instead of the formal Imperial Gothic he had been speaking, he whispered "Well...I'll... be... damned."
He silently watched as Imperial engineers began the process of mining the kill-zone now vacated by the Marine transports. Perhaps after this campaign, he mused, he should learn more about these..."Undying."
'Dulce et Decorum...' by Matt Ragan (C)1999/2010; all Void Phantom characters and concepts are original to Christopher Allen; all Warhammer 40K concepts are trademark and copyright Games Workshop, "Dulce et Decorum Est..." copyright Wilfred Owen and no challenge to those legal copyright holders is intended by their use.