Shell Case Shorts 7 – Winner

Last month’s Shell Case Shorts was all about Steampunk as the prize was a signed copy of Dystopian Wars by Spartan Games. There was some strong entries which just goes to show much passionate the community is about this growing genre. But as ever there can only be one winner, mainly because I only had one prize.

And that winner is James Wilson (@ChairmanAsheth).

Traitor – by James Wilson

Yeoman Wilson leant against the fore turret of the MKII Tribal Class cruiser HMS Aggressive and stared out into the soupy night. The mid watch was not amongst his favorite duties mainly because nothing ever happened. Just a few late night arrivals, usually drunk and rowdy after a days shore leave. This time of year was especially poor for it. The smoggy haze of Plymouth docklands obscured any possible view, not even the dockyard lights were visible, just an ugly, oily yellow haze creeping through the fog. To make matters worse the December chill had him hankering for the warm beef stew he’d packed away below deck earlier that evening. And the dumplings, the thought of them warmed him briefly. Navy cuisine was hardly fine dining but he’d happily chew his way through the gristly scraps that passed for meat if it meant not being out in the cold.

Further along the dockyard raucous singing echoed through the air. He couldn’t make out all the words but he gleaned enough to know it was a typical Navy tune about a woman named Suki from Bangkok and her surprising anatomic abilities. Wilson couldn’t make out any shapes in the fog and the voices and their colourful ditty didn’t appear to be coming any closer so he allowed himself to relax slightly. He jumped as a chorus of bells start to chime across the dockyard. Wilson moved to the ships bell and began to sound the six chimes that marked the third hour of the watch. 3am rang out for anyone foolish enough to be able to hear it, which was mostly the other poor souls on watch like him on their respective ships. Plymouth was all but empty. Normally a thriving military and civilian port space was usually at a premium. But with a big push in the Pacific to deter the Japs from harassing her Majesty’s interests in that region it was all but empty. The Aggressive was only docked here for a few days maintenance, refitting its ailing shield generator. The MKII substituted fire power for the protection afforded by the shield generator and Wilson had been more than happy with that choice on several occasions over the last year.

Wilson was glad of the relative peace and quiet as it meant time away from the front lines, time away from being shot at and time away from tipping his dead friends over the side wrapped in a Britannic flag. The Britannic empire had mobilised like no other point in history and was involved in some of the most brutal engagements. It was not for the faint of heart. They say that a soldier’s life expectancy drops by 20% with each tour of duty. He was only his forth. He and theAggressive had beaten the odds so far but he knew it was only a matter of time. He loved England but not in a chest puffing salute the flag kind of way that the Yanks beheld their upstart nation. He could see little point in the wars breaking out the world over. Wilson had joined the navy as a way to get an education and learn a trade, now he embroiled in a war that he just wanted to survive. He felt no particular hatred or ill will toward his enemies. He had no doubt that most soldiers serving on the other side felt the same way. That they wouldn’t shoot him on sight or vice versa but that was the business of war. Survival was all that mattered.

Wilson paced the polished oak decking, moving port aft towards the gangway. The early morning chill nipped at him as his oppo on this watch, Bob, appeared with a mug of tea in each hand. Bob came from the furthest reaches of the Empire and his real name wasn’t Bob but it was much easier than trying to pronounce his real name. Bob was we well liked through the ship for the most part but Wilson kept his distance, despite having to share a billet. It wasn’t prejudice, Wilson couldn’t care less where Bob was from so long as he did his job. It was just he was too…good. was just… too good. Too nice. Too popular. It made James suspicious which he suspected was more like jealousy. He Headed toward the Foc’sle and called back to Bob,

‘Gonna do a circuit.’

Bob nodded his response from behind his cup, not saying anything as he watched Wilson disappear into the murk. Moving slowly around the deck lost in his own world, Wilson half heartedly checked the mooring lines with a slight kick to each one. As he completed his circuit he noticed a shadow near the gangway. Probably Bob. He Wilson approached he saw the shadow break up into two distinctive shapes. One moved quickly to the gangway and down off the ship, the other remained in place. Wilson moved closer to it to see the familiar form of Bob emerge from the curling fog.

‘What was that about?’ he asked.

Bob shrugged as he moved towards the stern of the vessel, flinging the remainder of his cold tea overboard. ‘Just some drunk. Got the wrong ship.’ He soothed placing one hand protectively in his pocket. Wilson grimaced at the creeping sensation he felt as Bob spoke. He returned his attention to the cup in his hand, now half drained and took a sip. Cold. Typical.

Wilson continued his circuits around the ship, pausing only to hastily smoke half a cigarette despite light and noise discipline being in force, resigned to yet another tedious night until frantic alarm bells started ringing across the base, the alert bells of those ships at anchor quickly adding their voice to the tumult. Wilson rang to follow suit, grabbing the grimey, rigid rope and clanging the clapper against the sound rim with jarring force. He didn’t know what was going on but the base was on high alert. Moments later a deck hand came scrambling up to Wilson and hurriedly informed him that enemy spies had been spotted on the base and anyone attempting to board was to be shot on sight.

***

The next day, when James awoke, the vibrations running through his birth told him the ship was moving at speed. He hauled himself out of his cot, washed and dressed. As he buttoned up his tunic the familiar and foreboding klaxon blared through the ship signifying the beat to quarters.

‘Action stations, action stations, action stations.’ Wilson frantically tugged on his boots as the ship made a sharp turn to port, throwing him into the bulkhead. Cursing the pain and the helmsmen he made for the hatch as another sharp turn knocked him off-balance. Behind him he heard an exclamation as Bob was thrown clear of his bunk, rolled up papers spilling onto the deck below. Wilson instinctively went to help his comrade scooping up one of the rolled up bits of paper. Bob, fully dressed, scrabbled on the floor scooping up the spilled scrolls as they slide across the ship with the yaw of the hull. Stuffing the papers into a battered satchel Bob eyed the on clasped in Wilson’s hands jealously. The two men stared at each other, neither moving, the scroll still in Wilson’s grip.

The distant report of cannon fire and the screech of incoming shells caused Wilson to flinch instinctively. Bob seized his chance, snatched the paper from Wilson’s hands and ran through the hatch. Wilson wanted to chase after the man but his better judgement prevailed. HMS Aggressive’s own guns roared into life, the recoil vibrating through the ship as Wilson grabbed his tool belt and ran through the hatch to take his post.

Running through gangways he squeezed past fellow crewmen on their way to posts throughout the ship. As Wilson took his position with the rest of his damage control team he heard the spitting report of Aggressive’s ack ack batteries turned the sky above it into a death trap, a rasping counter point to the boom of the main guns. Wilson leaned his weight against a bulkhead as the ship pitched heavily to port, at moments like this there was no chatter. A tense silence was the only thing shared between the damage control team, along with the nervous stares. The saying was that the waiting is the worst part. It was said by people who had never served aboard a ship of war in combat. The worst part came next.

Wilson’ hearing was reduced to a high-pitched whistle and he was thrown to the deck as the cruiser took a direct hit. As he pulled himself to unsteady feet he saw water start to floor from the adjoining corridor. The Aggressive had been holed just above the waterline and the swirling ocean was spilling through the gaping wound in her flank.

Move!’ The order snapped the stunned crew out of their shell shock. They moved as one, training leading them to the feeling of rushing air. Rounding a corner they were met with a spray of water as the motion of the ship placed the damage just below the water line. ‘Get that shored up!’ Wilson still couldn’t hear properly but it scarcely mattered, the training was working well. The damage control equipment, such as it was, consisted mostly of wooden wedges, planks and their own mattresses. Wilson hammered a handful of wedges into one of the smaller holes, as the others placed a folded mattress against the largest hole and placed a disc of wood against it before jamming it in place with a wooden beam against the bulkhead. James looked about him and saw Bob passing through the section the bag still clutched in his hands. Abandoning ones post during once action stations had been called was a capital crime. Whatever Bob was up to it must be pretty important to risk a short drop and a sudden stop.

There was a shudder as an enemy shell exploded just metres from the hull jerking the ship to starboard throwing Bob from his feet, hitting his head against a strut, his grab spilling from his grasp. Leaving his team behind him, Wilson closed the distance between the prostrate Bob in moments, scooping up the bag. Injured but not incapacitated Bob whirled from his prone position and caught Wilson’s feet with a sweeping kick, bringing him down hard on deck. The grab burst open spilling files, equipment and photos into the ankle-deep water that now flooded the corridors. Realisation crept into Wilson’s consciousness, it was all too clear what Bob was. Bob was on his feet and looking for a way out but Wilson’s team had seen the exchange and rushed to Wilson’s aide. Another explosion rocked the ship and the damage team stumbled and Bob took his chance, darting through the nearest hatch.

Wilson wanted to go after him but duty overrode his personal desires. A series of bangs signalled the Aggressive’s torpedoes taking to the water and the ack ack batteries opened up once more. The tannoy squawked ordering crews to recovery boats. The small task force had taken losses. Wilson wasn’t surprised, the rest of his team were talking about fleet strength opposition. The Britannians were being taken to pieces. Then the tannoy went again.

‘Brace! Brace! Brace!’ Wilson went cold, they were under rocket attack. Even below decks a faint whistling could be heard over the general din of war and the sound of panicking crew. The hairs on his arms stood on end as the Aggressive’s shield generators flickered to life and a serious of vibrations reverberated through the hull, then the ship lurched as it was struck hard then the world turned white as the magazine exploded. Wilson’ world exploded into fire, heat, blood and pain. He had a sickening sensation of flight then the air was forced from him as he landed on what felt like concrete. He then sank into it. As his body was engulfed by the freezing ocean some coherency was rammed into him but it did no good. He tried to swim but all his energy left him and he stopped struggling. The waves engulfed him. Then he felt rough hands and the sensation of being lifted. Then felt nothing at all.

***

Wilson woke up with a jolt. He was in a hospital bed. God only knew how he got there but he thanked Him all the same for his salvation. Looking around he could see he was in a private room. A small window let in a warm breeze and he could hear the sound of birds singing outside. His arm was in a cast and strapped close to his chest and his head was bandaged.

He tentatively got to his feet, feeling the cool of the floor on his skin. He turned his head, taking in his surroundings causing a sudden wave of pain shot through him as the bailiffs in his head repossessed the energy his body had borrowed. Unable to pay up, his body gave in under him and he collapsed. Crying out, both for help and in pain, he tried to prevent the ground striking him as guards entered the room and rushed to assist him.

Wilson’s pain turned to horror. He quickly redacted his thanks to God as he realised the guards were belonged to the Empire of the Blazing Sun. He tried to fight them but it was futile, his strength quickly leaving him. The guards lifted him back onto the bed and a nurse was summoned. He felt a spreading warmth on his side and realised in his struggle he’d torn some stitches. He lay there paralysed by a cocktail of fear, pain and panic as the nurse entered the room with a trolley. His sense of anxiety rose as he saw a charged syringe. His body refused to act as the nurse swabbed his neck injected him.

A sense of calm swept through him as the sedative took over and he returned to the darkness of his mind, a happy place full of quiet, peace and a complete lack of soldiers. His dreams eventually became fevered and polluted by the leering features of Bob. He had the sense he ought to do something. When Wilson came to days had passed and he’d lost weight. The guards brought him to a mess room where he found there were prisoners from all over the world eating. Most were Britannic. Wilson ignored the rest as they would be of little help or comfort. When he joined the Britannic prisoners they shied away from him. Some stopped eating and asked to be taken back their cells. Wilson was horrified, their bodies looked wasted and broken. He tried to speak to the nearest prisoner. He didn’t look round. None of them would look at him. These prisoners had been treated like unwanted pets. Tolerated. Fed just enough to stay alive and punished ruthlessly for the slightest infraction. Wilson wondered why he had not suffered a similar fate.

As the days passed his strength returned and his wounds healed and all the while Wilson was waiting for the interrogations and gruelling tortures that the Blazing Sun was infamous for. Finally the waiting was over as after his morning meal he was taken to a different part of the detention camp. He was marched down clean brightly lit corridors, guards flanking him every step of the way. He was halted outside an office, the script on the door was unreadable to him but his imagination filled in for his lack of knowledge. One of the soldiers knocked on the door and lead him in.

‘Ah! Yeoman Wilson, welcome.’ The voice had a heavy accent but it was easy enough for Wilson to understand him. ‘You have been made comfortable?’ Wilson nodded, not saying a word. ‘We, of course searched your person when we found you Yeoman Wilson.’ The officer paused and drank a yellow liquid from a small grey cup. ‘You had a number of intriguing items upon your person.’ He opened a draw and began to lay out documents. ‘These papers, specifically, were of great interest.’ Wilson had no idea what he was looking at but they were important enough to have kept him alive. ‘We are gratified you should bring this to us Yeoman Wilson. It seems you intended to defect?’ Wilson’s mind reeled. No wonder the others hadn’t said a word. He’d thought they were broken men. Not so. They thought him a traitor to Queen and Country.

The enormity of it dawned on him. Were he to attempt escape and by some miracle make it home questions would be asked. He would be branded a traitor. He’d be hanged. Wilson’s thoughts came quickly like gunshots, each piercing his soul. The realisation of what had happened shocked him to his core. ‘Did…did you find others near me?’ It was his only bargaining chip. Someone, anyone from the damage control party, someone who had seen what had happened with Bob or whatever he was called would destroy any hope of salvation.

‘You were found floating amongst your…former colleagues, clutching a bag Yeoman Wilson. None was alive but you.’

Nobody would believe he hadn’t betrayed his country now. The thought sickened him. He had no choice but to go along with this officer’s assumption, nnauseating as it was. The officer lit a cigarette, taking a long pull before puffing the smoke into the air.

‘What is it you hope to gain from this Yeoman Wilson? You do not speak Japanese I presume?’ The officer asked clearly not entirely convinced by what had happened or that lowly sailor would want to swap one master’s yoke for another, let alone one where he couldn’t function or even speak to anyone. Wilson’s head, still rushing, went through several possibilities.

‘Peace!’ He said suddenly, truth breaking through the dullness he’d felt since being rescued.

‘I do not follow you Yeoman Wilson.’ The officer took another long drag on his cigarette. Wilson’s brain was cartwheeling through ideas. Being a prisoner was not a good idea, being worked to death had possibilities but it was known that the Empire of the Blazing Sun was not very humanitarian to its own, let alone foreigners. The path of peace was the best he could hope for. To be put somewhere and forgotten. ‘I seek only somewhere to live, away from the fighting, sir.’

Realisation came across the officers face as he pieced together a language he did not fully command. ‘Ah! What is the word for this? …Coward I believe?’ Wilson flinched. A vestige of his sense of honour made its presence felt but he was getting desperate. He needed this officer to believe him, to relent a little. He couldn’t go home, it was too late, too many would suspect him a traitor now, he couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone at home knew already or would find out soon, then he would be hanged. The Japanese would kill him one way or another unless he could pull off the biggest con in history. He couldn’t let this officer think him dishonourable, that was important to these people, to the officer class at least, so far as he could remember. If they found out that this was all an accident he’d be sent to work, tortured to death or just shot as an example to others.

Everything was about survival now. The words flowed from him; ‘No sir. Not coward. Were I a coward I would not have gone to sea. I would not have stayed with my ship. I would not have gathered those items. I would have fled the fighting, not sign up. . Cowards do not go to war. Sir.’ The officer pondered this. Wilson kept up the pace, his conscience quieting down to allow his mind to clear. Tired is the word sir. Tired of fighting. Tired of death. I seek a peaceful life before I die, preferably of old age.’ The officer strolled to his window and looked out. ‘We all seek this Yeoman Wilson. I too am tired of the death. I am inclined to grant your request. Find somewhere quiet to place you. But first,’ he wheeled round to face his prisoner ‘you will speak with me of everything you know about Britannian movements, tactics and procedures.’ The officer motioned to the door. ‘Please, this way.’ Wilson stood and went through to be flanked by his guards. He had no choice. He was already thought a traitor. He didn’t want to die. He would tell them everything. Survival was all that mattered.

Shell Case Shorts 8

August. Who’d have thought I’d manage to keep this competition going this long. It of course wouldn’t be possible were it not for you lovely readers entering and those lovely people donating prizes. And this month’s prize is the tits. It’s nothing less than a signed copy of Dropzone Commander from Hawk Wargames.

This month the entries must be from a science fiction wargame in honour of this top prize. Steampunk isn’t included I’m afraid, sorry.

So what do you have to do to win this rather large slice of awesomeness? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

Short story entries word limit should be 3,000-4,000 words.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Friday 31st August 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Sponsored by

Shell Case Shorts 6 – Winner

I really struggled with June’s entries as this was the first time I’d opened it up to include comic books too which was down to the awesome prize donated by our resident cartoon mentalist Curis of Ninjabread. In the end I settled on a short story by a previous winner, Mr Dave Bartley (@Mephistonag). His story, Rage, once again gets beneath the surface of the 40k fluff and creates a gripping tale.

So without any further flapping of gums, I give you…

Rage

Pre-drop battle prep, a ritual Captain Albus had followed for the past 200 years. The weapons he tended had changed with his rise through the ranks, but the process remained. A solid touchstone to hold to, controlling the battle lust building within.

The armoury buzzed with activity, his retinue working on their weapons and armour, but he paid them no attention, external input closed to him. Mind focused on the preparation for war. The process began with his combat knife, the weapon of last resort save his armoured body itself, the true final weapon of any Astartes. Focus. He returned his mind to the routine.

He examined the blade, searching for imperfections from his recent sparing, seeking out the one he would never remove. The permanent blemish on the blade came from a battle with his most hated foe, one he may have called brother an age ago. Freshly inducted to the assault unit, his company were tasked to eradicate a raiding party of traitor Astartes. For 2 months they chased them form planet to planet, a trail of destruction left in their wake. They finally cornered the last few heretics; both sides aware the chase had ended. The battle rapidly degenerated into a whirling frenzy of close quarters fighting. Bolter and chainsword clashing in a storm of noise, oblivion awaited those whose concentration slipped for just a moment.

He’d found himself locked in combat with a hideous parody of the noble countenance of a Space Marine. Its armour was festooned with dark imagery and icons that hurt the eyes and turned the stomach. The armour’s surface squirmed and shifted, morphing with every thrust. Sword clashed with sword, the traitor had lost an arm; a mass of writhing tentacles sprouted from the sucking wound, lashing out to pull Albus closer. The faces on its armour seeming to reach for him before he broke free, severing tentacles in a shower of foul-smelling ichor, the toxic fluid mixing with the churned ground beneath their feet.

A large explosion tore through the line, the blast causing Albus to stagger, his feet slipping in the blood soaked earth. His suits internal stabilisation systems strained as they attempted to right him before he crashed onto his back, momentarily stunned. The servant of Chaos moved with unnatural speed, leaping onto Albus, pinning him to the ground. Its tentacles ripped his chainsword from his grasp, hurling it aside. With an inhuman wail its helmet split open to reveal an impossibly wide maw lined with row upon row of razor sharp teeth. Its shriek pierced deep into Albus’ soul, tugging at the core of his humanity. The monster’s tentacles began to slither around his neck, tightening steadily, ceramite creaking beneath the tremendous pressure. The traitor continued to stare down at him, his armour starting to crack, unable to withstand the attack.

The weight pressing down on him shifted, the beast was moving, preparing for its killing blow. Albus saw his opening. With a triumphant bellow he smashed an armoured fist into the heretics face, the shriek dying as Albus’ fist broke teeth and shattered bone. Snatching for his combat knife he thrust it deep into the eye socket of the thing’s helmet before it could recover. It rolled off him, its cry now a mix of pain and outrage, any trace of arrogance lost. Its good hand pulled at the hilt, desperate to remove the blade imbedded in its skull. Albus rolled, his hand closing over the hilt of his chainsword. Righting himself he took the traitors head from his shoulders with a single stroke.

That tear in the blade, lodging the knife in the heretic’s eye, had saved his life. The blood pulsed rapidly through Albus’ twin hearts. How had such treachery come to pass those millennia ago? What foul promise had torn the twice damned Horus from the path of righteousness? No matter, he would be stopped, the insurrection ended.

Albus sheaved the knife; turning to his next weapon, the power sword gifted him on his induction into the first company. Appearing to be a standard blade, dull and uninspiring, in its unpowered state. He checked the hilt, marvelling at the minute cables that fed the sword, allowing it to cleave through ceramite like flesh. He inspected the blade closer, words intricately engraved into its surface, his personal requiem. Many of his chapter maintained decorated banners listing their honours; Albus painstakingly etched them into the surface of his sword, the history of his devotion to the emperor blazing on his blade in battle. The intricate task a counter point to the wanton destruction it wrought.

Hefting the sword he marvelled at its balance, light despite its size, seemingly impotent. He let the blade spin in his hand, slicing arcs in the air, satisfied all was in order he returned his inspection to the blade, eye’s blurring, reading the names of the battles on the blade, remembering. Two centuries of slaughter, humans, xenos and heretic. Heretics, the followers of chaos, his mortal enemy, those battles burnt brightest in his memory. What lead his brothers to fall from the light? What perverse mistruth had they been fed? Thrusting his sword into its scabbard, Albus clenched both fists; he wouldn’t stop while the followers of the Warmaster took breath. The rebellion would end, here and now.

His hand reached for his final weapon, a bolt pistol, ornately decorated, master crafted. Passed from company commander to commander, his retinue oath-bound to ensure it was returned to the chapter should he fall. The bone forming the pistol grip was from some forgotten alien race, its surface as firm as the day it had been turned to fit an Astartes hand. With practised ease Albus set the block in the breach, the oiled parts mating perfectly. Hefting the pistol he felt the imbalance caused by the lack of a magazine. He moved to the practise range in the armoury, ramming home a magazine, readying the weapon as he approached the firing line.

The gun heavy without his power armour augmented muscles. He aimed, squeezing the trigger, savouring the explosion that sent the round accelerating towards the target, impacting precisely where he had intended. These practise rounds lacked the explosive tips that ripped targets apart from the inside out. He fired until the clip was spent; satisfied that all was in order, ready to slay the enemy once they made planetfall.

Their target had ceased to pay its tithe some 3 months previous, and astropathic communication had ceased shortly after that. The local system governor had dispatched local troops, but after a brief and garbled message they too had stopped reporting. In desperation the governor had turned to the Inquisition, and shortly after a team from the mysterious Deathwatch had been inserted onto the planet. Their report had been chilling. The existence of a wide-spread cult throughout the planet was grave news. Their last report had indicated that they were set to infiltrate into the heart of the cult. After that only a single word was received; Chaos.

Albus felt his choler rising, his hand gripping the pistol hard, flesh appearing the same white as the bone of the handle. Once again those foul believers of false gods would be his prey. Another stain on the honour of the chapter’s would be eradicated by this strike. He would lead his company into battle with the zeal of a true believer, the deliverer of the Imperial truth.

Though no reports indicated their presence, Albus yearned for the insurrection to be attended by heretical marines. To have another chance to battle against his fallen brothers, bring them to the justice they deserved for the aeons of war their folly had unleashed on the Imperium was a fire that burnt deep in his soul. They would be made to pay.

He hunched down, the noise of battle reverberated throughout the ship, klaxons blaring, barely heard beneath the staccato burst of bolter fire, battle cries echoing as brother battled brother. They had been separated. His hand gripped hard on his pistol, sword blazing its sheaf of blue death bright in the gloom, the lustre of his golden armour dimmed. He must find his father before his brother did, he must linger here no longer.

A cold metallic hand appeared on his shoulder, Albus whirled round, pistol at the ready, the sword mysteriously missing.

“Brother Captain Albus, return to us” Chaplain Ezekius stared placidly into Albus’ eyes, looking deep into his soul. Sergeant Spes stood next to him, his crimson armour bright compared to the flat black of the Chaplains.

“Yes, Brother Chaplain. I was contemplating the battle to come. Focusing my mind” Albus stood firm, letting his arm lower the bolt pistol to his side. He felt himself chill, the fire of his anger cooling in the face of the Chaplain’s stare, taking strength from his stoic demeanour.

“Some wars are not meant for us Albus, fight the battles before you,” Ezekius nodded, seemingly satisfied with what he read in Albus’ eyes, “Time to don your armour Captain, we drop on the hour.” He turned and left the armoury, Spes following a few steps behind. Albus was alone in the armour.

He sat, bolt pistol on his lap. Had he let his control slip? Had he been on the edge of madness? His hatred of the heretics pushing him to a fury from which there was not return? He looked at his ornate battle plate, polished and prepared, ready for him to lead his company into battle, white wings on his shoulders, blood in flight. Battle. Albus retained utterly sure in his skill, and the prowess of his brothers, to carry them before any enemy. Yet one universal truth no longer rang true for Albus.

He knew fear.

Shell Case Shorts 7

This month’s Shell Case Shorts is a little bit special because the prize is not a signed book, but a signed rule book. Those fine chaps at Spartan Games have donated a copy of Dystopian Wars signed by all the development team.

With this in mind, the Shell Case Shorts is going Steampunk. All entries should be based on a Steampunk IP such as Dystopian Wars, Wolsung, Empire of the Dead etc. And, because I’m nice, I’ll even include Warmachine in the mix.

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

Short story entries word limit should not exceed 3,000 words.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Tuesday 31st July 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Sponsored by

The Shell Case Shorts 5 – Winner

May’s Shell Case Shorts entries were of an outstanding quality which made it really tough to choose a winner. However, one had to be chosen and in this case it goes to a long-term reader of The Shell Case and first time entrant to the Shorts; Ian Tovey.

A Warhammer Fantasy story, Ian managed to capture the sheer brutality and mysticism of the Wood Elves without resorting to the usual hack and slash type stories that we’ve all seen a hundred times. Entitled Wildwood, it is by far one of the strongest winning entries to date. Ian will be receiving a signed copy of Faith & Fire by James Swallow.

So without further a do, I give you the winning story.

Wildwood – by Ian Tovey

                                                           

Flies buzzed lazily around the two bodies that sprawled in the dappled sunshine of the forest glade. Captain Schultz stared with contempt at the corpses lying at his feet; spat, to clear his mouth of the taste of fear and death that still lingered about the place and, making a gesture to ward himself against evil, made his way over to where an ashen faced young Ensign leaned against the bole of an ancient oak tree. “Bury them in an unmarked grave”, he growled to a group of halberdiers who stood nervously nearby, “and make it deep enough to deter carrion”.

 

The dull thump of mattocks and the droning buzz of the clouds of flies that had been disturbed by the arrival of the burial party broke the brooding silence that lay over the clearing. Another wave of nausea swept over Captain Schultz and he spat angrily again. Due to the almost criminal stupidity of the expedition’s leadership desertion was becoming rife and he had wanted to capture these two alive and make an example of them, now he felt cheated.

 

“What do you think happened here?” asked the ensign, his voice shaking with barely suppressed fear and revulsion. “Simple enough”, grunted the captain, “they argued about something, probably loot, started fighting and killed one another”, his voice dropped to a barely audible mutter, “At least that’s what I’ll tell the Duke”. The two men fell silent each wrapped in his own thoughts.

 

“Killed each other”, muttered one hard-bitten veteran as he scooped out another shovel full of earth, “in ten years campaigning I’ve fought everything from chaos abominations to orc scum and I’ve never seen a sword spill a man’s guts the way Sigurd’s were”.

“And what about Gunter?” added his companion, “…what’s left of him”.

 

If Shultz, the hard task master trying desperately to hold together the shreds of a rapidly disintegrating army, and his men could only see beyond these maggot ridden carcasses to the two shades condemned to haunt this place of death for eternity, they would know their story in all its horror and perhaps glimpse their own fate and that of all who violate the borders of Athel Loren.

 

***

 

Two days, and still the trees stretched away endlessly on either side. Gunter groaned as the all too familiar shape of a gnarled oak tree, its bark mottled with a distinctive pattern of moss and lichens came into view for the umpteenth time that morning. Two days wasted hacking their way through this miserable Sigmar forsaken forest.

 

Fired with romantic ideas of travel, adventure and all the loot he could carry, Gunter, a peasant farmer’s son from a quiet village in Reikland, had joined a company of archers in the retinue of Count Ulrich von Schloss and now found himself part of an invasion force bound for Bretonnia. The days of easy marches through friendly country side dotted with good inns and all too willing wenches had passed quickly and Gunter had soon found himself facing a rapidly emptying purse. The Count’s reputation for being a miser did not help the situation. “If the parsimonious old sod wants to march us half way across the Empire the least he can do is pay us a decent wage to do it on!”, he was heard to mutter on more than one occasion. The crossing of the high passes in the GreyMountains had been cold, miserable and hard, but worse was to come as the army attempted to cross the forested wastes of Athel Loren. Now thoroughly disillusioned by bad food, poor pay and a total lack of loot, he had been persuaded by an older comrade, Sigurd, a grizzled veteran of numerous campaigns to dessert.

 

“The key to survival”, Sigurd had opined one night as they huddled round their camp fire, “is knowing when to get out. Dead heroes don’t gather loot and the way this campaign is looking to pan out there ain’t going to be any. What say you and me sneak away and head back to civilisation?”  So having slipped between the picket lines one night, the two of them were now trying in vain to find their way through a maze of shifting forest trails back to the mountains and ultimately home.

 

Ahead of them the forest gloom lightened, Gunter and Sigurd moved cautiously as they approached what they were sure was a clearing and fearing some trap or an ambush they inched their way silently through the undergrowth. A sudden shift in the wind’s direction brought them a pleasant surprise as the smell of roasting meat drifted by on the breeze. Gunter found himself salivating  uncontrollably as neither he nor Sigurd had eaten since the night of their desertion and all that that meal had consisted of was a thin barley gruel, and a hunk of rock hard black bread. The combination of starvation and nervous exhaustion proved too much for Gunter and, always the more headstrong of the two, he rushed headlong into the glade. He had just enough time to see a rough stone altar with the remains of a fire and a burned offering on it before a heavy blow to the back of his head laid him low.

 

Gunter came around slowly, wishing that the lights that danced behind his eyelids would leave him alone and that the pounding in his skull would go away. Keeping his eyes firmly shut he waited until the waves of nausea had passed. He soon realised that he was lying on his back and could feel cold, rough stone beneath him. From the sounds around him and the way that the sunlight played across his closed eyelids he guessed that he was lying somewhere out in the open.

 

The bright sunlight, after the forest’s gloom, made Gunter wince as he opened his eyes to discover that he was strapped to the low flat altar stone in the middle of the clearing. To one side of the glade stood a large oak tree, its lower branches festooned with carved wooden votive offerings. The elaborately horned skulls of beastman, orcs, and what appeared to be giant rats lay in crumbling heaps in the long grass amongst its roots. On the ground at the base of the altar stone stood a wide, shallow bowl of beaten gold its rim crusted with what looked like old blood.

 

Fighting back the urge to be sick, Gunter moved his head slightly and saw a tall graceful figure wearing robes in varying shades of green and brown covered by a cloak of leaves; the hood of the cloak was raised and cast a shadow that obscured its features. Hearing Gunter’s gasp as he attempted to move the figure shifted position revealing a face that appeared both young and grave, hansom yet pitiless, framed by flowing locks, the colour of autumn leaves. Grey eyes that were filled with the ancient wisdom of many winters, but cold as flint stared at him with disdain. With a shock Gunter realised that he was looking at a wood elf and one of their mages to boot, a member of a race he had hitherto regarded as being the stuff of old wives tales and rather dubious ale house legends. Shock turned to fear as a further movement revealed that the elf was holding a small, razor-sharp sickle.

 

Seeing that Gunter was now conscious the mage began a lilting chant, his hands etching strange symbols in the air between them as his chanting rose and fell in pitch and intensity. The air hummed and crackled with the build up of magical energy and a corona of amber coloured light began to coalesce around the mage. Gunter watched with fascination as vines and leaves of pure earth magic burst from the ground and twined about the mage’s figure and the altar on which he was lying. Then, with mounting horror, he realised that a sacrifice was being prepared and that he was to be the victim. In vain he struggled against his bonds, the cords cutting deep into his flesh, sending warm trickles of blood sliding down his wrists. Soon his tunic had become a sodden rag that clung to him like a clammy second skin as he sweated with fear. This was no way for a soldier of the Empire to die, he thought, trussed up like a pig ready for the winter slaughtering. His breath was coming in short panicky gasps, “Sigmar save me”, he moaned as the chant continued.

 

The chanting reached its climax and a deep, expectant silence blanketed the glade as the mage swung his arm high above his head, the sickle glittering wickedly at the top of its arc. Gunter held his breath preparing himself for the pain of the coming blow. 

 

There was a low whistle followed by a soft thud. The mage grunted, his body arching over backwards as he fell, the slender shaft of a grey feathered arrow protruding from between his shoulder blades. The sickle slipped from his hand, struck the edge of the altar stone and fell with a ringing clatter. The accumulated magic discharged itself to earth with a loud hiss and an acrid smell that stung Gunter’s nostrils and left the tang of burnt tin in his mouth.

Sigurd appeared at the glade’s edge, bow in hand, a second arrow knocked and ready. Cut free, Gunter sat on the edge of the altar rubbing the life back into his wrists and ankles. “Where the hell did you get to?” he shouted at Sigurd, “that crazy bastard nearly did for me then”. He kicked the inert form hard in the ribs.

 

There was a sharp intake of breath and the mage’s eyes flickered open. He extended an arm, slowly, and pointed, shakily at the two men, a froth of blood bursting from his lips and his breath rasping as he tried to speak. “You have defiled the sanctuary…the earth cries out for vengeance…blood shall answer with blood…may the wrath of the hunter be upon you”.

 

“Shut up you old fool”, snapped Gunter. Sigurd’s knife flashed briefly, blood fountained in a crimson spray and the mage fell silent. A cloud passed across the sun and a chill wind sprang up which blew through the clearing, fluttering the dead elf’s robes. “Let’s get out of here”, muttered Sigurd, wiping the mage’s blood from his face, “this place gives me the creeps”.

 

The day wore on and gradually a soul penetrating feeling of gloom settled over Gunter and Sigurd; soon they began to feel that they were being watched. The forest seemed to be full of eyes that stared at them balefully, hedging them round with malice. Several times during the afternoon they fancied that they could hear the sound of footsteps following them and by nightfall both men were tired and nervous. Any attempt at communication between them had rapidly degenerated into argument and now they had lapsed into paranoid silence. They spent a miserable night watching turn and turn about, too afraid to light a fire for fear of attracting unwelcome attention. Dark shapes flitted between the trees on the edge of vision and the feeling that some hostile will was bearing down upon them grew stronger as the hours of darkness crawled passed.

 

The next day found them deeper in the forest and still no closer to their goal. The trees stretched away in endless ranks in every direction, their trunks resembling the bars of an elaborate cage with no sign of a track or trail through the fallen leaves of numberless years. Their hunger and the feeling of being constantly watched increased with each passing hour. The weather began to grow hot and oppressive; soon they began to feel stifled by the surrounding trees.

 

During the afternoon they flushed a stag that crashed off into the undergrowth, Gunter and Sigurd following in hot pursuit. Despite all their efforts it remained just out of reach until, at last, it became entangled while trying to force its way through a particularly dense patch of bushes. The two men had closed the gap on their prey considerably before it broke free and entered the clearing beyond.

 

Reaching the edge of the glade, Gunter loosed an arrow and the stag appeared to stumble. Whooping with delight Sigurd charged in, his sword held high, ready for the kill. With horrified fascination Gunter watched as the stag skidded to a halt and turned head down, to face it’s would be attacker. A vicious upward thrust of its antlers caught Sigurd in the lower abdomen, lifting him off his feet and sending him spinning backwards across the glade. Snorting with what sounded like satisfaction, the stag turned and walked into the bushes rapidly disappearing into the gloom, there was not a mark on its body.

 

Sigurd, on the other hand, lay in a twisted heap; his arms were flung wide and a look of stupefied surprise was on his old face. His body had been ripped open from groin to sternum spreading his entrails like a bloody ribbon across the trampled grass. Gunter, who had never witnessed anything more violent than the annual pig killing, stood stunned by his comrade’s brutal demise. The bitter taste of bile caught him in the back of his throat and he collapsed retching violently until what little was left in his stomach was gone. Lurching to his feet he stumbled from the glade and made his way blindly through the trees until, minutes, hours, or was it days, later he collapsed with exhaustion.

 

The little rest granted to him that night was disturbed by evil dreams and he tossed and fretted in his sleep. In an effort to gain a little comfort he rolled over and groaned as he found himself standing at the edge of the clearing and saw once again Sigurd’s corpse lying like a dark stain on the moonlight that illuminated the glade. He stood rooted with fear as he realised that Sigurd was moving. Inch by inch the corpse was crawling towards him, its bloody ribbon of entrails slowly extending behind it. With horror he watched as Sigurd’s right hand reached out to touch him.

 

Gunter woke with a violent start to find he was staring into a lightless, inky black void, no stars were visible and there was no moon. Something smooth and cold slithered across his leg. The forest was a silent, waiting and he lay rigid with tension, every nerve as taught as his drawn bow-string.

 

Suddenly the forest leaped out at him in a brilliant contrast of stark whites and deep black shadows as a lightning bolt split the night. He had a brief glimpse of a large snake disappearing into the undergrowth as the tree next to where he lay erupted into a ball of vivid orange flame. Thunder crashed followed immediately by a torrent of rain, which soaked him to the skin in seconds. With that first thunder crash Gunter’s tension broke and he leaped to his feet in blind panic and ran.

 

Blinded by the driving rain, disoriented by the constant crashing of thunder and terrified by what appeared to be faces with nightmarish features which leered down at him from the trees in the lightning flashes Gunter soon lost all sense of direction. His body and clothes were ripped and torn by trailing brambles and overhanging branches and he tripped many times over half hidden roots. Soon he was begrimed and bloody, but still he ran, driven by the basic urge to escape and survive.

 

With his legs beginning to feel like lead and each breath wracking his body with pain, he was on the verge of collapse when the forest opened up around him and he found himself on the edge of what he sensed was a vast, dark space. Could this be the forest’s edge at last? Hope surged in him and he rushed forward. He had covered only a few yards when his foot struck something soft and yielding, he stumbled and fell sobbing to the ground; his hands sank into something cold and clammy and he gagged as the reek of corruption caught the back of his nose. As if by a miracle, the storm ceased and the clouds parted, flooding the area with moonlight. Gunter found Sigurd’s lifeless eyes staring up into his from a bloated and discoloured face, blackened lips were drawn back in a rictus grin revealing the yellowed stumps of his rotten teeth; somehow a string of guts, already crawling with maggots, had looped around his wrists like a grotesque set of manacles. 

 

Choking back a cry of fear, Gunter leaped to his feet and whirled around trying to regain his bearings as panic gripped him, once again.  Small wordless whispers ran through the undergrowth and the bushes at the glade’s edge began to quiver and sway. The volume of the whispering increased by degrees, the movement of the bushes becoming more pronounced as it did so. Gunter’s hand dropped to his side and he drew his sword, gaining a small measure of comfort from the way the blade sang as it left its sheath and the glitter of the moonlight along its edge. The feel of its weight and the solidity of the grip in his hand steadied him somewhat and he shouted his defiance at his unseen foe.

 

The whispering gradually grew to a roar into which was mixed the baying of great hounds and the bushes thrashed wildly so that Gunter seemed to be standing at the centre of a vast whirlpool of noise and motion. Slowly the roaring resolved itself into a single word and the name Kurnous was repeated with a monotonous regularity that numbed his mind. The sound rapidly became a physical presence that battered his senses and he felt what was left of his courage ebbing away as his mind once more began to slide into abject terror. 

 

Mesmerised he stood watching as will-o-the-wisp lights began to bob and weave about the glade or skittered through the long grass and he yelped in pain as one passed between his legs. Reaching down he discovered a tiny dart embedded in the flesh of his right calf. Others followed thick and fast and Gunter quailed under their stinging onslaught. As fast as the attack had started it ceased and the lights retreated to the glade’s edge where they clustered in the bushes or along the branches of trees.

 

Figures began to appear at the edge of the glade as if the shadows of the bushes were taking on solid forms. Tall, lithe figures dressed in various shades of brown and green their pale skin and hair gleaming fitfully in the moonlight; spiky haired figures that moved with a languid grace that failed to mask a barely suppressed violence, their semi naked bodies looped and whorled with intricate tattoos; supple limbed, dark-skinned creatures that looked like a nightmare amalgam of women and vegetation. All had eyes that glittered like remote starlight. 

 

The soft thump of a heavy footfall followed by a deep bark of laughter came from behind him and he span around. At the edge of the clearing stood a figure, twice Gunter’s height, head thrown back and arms flung wide in triumph. From the waist up he resembled a powerfully built man; rainwater ran in silver rivulets down his naked torso, the skin of which had the green tint of new spring leaves. Below the waist his heavily muscled thighs and legs were covered in reddish-brown hair and ended in large hooves. Gold bracelets in serpent form entwined his arms from elbow to shoulder and a heavy gold torque circled his throat. In his right hand he carried a heavy spear with a massive bronze head; over his left shoulder was a bright green baldric from which hung a huge silver bound auroch’s horn. His arms dropped to his sides and he lowered his head slowly; from his brows grew a huge pair of stag’s antlers. Gunter found himself staring into a pair of eyes that burned like coals in the heart of a fire pit and bored into the very core of his being. The feeling of malevolence and raw hostility was overwhelming.

 

A bead of cold sweat trickled between Gunter’s shoulder blades and he shivered with fear. Terror had robbed him of the power of movement and he stood stricken like a dumb beast, whimpering as Orion, King in the wood, hoofed and antlered like a royal stag and terrible in his aspect of Kurnous, leader of the wild hunt, crossed the space between them in a couple of strides, at his heels loped a pair of enormous, grey wolf hounds. There was an animal grace in Kurnous’s step, his muscles rippled powerfully beneath his rain washed skin and the air was thick with the overpowering smell of musk. Stopping a few paces from Gunter he extended his left arm in a beckoning gesture, “I have been awoken from my long sleep and am come”, he hissed in a thin menacing whisper, “the blood debt is now due”. Gunter felt the last vestiges of his sanity snap and slip away. A finger with a nail like a steel talon touched him at the angle of his jaw and a feeling that burned like ice spread through his throat choking off the few sounds he was still capable of making. Losing all control of his body, Gunter soiled himself; his sword slipped from his nerveless fingers and stood quivering in the earth at his feet…

 

***

 

Death had profaned the sacred grove where the mage was murdered and the oak tree now stood stripped of its offerings, save one. From the lowest branch; its face an agonised mask of pain and terror, hung Gunter’s severed head.

The Shell Case Shorts 6

Half way through the greatest short story competition in the wargaming world! Who’d have thought it?

This month I’m mixing it up again giving entrants two ways of participating. June’s criteria are a wargaming IP (as always), it can be anything you like; Fantasy, Steampunk, Sci-fi, you name it. And you’ve got the choice of writing fiction or doing a comic strip.

The reason for this momentary shift is entirely down to the awesome person who has donated this months prize and the awesome prize itself.

I refer to the community’s very own Chris Webb, aka @Curis and his awesome compilation of comic strips Punishment of the Dice Gods.
You can visit Curis’ website here.

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

For short story entries word limit is up to 2,000 words.

For comic book entries it should exceed no more than a DPS (2 pages of A4 or single A3, whichever).

All entries must be received by midnight Saturday 30th June 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document (prose) or PDF (comic strip) attached to an email to phil@theshellcase.com

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

A Contribution to the Shell Case Shorts

I’ve been thinking about adding a short story of my own to the Shell Case Shorts anthology when it’s released in January. A little indulgence on my part but hopefully the illustrious winners won’t begrudge me.

As I can’t enter my own competition I thought, as a compromise, I’d turn the decision as to which IP I write about over to you, the wargaming community.

So, make your choice in the poll below and I will abide by the majority vote:

The Shell Case Shorts 4 – Honourable Mention

The third post for the Shell Case Shorts 4 is for the honourable mention. This entry was by no means poor or a poor second, it was just pipped at the post. The entry belongs to none other than Lee of The Chaps. Having lovingly built his loyalist Emperor’s Children he used the Shell Case Shorts 4 as an excuse to put down the background he’d always carried around in his head. I think you’ll agree that it’s a good entry. The only thing that stopped it from hitting a top spot was its reliance on existing canon rather than a straight up new chapter. But still very good. And he’ll still receive a signed copy of Back from the Dead by Nick Kyme.

So I give you the honourable mention – Loyalist Emperor’s Children

HISTORY

The Emperors Children are known as a Traitor Legion, forever tainted by the moment of weakness displayed by their Primarch, Fulgrim.

When the galaxy stood on brink of achieving the Emperor’s grand vision, instead the most grievous betrayal in the history of humanity was allowed to be realised. Doubts had been raised over Horus’ actions and Fulgrim was had been warned of Horus turning against the Emperor by the Eldar Farseer, Eldrad Ulthuan, during an ill-fated meeting on an Eldar Maiden world, although by this time it was too late.  The daemon bound within a sword he had captured during the Cleansing of Laeran had been fighting for control over his soul and Fulgrim was close to completely falling under its sway. The meeting descended into bloodshed between the escorts of Eldrad and Fulgrim, the Emperor’s Children fortunate to escape the planet with their lives. Fulgrim killed the wraithlord, Khirean Goldhelm, before reinforcements emerged from the Warp Gate Eldrad has chosen as the setting for his greeting.  Forced to kill an Avatar with his bare hands, Fulgrim suffered severe burns but enabled he and his captains to escape the surface.  After these events, Fulgrim met with Horus for answers to the questions over his intent, but rather than hold true to his faith, he put the friendship he shared with his Warmaster before his duty to the Emperor and condemned his legion to bear the stain of the traitor.

After Fulgrim had been convinced by Horus to turn from the Emperors light, it took little effort for him to subvert his senior commanders to follow his lead.  The corruption spread throughout the Legion, Captain to Sergeant, Sergeant to Marine, the once proud warriors sliding inexorably into damnation. The pride they held in their perfection too strong to relinquish its grasp on their actions, their arrogance blinding them to their fate.

Not all followed this change in character so readily, but whereas some voiced their opinions, others judged that to show dissent was to invite unwanted attention. Captains Solomon Demeter and Saul Tarvitz of the 2nd and 10th Companies respectively, were the most senior individuals known to have resisted the taint along with scant few others scattered amongst the Legion.  Lord Commander Vespasian had tried in vain to reason with Fulgrim over the Legions fall from grace but was killed for his efforts by the Primarch under the influence of the daemon bound sword he now favoured over the ‘Fireblade’, crafted for him by his closest brother, Ferrus Manus, Primarch of the Iron Hands.  Fulgrim would come to slay Ferrus with this weapon in the Battle of Isstvan V.

When the first of the Traitor Legions comprising of Horus’ Lunar Wolves, Angron’s World Eaters, Mortarion’s Death Guard and Fulgrim’s Emperors Children gathered together at the now infamous Isstvan system, they enacted a plan to purge all those who had not yet given themselves over to Horus’ designs.  Under the pre-tense of removing the planetary governor who had revolted against the Imperium, the four legions arranged for all those whose loyalties could not be counted on to make planet fall on the Capital of Isstvan III, Choral City, in a drop pod assault. Lines of communication were severed and the planet then virus bombed from orbit, annihilating the 12 billion inhabitants and resulting in a psychic death scream so powerful it overshadowed the Astronomican.  Those loyal marines planet side would have surely shared that fate had Captain Tarvitz, not escaped the fleet in a Thunderhawk and carried warning, giving precious little time to find suitable cover in bunkers and other fortifications. Many were unable to find shelter before the bombs fell and were engulfed in the ensuing fire storm that scoured the planet of life.  Captain Tarvitz was supposed to be present on the surface having irked the Primarch on many occasions with his actions, but sensing something was amiss, had managed to remain with the fleet.

Once it emerged that not all the Loyalist forces had been destroyed by the virus bombs, Angron launched an immediate assault with his World Eaters. This forced Hours’ hand into sending detachments from all the Traitor Legions in a show of force to ensure the demise of the Loyalists.  Despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered, the Loyalists managed to organise themselves into a cohesive force and mounted a ferocious defence in the ruins of Choral City. Under the command of a hand full of Captains from the various Legions, including Captain Tarvitz, the Loyalists held out for three months and inflicted massive casualties on the Traitor Legions.  Eventually defeated through yet more betrayal and an orbital bombardment of the city, the victorious traitors then began the systematic extermination of all loyalist survivors hiding in the ruins.

Horus could now count on the absolute fealty of every soldier within his core Legions but it wasn’t without its price.  The ruins of the capital had been turned into a city of death by the staunch Loyalists, the dead and dying covered every corner of the once beautiful gardens and promenades, only to be smashed to atoms under the massive batteries of the Traitor Fleet. The many casualties sustained represented a significant proportion of the forces at Horus’ disposal and ultimate victory over the Emperor was no longer assured.

This is where the story should have ended for those that upheld the honour of the Emperors Children, hunted to extinction by their former friends and brothers.  Yet somehow a scattered few emerged from the ruins of the city, a few of the bunkers having withstood the terrible pounding inflicted on the surface above. Despite their best efforts in leaving nothing alive on Isstvan III, Horus and his fleet were forced to proceed with the next stage in his plan and departed for Isstvan V, allowing the few remaining Loyalists to escape their attentions.  Gradually the prolonged silence encouraged them to break cover and they could no longer see the fleet in stationary orbit above the ruined planet. Evaluating their situation stranded on a ruined planet, who knew how long it would be before they would be found, and even then, how would they be viewed. Banding together for support with most seriously wounded, they had little to do but wait for either death or salvation.

It was only some years later when the Imperium had began picking up the pieces of a galaxy shattered by the conflict did vessels begin to return to the Isstvan system and investigate the events that lead to the Heresy. It did not take long to detect the faint signs of life clustered amongst the devastation of Choral City.  The wreckage of several Legions lay twisted within the ruins and this had provided the Loyalists enough materials and supplies to endure the passing years. The few score of survivors were rounded up and treated with the utmost suspicion before being handed over to the now established Inquisition.  Subjected to many years of interrogations, tests and trials, the Inquisition could find no proof that the taint was endemic to their Geneseed and deemed that the Emperors Children were instead led into damnation by Fulgrim and his Commanders.

The Emperors Children pleaded with their interrogators to be given the opportunity to redeem their honour by fighting for the Imperium once more and help chase down their traitorous former comrades into the Eye of Terror.  Deliberations were lengthy and difficult, with many wishing for an end to their name. The fact that one of the founding members of the Inquisition was none other than Captain Nathaniel Garro, a former member of the Death Guard Traitor Legion who had escaped the Scouring of Isstvan III himself, appeared to carry their argument and stay the executioner’s hand.

Granted their wish, the Loyalist Emperors Children, as they were now officially known, were tasked with helping the Inquisition to locate the planet Fulgrim was thought to have retreated to within the Eye of Terror. After achieving Daemonhood, his chosen world is now twisted into an almost alien realm of indulgence and excess which both the Inquisition and Traitor alike have sought for the last 10,000 years.  They weren’t given free reign by any means, instead attached to a force of Grey Knights operating within the Eye.  Seen as expendable, they were used to absorb casualties and divert the enemy, enabling the Grey Knights limited numbers to carry out their most crucial of missions, while sparing them from the full horror of a Daemonic incursion and the risk of corruption – the life of a single Grey Knight viewed as being infinitely more valuable than that of a former Traitor Legionnaire. As almost all those who come into contact with the Grey Knights either have their minds wiped or do not live beyond the encounter, word of a force of Emperors Children still operating in pre-Heresy livery and their exploits has not spread beyond the Inquisition  – any suggestion of a sighting reported as a case of mistaken identity.

RECRUITMENT

Whether by design or accident, their role with the Grey Knights has meant that the now ‘Chapter’ has struggled to grow in number.  Barely a company could be scraped together when they were first given the Battle Barge ‘Forlorn Hope’ as their new base of operations and attached to the Grey Knights, and in the long millenia since have only managed to double that number.  The attrition of endless conflict and downright brutality of the engagements has meant for painfully slow progress. The marines themselves bear terrible wounds from the many battles, almost all having at least some body part augmented or completely replaced by bionics in order to speed their recovery and sent back into the fray.

The Chapter is longer responsible for its own Geneseed and recruitment, the Inquisition do not yet trust them fully and prefer to retain as much control as possible. Recruits are delivered directly and without information on their origins – their minds wiped to ensure secrecy.  Rumours circulate that in lieu of their destroyed home world they derive from Terra itself, as it was for the original Legion before the Heresy, but none could ever be sure. Apothecaries are worryingly absent from their formations, those marines suffering serious injury must trust in their brothers to succeed before being recovered for treatment.  Those that pay the ultimate price are stripped of their equipment and taken by the Inquisition for Geneseed recovery. Nothing is known of these events and no communication forthcoming, their brothers can only hope the fallen receive the honour they deserve.

Whether the Inquisition will one day loosen the grip they keep over them is unknown, but it will be many more years before the possibility would even be considered.  Perhaps one day they may even be granted a home world of their own to replace Chemos, which was destroyed by the Inquisition and placed under quarantine following the end of the Heresy, its location unknown to anyone outside the Ordos.

COMBAT DOCTRINE

They Loyalist Emperors Children possess precious little in the way of heavy armour despite the forges on the ‘Forlorn Hope’ working day and night to constantly repair the non-stop procession of damaged vehicles cycling through the workshops. However, the Chapter is one of the few who retain the knowledge of building Dreadnoughts. This combined with the endless casualties the Chapter sustains giving ample candidates for internment, has lead to the Emperors Children fielding more Dreadnoughts than most other Chapters, despite their relatively small size. Of those currently active, some are truly ancient and have witnessed death on a scale unimaginable.  These do not enjoy the long slumbers as is traditional for such heroes, they are relied upon time and again to bolster the lines with their formidable abilities and serve as the spear heads for the rest to follow.  One such Dreadnought, Rylanor, was pulled from the rubble of Choral City some 700 years after the conflict ended.  Almost shorn into two when a towering spire had collapsed upon him, his life support had gone into a mode of extended shutdown, but was somehow still functioning when his battered purple sarcophagus was unearthed from the tonnes of rubble that had buried him.  After he was repaired and slowly awakened from his state, he was informed of the events that had taken place during the Heresy. On hearing of Fulgrim’s decent into depravity and the Emperors grievous wounding at the hands of Horus, he flew into a terrible rage, destroying anything he could, believing it all to be tainted with their deeds.  Most feared he would not be able to continue in his service so terrible was his anger, but gradually he began to acknowledge what his new brothers were endeavouring to achieve.  He is now a common sight on the battlefields graced by the Emperors Children, his timeless rage unleashed upon his enemies, he show’s no mercy in his prosecution of the Emperors will.

Pre-Heresy, the Emperors Children were strict adherents to approved combat doctrine. They put much effort into preparation and used templates for each combat situation, detailing the appropriate use of available forces to overcome the enemy.  The Chapter has now had to radically change its tactical philosophy, primarily due to the equipment and manpower restraints it currently operates under. Their formations are now focussed around bringing about large concentrations fire at close range. Tactical squads are mounted in lightly armoured Rhino’s and Razorbacks which deploy them swiftly into cover, supported by their advancing Dreadnoughts. Landspeeder’s and Assault marines provide fast moving flanking forces to keep the enemy off balance while an endless wave of fire keeps them pinned in place. Having not forgotten the lessons learnt in the ruins of Choral City, they excel in defence and possess a vast wealth of strategic and tactical knowledge.  The bare handful of marines who manage to keep themselves free of any augmentation either through supreme ability or divine fate are formed into units of elite Honour Guard who accompany the current Chapter Master into battle, although only in the most dire of circumstances,  their numbers being few to point of extinction . The rank of Chapter Master is merely an honorary title held by the most senior Captain, as there is no need for such a position when the amount of warriors to lead is so few. In truth, a Master of the Forge is just as likely to put in command as his abilities in repairing bionic components and tending to the many Dreadnoughts are of great importance to the Chapters survival.

NOTABLE ENGAGEMENTS

The cleansing of Laeran should have a victory remembered by all the Imperium as a monument to the marines fighting ability.  The Administratum on Terra had feared the technologically advanced Laer would take over 10 years to be brought to compliance and even suggested the xenos be made a protectorate of Imperium to spare the resources necessary to bring about their defeat.  Fulgrim was disgusted by this opinion, and he and the Emperors Children set about cleansing the entire planet in only a month. Laeran consisted of many atolls floating above an ocean that covered the entire surface of the planet, their altitude maintained by mysterious energy columns.  Bridge heads were established by assault forces and then used as staging posts for defeating the next platform in quick succession.  On finding a temple at the heart of the atoll deemed as the focus of their civilisation, Fulgrim recovered a shimmering silver blade.  Unbeknownst to him, it contained the bound essence of a Daemon Price and the Laer temple was dedicated to Slaanesh, corrupting everyone who entered it without their knowledge.  With the sword now in the possession of Fulgrim, it began to whisper thoughts to him, masquerading as his conscience and manipulating his decisions.  In so doing, it engineered his siding with Horus over the Emperor, a fact Horus himself was ignorant of until he met with Fulgrim after the Battle of Isstvan V and was presented with the head of Ferrus Manus as a gift.

As a species, the Laer combined a serpentine lower body with four arms on an armoured torso, and an insect like head with large multifaceted eyes. They wielded a pair of swords in their arms which easily defeated a marine’s armour, as did the energy gauntlets on the second set of limbs.  These gauntlets spat a green energy which no protection was proof against, and combined with the creature’s tremendous speed, reaped a terrible toll upon the Astartes.  At the end of the war, 700 Emperors Children had lost their lives and over 4,000 had been admitted as casualties, in exchange for the entire Laer species.

As for the silver sword, devoid of the entity which now resided with him, Fulgrim gifted it to Lucius, former Captain of the 13th Company following the events on Isstvan V.  He is now known to be the Slaaneshi Champion, Lucius the Eternal.

Since their attachment to the Grey Knights, all records of their exploits within the Eye of Terror are sealed under order of the Inquisition.

MISSION

It was one of the greatest tragedies of the Heresy that the Emperors Children succumbed to Slaanesh. During their founding, an unexplained accident led to almost all of their Geneseed being destroyed and so they began their service with barely 200 marines to call to arms. The Emperor bestowed upon them his name and gave them his symbol of the Imperial Eagle to wear on their armour – the only Legion given this highest of honours. And so they dedicated every victory, every glory to his name.  They strove for perfection in every aspect of warfare in order to serve him better, none could claim to be more devoted to the Emperor than they. The brothers who now make up the Chapter’s 200 or so able marines are fully aware of their history and see themselves in a similar position as those first courageous crusaders. Each battle brother still strives for perfection in his duties, but it is without the taint of arrogance displayed by their forbears.  They hope that by achieving this they can progress as a Chapter, increase their numbers and one day take their place amongst the other Chapters as true defenders of the Imperium.  They fight on to reclaim the name of their Chapter from those who have kept it as an insult to its honour. Fate has not been kind but still they toil, never allowing doubt in their cause to enter their thoughts.

The Shell Case Short 4 – Winner 2

The second winner is David Bartley (@mephistonag ) for his outstanding piece on the history of the Falkland Island Squadron of the Britannian Navy from Dystopian Wars. Just to be clear David is not 2nd but an equal and worthy winner alongside Chris. David will be receiving his signed copy of Salamander by Nick Kyme very soon.

An extract from:-  A review of the Kingdom of Britannia Naval Armada, 1870 by Charles Aubrey.

The Falkland Island Squadron

HISTORY

Little did Her Majesty’s government realise how important the decision to colonise the remote and windswept Falkland Islands was to become in later years. The ever-growing need for resources highlighted the need for a deep water port in the South Atlantic, and the Falkland Islands were the perfect choice. Captain James Onslow and the cruiser Clio were ordered to restate the Britannia claim to the islands, and evict any illegal colonies they found. They soon displaced a settlement founded by the United Provinces of the River Plate and set about surveying the islands for both military and civilian use.

Onslow rapidly determined that the best military real estate would be the coasts either side of Falkland Sound. With the deep water of the sound allowing for even the largest of vessels a safe protected anchorage.  Turning San Carlos bay into a fully functional naval base would be a trivial taks for her majesties engineers. As more ships and workers began to arrive Onslow was ordered to oversee both the establishment of a base ashore, and to survey the islands in as much detail as he was able. By the middle of the year the first buildings had been erected and a functional port created at San Carlos.

Civilian prospectors were sent to survey the islands and they reported little of real importance on the islands itself, however as a hub of both fishing and seal hunting the islands would be of use. To this end they were directed to plan for the establishment of a colony on the islands and selected the Berkley Sound area as the most suitable. In 1831 they began initial work on the settlement of Port Stanley on the eastern most coast of the islands. By 1835 the town and port were established and the first Governor was able to take seat in Government House.

The military had not been idle during these years. Port San Carlos was now a fully developed permanent naval base, with a port capable of servicing ships as large as battleships. The permanent garrison was made up of a small contingent of the Land Armada, name Naval Party 8901, drawn from the contingents of ships docked for repair at the time. With most of Britannia’s military resources engaged in operations in other theatres, the threat to the islands was judged to be too low to require further resources.

When the then Federated States expanded its sphere of influence by annexing Mexico the Britannia government began to realise the true strategic nature of its colony in the South Atlantic. Bills were quickly passed in parliament and the admiralty ordered to raise a standing force in the Falkland Islands, formally named the Falkland Island Squadron (FIS). This force was to include a permanent company of soldiers from the 34th Sheffield (Sea) Regiment to form Naval Party 8901, a squadron of attack and fighter aircraft from the Air Armada, and a small force of frigates and cruisers from the Navy. This was in place by late 1839, under the command of Commodore Wynstanley, whose permanent headquarters were established at Port San Carlos.

Wynstanley saw that the current dispositions of forces on the island would never be sufficient should the US ever push further south and begin to harass British holdings to the south of the continent. Lacking both the resources, military and financial backing after the establishment of the permanent base, he set about the task of preparing the ground work for expansion of both San Carlos and potential bases on West Falkland. Using the cover of manoeuvres and exercises by both land and air armada large areas around Port Howard and Fox bay were bombed and assaulted repeatedly, leaving them suitably disrupted that the engineers had little trouble moving in and clearing the land ready for future exploitation.  By the time Wynstanley was recalled from his command in shame, he had done much to prepare the Islands for their future crucial role. However the admiralty considered his wanton use of valuable ordinance needed elsewhere on manoeuvres in a passive province to be both wasteful and underhand. He was never placed in a position of command again and retired a year later from the service.

When Lord Sturgeon arrived at Port Stanley in late 1844, to take on final provisions before embarking on his historic expedition, little was thought of the endeavour that would forever change our world. Backed by all nations no military escort of the ships was allowed and they passed beyond patrol boarders of the Falkland Island Squadrons into the frozen wastes of Antarctica. The few that had ventured onto that vast continent spoke of ice and rock as far as they could see, with little cover to the constant shifting weather. In truth no one on the Islands ever expected to see any of the explorers again when they left Port Stanley. How wrong they were.

The next 12 years were a prosperous time for the Falkland Islands. As the exploration and expansion of the frontier settlements took hold on Antarctica, more and more ships and people passed through the island. Port Stanley grew in size and stature as the money these travellers brought was invested in the Island. Despite its rugged and harsh environment, familiar at once to any inhabitant of Exmoor or the Scottish Highlands, the island was a green and fertile land compared to the harsh conditions of those early years of the expedition. Many workers came to the island to rest and recuperate, spending even more as they did. The FIS during this time did not enjoy such a similar rise to prominence. The posting as Officer commanding was never seen as a career enhancing one, and a string of competent, yet uninspiring, commanders followed in the wake of Wynstanley. Many times the ships and crews sent south were both on the verge of retirement, and many saw their tour as one that had to be endured, spending as much time as possible enduring it in the pleasures that Port Stanley had grown to provide.

The shockwave of Lord Sturgeon’s announcement of the formation of the Covenant of Antarctica was felt as keenly in Port Stanley as it was in the corridors of power back in London. Many feared that a war would be declared and they would become the focus of any reprisals by the newly created nation. The inhabitants of the Falklands knew full well that the innovations that had been released to the world were only the tip of the iceberg as to what could be lurking in the depths of the mythical Vault. While many of the rumours and tales that had escaped the frozen outpost sounded too fanciful even for the amazing modern world we live in some had more than a grain of truth in them. The Britannia government, after much bluster and rhetoric from the back benches, eventually came to realise that a military response was not an option, and dispatched an Ambassador to the Covenant, thereby formally recognising its legitimacy as an independent nation. To not do so was consider too large a risk, without the technological marvels that the scientist had let out into the world over the previous decase the Kingdom would run the risk of other nations gaining an unacceptable advantage.

While her majesty’s government was forced to accept this turn of events, the admiralty turned its thoughts to what would be required if war was ever declared on this new world power.  It was quickly realised that the prominence and capabilities of the FIS and its bases on the islands had to be reviewed and increased with all alacrity. To this end Admiral Shaftsbury was dispatched to assume command of the FIS, the first officer of flag rank ever to hold the post, and indicating to all in the service that the FIS was no longer to be viewed as a second-rate arm of the Naval Armada. Shaftsbury at first appeared as an odd choice to a public demanding the turncoat Sturgeon be taken to task. His commands at sea had been uninspiring. He had not been involved in any major actions, his career one of steady promotion without the headline catching prominence of more hawkish colleagues.

While Shaftsbury may not have been the ideal candidate to launch an invasion of the Antarctic, he was the perfect man to plan and organise the build up of forces in the FIS, and the infrastructure needed to support them. When his flag was raised at his HQ in San Carlos in 1858 he quickly came to realise what a god send the ground work that Wynstanley had covertly laid was. With two areas all ready cleared, effectively ready for the construction,  plans for 2 permanent bases could be put into action immediately. With a new commander came a new flagship, and for the first time ever a battleship was permanently part of the FIS. Its arrival was to highlight that even the naval base at San Carlos would require a massive overhaul to bring it up to the standard to maintain and support the modern fleet that the FIS would have to become.

Admiral Shaftsbury spent an unprecedented period of 10 years as the commander of the FIS. During this time the area either side of Falkland sound was changed beyond recognition. He oversaw the construction of permanent bases for the Air Armada and Land forces assigned to the FIS, with additional staging areas built and provisioned should either need to be enlarged for operations in the South Atlantic. The port facilities were also been massively upgraded in both size and capability. Capable of handling even the brutish Majesty class dreadnoughts and Avenger fleet carriers separate and secret facilities were constructed to support the Vanguard submarines coming into service with the fleet.

As the facilities grew so did the compliment of ships and personnel assigned to the FIS.  No longer were obsolete ships assigned with each new class of ship finding its way south early in their lives with the Navy. Shaftsbury’s insistence on this was founded that the conditions found in the seas around Antarctica were unlike any other, and ships designed and tested to operate in the North Atlantic may prove unserviceable in the endless southern ocean.  It is a great credit to the ingenuity and skill of the ship building engineers of Britannia that no class of ship has ever proven to be unsuited to deployment in the southern ocean.

During the 10 years of growth no major engagements between ships occurred despite the FIS beginning to actively patrol Britannia’s territorial waters around the Falklands, and further afield into international waters. It was not until 1865 that ships bearing the flag of the Covenant were encountered in international waters, and began making visits to Port Stanley. Tensions continued to rise as ships of both fleets encountered each other more frequently out in open waters.

It was not until November 1868 that ships from the FIS and Covenant exchanged fire. The cruiser Lion was on patrol with the frigates Undaunted and Endymoin in international waters off the coast of Antarctica. A ship roughly the size of a cruiser, but of an unknown design, was observed approaching rapidly. The ship hailed the FIS squadron and claimed they were sailing in Covenant waters and demand they depart North at full speed. Captain Bellows replied that he was sailing legally in international waters and the ship should change course or he would have no choice but to declare it as hostile, and take action as his orders dictated. The Covenant vessel refused to change course, and for reasons that are to this day hotly debated, Bellows gave the order to launch a full spread of torpedoes from his foreword tubes while he began to manoeuvre his ships into position to finish the task. The battle was brief and somewhat one-sided with the Covenant ship sunk after inflicting minor damage to Lion and Undaunted. Diplomatic exchanges following this incident were long and heated. After some months, where war seemed a distinct possibility a treaty was agreed and territorial waters surrounding both the Falkland Islands and Covenant of Antarctica were agreed. No warships of either side would enter the others waters without prior agreement and escort. Trade between the Covenant and Falkland Islands were resumed, much to the relief of the civilians on the island who had began to feel the financial pinch of the isolation.

The political fallout of this engagement was felt far and wide within both the government and admiralty. It became obvious that Captain Bellows felt he was operating under clear orders that he was able to defend his ship against any threat with deadly force. However no such standing orders could be found to cover the FIS. Indeed the existence of the Covenant was not acknowledged in the standing orders. While Shaftsbury was the perfect commander to oversee the building of the fleet, it quickly became apparent that his focus had remained on planning and logistics, and that the FIS was operating under the rules of engagement that had existed over a decade ago. It was time that a greater military mind was in command lest such encounters between ships become common and escalated out of control of either government.

The appointment of the current Commanding officer, Admiral Moorhouse, in March 1869 was to cause much muttering and disquiet within the admiralty. On paper he does indeed look to be an odd choice to command such a vital part of the naval armada. Many point to his limited experience in command of capital class vessels. Indeed, Moorhouse has only one command of such a ship, the battleship Resolution of the Mediterranean fleet. Moorhouse has spent most of his career working in the silent service, the submarine arm of the naval armada. His previous appointment was a commander of submarines for the Mediterranean fleet and many expected him to assume this post within the home fleet. He is widely acknowledged as the foremost expert in submersible operations. At the end of his first full year in command all those that have visited the Falklands and seen the men and ships of the FIS operate have reported favourable on them. Admiral Moorhouse has replaced the old rules of engagement with ones suitable to the conditions that now prevail in the South Atlantic. Not only is the growth of military prowess of the Covenant a concern, but the purchase of land in Argentina by the Empire of the blazing sun, and the resultant military build up have once again proved the worth of this small outpost of the empire to all in the home island.

THE FLEET

The modern FIS is, in truth, as powerful and capable as any of the other fleets in the Naval Armada. Many in the admiralty have lobbied to change the name to reflect the military power of the command, yet this has been resisted largely on political grounds. Many feel that to formally acknowledge the military build up in the Falkland Islands could cause protests from the Covenant’s government and whatever the military reality the ability to pass the formation off as a mere squadron is politically expedient.

Admiral Moorhouse’s flagship is currently the Majesty class dreadnought Howe. Though he spends more time ashore Moorhouse’s ship is rarely in port. It is often out in the ocean undergoing exercises at both ship and squadron level as command of Alpha squadron. The ruler class battleship Conqueror is the lead ship for Bravo squadron. While the two squadrons are permanent structures ships within the fleet are assigned as required, with ships moving between the two often. Such a flexible arrangement is a foreign concept to most commanders, but Admiral Moorhouse quickly came to realise that both the remote location, and harshness of conditions found in the South Atlantic required such measures. Ships require far more maintenance in these unforgiving conditions and as such spend more time in port, on average, than any others in the Britannia navy.

The surface compliment is made up of 6 Tribal class cruisers, 6 Orion class destroyers, 12 Attack class frigates and 12 Bastion class escorts. The avenger class fleet carrier Hermes is nominally attached to the fleet. However it rarely operates with the fleet in the waters between the islands and Antarctica. The sea conditions commonly found there have made flight operations off its deck impossible much of the time and it is normally found patrolling the area to the north, escorting ships being sold to the Socialist Union of South America into their ports.

The one real anomaly with the FIS is that a larger than expected number of Vanguard class submarines operate as part of the fleet. While the exact number was not revealed to the author it can be assumed that there are more than 10 available to Admiral Moorhouse at any given time. While at first it may seem ridiculous to have so many of these valuable ships assigned to one fleet further consideration makes their deployment a master stroke of planning on Moorhouse’s part. These ships can operate for long periods without the need to surface, and are therefore not subjected to the harsh sea conditions that the surface ships have to endure. There rugged hulls designed to smash opponents hulls in too are equally suitable for dealing with the ice flows found around the border waters between Britannia and Covenant territory.  One must also consider the potential for a submarine to go places undiscovered and undertake operations that other ships just could not. In these uncertain times we live in the author takes comfort that such ships are out in the South Atlantic, learning all they can of the abilities of the Covenant forces. Without their brave crews and commander the world would indeed be a much more dangerous place.

In summary the Falkland Island Squadron has grown rapidly in both power and prominence since its inception in 1839. It is impossible to believe that it will ever again be left to drift as it did in its early years. What threat to the sovereignty of Britannia the Covenant of Antarctica may ultimately prove will become known over the coming years. That there will be conflict between the fleets in the South Atlantic seems increasingly likely, and the appearance of Empire of the blazing suns fleet assets of the coast of Argentina will only further inflame the situation. This author is encouraged by what he saw of the FIS, and has total confidence that Admiral Moorhouse is the man to lead it.

The Shell Case Shorts 4 – Winner 1

As promised with April’s Shell Case Shorts, and entirely due to the generosity of Nick Kyme I was able to offer 3 prizes. The top spots receive signed copies of the Fall of Damnos and Salamander. The honourable mention gets a signed copy of the thinner but no less awesome Back from the Dead. All three entries deserve get posts so there will be three separate ones, so hold on to your butts.

There were some great entries but sadly some couldn’t be considered as they were written as stories rather than histories which was the point of the origins emphasis. However, as it seems to have sparked the imagination of so many of you I will be holding a second Origins based Shell Case Shorts during the summer.

The first winning entry is Chris Spurgeon (@Chris_S_79) for his rather compelling piece on the Space Marines Chapter known as the Storm Crows.

FOUNDING:

The so-called ‘Cursed Founding’ – the Twenty First Founding of the Adeptus Astartes – did not earn the name by accident. The Chapters created during that founding in M36 seem have all, in their own way led histories marked by misfortune or infamy. Most Chapters of the Cursed Founding fell victim to genetic instability and mutation, many to a degree that far exceeded the tolerance of the Imperial authorities. Some were corrupted by the lure of the Ruinous Powers. Others are merely blighted by misfortune and ill-providence. One Chapter of the Cursed Founding that has thus far avoided annihilation, but has still led a history blighted by suspicion and betrayal are the Storm Crows, founded from the gene line of the Primarch Corax on the world of Felsenmeer.

The Twenty First Founding was defined by the attempts of the gene-adepts of the Mechanicus to refine the geneseed of the Astartes and eliminate known flaws and deficiencies in the existing genestocks. With the geneseed of the Storm Crows, the Mechanicus were able to restore full functionality to the Melanochrome and Mucranoid organs (but not to the Betcher’s Gland). At first the geneseed seemed stable and the improvements were hailed as a success. The Storm Crows performed admirably in their first engagements, acting in support of a combined force of Raptors and Black Guard fighting against a Hrud incursion in the Atalanta Sector.

However, gradually Imperial authorities began to note an unusually high pattern of incidences of extremely strong psychic mutation. The Chapter had developed an unusually large cadre of extremely powerful Librarians, significantly larger than other Chapters founded using Raven Guard geneseed. Furthermore, the Storm Crows had also sustained significant mortality rates amongst their aspirants due to the sudden manifestation of uncontrolled psychic abilities during the transformation from mortal into Astartes. In addition, many battle brothers who had been hitherto considered normal were struck by unexpected episodes of belated latent psychic activation, bringing with them crippling seizures, madness or even death. These difficulties meant that the fledgling Chapter was struggling to increase its numbers of line Astartes to levels that would be sustainable in a prolonged conflict.

The Chapter fell under the scrutiny of not only the Inquisition but also the magos biologis of the Mechanicus. After a long investigation, the Mechanicus was forced to admit that the modification of the geneseed – in particular the splicing in of uncorrupted genetic material in order to reactivate the defective Raven Guard implants had created a genetic combination likely to activate even the smallest spark of latent psionic ability within an implanted aspirant. Voices that had already begun to mutter about the wisdom and righteousness of tampering with the genetic codes of the Emperors Astartes were now raised in outrage. An outrage that would only grow as other Chapters of the Twenty First Founding began to demonstrate even greater mutations and abnormalities.

The Inquisitorial screening was more exacting still, though eventually the representatives of the Ordos concluded that there was as yet there was no evidence of taint or heretical transgression. Though all agreed that the Storm Crows must continue to be monitored closely.

As a result of their troubled genesis, the Storm Crows, have ever-after been regarded with some suspicion, particularly by Imperial organisations with a particularly strong distrust of the psyker. In many theatres of war the arrival of the warriors of Felsenmeer is almost as unwelcome as the native bird of ill omen for which the Chapter was named. The Inquisition maintain their scrutiny of the Chapter’s activities and their geneseed is subject to the most exhaustive checks and analysis possible. The Storm Crows have little choice but to accept this fate with stoicism, hoping that at some point in their future they may yet earn the trust of the Imperium as a whole.

Safe from the immediate threat of Imperial Sanction, the Storm Crows were permitted to return to service. However, their next campaign would nearly end in disaster.

On the world of Darien Secondus, the Storm Crows were summoned to fight alongside the Copperhead Space Marine Chapter and several regiments of Carthusian Grenadiers against a rebellion backed by the Ruinous Powers of Chaos. It would be the prescience of the Storm Crow Librarians that saved the Chapter from massacre when the Copperhead Astartes turned upon them, revealing their true allegiance to the Dark Gods.

Guided by their Librarians, the Storm Crows survived the initial ambush by their treacherous former allies and circumvented many of the traps that the Traitors had painstakingly set for them. After two days, the Storm Crows were able to regroup and ultimately go on the counter-offensive. Despite their fortune, the Storm Crows still took grievous losses. Nearly half of the Chapter’s battle brothers were slain, and Chapter Master Aethestan and his senior staff, including the Reclusiarch, were also murdered in cold blood by their opposite numbers in the opening minutes of the betrayal. The Carthusian Grenadiers however, were butchered by the traitorous Copperheads, only a handful of companies surviving by virtue of being attached to Storm Crow detachments who had avoided destruction.

The surviving Storm Crows and loyalist guardsmen fought a prolonged guerrilla campaign against the numerically superior traitors and cultists. The Storm Crows struck from the shadows, in the finest tradition of the scions of Corax. Eventually a relief force, spearheaded by a drop assault drawn from the Comets Space Marine Chapter answered the distress call that the surviving Storm Crow Librarians had combined their might to channel out to the wider Imperium. The Copperheads fell back and ultimately fled before the loyal forces of the Emperor and the remaining cultists were soon put to the sword. Second Captain Aedwin, who had taken command following the death of the Chapter Master, was sworn in as his successor. Following his reorganisation of the Chapter, Aedwin resolved that in time the Copperheads would be made to pay for their betrayal.

HOMEWORLD:

Although not considered a death world, Felsenmeer is still a harsh and unforgiving world. It is a world of storms, of long nights and bitter winters. It is also home to a diverse number of avian predators, such as the steel kite and the rock hawk, as well as the ominous storm crow for which the Chapter is named. The hardy folk of this world have learned how to survive in adverse conditions, a quality vital for any space marine. Furthermore, the eruptions of inter-clan warfare have also taught the natives how to fight, also a vital quality for any Astartes.

The techno-barbarian clans of Felsemeer each control an area of the many island chains and archipelagos that make up the world’s landmass. When they go to war, it may be on land or on the seas, depending on what enemy they face or which of their interests are threatened. Making war in the perilous environmental conditions has forced the population to learn how to exploit both the weather and the lie of the land in order to maximise their chances of success.

Felsenmeer is designated a ‘techno-barbarian’ world by the Imperium. Being possessed of technology approaching the average level of many Imperial worlds despite the social and cultural regression into a world of warring clansmen. An Imperial Overseer monitors the clan activity from the stronghold of Black Lion Mount and intervenes should any clan appear to be neglecting their greater obligations to the Emperor. Aside from warriors, Felsenmeer’s other contributions to the Imperium are the mineral wealth of its mountains and the bounty of its seas, both of which help to feed the demands of the Forgeworld of Archangelus, and no clan wishes to risk the wrath of the Emperors servants by falling behind with their tithes. The scoured lands of the Blasted Isle serve as a reminder of the fate of those who fail in their obligations.

The tenants of the Imperial Creed have been assimilated into the culture of Felsenmeer, albeit synthesised with the native shamanistic traditions. The shamans and wise men are important figures in clan society and leaders are taught to be ever wary of omens, signs and portents. The native traditions of prognostication and the interpretation of signs are maintained by many of the Storm Crow Librarians.

The Storm Crows maintain a Chapter Keep known as Thunderbolt Spire, located amidst the forbidding peaks of the Charlemagne mountains. Periodically, each clan is summoned to present their finest young warriors for evaluation as potential aspirants to the Chapter. Potential candidates are subject to days of physical, mental and spiritual challenges before a final vetting by the Chaplains, Apothecaries and Librarians of the Tenth Company. Only then will the Master of Recruits announce his verdict on who has been judged worthy. As with all Astartes Chapters, recruits are expected to forswear all allegiances from their own lives and pledge their loyalty and service to the Emperor. The Master of Recruits accepts their oath and the Chapter insignia is branded into the flesh of each aspirant as a sign of the covenant they have made.

DOCTRINE AND ORGANISATION:

The first Chapter Master of the Storm Crows was Silas Tillion, former Third Captain of the Raptors Astartes Chapter.  Tillion, along with a cadre of his most experienced veteran sergeants were chosen as the most ideal candidates to train and direct the fledgling forces of a newly founded Chapter. The Raptors, though adhering to the Codex Astartes in principle, are notorious for their inventive interpretations of its wisdom. The Storm Crows have in many respects inherited this tradition of seeing the Codex as guidelines rather than inviolable dogma. The intense scrutiny the Chapter has come under since its formation however has encouraged them to conform rather more than their parent Chapter and the Storm Crows try to present an outward appearance of conformity and to cultivate a reputation for showing the Codex the proper respect. Even those aspects in which the Storms Crows do clearly stray from the Codex are rooted in the millennia long traditions of the Raven Guard and their successors.

The Storm Crows maintain the tactical and strategic traditions passed down from their predecessors from the Raptors and ultimately from the Raven Guard and the Primarch Corvus Corax. They have mastered the techniques of stealth and covert warfare, infiltration, hit and run attacks and prolonged guerrilla campaigns.  Without such skills, the Chapter may never have survived the betrayal on Darian. The Storm Crows are masters of using both terrain and weather conditions to their advantage. Indeed, some say that the Librarians of the Chapter have learned to control the weather to better aid the Chapters ambushes and sorties, allowing the Chapter’s warriors to strike out from storm and darkness to assault the unprepared or summoning thunder and wind to support assaults when shock and awe is called for.

The Chapter possesses a significantly larger Librarium than other Chapters of equivalent size. The Librarians of the Chapter are subject to the most rigorous scrutiny both internally and externally from the Inquisition. Aspirants to the Chapter are rigorously screened for any potential psionic ability and all battle brothers are monitored for any signs of latent psychic ability manifesting itself. The Librarians of the Storm Crows are trained in using their abilities for the purposes of concealment and misdirection, though the Librarians of the Chapter also have a gift for prognostication and the interpretation of signs and portents.

In addition, the Storm Crows possess an enlarged Apothecarian, which works in concert with the Librarium to carry out the vigorous screen of all the Chapter’s aspirants, firstly to identify any potential trace of psychic potential, even in its most latent form and also to prevent any further genetic anomalies entering the Chapter’s genetic code. Together the Apothecaries and Librarians work to limit the damage of the Chapter’s volatile genetic quirks.

Following the betrayal on Darien Secondus however the Chapter was reorganised on somewhat unconventional lines. The prolonged guerrilla warfare had demonstrated the need for flexibility and the ability to react to any situation. The Chapter’s reserve companies had suffered the greatest during the fighting, being reduced to barely a handful of squads. Taking his cue from the traditions of the Raven Guard and the Raptors, but also inspired by the example of Chapters such as the White Scars and the Space Wolves the Storms Crows were reorganised into ten Brotherhoods, each possessing a near identical cross-section of the Chapters equipment.  The First Brotherhood remains home to the Chapters most senior veterans and along with four further Brotherhoods are supported by the four reserve Brotherhoods and the Scout Brotherhood. This organisational pattern maximises the Chapters flexibility but reducing the Chapter’s total number of available specialist Devastator and Assault squads.

The reorganisation of the Chapter has left the Storm Crows with a reduced reserve of heavy weapon support as they no longer have a full Devastator company to call upon. Therefore, land speeders and attack bikes are used for additional support, frequently employed in flanking strikes to eliminate enemy armour before it can threaten the main body of the Storm Crows’ forces. When they do employ their own armour support, the Storm Crows invariably resort to the more mobile Predator tanks rather than the heavier Land Raiders or Vindicators, which are reserved for the rare occasions when full on frontal assault is called for.

The Storm Crows favoured tactics mean that they rarely fight directly alongside other imperial forces, a fact that has not helped the Chapter in dispelling the slightly sinister reputation they have suffered from. They have on occasion however still fought in the main line of battle. Most famously during the siege of St Sebastian Hive, where they held the Macharius Bridge for sixteen hours, twice as long as they were expected to hold, stalling the Ork advance on that front so completely that the Orks were subsequently flanked, isolated and destroyed by a mechanised counter-attack. The Brazen Angels, Rooks and Frost Giants who also fought in that bloody campaign can be counted amongst the Storm Crows’ few true allies.

GENESEED:

The Storm Crows are descended from the Raven Guard gene line. However their gene seed was modified by the Mechanicus to – at least partially – correct existing flaws within the genetic template. Though the modifications have restored implant functionality – all implants except the Betchers Gland now function correctly, they dramatically increased the rate with which the gene seed triggers the activation of psychic abilities upon implantation. Combined with the relatively high latent psychic potential of the recruiting world of Felsenmeer this has created a highly psychic Chapter, regarded with suspicion by the Inquisition and many other Astartes.

The geneseed of all Chapters of the Twenty First Founding is embargoed by decree of the High Lords of Terra and as such will never be used to kindle new Chapters of Space Marines. The Storm Crows therefore will never be able to pass their unique genetic advantages on to a successor Chapter. Although the Crows continue to prove themselves both loyal to the Throne and free of Taint, all know that any potential future Chapter may not prove so resilient to the possibilities for corruption their high psychic potential represents.

I the early years of the Chapter, the Storm Crows suffered high mortality rates amongst their aspirants as young initiates failed to survive the activation of their latest psychic abilities. In more recent years the combined efforts of the Apothecaries and Librarians have drastically reduced these loses. Improved screening methods have also reduced the number of incidents of belated psychic activation that have cost the lives or sanity of many more experienced Battle Brothers. Regular in-depth screening is used to identify potential cases, who are sequestered by the Librarians and drilled in preventative mental techniques. Unfortunately some Storm Crows still meet their ends screaming as their minds collapse, washed away by the flood of visions and portents from beyond the veil.

BELIEFS:

Given the intense scrutiny the Storm Crows have come under throughout their history, their beliefs have inevitably come under examination by the Imperium’s most able forensic theologians.

Although the religious traditions of Felsenmeer are shamanistic, the core doctrine is surprisingly orthodox. Evidence of millennia if diligence by the Overseer in keeping the populous in their charge on the path of the God Emperor.

The Chaplains of the Storm Crows have long debated the question of the Emperor’s divinity and at present they speak of the Emperor’s ascension as an apotheosis. The transformation of the wisest and mightiest of men into a god. Such a doctrinal compromise is considered acceptable by the ecclesiarch of the Imperium.

The Storm Crows rituals reflect the shamanistic traditions of their home world, but mediated by the more practical traditions of the Astartes. A potent wine known as Sangraal is central to many of their most important rites – most especially the initiation of a full battle brother.

Another curiosity of the Storm Crows is the fashioning of honour badges from the feathers of the deadly steel kite of.  Felsenmeer. These are worn on ceremonial occasions, most especially the Chapter’s founding feast and the Feast of the Emperor’s Ascension.

BATTLECRY:

The Storm crows generally operate by stealth and subterfuge, situations where the use of a battle cry would be counterproductive at the very least. Moreover, on those occasions when the Chapter does commit to all out frontal assault, they prefer to do so under the cover of a thundering tempest summoned by the Chapter’s librarians that would drown out any voices.

At other times however the Storm Crows adopt the call and response motto “We are the Shadow. We are the Storm.” During the now infamous infiltration of the Traitor stronghold on Francisca Prima, the Storm Crows suborned the fortress’ internal vox network to broadcast this motto constantly for the eighteen hours it took to systematically eliminate the garrison. The demoralising and disorienting effect on the traitor PDF helped drastically reduce the resistance they could offer to the Emperor’s warriors.