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.

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 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.

The Shell Case Shorts 3

That came around quick! But yes, it’s that time once more oh loyal readers! I give you The Shell Case Shorts part 3!

This month the prize is the first two parts of the The Crown trilogy penned, and signed, by Mr Gav Thorpe. If you want to know more about this critically acclaimed set of books you can read more in my interview with the man himself here

Rules, much like last time, are as follows:

The story must be based upon an established fantasy wargaming IP e.g. Warhammer, Warmachine, Freebooter, Uncharted Seas etc. Steampunk falls under Science Fiction so that’s out unless you can make a pretty compelling case to me prior to entering.

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 spirit of their chosen IP – it doesn’t all have to be dragons and daemons. This story will make up the last story of the Shell Case Shorts Anthology in counter point to the science fiction story of the same length from February’s competition which will open the anthology.

Word limit is 5,000 words (+/- 10%).

All entries must be received by midday Saturday 31st March 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 phil@theshellcase.com

[I received some lovely spam from one entrant last time, if this happens again offenders will be disqualified.]

Submissions must include at the top of the first page; 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.

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!