3. Istere, the capital city of the Imperial world Sorcim, was nothing like it had been three days before. A pall of smoke and gloom hung over the rubble, as Ork bikeboyz ripped through the streets and gangs of Orks took turns shooting fun things, such as lampposts and each other. Someone had found a stash of red acrylic paint and was busy painting anything that could move, because, as I later found out, Orks believe that “red wunz go’s faster.” Everywhere mayhem was the rule of the day. We watched as Orks made sport of throwing grenades at some of the diminutive Gretchen, the little green beings who would some day (or perhaps not) grow into full size Orks. Most of the time the little runts were fast enough to get away before the grenades (which the Orks referred to as “stikkbomms”) detonated, but a number were blasted into oozing greenish chunks. The game became even more interesting when one of the stikkbomms went off while still attached to an Ork’s pistol belt, resulting in uproarious laughter from his uninjured comrades. The afflicted Ork was too busy being dead to take affront. We watched as a Slasher Gargant stomped ponderously about the Imperial Square, casually razing statues and monuments. There was a burrrrrp from the Gargant’s multi-barreled assault cannon, and a statue of the First Governor disappeared into dust. A crowd of Mekboyz was busy trying out some new invention on another statue, something with lots of spinning globes and articulating arms. In a flash, a scythe of purplish energy sliced through the monument, the halves falling to the ground with edges that sparked purple. It would have been far more impressive if the closest Orks to the machine hadn’t also burst into flame. I secretly took joy at this, and so too did our host; with a piggish snort of amusement he pointed down at the wildly flailing Mekboyz. “Maybe dey shooda paint’d it red.” He chortled again, and we moved on. We wandered through the town like this, Hijan and I duly recording the travesties as we spotted them. At one point we came across a work crew piling Human bodies and setting them on fire, not for fun, but just to get them out of the way. I’ll say no more about this except that it merely hardened my resolve not to be a tool of the War Boss. For, you see, Hijan and I had already discussed how we would seek vengeance. We would not be the pawns of some freak perversion of genetics; no, we would instead produce a document which would enrage the Imperium, incite the forces of Humanity to swift and merciless action. There would be no quarter given once this record of ours inflamed the senses and sensibilities of the Emperor’s children. We would present Grazl with his history, true, but we were counting on his grasp of Standard to be too imprecise to grasp the finer nuances of what we were truly saying. Hijan’s eyes gleamed at the prospect, and so we set about our exploration of the ruined city with vigor, the vigor of being the eyes and ears of eventual, inevitable reprisal. It was not easy. The flames still licked the empty shells of once-grand Imperial buildings, and fine stonework littered the avenues and thoroughfares in great piles. The Imperial Guard armory had been reduced to ashes and then ground into the soil by the wheels of Ork battlewagons. What population remained had been pressed into harvesting food for the Orks, providing entertainment (often as moving targets), or simply clearing debris from the streets so the battlewagons could maneuver. I pitied the lot; as they went about their business, the citizens of once-beautiful Istere kept their eyes to the ground, shoulders hunched. All too suddenly, I realized how Hijan and I must look, being escorted by an Orkish honor guard, jotting everything down on tablets as our fellow Men suffered. I cursed then my full belly, wanted to rip it from my body and cast it upon the ground. But my resolve stiffened as I thought about the day Imperial capital ships would fill the sky, driven across the stars by a rage we fomented, nurtured, and encouraged, Hijan and I. We found that more of the populace had survived than I had thought possible. When the Ork hordes had plummeted out of near orbit, in the dead of night, and descended upon the city like the hand of the Emperor Himself, most of the population had been caught sleeping in their beds, unaware that life on Sorcim was about to change forever. The colony was just over three hundred years old, numbering about 570 million, planet-wide, and had never been subjected to the brutal desecration that was to befall it upon that horrible night. Of the two million inhabitants who called Istere their home, fully a third died that first terrible night, their homes consumed by plasma and flame, their places of work and worship toppled by missiles and bolter rounds. Of the rest, another third to half had fled to the hills, while the rest became slaves under the brutish hands of the Orks. The Imperial Guard garrison at Istere, which had numbered about fifty thousand, had suffered similar fates. Barracks were smashed to rubble, motor pools and aircraft hangars were incinerated, and ammunition depots gave up their treasures in great violent fountains of flame and smoke that reached to the sky. Deprived of orbital warning systems (the reason for which I do not know, to this day. Perhaps the Orks came in so fast that the warnings were too little, too late), the Guardsmen were as confused and helpless as the civilian population. Only by the most dogged determination were any of the Imperial Guardsmen able to escape the city and put up resistance. Several self-propelled artillery and mechanized infantry battalions managed to set up zone defenses on the southern outskirts of Istere, from which they rained death upon the Orks as they landed on the city. Their numbers, however, were too few, and by the time Hijan and I were making our rounds of the shattered capital, organized resistance to the Orks had been all but extinguished. Our tablets and styli caught the moment for remembrance, however; we described in detail how the Orks had defiled the daunting rows of super-heavy battle tanks, smashing them as they stood in perfect rows in the armory motor pools. The charred remains of Chimera personnel carriers, Manticore missile batteries, and wheeled utility vehicles attested to the swiftness of the Ork assault; most still had chock blocks under their wheels and padlocks on the steering columns. We were careful to catch the details in a way not to discourage our Imperial brothers, but to enrage them against the dishonor visited upon our gleaming colony and her brave soldiery. The flames about us defaced the sky with black, oily smoke as we picked our way through the rubble towards the center of the city, Imperial Square, where the massive Imperial Cathedral had once stood. Nowhere was the devastation of the city more heartbreaking than at the Imperial Cathedral, or what remained of it. As I spied it, I hung my head and wept with fury and pitiful sorrow, for where once the most beautiful structure on Sorcim had stood, there was now a charred ruin, a blackened skeleton seared to bare stone by the intense fires of Orkish brutality. All of the marvelous stained-glass windows, reaching as high as five stories, had been shattered, popping from concussion and heat. The roof had fallen in, and the bare stone support beams and flying buttresses stood starkly against the sky like the ribcage of an ancient, majestic beast come to earth. We made our way through the front doors (I don’t know why, since the walls were wide open) and found our way to the sanctuary, amidst the still-glowing embers and smoking masonry. It was, of course, just as I had feared. The statues of Imperial heroes had been smashed; the great two-headed Imperial eagle had fallen from its perch above the altar and shattered upon the tile floor. The furniture and trappings existed only as varying degrees of ash, and the altar that normally nestled in the sacred sanctuary had been toppled. Hijan stirred the ashes around it, and came up with fragments of bone and teeth; evidently, the priests of the Imperial Cult had performed their ultimate and final sacrament, destroying the altar and cleansing the sanctuary before it fell into Orkish hands. It was hard to bear nonetheless, because the next two feet to follow ours were those of our loathsome escort. I had rarely been to the Cathedral, even though I spent my whole life on Sorcrim and my adult life in Istere, but now I grieved and wept for its memory as if I had been born there. This place had been the spiritual heart of Sorcrim, and it bled its last into the sky just as its defenders bled their own life into Sorcrim’s soil trying to defend her. My heart died a second death, and my whispers carried the invocation of the Emperor’s Prayer of Faith and Vengeance. The Ork escorting us took no notice of our distress, as he was busy trying to see if there was any devotional wine left to drink. Hijan and I shared a look, and then went about our business again. Among the rubble of the Cathedral I found a small iron talisman, the Imperial eagle, which had evidently been the device upon someone’s robe or trench-coat; whoever the unlucky bastard was, he wouldn’t need it now. I slipped it into my tunic, for there was something comforting in its heft and solid presence. I felt as though I were holding the Emperor’s hand itself and that He would guide us through this crisis, and not only that, but visit sure and unforgiving retribution upon the Orks who dared defile this world. Our escort took no notice, engrossed as he was with trying to urinate into what should have been a marble basin of holy water. Far in the distance, we heard the occasional chatter of bolters and whine of lasguns, syncopated by the rumble of artillery. I looked across to Hijan and we shared a smile, for it was heartening to know that Imperial Guardsmen still resisted the Orks even now. The Stormboy with us paused in his endeavors, listening as well, then shook his head. “Sum folks jus’ don’ know when da end ‘as come. Dey shood jus’ give up and let us shoot ‘em like’s gunna ‘appen anywayz.” He gestured us out into the street and we began the trek back to the Governor’s Palace. During the course of the next week we filled a half-dozen tablets with scribblings about the state of Istere, the brutality of the Orks, and the way in which the Imperial forces had been routed so quickly and decisively. Our styli captured the anguish of the human population under Ork occupation, but also the quiet dignity and value with which they conducted themselves. We were careful not to over-emphasize this point; indeed, only someone who spoke the Emperor’s tongue as their native language would understand the nuances. For we knew that, should Grazl perceive our intended purpose, we would be instantly snuffed from life. © 2004 Andreas Udby Once again, I'd love to hear feedback -- even if you just say "read it", so that I know someone's actually reading this darn thing! Thanks!