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THE BARONIAN 9th regiment of the Imperial Guard had never expected a planet as
pristine and peaceful as Conatus. Having been deployed to nothing but hellish war-zones for
the past eight months, they were grateful for catching such a break. From orbit, the world
was a glinting sphere of sapphire seas and emerald continents covered in wisps of pearl
cloud. However, the most noticeable aspect was its level of technology; Conatus had only re-
cently been rediscovered by the Imperium, and its inhabitants possessed Medieval-era
weaponry with a primitive understanding of science.
It was truly beautiful. Before the battle, of course.
This thought passed through Colonel Meriden’s mind as the cacophony of war raged
around him. He shook his head and glared at the oncoming horde of so-called Genestealers.
He’d never faced such creatures before; no Baronian had. To his untrained eye, they ap-
peared as mildly mutated humans. Besides glowing eyes burning with malice and wide
mouths filled with sharp teeth, they looked completely normal. Yet he knew there was some-
thing inherently wrong with them as soon as he’d marched his regiment into Masonburg,
and now his suspicions had been justified.
At first, the Genestealers did not react to the Guardsmen. Upon arrival, Meriden had
convened with the leader of the small village, a trembling young man named Ethelfrier, who
spoke of a vision the local seer had received. A glimpse of “terrible beasts from the heavens
devouring all in their path, leaving nothing but dust and rock.” Not knowing what to make
of such a horrific portent, Meriden ordered his men to fortify the wide, rectangular market-
place in the center of Masonburg and form a tight perimeter around the town itself.
Fearing discovery, the Genestealers had simultaneously ambushed dozens of patrols
and began killing the villagers. Meriden quickly gathered his force in the market, where they
battled now, crouching behind hastily-constructed flak-board barricades, overturned vendor
stalls, and flipped merchant carts.
‘Men! I know there’s a lot of these bastards, but that doesn’t mean you can waste
ammo! Shoot straighter!’ Meriden bellowed over the incessant snap-crack of las-fire and the
inhuman screeching of the bloodthirsty Tyranid filth.
‘Stay strong! Do not waver, for the Emperor protects!’ Commissar Bethelheim added
in his most heroic voice. The Guardsmen roared, pressing their las-rifles tight against their
shoulders and firing with renewed vigor and accuracy. Meriden looked out from behind the
bulwark on the north side. Behind him, the Chimeras they had brought along used their tur-
bo-lasers with devastating effect. He was surrounded by veteran Baronians armed with
meltaguns. They smeared the street ahead in superheated gas, reducing the charging Gen-
estealers to vapor.
Despite the punishing barrage, the determined beasts managed to break through and
started dismantling the Guardsmen one by one, smashing heads against the flagstones or rip-
ping throats out with powerful jaws.
Meriden reacted quickly as the first Genestealer leapt towards him. He riddled it with
las-rounds until it dropped, a smoking corpse. Another took its place, and it managed to
shred Meriden’s flak-armored, crimson greatcoat with sharp talons in place of fingernails. A
second swipe ripped a deep gash in his already scarred face, but before it could do any real
damage, it was annihilated by one of the Chimeras. Meriden growled and let loose on full-
auto, killing dozens of Genestealers without remorse.
After eighteen minutes of fierce struggle, the abominations were slaughtered, but not
without grievous losses. Despite the casualties, a hearty cheer rose from the soldiers, which
drew the frightened townspeople out of hiding and into the celebration. Meriden sighed
and, with the help of his vox-officer, checked on the status of the other Guard regiments sta -
tioned across the planet. They’d encountered Genestealer infestations as well, but all
emerged victorious.
‘Do you think we’re done here, sir?’ the fresh-faced vox-man asked.
‘Not by a long shot, kid,’ Meriden replied. ‘This was far too easy. However, I think
Masonburg is clean. Honestly, I’m just glad to see these people smiling. I have the feeling
they’ve been scared out of their right minds ever since the seer’s prophecy.’
The vox-officer nodded and heard Bethelheim call his name. He ran over to the com-
Meriden gazed absently at the ramshackle houses along the street. He spotted a face,
perhaps that of a young woman, staring at him from a second-story window. When his eyes
met hers, she immediately vanished out of sight.
He could’ve sworn those eyes were glowing, ever so slightly.
Concerned, Meriden turned and called one of his veterans, a reliable sergeant named
‘What is it, sir?’ Gordyn asked as he ran up to the colonel. Bethelheim was with him,
and the commissar had a grave look on his face.
‘I saw something in one of these houses,’ Meriden replied. ‘Looked suspicious. I just
want to check it out.’
Gordyn nodded and summoned his squad of ten. With Meriden and Bethelheim lead-
ing the way, the small force broke into the house and stomped up the stairs. There were sev-
eral rooms on the second floor, and they found the woman in the last one they checked.
She was huddled, trembling, in the far corner with two young boys nestled beside her.
Meriden approached the mother. Upon closer examination, her eyes were normal. Re-
lieved, Meriden offered a hand to help her up. She shook her head, weary of the bloodied
warrior that towered before her.
‘It’s alright, woman,’ Meriden said soothingly. ‘We’ve destroyed the evil of this place.
You’re safe now.’
When she didn’t react, Meriden noticed she was looking past him. He turned and saw
Bethelheim, then laughed.
‘You need not fear him, ma’am. He’s a commissar. I know his attire may be... intimid-
ating, but that’s the point. He’s here to keep us Guardsmen in line, so that we serve the Em-
peror without fail.’
‘Indeed, colonel,’ Bethelheim murmured. ‘Without fail.’
Something in the commissar’s tone bothered Meriden. He turned again and saw Beth-
elheim produce an engraved laspistol from the inside of his black longcoat.
‘Tyson, what are you doing?’
‘My duty,’ Bethelheim answered coldly. ‘I’ve received orders from the Lord General
himself. The risk of Genestealer infiltration is far too high. While Conatus is sparsely popu-
lated, this sector is not. If the infestation spreads, we will be susceptible to a Hive Fleet at-
tack. Billions of Imperial citizens will die. I will not take that chance. Yet... this task is be -
neath me.’
He shoved the pistol into Meriden’s hand. ‘Execute them, colonel.’
Meriden was dumbfounded. ‘Are... are you serious?’
‘Have I ever not been serious? Serve the Emperor... without fail.’
‘We just lost most of our regiment defending these people! Now you’d have us kill
them all? What did we fight for? What did we die for? I cannot believe the Emperor is will-
ing to slay His own subjects.’
The commissar laughed cruelly. ‘You’re incredibly naïve, colonel. You fight and die
because you are ordered to do so. Simple as that. If you refuse, you deal with me. Do you
lack the backbone? Give me that damn gun!’
Bethelheim snatched the laspistol back and aimed at the family, who cried out in ter-
ror. Gordyn, shocked by the commissar’s actions, instinctively grabbed him from behind.
‘Don’t do this, sir! Think it through!’ the sergeant pleaded as Bethelheim struggled in
the tight hold. He propelled an elbow into Gordyn’s face and got free, then aimed again.
Meriden lashed out at the commissar’s extended wrist and twisted it. Yelping, Bethelheim
dropped the laspistol and swung at the colonel with murderous intent.
‘You traitorous piece of shit! I’ll kill you!’ he screamed. One of his frantic blows con-
nected, knocking Meriden to the unforgiving floor. With both hands free, he searched for
the laspistol to finish the task, but Gordyn kept him occupied. With blood pouring from a
shattered nose, Meriden spotted the fallen weapon and grabbed it. He rose to his feet and
pointed the pistol at the commissar, who was caught in another one of Gordyn’s locks.
‘You’re deplorable. This regiment – this entire planet – is better off without you,’ Me-
riden spat, and shot the unquestionable representative of the Emperor’s will in the chest.
The room fell chillingly silent, save the quiet sobbing of the mother and her children.
‘What... what have we done, sir?’ Gordyn exclaimed after a moment, his face an ex-
pression of pure dread. The other troopers whispered frantically amongst themselves, not
quite believing what had just transpired. They were terrified.
Meriden hurled the laspistol across the room angrily and took a couple of deep
breaths. The gravity of what he’d just done crashed down upon him. Killing a commissar
was absolutely unacceptable. The Baronian 9th were now traitor Guardsmen, the most
despicable soldiers in the universe. While they had not fallen to Chaos or xeno control, they
had ignored their duty. That made them just as loathsome.
The colonel glanced at the corpse of Bethelheim, then at Gordyn.
‘What are we going to do now?’ the sergeant asked.
Meriden gathered his resolve and courage, then spoke.
‘We’re traitors now, but do any of you really want to serve an Imperium that would
slaughter its own people without hesitation? Perhaps... perhaps this is for the best. Let us
fight for mankind, not the Imperium. Surely the Emperor, in His divine wisdom, will under-
stand. We do not betray Him; we simply reject His regime that has become corrupt and mal-
formed. No doubt the other Guard regiments will destroy us once they discover that Bethel-
heim is dead. Weakened as we are, there is no way we will survive. But let us die guarding
the innocent, as Guardsmen should do. We have chosen to be merciful. Now let us face the