by Chris Cook

"You are the first," he began. The group of six warriors stood silently, watching their captain. Their scout armour shone brightly, polished until the scars of battle had been wiped clean. Behind them stood those who had fought alongside them recently, but they were the first. The captain looked across the ranks of scouts, then back at the six who stood apart from them.

"Your actions have honoured your company and your chapter. Your abilities are proven, your bravery unquestionable. You have earned the right to be known as warriors of the Furies."

She had been fifteen when it all ended. Her parents had returned one evening, and her father called her from her desk once he had hung up the thick coat he wore in winter.

"Jenny," his voice had echoed around the corner, "I brought something from the meeting for you." She dropped the text she had been studying and hurried to see. She had a teenager's natural impatience to see what all the fuss was about. They gave thanks to the great Emperor every week, yet her parents and many others had voluntarily given up their time to meet and meditate on His gift of life to humanity. She had guessed, silently, that the food must be good.

"Close your eyes," her father said as she rounded the corner. Grinning slightly she did so. She felt his hand on her forehead, then... calm.

"You will face many enemies in the years to come. Maybe you will die facing them. But you have proven that you will face them, eyes open. Your enemies will be many, but dishonour will not be among them. In life you will fight. In death you will triumph."

It was a blur, but at the same time everything became clear. There was purpose. Preparations to make. Everything would be perfect. Voices without sound guided her for weeks, months, she lost track of time. It wasn't important. Nothing was. She finally understood who she was, why she lived. It was so simple.

The captain stood in front of each of them in turn, and when he had passed their armour bore the small seal that marked them as marines.

"You are awarded a great privilege today. With it comes responsibility. You are now warriors of the Emperor. You have a duty to uphold the trust which he, as the agent of humanity, places in you. From this day you are a defender of life. You will fight those who would bring death into this universe, you will stand before those who cannot defend themselves, and you will not turn from the darkness."

How much later? Months certainly. A year? Something was wrong. The destiny was interrupted. The voices, impulses, became more urgent, calling her to fight. A red tide welled up and spilled into her, but there was something else.

She tried to concentrate. She knew her destiny. She had a purpose, it was clear. Wasn't it? What was this doubt? Doubt was wrong, she should fear it, shouldn't she? Something was different. From somewhere inside her the tide was pushed back, washing away the voices, the calm, soothing embrace of the future, all laid out, planned in minute detail, leaving her dazed, confused, frightened.

She blinked. Something was covering her eyes, she couldn't see. Her hands? She lowered them and looked at them. Her hands were wet. She had been crying, hadn't she? She couldn't remember.

"You are warriors of the Emperor. But you are also Furies, and you have a second duty. We are the avengers, who punish those whose crimes are beyond forgiveness. Every living being has a duty to stand against darkness, against death. When that duty is failed, your hand will be the one to deliver retribution. Show no mercy to those who forsake their humanity. There is only one choice: life or death. If the choice is life, you are the defender. If the choice is death, you must be the executioner."

Something in front of her, a shape, dark, moving. She looked at it through the blurred vision of her tear-filled eyes. She knew this thing, had known it for months. The memories surfaced in her, but her mind rebelled. It was a monster. She remembered how it had whispered in her head, talked in her dreams, controlled her, manipulated her, used her. She fought within herself, pushing the last of its thought from her mind. Her hand closed around something heavy, and in a burst of rage-fuelled strength she rose and swung at the thing's head. There was a noise, the thing moved, but she hit it again, and again, again. Something splashed on her, there was a sickening crunch, an arm swung at her, knocking her over. Her limbs were heavy, the weapon dropped from her hand. She tried to push herself up on her elbows, but her arms collapsed under her. She saw, vaguely, the shape slump to the ground. Again the feeling of calm descended on her, but it wasn't the same as before. Nothing was being forced into her mind. She knew, inside, what she was, why she lived. She was human. This thing had tried to take that away from her. It was the enemy. She would fight it. The world went dark.

"I have spoken to you of duty, to the Emperor, to humanity. Of your sacred duty as Furies. These things you know already. But without meaning, they are just words. Millions fight and die every day, and it is for the Emperor that they die. Those who were once our masters think nothing of this death. As much as any creature of evil, this is your enemy. You know that every life, every single living being, is sacred. Perhaps one day all of our people may rest easy in the knowledge that their masters know this too. Today they do not, but we fight so that one day they will. In time, this will become your mission, and you will pass it on to those who follow you. Even if it takes ten thousand years, this single truth will prevail over the darkness."

That was how they had found her. A child, dressed in rags that had once been clothes, face covered with dirt, streaked with tears, splattered with inhuman blood. Her enemy had fallen beside her, its hand reached out as if to embrace her, to try to draw her back into its web of false hope. She woke up once, briefly, to a glimpse of human faces, framed by helmets, one or two looking at her. One of them, this one without a helmet, was looking at something just beyond her. She tried to turn her head to see the thing, but she blacked out again.

"Genestealer," she heard faintly, like a voice carried on the wind, "purestrain." Then everything went silent.

Their names were read, one by one, as they were inscribed on the chapter's list of warriors. Six names, but she only heard one.

"Marine Jennifer Chase."

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