The light dimmed. The clawing sense of dread leeched into Mikkel's subconscious as he confronted this familiar situation. He turned left and right; his power axe glowing dimly in the light starved room and his bolt pistol flicking from one direction to another in the vain hope that it would be on target, should the inevitable happen. It was the same every time. Every time there was the gripping fear... no knowing which direction it would come from... but it always came.
He felt the surge of pain as his axe dropped to the floor, his bloody stump pumping blood like water spraying from a tap... his disbelief as his pistol dropped to the floor, his arm ripped off at the shoulder...
...Then he awoke. It was the same every time. The dread, the pain and the sudden outburst that always woke him up just before the end of the nightmare... where he lost his legs.
Mikkel reached for his glass of water and swigged down a mouthful before rifling through his drawer to find his medication. The tablets were large but he swallowed them down and hoped that they would go some way to easing the pain in his shoulder. He got to his feet and walked to the mirror. He filled the sink with water and carefully splashed his face; wiping the beads of dew from his magnificent, ginger beard. He leant heavily on the sink and stared at his shoulder. Where the prosthetic, cybernetic arm had been fused with his flesh was a ruddy colour and sensitive to the touch. He had been warned that the Mechanicus had a strange way of dealing with pain... they treated it as a blessing... a glorious penance in honour of the Omnisiah granting them metal over flesh. Mikkel was no techno-zealot. He was a simple Squat soldier. His religion was honour... honour the ancestors, the family, the battle-brother... not some imaginary creature that demands sacrifice all the time.
The pills started to do their work and Mikkel could see the redness lessening around his shoulder. Now that he could relax, he looked at the rest of his 'blessings'. He had a metal breast and back plate that he had to wear all the time because it had been grafted to him. It housed the power cells and mechanisms for his various cybernetics, including his right arm that was attached directly to it. His left arm terminated in a cybernetic hand which, strangely, only had three fingers and they were fatter than his old ones. The left side of his neck had a sheathed, metallic, tendril array that acted as the muscles that supported his head on that side and responded similarly to normal muscles but with every movement, there were whirring noises as tiny servos tensed and flexed the bundles. Instinctively, Mikkel moved his head around so that he could hear them working before looking further down... and there were his two metal legs, grafted on just below his knees. As he stared, he flexed his toes and heard the motors whir and the toes tap on the wooden floor.
Mikkel sighed. Was it really worth it? Was it worth prolonging the pain... the anguish... the suffering...
... of course it was! He was a Squat! He was a warrior! Through his constant struggle with pain and the demons that awoke him every night, he was able to share his battle experiences and those of the brave kings, brothers and sisters who sold their lives so dearly with the destruction of their home-worlds causing the extinction of the Tyranid fleets that assailed them.
Mikkel instinctively braced up, standing proudly when he thought of his battle brothers and sisters. He couldn't let pain and a few bad dreams tarnish the good name of his comrades... it was his duty and his honour to continue with his work; sharing his battle knowledge and the stories of the struggle for his home world. He also knew that he wasn't alone in his suffering. There were many who arrived at the Ark ships changed beyond recognition... not even keeping their faces but having to wear the metallic mockeries of the Mechanicus' interpretation of what a Squat face should look like. Some had to eat via a tube that went directly to their stomachs because they had no operational mouths, just speakers that allowed them to communicate. There were even those who were little more than torsos that travelled around on small, tracked chairs. He couldn't even begin to understand the nightmares they suffered when they were alone in their subconscious.
No... he couldn't let his ordeals bring him down.
One day a week, Mikkel had to go and talk to one of the Valkyries; what the soldiers called the medics and morgue-keepers. He would always see Freya because she was the last member of his brotherhood and she had managed to get him aboard the escape ship and, ultimately, to Mechanicus space for 'repair'. Freya understood what he was going through because she counselled many Squats who had gone through similar processes as he had. Her chats always started the same way... "so, sergeant, how have you been this week?" It had been a long time since Mikkel was a sergeant, having been promoted through the ranks to Senior Battle Leader (with only two more ranks to Ancient... the most revered of all Squat leaders) but it was a way of taking him back and helping him to come to terms with things. It also helped to keep him honest. He knew that Freya would see right through any lies and he maintained that in order to honour the ancestors, he needed to be truthful and share each and every tiny detail of his physical and mental wellbeing. It was working. After every therapy session, Mikkel was finding it easier and easier to shed the self destructive feelings that had plagued him for so long and, with Freya's guidance, he had been given coping mechanisms to begin to rebuild as normal a life as possible.
What also helped, were the children. He loved to be in their company. They reminded him of his home-world and made him understand that, had he and his fellow Squats not fought so fiercely, there would be no children... and most likely, no more Squats either. After every therapy session, Mikkel would make his way to the same feasting hall and fetch a large ham pie and a tankard of mead before finding a comfy spot by the open fire. It was his time to sit and remember old times and what better way to do that, than to share tales with the children. Normally, within moments of him getting comfortable, the first of the children would arrive and ask him to tell them about things. He had been asked many things... even what it was like to die... but he always tried to keep things fairly gentle so as not to terrify his little audience. His favourite stories were those of his home world before the invasion and ultimate destruction. He would wax lyrical about the vast halls carved out of the rock by massive drilling machines and mining lasers. He would talk of the enormous generators that sparked blue lightning when they were used at full power. Then of course, were the wide hydroponic chambers filled with wheat and illuminated by light tubes that were directed from the surface of the planet all the way down to the depths of the chambers. He recalled the feasting halls that were so big you couldn't see from one end to the other without a telescope and the wonderful feasts that were held there. Of course there were the artisans and engineers who created the most spectacular machines and practical works of art and architecture; subtly sprinkled with runes of power and strength.
... And the mead! No finer mead could be found anywhere in the universe (although the mead he was drinking always came a close second to it... he never wished to speak ill of the brewers in their new home)...
Yes, the children were as much a therapy as what Freya provided and Mikkel often spent far too much time sharing his tales... but on one occasion, he found himself wiping tears from his beard.
"Did you ever have a missus Mikkel?" asked Brond the lesser (they called him the lesser because he was very small for his age).
"Now that is a question I didn't expect" replied Mikkel "yes, there was a missus Mikkel. Her name was Brithiof, Glassa, Stroms-dottir... and she was the finest Maiden you could ever wish to meet."
Brithiof was a soldier. She fought alongside many brotherhoods but her own brotherhood was of the Wolf. She was recon and she was a sniper/scout. On one occasion, her brotherhood was assigned in support to Mikkel's and she had to liaise with him in order for the mission to succeed. The moment Mikkel met her, he knew that he was smitten and after just a week, he pledged his life to her and she accepted. As was the custom, she was transferred to Mikkel's brotherhood and fought alongside him in many battles. He marvelled at her prowess; what she lacked in brute strength, she more than made up for with agility and to see her in full swing during a melee was like watching a ballet. When off the battlefield she always wore her golden yellow hair in braids and she would go everywhere with Mikkel. She was also renowned for her ability to sing the most outrageously rude drinking songs and would often be found fighting in the feasting halls with Mikkel sitting back, letting her get on with it. They were so in tune with each other that they were complete soulmates.
The last time Mikkel saw her was when his remaining brotherhood were gathered in the stronghold on his home world, just before he was rendered unconscious by the Ravener. From then on, he only had the testimony of the scribes and from what they said, she sold her life as finely as any squat ever had. Not only did she manage to kill the Ravener that had laid Mikkel low but in her rage at his falling, she launched herself with such ferocity towards the nearest Mawloc that the berserk claimed her. Her eyes glazed and her mouth foamed as she piled towards the giant Tyranid beast. She threw her pistol aside and picked up a second power- axe before impacting the creature with such fury that she split its breast bone. She didn't stop there and as the creature's massive scythes flailed around her she dodged each one before decapitating the beast. With the beast defeated, the smaller creatures seemed to be confused and this enabled the remaining Squats to fight back the horde enough for the wounded to be loaded onto the escape ships ready to leave the planet. It was a great pity that Brithiof was so berserk at this time that she had charged after the remaining Raveners, never to be seen again... and it was impossible to think that she ever left the home world before it was destroyed.
"And had it not been for my darling Brithiof, many of the veterans would not be here today" said Mikkel "and you see these tears? These aren't for sadness, these are for pride."
With that, he silently sipped his mead and the children dispersed so that Mikkel could spend some time looking into the flames that danced in the hearth.