An Oath to Hashtor

by Sterling the pegasus

Chapter Two

Night had fallen and the sun had risen again before Stormhoof had noticed a plume of smoke on the horizon. He had been following a nearby stream downriver since he had left the crash site-stopping only to take coordinates of the Thunderhawk’s wreckage that had been scattered out across the land. 
The way had initially been easy to traverse. The crash had wrought a great gash across the deciduous forest-great trees that must have been centuries-old had been torn out of the soil they had lived in for so long, or had simply been sheared in half. A fire had sprouted and had promptly died out-why the forest had not been plunged into a blazing inferno, the Unicorn could not say.

The gouge had ended after a few hours of walking, the trees being packed together too tightly for his massive power armour to navigate until he had found the river. Walking along its bank, he studied his surroundings. This planet was unnamed. It was lush, fertile land-with a bit of work removing the forests, it could make a decent agri-world. Alien birds twittered and played overhead as warm sunlight trickled between the branches of the white-barked trees. The plant life was surely the most diverse of any world Stormhoof had ever seen. Strange ferns and moss littered the ground, crunched under his massive boots as he clopped through the forest-perhaps a paradise world would be a more deserving fate for this place when the Imperium finally came to claim it. He had heard noises of larger creatures-beasts moving in the forest behind him. Every time he’d instinctively brought his horn’s glow to the hilt of his power sword, but had never ceased trotting. Something big was out there, but whatever it was, his hyper-enhanced hearing could determine it was back in the direction of the crash-site, too far away to worry about for the moment.

A pony marine such as he had no place here. Being a gene-son of Sanguinius had given him an appreciation for beauty, but he knew his role was to be a weapon until he no longer could, not to trot the forests of an unknown world whilst his brothers chased down the heretic astartes he had been sent to slay in the first place. He growled. His brothers. His squad, they had followed him-all of them had been asked by him to join, of course, but all had accepted. Had he not asked them personally, maybe they would not have been on that thunderhawk, maybe they would still be alive-if he had not moved back in time-or had not activated his helmet in time, perhaps he would have been among the dead, lying frozen in the void. Shaking his head, Stormhoof realised that he had stopped walking. He snorted and continued. Not now. He thought. He could feel himself growing angry, and for many of his brothers, anger had led them down a path he could not afford to trot down right now.

He came to the edge of the woods when the sun was directly overhead. A field of alien creatures he could only guess was a form of livestock greeted him. Perfectly still save for their ever-chewing mouths, grazing at the grass beneath their hooven feet, their heavy lidded stares all fixed on the knight of yellow who had emerged from the treeline before them.
He walked around the wooden fence towards the source of the smoke. A simple habitation awaited him. It was one-storey, wrought of hoof-cut stone that he could only assume was from a nearby quarry. The smoke poured gently out of a chimney on the peaked roof, derived from the same materials. He stopped. He hadn’t noticed it before, as he had been observing the scene in front of him. Tilting his helm down, he finally noticed the figure standing just below his initial line of sight, slack-jawed and wide-eyed. “Oh. a Pony.” he said, more to himself than to the farmer.

The farmer yelped and bolted, galloping into the cottage, slamming the worn wooden door behind him.
“Oh. a Pony…” he sighed. Moving towards the door. 
Using his horn to fully float off his helmet in order to appear less like a machine to the somewhat primitive and potentially superstitious farmer, he knocked gently on the door with a hoof. “Greetings farmer-I assume that is what you are. I have landed on your planet and do not intend to stay here long. Do you know if there is anyone I can talk to that will be able to help me understand where I am?”

He could hear movement inside, hushed tones whispered to someone, the thick stone dampening the voices more than his ears could make out. He noticed that his breath misted in front of him, and finally recognised the dampness on his slightly furred hide, the beads of water trickling down his armour, and the cold in the air.
The door opened again and his head snapped back, then down. 
“Greetings, little one.”
Before him was a child, a little filly, no older than six Equestrian years of age as far as he could tell. She looked up at him, wide-eyed, but unlike the farmer, it was awe more than fear.
There was a moment of silence between the two of them before she spoke; “You look strong, are you one of the Jousting Knights my Dad said protected us from the monsters in the forest?”
“I am” he said, adjusting to the low gothic she had spoken in. “I am one of the Emperor’s knights. I am one of those that keep all of ponykind safe-and that means you.”
She smiled at that, then turned “Dad, he’s not here to hurt us, he’s one of the Knights, like you said”
It took a moment, but shakily, the father’s muzzle poked around the doorway, seeming to relax-ever so slightly at the sight of an equestrian one. “You’re not like the other Jousters, Lord”
He internally noted how even this stallion, who had never even heard of a space marine, saw him as ‘lord’. “How so?”
The farmer gulped, but continued “The other knights are big machines, larger than a house, with pilots from our own people. Your face does not look like it is from here.”
“You are correct, I am not from here. My name is Lieutenant Stormhoof, of the Lamenters space marine chapter. I am a warrior of the Emperor, he who sits upon the golden throne of Terra, and my sole purpose is the protection of ponykind by His will.”

Suddenly, the farmer stiffened. “Come inside, quickly!” He held the door open as Stormhoof stooped low to enter. “What is wrong?” he asked, as the farmer began bolting the door shut, and pulling the simple curtains closed on the windows.
“It’s a Skazelink attack, don’t worry, they’ll take a few of the cattle, and then leave in about an hour’s time. All we have to do is stay here and be quiet.”
“A…Skazelink? I do not understand.”
The farmer sighed as he watched his daughter move over to a wooden chest in the corner of the room, pulling out a simple toy that Stormhoof recognised as being carved to resemble an Imperial Knight Jouster of Gallant specifications.
“Skazelinks are a type of forest creature.” He said in a hushed tone. “They usually stay amongst the trees and hunt other animals that live in there, but as of late they’ve taken to attacking livestock from here and the other surrounding farms. 
They never come alone, and they’re vicious. Two weeks ago we had the first attack we’d had in these parts for a hundred years. My wife wanted to protect our animals, she wouldn’t listen to me. They tore her apart before I had the chance to do anything but hold our daughter and run. They camouflage you see, their fur is capable of blending into the trees, the rocks, whatever they want.”
Stormhoof did not know how to react to this information. He should feel sorry for the stallion, but did not know what to say. What to do however, he did know.

“I will be back.” He said, floating his helmet on and trotting towards the door.
“Don’t go out there! Did you hear what I said?” the farmer hissed, being gently pushed aside with ease by one huge, armoured hoof.
“Do not worry” Stormhoof’s voice boomed, not angrily, but stern enough for the stallion to wince back. Stormhoof opened the door, then stopped. Looking back, he saw the little filly, her eyes were shining, looking at him. 
He gave a nod, and leaned down to exit back outside.
Making sure the door was closed behind him, the space-stallion peered out over the scene.
The space was empty. Two of the cattle lay dead already, the others huddled together in the middle of the paddock. As he watched, twin slashes appeared in the side of one of the beasts, causing it to groan out in pain. What caused the slashes was unseeable, but it was there. Drawing his power sword with his telekinesis, Stormhoof switched his visor to preysight, and the thermal outlines of the Skazelinks were revealed to him.

There were four of them in total. He watched as they stalked, feline-like in circles around the huddled cattle. He could hear their low growls as they slashed again at the wounded animal, bringing it down with a gouge to its neck. Stormhoof turned on the power field of his sword, the crackling sound did not go unnoticed. Moving together as one, the Skazelinks fanned out around him. He stood his ground, deliberately tracking them with his eyes rather than his entire head-they did not yet know he could see them, better to keep that advantage, after all.
Suddenly, one of them appeared at the corner of his vision. It was large, larger than him. Its head bobbing up and down, studying him, trying to find a weak point in his armour to strike at.

Before it got the chance to, his power sword swung, fast, too fast for it to react. Its head was lopped off cleanly, the sword slicing through with barely any resistance. As it collapsed to the ground, ichor sprayed out of the neck stump, coating the side of his armour. He turned around and pushed himself backwards, using the bulk of his body as a ram to the face of the second pouncing enemy. He heard a whimper as it fell to the ground, its claws scrabbling for purchase as he crunched down on its skull with his hoof, the creature’s flailing cut short under his weight. Stormhoof turned, the third beast had left the scene, stopping on the edge of the clearing, it turned, and growled at him, before racing off into the trees. He almost went after it-the rage eating at the edge of his vision. He managed to bring himself back under control just before he remembered. There were four of them
The third beast had provided an ample distraction. Stormhoof spun around just as he was knocked off his hooves  by the body of the fourth. His sword fell out of his magical grip as he was barrelled into, and he distinctly remembered the time he had spent with the Black Templars, and how they chained their weapons to their armour so they could never be thrown too far away from them. The Skazelink slashed and bit at him as they rolled in the dirt, its razor sharp teeth and claws scratching into the painted ceramite. It was strong, able to hold him down as it battered at his armour, accidentally scoring a slash in the undersuit of his right back-leg between the plates.

Snarling, he stopped one of its paws with his hoof as it tried to bat at his helmet. With the striking of the two appendages, he heard bone break as the Skazelink yelped, stumbling back off of him. It hissed, not putting any weight on its injured limb as Stormhoof stood up on his four hooves, and hovered his sword over, advancing on the creature. He broke into a gallop, parrying a slash from its other claws as he drove the sword deep into its chest. It reeled back, trying to free itself, before the Lamenter dragged magically upwards, spilling its steaming guts all over himself and the ground around him. It struggled on the floor, its life ebbing away as he scanned the treeline. The third Skazelink that had provided the distraction was there, its head cocked to one side. It blinked once at him, and turned around, disappearing into the forest. 

He stayed there, watching, waiting for it to reappear, but it did not.
“Thank you, mister”
He spun around, sword raised-then relaxed. It was the little filly, somehow, she didn’t even flinch.
“You are…not scared?” He asked after magically removing his helmet. Realizing just how much Xenos blood had been sprayed over himself.
“Why would I be? You saved us from the monsters like you said” she giggled. Stormhoof was not sure how to react.
Her father came close behind her.
“Thank you, my Lord, for protecting us from the Skazelinks.”
“An oath is an oath”
“I am but a poor farmer, and am unable to offer much, but I know that if you travel north for about three days by cart you’ll reach the town of Altheheim. You can meet the Jousting Knights in the fortress at the heart of town.”
Gently, the Lamenter placed one hoof to his chest. “My thanks, I will leave now. Tend to your cattle, and keep this little one safe” He added with a slim smile, looking down at the beaming filly hugging her father’s foreleg.
“Of course my Lord. Know that you are welcome in our humble cottage any time you like.”
There was a pause as Stormhoof envisioned himself staying in the tight cottage, it would be a nice life for a pony, a simple life, one that the Lieutenant could never have.
“Yes.” He answered.
Sheathing his sword, he turned, and trotted North without another word.