First through Fifth of Harvest
eighth through twelfth days of the new moon (waxing gibbous)
In light of Polynikes Callistos’ warning, the column pushed on towards Green Rivers until the night grew so dark that navigation through the jungle was impossible. That evening, Olive Mollin and Polynikes kept watch over the camp. Olive spotted two soldiers approaching the camp, and stalled them long enough for Polynikes to arrive. THe soldiers treated him with immediate deference, referring to him as “lord.” With Polynikes to watch the newcomers, Olive woke Cameron Traver, who brought Philippa Darry and Connor Darry.
The soldiers were survivors of a squad (five in all) from the 176th Breslin Infantry, who claimed to have been out of communication with their company for several days following a lost battle with orks. Connor offered them food in exchange for information. The soldiers said that the starship destroyed earlier in the day almost certainly contained the 111th Krieg Siege Regiment, corroborating Polynikes’ suspicion that Lord General al-Gerez had just lost a significant portion of his combat power in a single blow. The soldiers said that the Imperial Navy had encountered Tau warships in orbit around Nova when they arrived – and, although the Navy had driven off the aliens, their best guess was that either some Tau warships had escaped and returned to destroy the Krieg regiment’s transport, or that new Tau ships had arrived. From their perspective, the campaign against the orks was going poorly owing to a lack of manpower – a problem likely to be exacerbated by the catastrophic loss of the Krieg infantry. Without the Kriegers, the Imperial Guard on Nova was reduced to five regiments: the 8th Breslin Infantry, the 176th Breslin Infantry, the 99th Dyrmose Horse, Caspar’s Thunder, and the 894th Revenier Mechanized Reconnaissance.
The soldiers said that the Lord General had engaged the orks in the Umbran Jungle in hopes of preventing them from making contact with the “feral” or native orks, but had only recently escaped off-world ork “commandos” hunting using squiggly beasts in the manner of hounds, a Novan practice. This suggests that the two populations have already begun to mix. Polynikes explained later that all ork tribes seem to have an innate knowledge of how to manufacture the weapons, vehicles and armor used by the off-world orks, but that in some populations this knowledge remains dormant. Contact with suitable examples seems to unlock the knowledge hidden within the orks’ psyche – and thus, if the orkish populations were not quarantined, the off-world orks’ “inspiration” would spread to all the orks on Nova, leaving its human population hopelessly outclassed. He warned that, in light of the intelligence gained from the 176th, it was likely already too late, and cleansing Nova of its orkish scourge would likely require a massive effort by the Imperial Guard involving many millions of guardsmen – if the Inquisition did not decide that it was more efficient to simply render the planet uninhabitable for any kind of life whatsoever. Finally, he made a point of telling Connor and Philippa that the lost and desperate soldiers would almost certainly have robbed the column had Olive not spotted them.
The column continued to press on for several days through jungle that bore obvious signs of fighting, until it reached the border zone of the jungle where the canopy was thinner and ground cover consequently thicker. On the fifth of Harvest, the column was stopped when the villagers from Ashlance stumbled upon a dying soldier from the 8th Breslin Infantry, concealed by his camouflaged uniform under a bush at the base of the tree. Philippa sent Valerica Daroline to investigate the disturbance, and Olive followed.
They discovered the dying soldier threatening the villagers with a captured ork pistol, demanding that they bring him water. When Valerica stepped forward to take charge of the situation, he began threatening her, and Olive moved to protect the lady-in-waiting. This transferred the soldier’s threats to Olive. Valerica managed to summon Polynikes under the guise of sending a villager for water, but the soldier – Patrick Kelly, he said – was undaunted by the angel’s arrival, continuing to demand water and now food. Olive attempted to trade water for his knowledge of the ongoing fighting, but this caused Kelly to become even more abusive.
Valerica started to demand that Olive do something to punish Kelly for threatening a member of the Brotherhood, but Olive was reluctant. When she appealed to Polynikes, he simply asked Olive what she thought should be done. Olive suggested summoning Connor to pass judgment. When Polynikes asked Valerica the same question, she reluctantly agreed.
As Connor and Philippa approached, Olive considered how to disarm Kelly. She ordered him to lay down his arms, but he continued to threaten all and sundry until he seemed to slump into unconsciousness. Not wanting to get close enough to take the spell away from him, she attempted to shoot him in the hand and missed. The shot woke the soldier, who returned fire. A startled Olive attempted to separate herself from the crowd, trading fire with Kelly as she ran. Olive’s second shot penetrated Kelly’s helmet and killed him instantly. Kelly’s second shot missed Olive, but struck a man of the village, Ibram Halsteen. The ork weapon passed clean through Halsteen’s chest, causing him to begin to drown in his own blood. Olive tried to stop the bleeding, but it quickly became unclear that she would be unable to save him. In the absence of a priest, Polynikes granted Halsteen “the Emperor’s Peace,” solemnly informing the older man that at last, in death, his duty was ended, before quickly decapitating him.
In the shocked aftermath, Polynikes asked Olive why Halsteen was dead. She replied that she hadn’t been fast enough to separate herself from the crowd. Seemingly unsatisfied with this answer, he put the same question to Valerica, who had no answer. The correct answer, he said, was that Olive had hesitated when Kelly first showed himself to be a threat. As he stripped the dead man’s gear, he warned Olive not to hesitate the next time an enemy let down his guard.