Ursarkar E. Creed. It’s an almost mythical name to the Cadians. However, he wasn’t always the legend who defended the Cadian Gate to the bitter end. Last Step Backwards by Justin D Hill seeks to explore Creed before the events of Cadia with an excellently crafted short story. It’s no secret that I love Cadia Stands and Cadian Honour, and that Imperial Guard stories tick a lot of boxes for me. They present us with the closest relatable characters in Warhammer 40,000 as it’s hard to fully understand giant space mutants who worship a god of skulls. So it’s in stories following the everyday soldiers that a lot of the human tales are told. Just like this one.
Last Step Backwards follows a group of Cadian Shock Troop Whiteshields as they become the last line of defence against a force of Chaos worshippers. Which is so far, so Warhammer 40,000. However, Whiteshields are essentially new recruits with no battle experience and the enemy numbers, weapons and skill far exceed the Imperium’s defenders. Enter Ursarkar E. Creed who using his tactical prowess hopes to turn the tide of the conflict. And the small additions of Creed and new recruits might seem like small details, but they are enough to elevate this story above similar tales of last defences.
The main reason is how well Justin D Hill manages to build a Whiteshield character in a few paragraphs and subsequently kill them off. Hill manages to pull you into the boots of these soldiers and forces you to experience the horrors of war. At the same time though, Last Step Backward has action scenes and tactical manoeuvres that keep you turning page after page, and there aren’t that many pages to turn.
Creed himself is a bit of an enigma. He’s a spin on your classic thinks outside the box general, but it works in a setting where everyone is brainwashed into service and rarely deviates from the given path. In contrast, with someone like Ciaphas Cain carves his own path through his excessively self serving nature, Creed does so by his refusal to give up. You’re never sure whether the face Creed puts on as he goes around the Whiteshield camp chatting with soldiers and give them pep talks is a mask or if he’s just a nice guy who sees the benefit of a morale boost. Throughout Last Step Backward, Creed has you questioning his methods and whether he can pull through in the end, which keeps every fight tense and compelling.
Other than Creed, the major standout character is a Whiteshield called Fesk. We follow Fesk’s perspective as he tries to survive this conflict, meets Creed and makes friends with the other Whiteshields. Only to see those friend’s torn away from him in truly sad moments and the full impact of this war hit him in the face over and over. So by the end of the story, when you see what’s in store for him as a Cadian Shock Trooper, you feel all the more sorry for the people part of the Imperial war machine. On top of this, we know that the Cadian Gate is going to fall so the small victory won here pales in comparison to the coming loss.
Last Step Backward is a story designed to build up the legend of Ursarkar E. Creed, and it succeeds in what it sets out to do. It also manages to be an exhilarating, tragic tale of war on the frontlines for new soldiers. You should pick this up if you’ve read Cadia Stands and want to help fill in some of the blanks to do with this character. Also, I’m going to cover the other Ursarkar E. Creed (Lost Hope and Battle of Tyrok Fields) to further expand on his monolithic figure, so watch this space.
Thanks for reading. For more Warhammer 40,000 short stories, check out my review of Crusade and Other Stories. Alternatively, if you want to play your Warhammer stories then check out my coverage of Dawn of War.