AN : and here is another short story. The idea for it came from Guilliman's review of the last chapter : "A heretic Space Marine from the Thousand Sons legion seeking redemption". And yes, I am aware that that makes it two stories in a row he inspired. That wasn't even voluntary on my part, I swear I noticed it just as I put this online.
Concerning Bibotot's questions in his review, all I can say is the following : the uncertainty is part of the story. Even I do not know what the hell the Alpha Legion was up to.
So, here is another short story. If you like it, please review. If you have an idea for another one, please review too, or send me a message.
I do not own the Warhammer 40000 universe nor any of its characters. They belong to Games Workshop.
The touch of the wind on my face brings me the scent of dust.
I stand alone, amidst the shining towers and lore-filled libraries of Tizca as it was. This is the City of Light, home to millions of scholars and students of the universe's many mysteries, yet there is not a single soul in sight. Instead, shades wander the streets, ghosts of the past replicating the moves that real serfs and citizens accomplished in an era now long gone.
There is no one but me here, for Tizca is dead. It burned in the fires unleashed by the Wolves, who believed us betrayers before Fate's conspiracy made that accusation a reality. This city is but a memory, dragged from my mind and given form by manipulating my own brain into believing it is real. I don't know why I do this, why I torture myself with the image of what has been lost over and over again. I suspect I wouldn't like the answer. But I find serenity here, and renewal of purpose.
I hear the summon from my master. It is a screeching, insistent sound at the edge of my perception, dragging my attention away from my longing memories and back into the material world. I open my eyes and find myself alone, sitting in my cell aboard the Blade of Nightmare. It is spartan as most such places tend to be, with a single block of metal where I can rest my body when the need for sleep is too strong to ignore as the only furniture. Trophies from my past battles hang on the walls : the skinned fur of a Fenrisian wolf, taken while my homeworld burned around me, the broken power blade of an Imperial Fist Librarian, picked up from his corpse during the Siege of Terra and the empty lasrifle of a Guardsman who almost killed me with it, amongst others.
I reach to the vox in my helm, and immediately, the words come :
'Come here, sorcerer. I need you. The prisoner has broken.'
The prisoner is barely alive when I reach the torture chamber. Most of his skin has been flayed, including that of his face, revealing the powerful Astartes muscles beneath. Blood drips from a few cuts his Larraman cells are unable to close, overwhelmed as they are by the hundreds of wounds covering the body of the tortured warrior. Patches of skin are already growing back on his naked frame, but the process is slow and erratic. His body is breaking down, his considerable vitality finally running dry under the strain of his captor's attention.
'Are you admiring my work, sorcerer ?' asks the voice of my lord and master.
Without his helmet on, his voice is sickeningly sweet. It is the voice of an artist, a lover. Not the voice of a monster like Kraëlion the Touched and those under his command. I do not know what aspect of his soul caused the Eye to alter his vocal cords this way, and as for many other things in our purgatory, I am glad for that ignorance. Contrary to what my Legion once believed, some secrets – and many truths – are best left unknown.
I turn to Kraëlion before answering his question. Like most of his warriors, the lord of the Strillika Fortarya – the Endless Nightmare, in the language of his murdered homeworld – wears the colors of the Eighth Legion. Like many members of the Nine Legions, he can no longer remove his armor – it has been bound to his flesh by the will of the Pantheon. The ceramite of it is covered in tiny, blood-red runes of Nostraman script depicting the many deeds of the being wearing the armor. Once, Kraëlion engraved these runes himself. Now, he dictates to armoury slaves as they carve his words onto the metal.
When I look at his face, I do not see the handsome appearance his patron had blessed him with. I see only two orbs of pure blackness amidst a mess of rewired nerves and mutated grey matter. My training as one of the Pavoni, the biomancers of the Fifteenth Legion, is what makes me so valuable to my warlord. It is also what makes me see him – and every other warrior aboard the Blade of Nightmare – as the abomination he really is. I look upon a perfect face and see only the corruption of the Youngest God.
And they say the Ruinous Powers have no sense of humor.
'Yes,' I finally answer. Kraëlion nods, and I can see his aura flicker with pride, then annoyance, then impatience.
'Now, get me what I want from him, sorcerer.'
I bow slightly, and turn back to the prisoner. This time I reach out with my sixth sense, delving into his ravaged biology to force out the answers we need. His mind is a broken, ruined mess. The pain has destroyed him, but hasn't killed him yet. His soul, once as bright and potent as that of any Astartes, is now reduced to quickly cooling embers, too weak to manifest even the weakling spirits such agony as he was feeling should bring into existence, this deep in the Eye of Terror.
When we captured this warrior, on a battlefield of living bone and boiling skies, he screamed and fought back, cursing the comrades who had left behind for their cowardice and us for … many things. Now he is little more than an empty shell, his psyche broken to pieces by the Night Lord standing nearby. His memories, once blocked by an almost impassable wall of fury and hatred, are laid bare before me.
His name is Irion Dolen, and he was born on Cthonia. Like a rapidly diminishing portion of the Legionaries in the Eye, he is a Son of Horus. That is the reason he is here now, why Kraëlion wants me to ransack his brain. Some hatred are stronger than others, even here in hell.
I do not know when the hunt for the blood of the Sixteenth began. Its roots are in the Siege, of course. The Sons of Horus cost us the war, claim many amongst the Nine Legions. Their shameful run from Terra after the death of their Primarch had left the others without support, and forced to retreat under the fire of the loyalists. Those using that rhetoric often conveniently forget that the First and Sixth Legions were almost on us, and the Horus' duel with the Emperor was the last chance to salvage a battle that had gone to hell the moment the first of us had landed on Terra.
But it doesn't matter to me. I have my own reasons to wish the extinction of the Sixteenth Legion, for a sin far prior to any perceived failure on the Throneworld. After all, they are to blame for the treachery that destroyed Prospero and cast us out of the Imperium.
For almost ten minutes, I search into the prisoner's head. I push on his dying brain to bring back to the fore his memories, before quickly looking through their contents and then discarding them. I have no interest in his childhood, nor in his fond remembrance of his father's glory. Some pieces of information about the Eye's ever-evolving balance of power I commit to my own memory for later use.
Then, at last, I find what Kraëlion wants. I release my hold on Irion, and his body goes limp, released at last from the torture of his prolonged existence.
'Did you find it, Raherka ?' asks the warlord, using the name my parents gave me at birth and that I kept when induced into the Thousand Sons.
'Yes, my lord,' I answer. 'I know where the rest of them fled.'
The Blade of Nightmare roars as she emerges from an ocean of burning daemons and into the calmer tides where our prey has made its lair. It is well hidden, I have to give the Sons of Horus that much. A small island of stability amidst one of the Eye's most dangerous regions, it would have been impossible to find had I not plucked its location from Irion's mind. Even then, the journey was arduous, for the prisoner was no psyker. He knew little of the path – glimpses from his ship's occulus into the madness beyond, and the whispers of the slaves who dreamed of what surrounded the metal world they lived in. But for me, it was enough. Enough to guide our Navigator across the storm, seeking one point of remembrance after the other, until we reached this haven. Without such guidance, I suspect the tale of how our prey found it in the first place to be a saga of its own.
The hunger of the ship's machine-spirit is matched by that of her crew. We have sailed for weeks, and the Strillika Fortarya crave blood. Standing on the bridge, next to Kraëlion's command throne, I can see our target appear on the occulus, and hold back a sigh of relief when the vessel is confirmed to be the Lupercal's Honor. There is no telling what my lord's reaction would have been had I been mistaken.
The Lupercal's Honor is a wounded creature. She has come back here to lick her scars and allow her crew to repair the rents in her steel. Many of those wounds were taken when the Sons of Hours fled from us. Apart from those, the ship also bears the marks of her sojourn within the Great Eye. Vast tendrils of woven flesh and metal are growing from her prow, slowly moving in response to the currents of the Warp. These tentacles are dangerous if you get too close – the Blade still bears the scars of when we last faced the Sixteenth Legion warband.
While Kraëlion orders us to get closer and tells the rest of his warriors to prepare for boarding action, I open my mind and reach out to the souls aboard the Lupercal's Honor. I ignore the pained wails of her machine-spirit and focuses on the living within. Like any other battle-barge of the Legions, the Sons of Horus' vessel is home to tens of thousands of crew. I swim through their minds, brushing against their thoughts as I do so. I feel fear coming from them, much fear. They know we are here – I can hear the alarms rising across the ship through their ears – and they know who we are.
Other, stronger minds remain untouched by fear. These are the souls of Legionaries, preparing for battle with a mix of bitter anger and desperation. They know we will want to take their ship as undamaged as possible, to salvage it for our own use. It is the way of all warbands within the Eye, and they intend to make us pay for it in blood. One of them stands on the bridge, his soulfire brighter, commanding his men and inspiring them to fight to the last. I can admire such determination, foolish as it is and fruitless as it will prove in the end.
Then I see one last soul, shining like a beacon through the Warp and bearing the mark of the Changer of Ways. Dozens of Neverborn circle around it, drawn to its light but not daring to get close to it lest they get burned. It senses my observation and flares in response, and I retreat to my body before I am dragged in a battle of wills. My eyes open back to the Blade of Nightmare's bridge, and find Kraëlion looking at me, expectation radiating from his aura. Something in my posture indicates him that I have returned from my scouting, but I answer his question before it can leave his lips.
'I can sense them. They are both here. Torelei is on the bridge of the Lupercal's Honor.'
'And where is your brother, sorcerer ?'
The suspicion in his voice makes my skin crawl. Does he believe me to be about to turn sides ? No, that's not it. His true motive is well concealed for a non-psyker, but I can still see it clearly. He simply enjoys tormenting me by remembering me of what I will have to do. If only he knew …
'Leave Senusret to me,' I answer him drily.
Boarding actions are some of the most dangerous missions Astartes can undertake. Cut off from reinforcements and resupply, trapped in the very middle of their enemy with no easy way to retreat, even Legionaries can sustain grievous losses. And when the target ship is defended by other Space Marines, it is even worse. Kraëlion knows this, as does his rival Captain Torelei, formerly of the 217th Battle Company of the Sons of Horus. But there are ways to counter this disadvantage.
Boarding a ship defended by fifty-seven Astartes with a force of over three hundred Legionaries is one of them. In a fight between Space Marines, mortals rarely amount to much, and the crew of the Lupercal's Honor is not used to fighting. The Sons of Horus lost what little support troops they had the last time we crossed paths, as was inevitable. The Strillika Fortarya is a far more successful warband than Torelei's broken company. The Night Lords Kraëlion brought with him in the Eye have attracted many errant groups of Emperor's Children over the years, as well as the occasional lone wanderer such as myself. While I, unlike my lord and most of the warband, do not follow the ways of the Dark Prince, I mus admit his patron has truly blessed him in return for his devotion.
Faith in one of the Four Gods is rare amongst the Eighth Legion. Their Primarch never joined any of them, and most of his sons strive to follow his exemple. But others, like Kraëlion and his men, believe this to be another failure from a demigod who hated all those carrying his gene-seed. They have embraced the teachings of the Youngest God, and allowed the touch of Slaanesh to reshape their flesh and souls into creatures far more adapted to life in the Eye than they would have been otherwise.
It is easy to hate them, to despise their corruption. To look upon them and see only the ruin of their potential, the forsaking of their glory and the willing fall into Hell. I know this is how many in the Imperium – many in the Nine Legions still – would see them. But I cannot judge them for it, for I am the same. I, too, am marked by one of the Four. The only difference is that I didn't even get a choice.
I tear my way through the ship, escorted by six warriors of the Third Legion. They wear armor of purple and black decorated with the flayed faces of their victims. Their weapons are strange, unholy unions of a madman's genius and the power of the Warp which send shrieking soundwaves that tear apart flesh and ceramite alike. There is little for me to do, and I let them enjoy the merciless slaughter of defenceless crew. My part in this will come later. For now, I just have to guide them across the labyrinth of corridors toward our prey. My senses are open, seeking the shining soul I am to defeat.
As we pass through an engine room, I catch my reflection on one of the cleanest metal surfaces. Unlike my allies, my armor is of cobalt and bronze, with the heraldy of my Legion still emblazoned on the shoulder paldron. My helm is a reflection of the ancient burial masks of my people's kings in bygone ages, though the golden surface of it is molded not into the peaceful face of a ruler having finally found rest, but into the cold aspect of a judge watching all around him through red eye-lenses.
The blade in my hands does not reflect in the metal. It doesn't belong to reality, after all. To the human eye, it looks like a khopesh blade such as my Legion has used since long before the Burning of Prospero. To those who are gifted, however, the true nature of the weapon is revealed : a daemon, once my tutelary spirit, now bound in the blade I used to kill a son of Russ I had called brother. The weapon's very nature is imbued in treachery and betrayal, and to feel its touch is to know damnation.
We keep going, running in the steady, unyielding pace of Legionaries until we find what we came here for. The first signs that we are near are subtle : a growing pressure in the ether, the almost undetectable scent of ozone, the soft whispers of anguished Neverborn. Only to me are they obvious. Those we find later are more obvious.
Seven Astartes wearing the colors of the Eighth Legion lay dead across the dark room, their bodies torn apart limbs from limbs. Something powerful did this, but there are many creatures in the Eye matching that description. Still, the others easily divine that this is proof our quarry is close. I lift my left hand, gesturing for them to pause. Someone is coming from the other side of the room, emerging from the shadows to face me and my escort in the pale light cast by the few lumi-globes that still shine.
'Brother,' I greet him.
'Raherka,' he answers. His voice is not filled with hatred, nor with contempt. Instead, it merely holds … fatigue. He is tired. So very, very tired. Not physically or psychically – Senusret is powerful enough that killing the Night Lords didn't weaken him much. But, like so many of my Legion, he is tired of life.
He and I are very similar, like reflections cast from opposite sides of a subtly altered mirror. His armor wears the Eye of Horus on its breastplate, and he carries a staff of black crystal rather than a blade, but except for these details, we must appear identical to the outside eye. Two members of the Thousand Sons, having left the new homeworld of our Legion to wander the Eye of Terror, selling our services to the myriad warbands within. Two more sorcerers in Hell.
The Emperor's Children stay clear of us. They do not want to be drawn in what is sure to follow. Battles between psykers can easily get messy. I do not blame them for that. Their task is to protect me from more mundane dangers and see me to my own enemy.
'Tell me, Senusret,' I ask. 'Why did you join this pathetic warband ? The Sons of Horus are as doomed as we are. Their extinction in inevitable. Surely there were others you could have joined ?'
He snorts, and shake his head.
'And who should I have joined, brother ? The World Eaters, who killed all those of their own kin possessing even a shred of the gift ? The Emperor's Children, who are to blame for both the failure of the Siege and the current anarchy of the Eye with their greed and corruption ? The Night Lords, who look upon us all as weaklings because they managed to hide from the Imperium without having to plunge into Hell ? Or the Iron Warriors, who kill anyone approaching their fortresses on sight ?'
I can feel contempt radiating from him, but even that emotion is weak. His soulfire is strong, but the feelings at the core of his being are being used to fuel it. When he answers, I can feel his confidence, his absolute certainty that his words are right, that he knows the truth. So typical of my kin. Always so sure, so certain. Even when we are shown our mistakes in the most devastatingly clear way possible, we still believe ourselves better than any other.
'The Sons of Horus' star may seem to be falling now, brother. But I have seen their destiny. One day, whether you like it or not, they shall be the rulers of the Eye of Terror. They will rise from the ashes of their past failures, and none will be able to stand in their path. It is written in the skein of fate.'
The other Strillika Fortarya laugh at his words, and even I let out a chuckle. So typical of the Corvidae. To believe they can divine the future from the whispers and shadows of the Sea of Souls, and set their own plans alongside the will of destiny itself.
'Absurd. The Sixteenth Legion is doomed. They will all die before long. Oh, a few may escape the purge – I expect many will, in fact. But the Sons of Horus as whole will cease to exist. That is inevitable. Whatever you saw in the Warp was a lie, brother. And it will cost you much.'
'You always were blind to the currents of Fate, Raherka,' he spits at me, lifting his staff. Power crackles down its length, coursing through the arcane pathways engraved on its surface.
He hurls a bolt of lighting at me, but I am already moving. My body is faster than any unaugmented Legionary may achieve, thanks to the raw power I am forcing through my muscles. I dodge the bolt, and riposte by sending a wave of disrupting energies across Senusret's flesh. He stumbles, struggling to keep his body under his control as contradictory signals reach his brain and nerves.
Before he can, however, I am on him. Usually, battles between sorcerers are contests of will and skill, each one relishing the opportunity to test his power against a worthy opponent. But besting Senusret means nothing to me. My khopesh moves past his hastily raised staff and pierces deep into his chest, impaling both of his hearts and immediately beginning to drain his soulfire from him, leaving him at the mercy of the death that has finally found him.
Senusret looks up at me, and even though his helmet hides his face, I can feel his shock and horror, spilling from his aura just like his body is spilling blood. He does not understand what is happening to him. All Legionaries within the Eye have killed other Legionaries, and many have killed their own brothers, but within the Thousand Sons has always existed an unspoken agreement. We are already on the brink of extinction, and have no peculiar interest in the quarrels of the petty warlords we serve. Most sons of Magnus avoid killing each other if they can, letting their opponent go to find another warband to serve. Our talents are always in demand. But I have broken that silent rule.
'Why ? …' he asks with his dying breath, his soul slipping from his corpse and into the waiting claws of a hundred daemons before I can even consider answering.
I walk away from the corpse of my brother. One more thread, severed. One more scion of Magnus, dead. One more pawn of Tzeentch, swept from the board.
That is why, my dear Senusret. That is why. Our Legion is damned, the toy of a mad god whose designs led us into madness and betrayal. Even now I feel its touch upon my soul, slowly reshaping my thoughts and beliefs. Ahriman's Rubric, despite all its flaws, protected our flesh. But it can do nothing for our soul. That was beyond even the greatest of the Thousand Sons.
I do not know if others can feel it as clearly as I do, or if this is my own, unique curse, placed upon me by the Architect of Fate himself. To know that I am changing, to know that one day nothing will remain of the man I was …
It is hell. But in the killing of my brothers, in the annihilation of my bloodline, in the destruction of the puppets of the Great Mutator, I shall inflict harm upon Chaos itself. In that, I shall repair a fraction of the damage we have caused with our arrogance and our blindness to the truth. In that, I shall once more serve the Imperium, though my deeds shall go unremembered and my name unlauded.
In that, I shall find redemption.