AN : I do not own the Warhammer 40000 universe nor any of its characters. They belong to Games Workshop.
+++Timestamp : 785.M41 – Day of the Unveiling+++
It began with the sound of bells ringing in the distance. That was how Mercarion would remember it in the days to follow the Unveiling.
The Judge was enjoying his mandated five-hours daily rest, his slumber made dreamless by the cocktails of prescribed pills he had swallowed with his allowance of water before laying down.
Enforcing the Emperor's Law across the hive was tiring work, and even without the pills he was confident he would have been asleep within seconds. But the Adeptus Arbites took no chances, especially given the kind of sight the Judges were inevitably witness to.
He woke up twenty-seven minutes before the end of his allotted time, which was already alarming enough. It was the sound of bells that had awakened him, yet the moment his eyes opened, the noise vanished immediately.
"Judge Mer-mer-mercarion," droned out the servitor in the room. "Please return to your-your-your sleep. The Emperor needs-needs-needs you at full strength."
Ordinarily, Mercarion would have followed the injunction without question, and reported his premature awakening to a medicae so that his dosage could be adjusted appropriately. Even the servitor's stutter would hardly have been anything to worry about.
Ordinarily, the servitor wouldn't have been hovering above him with a bloody knife in its hand and sparks emanating from its augmetics.
His training, honed to an edge by years of service in the underhive, took over before conscious thought could fully process the situation. His weapons were in his locker under his cot, along with his armor – he was only wearing a tunic over his naked body.
But regardless of his state of dress, Mercarion was still a Judge. He was the manifestation of the Emperor's Law, rendered into flesh and will and set loose upon the world to bring His judgement.
Within seconds, he stood over the twitching remnants of the servitor, having beaten it with his bare hands until it had shut down. Quickly, he pulled his equipment from his locker and suited up.
Only then did he look at the other cots.
As he had feared, only he was still alive. The other three Judges who had shared his resting shift were dead, their throats cut while they were asleep. He doubted any of them had felt anything – all would have been under the same cocktail as he. Which just added the question of why he had woken up just in time to survive to the pile that needed answering.
This was the Precinct-Fortress, heart of the Adeptus Arbites' power in the hive and one of the best defended locations on the entire world. Any attack on the Judges was an attack on the Imperial Law, but here ? Here, it was nothing short of heresy.
There was nothing but static on his comm-bead, and he could hear sounds of battle in the distance. Ah, so the attempt on his life wasn't an isolated event. Bolt pistol in one hand and mace in the other, he emerged from the resting room and into the corridor outside its door.
He stopped as his gaze passed on the vast windows lining the corridor's external wall. The skies of Poretios Primus were no longer filled with pollution clouds. Instead, they were burning with ... with ...
- stars that shone the color of madness - beasts with maws full of nightmares - the shape of love's death and hope's betrayal obscenely coupling - faces that were not faces looking down with corpse-grins -
He forced his eyes away from the awful sight with an effort of will that left him panting slightly, his limbs trembling with sudden exhaustion, as if he had just been fighting for his life – which, he grimly realized, he had very much been.
No, not just for his life : for his very immortal soul. This ... this was the Warp's work. Had the servitor who had killed his colleagues been corrupted rather than reprogrammed by one of the Arbites' many enemies ?
It was only then that he started to hear the screams.
Blinking, he realized that the reinforced plexiglass of the windows had shattered during his fit. The floor was littered with softly glowing pieces, leaving the entire corridor exposed to the elements – and letting in the terrible noise of an entire hive-city screaming in madness and terror.
Hell had come to Poretios Primus. The city – perhaps the entire world – was caught in the grip of a nightmare from which Mercarion was afraid none of them would ever wake up.
+++Timestamp : Seventy-seven hours after the Unveiling+++
"Communication with the spires has stopped entirely-"
"Squad X-Omegon is reporting that the gates of St Deledros' Cathedral have fallen -"
"Heretics are swarming down Guilliman Avenue -"
"Daemons have been seen in the Eastern Quadrant -"
"Ship captains across the system are reporting that their Navigators can't see the light of the Astronomican anymore – the shadows have teeth teeth teeth TEETH TEETH GNAWING ON THE CORPSE SITTING THE GOLDEN THRONE -"
A brief silence fell on the comms stations as the headless body of the operator slid to the ground and Mercarion holstered his bolt pistol, before the buzz of reports and orders resumed. Two menials emerged from their alcoves to drag the corpse to the incinerator – they weren't taking any chances, not after what had happened when they had simply packed the bodies in an empty room.
Such a task would normally have been reserved for servitors, but all of them had been destroyed after the death of the three other Judges who had been sleeping along Mercarion. After checking that the headless body wasn't showing any sign of reanimation, the last Judge left in Poretios Primus – the other four who had been active during the Unveiling had been confirmed dead within the first hours – turned his focus back on the strategic map of the hive spreading on a huge screen.
With the Cathedral having finally succumbed, the Precinct-Fortress was the last bastion of Imperial order in the entire hive-city. The Governor's palace had been the first location to fall to the daemonic incursion – God-Emperor, how bad was it that he could think such words without shuddering ? It used to be that even acknowledging that daemons existed outside of the morality tales of the Ecclesiarchy was forbidden. With the death of the Governor and his extended family, Mercarion had found himself forced to assume command of the Arbites and all other loyal Imperial forces in the hive-city.
They weren't sure where the original Warp breach had occurred, but it hardly mattered now. Even if they had had an Inquisitor capable of closing it on hand, the daemons had already opened plenty more all across the hive. Some believed that the initial breach had occurred in the spires, opened by a cult among the nobility that had somehow escaped notice until it was too late.
It was possible, Mercarion knew : the great and good of the Imperium all too often fell short of their responsibilities. Certainly they had seen plenty of branded cultists and reanimated corpses clad in the tattered remnants of fine clothes, but those were still only a drop in the bucket.
Countless civilians had been driven to madness when they had looked up at the Warp-torn skies. Most had died soon after, either at their own hands, the claws of the daemons or the guns of those still sane. But Poretios Primus had been home to billions, and while many had lived deep enough in the hive they had never seen the skies, there were still millions who had caught sight of the tainted heavens. As the power of the Warp coursed through Poretios Primus
They rampaged across the hive, slaughtering all they came across and making blasphemous shrines out of their victims' remains. These 'shrines' seemed to draw the daemons, and on at least one occasion one had turned into a new Warp breach. They had lost an entire company of Arbitrators to that one, and the last reports, screamed over the static-laden vox-net, had spoken of flesh growing from the walls around the breach, rotting even as it emerged from the cracks caused by the near-permanent hive-quakes.
Squads of Arbitrators sent out from the Precinct-Fortress to relieve isolated groups of survivors and purge dens of infestation before they could degenerate into another Warp breach reported that heretical sigils had been marked upon many surfaces. Some were daubed in blood, others carved into stone and rockrete by claw, knife, or repurposed industrial tools. They didn't appear to have any influence on the daemons, but Mercarion had ordered his forces to ignore them and focus on the objective, just in case. There were enough cases of headaches, nightmares and hallucinations already.
Ironically, the underhive was the only level of Poretios Primus where there was still actual fighting against the daemonic incursion going on. The 'civilized' levels of the hive had succumbed to the infernal onslaught very quickly, workers and Administratum drones made sport of by the monstrosities walking the streets or the heretics flooding in from the outer quarters. But the gangers, who had been mostly spared the madness on account of almost none of them having ever seen an open sky in their lives, had been hardier prey.
The heretics had died in droves, as gangs that had been feuding for generations put their differences aside to stand against the abominations spilling from the hive-city's top. Things had taken a turn for the worse when the actual daemons had arrived, but the sheer number of guns and gangers in the underhive was proving useful, for once. Mercarion had given orders to the Arbitrators and the few other soldiers they had managed to gather to maintain the tense truce that had formed with the criminal elements of Poretios Primus at all costs.
Scum and sinners they might be, but as long as they fought against the daemonic horde and its mind-broken minions, they were the lesser evil.
Distress calls to the other hives had been answered with the same panicked reports : they too were faced with daemonic incursions of their own, and judging by the silence that had answered when calling Poretios Quintus, it was likely that the planet's southernmost city was already completely lost. The Astropathic choir had been among the first victims of the incursion, their tower turning into a den of nightmares that Mercarion had ordered bombarded from afar with the few aircrafts they had still had at their disposal – now lost, destroyed by flying daemons. The merchant captains in the system had assured him that their own astropaths had sent messages before they too had fallen silent, though it would be months before any aid arrived from beyond the system.
He didn't show any sign of it on his face, but Mercarion feared that by the time such aid came, there would be nothing left to save on Poretios.
+++Timestamp : Forty-four days after the Unveiling+++
"Keep moving ! Do not slow down for anything or anyone ! We need to get out of here !"
The gate leading out of Poretios Primus and into the chemical wastelands separating the planet's hives was under attack, even as the convoy passed through it. Of the billions who had once populated the hive-city, only a scant few hundreds were present. They were all that Mercarion and the few Arbitrators left under his command had managed to scavenge from the blazing ruins.
At some point in the last month, the hive had started to burn, and hadn't stopped since. Given the intensity of the flames, they should have died out long ago, having consumed all that there was to burn. And yet they burned still, entire districts continuing to burn, casting a pall of black smoke into the air that was almost but not quite enough to block out the nightmarish lights in the sky.
As the civilians huddled through the gate, carrying packs laden with all the supplies they had been able to salvage, Mercarion and all those who could hold a weapon stood against the infernal tide. Red-skinned devils with black longswords rushed them, their forked tails lashing at the smouldering air. Pale abominations cloaked in sickeningly sweet musk danced with twitching zombies as their partners, giving the undead one last dance before snapping their heads off with their crab-like claws. Living flames emerged from the infernos, laughing as they bathed the defenders into Warp-fire, causing the lucky ones to fall to the ground screaming as the flesh melted off their bones.
Mercarion smashed his mace into the skull of a revenant, sending the reanimated corpse to the ground even as he kicked something made of shadows and claws back a step, before raising his bolt pistol and shooting it three times, destroying the daemon's incarnated form and sending it shrieking back into the Empyrean. But there were more – there were always more.
Something the size of a Baneblade moved amidst the flames ahead, and the mere glimpse of it sent half the defenders into a terrified frenzy. They broke ranks, either fleeing toward the gate or rushing into the onslaught head-on, striking at as many daemons as they could before being dragged down and cut apart.
Mercarion did not wait to see what this new abomination was. He called out the withdrawal, the remaining defenders retreating back to the gate, forcing the civilians who hadn't made it yet to abandon their packs and rush through in order to avoid being left behind.
The daemons and their slaves came behind them, screeching and screaming and laughing. The vast abomination did not follow them, perhaps because it couldn't fit through the gate, perhaps because it was bound to the hive-city – or perhaps because it had never been more than a mirage conjured by the Warp, some half-formed glimpse of a great daemons that had yet to successfully manifest.
Those lagging behind were caught, but no one stopped to help them. Those who might have been inclined to such heroism were already dead. Mercarion stayed in the back of the group, smashing and shooting any daemon that came close – but even as he struck them down, he felt he could see them laughing at him, at the futility of his efforts when set against the destruction of everything he had ever fought for.
Less than half of the group remained by the time the pursuit ended. Now all they had to contend with were the chemical fog, the beasts stalking the wasteland – which had been deadly before the Warp had twisted them into ever-hungry abominations – and the burning sky planting madness into the mind of any foolish enough to look up. Along with thirst, starvation and shelter.
+++Timestamp : Two hundred and twenty-seven days after the Unveiling+++
He was the only one left.
The last of his convoy of refugees had died three weeks ago. A girl, no more than twelve years old, who had bled in his arms after they had been ambushed by a bunch of crazed survivors.
It had been weeks since the daemons had departed – Mercarion wasn't sure just how long, he had stopped counting the days some time ago. The skies had returned to normal in the wake of their passing, or perhaps it was the other way around. It hardly mattered which. Poretios was dead, its cities reduced to ruins haunted by heretics, mutants, and worst things besides.
There may be other groups of refugees in the wastes, but most of those had succumbed to thirst, hunger or madness, like those who had destroyed his group before he killed them all.
Something glinted in the sky. This far from the hive-cities, one could almost see the stars, at night, but this wasn't one of them. This … this was a ship, getting into low orbit. But every ship in the system had been lost months ago, either to daemonic possession or madness. Had the Imperium heard the screams of Poretios ? If so, it had come far too late. There wasn't anything left to save.
Something fell from the ship, far too fast to be a transport. It hit the ground hundreds of kilometers away from where Mercarion stood, yet he felt the impact as the earth beneath his feet shook.
On the horizon, something rose, a wall of fire that went up and up, until it touched the very sky, getting closer and closer to him.
Judge Mercarion of Poretios Primus closed his eyes, smiled, and waited for the fire to take him as Poretios was subjected to the last mercy the Imperium could grant the daemon-slain world :
AN : Well, it's been a long time since this was updated, hasn't it ?
This story was inspired by the upcoming game Doom Eternal, which will be released next week. I did write it quickly, so it may not be on the same level as my usual work, but the inspiration was there and I had to fulfill it.
As always, if you enjoyed this short story or have an idea for a prompt for another one, please leave a review.