(While I was writing "The Awakening"
, I had a lot of ideas for stories that I couldn't fit into it but wanted to write.This is one of them, a spin-off for one of the background characters. More will be added as I have time.Reviews very much welcome, the harsher the better, as I know I need to improve on my writing.)
As I lay here amidst the fallen, I feel their corruption, like a heat wave, surround me. I feel my own body losing the battle for survival. I see the cultist wretches devouring my friends’ corpses. None matter. I will not die here. I will not allow myself to. What matters is the feel of the las-pistol in my hand. I raise it, and begin firing…
“Nice shot Arkain. Next time adjust to the left.” I nodded to the instructor, adjusting my aim and firing again. The Sacristan-pattern bolt pistol kicked back in my hands, the shot adjusted firing into the chest of the “demon”. I smiled. Through the din of las-rifle firing, the firing range cycle alarm rang, the demon’s target fixings rising to the ceiling.
I moved out of my stall, holstering the bolt pistol at my belt. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I took my uniform jacket from the wall, smiling at the Captain’s stripes on the shoulder. I joined the group of soldiers leaving, smiling from a day of good work.
As I left, the cold winds touched my face, marking the beginning of winter on Cadia. It was nice to have something familiar in the Imperial Guard compound, so far from home. Even fifteen years later, I still felt the pang of homesickness.
The month had been calm one, but everyone at the compound was on edge. Even here out in the backwaters, cultist groups and corruption of the populace would sprout up all the time due to the proximity to the Cadian Gate.
I contemplated what to do with the rest of the day, my duties for now finished. I checked my wrist-chrono. 4:00…there would be a card game in the barracks, and CQC training in the other side of the camp. I decided on cards, going into the barracks, sitting down at the small card table in the corner. I waited for the next round, watching how it was played.
Eventually, the loser of the last game became dealer. I looked at the two cards dealt to me. Eight and a seven. After tossing in a throne to ante up, I thought for a moment.
The dealer nodded.
I focused on the deck, telling it mentally what card it would be. As the dealer touched it, I knew.It slid to me, and I was fighting to keep a grin off my face before I had even looked at it. When I did, I could not hold back a sly grin. It was a six.
I wasn’t surprised. This sort of thing happened often. Lady Luck favored me, and I hadn’t thought much of it. That is, until later…but you’ll have to wait for that story.
I took out four thrones, eying the people around me. There was a wiry man with greed in his eyes, and a new recruit who was looking worried. Buttons to push.
I tossed the thrones in, the wiry man following soon after. The newbie seemed hesitant.
“Take a risk, greenhorn. Show us what you’re made of.” He looked at me, the subtle mockery working inside him. He tossed in five thrones, making up for the rep he believed he had lost.
We showed our cards. The wiry man had nothing, a measly fourteen. Greenhorn had eighteen, and a crestfallen expression. I slid the thrones to myself, sliding my cards to the dealer.
The game went on until midnight. Players came and went, and the game went up and down. By the end of the day, my gift had been up my sleeve, and I had gained a nice fifty thrones. I went to sleep content, my coin purse’s added weight a good thought in my mind.
The next day...
My cheek folded in, slamming against my teeth. Blood flew in my mouth as the inside was slightly torn.
I fell to the ground, snow softening my fall. A cheer went up around me, my opponent smiling triumphantly.
Not for long. I pushed myself up and spat blood into the snow. Just as I began to get my bearings, my opponent rushed towards me, and threw a fist towards me. I grabbed the arm, shoved it to the side, brought my knee up, and slammed it into his stomach.
As he doubled over in pain, I smirked with my new advantage for as long as I could allow. Give the audience a show.
Then, I grabbed his head and shoved, sending him sprawling in the snow; He twisted as he fell and grabbed my ankle, trying to pull me down. A stomp to the wrist and kick to the jaw put a stop to that.
A victory cheer went up around me, and I reached down, grabbing my battle-brother's arm and helping him up. When he had regained his stability, we bowed to each other. "A good fight. Almost had me there, Dalmak."
"Aye, almost. Next time it'll be yer skull in the snow." We both laughed.
We stepped out of the CQC training area, two more fighters replacing us. As we left, we walked beside each other, talking and joking about the compound and military life. He and I had been friends nearly from birth, and luckily had been placed in the same squad. Delta Strike, so named for being the fourth strike team in the regiment.
We had been shipped off to numerous wars in our fourteen years of service before our regiment was called back to quell a rather large cultist group the PDF couldn't handle. As it would turn out, we were asked to join them. It was an honor. Or at least we thought at the time.
Our view of valiantly protecting our home from the cults and such had been dimmed when we often had to train the green grass. Only thing that had kept us for asking permission to roam again was that we knew our home needed us. We were Cadian. If our home was in need, leaving was no option for a good man.
"Haven't had much protecting to do lately though..." I thought, apparently through my mouth.
"Aye. I'm itching fer some action."
Weren't we all.
It would finally come two days later. I & Dalmak were on patrol in further reaches, combing through the area on foot for any sign of trouble, when an airship passed overhead. I looked to Dalmak.
“Cargo. Normal routes fer em.”
I nodded, and kept walking, thinking nothing of it. But then a crate fell, two klicks to the east.
We began to run through the thick snow, excited for action and looking for trouble. We hit the deck as a land speeder began coming in from the north.
I pulled my binoculars from my waist, observing the vehicle. “Civilian-issue. Driver’s in poor condition. Emaciated, skin grimy, hair caked with mud. Heading directly towards the package.”
We reached to our backs, getting our M36 Kantrael lasrifles out from their harnesses and following the vehicle as it moved. As he got off the land speeder, I noticed something odd about him. Adjusting my scope, I looked at his face and saw...nothing.
His eyes were just...gone. Blank skin covered them. He stretched his hands out and moved them around himself, pointing them at the crate and moving towards it. I looked at his fingers and saw tiny eyes at the tip of each.
I had seen horrible things during my service. But this was wrong. Deeply, morally wrong. This was heresy. I panicked, turning my rifle to full-auto and standing from the snow. I pointed it in the monster’s general direction and began to spray fire across the snow. Four of the 150 round clip went into it, the rest punching into the snow or the crate.
As my gun finally began clicking, Dalmak stood up and tackled me, wrestling the gun away. I began to struggle, and he had to hold me down until I had stopped. We stood, and I walked shakily to the drop site.
The man was twitching, blood staining the ground around him.
“What do we do with him?”
“He knew this was here, and he’s a mutant. Let’s patch him up and bring him back to the compound. Load him and the crate into the speeder; we can probably re-outfit it for our use.”
I nodded, choosing to go away from the unsightly task of helping the monster. I loaded the crate into the speeder and got into the driver’s seat, testing its systems. Was working, but seriously needed a tune-up. He loaded the other package into the back and got into the passenger, and we began driving back to the compound.
“Ya went wild out there.”
“We can’t afford to ‘ave people losing control. A snap like that on the battlefield could cost you and yer squad mates lives.”
I turned my attention back to driving. We both stayed silent the entire trip, trying to ignore the injured man’s groans.
When we finally reached the camp, all eyes turned to the roaring vehicle. The company’s commander, Bavor Ronas, stormed out of the command bunker. “What in the name of the Emperor is going on?”
As Dalmak pulled the wounded man out of the speeder, Bavor’s expression changed from confusion to anger. “By the Throne, did you shoot a civilian? You bloody idiots! What the hell were you thinking?”
I pulled the crate out, stepping up to Bavor. “We didn’t do jack shit. Our buddy here is a mutant though, picking up an unmarked, unscheduled airdrop. Check his face and fingers. Oh, you may want to get some people to interrogate him as well.”
I walked past him into the command bunker, the commander’s angry demands of respect following me. They stopped short soon enough. My guess has always been that he saw the monster then.
Dalmak and Bavor entered a moment later, the latter looking shocked. Dalmak nodded to me. “Mutant’s been sent to med-bay to patch the worst up. Let’s see what’s in this crate.”
I set the crate on a table, undoing the rusted latches and throwing it open. Another crate resided within, in pristine condition. I carefully lifted it out, noticing a small code pad on the side, no visible lock in sight.
“Damn.” Bavor took out his vox-caster, flipping through command channels. “Authorization code eight-four-nine-eight-seven. Code pad bypass, command bunker. Affirmative. “Moments later, a technician entered, kneeling in front of the table. He began to examine the box, pulling out various tools.
I looked at Bavor. “We should return to the drop site and scope it out. His “buddies” might come looking for him. We could follow them back.”
“Negative, Captain. We need confirmation before wasting resources. Let the interrogators work on your haul first.”
“With all due respect, sir, if we wait for that it might be too late. This is obviously an organized group. They arranged a drop site from a certified cargo ship, with a rather large shipment. There’s no record of anyone even living in that sector! We should at the very least investigate the area or check with the cargo ship!”
“Control yourself Captain! This is just nerves getting to you. Enjoy the calm; don’t attack anything that causes a stir.”
“He’s a throne-damned mutant!”
“Obey your orders!”
The technician rose, awkwardly raising a hand. “Sirs? It’s done.” He popped open the crate, quickly packing his tools and leaving.
Bavor and I went to it, peering in. I smiled smugly.
I looked around the armory. So many choices. I went down the aisle, picking out Inferno rounds for my Sacristan, and a M36 Kantrael lasrifle for longer distances. I grinned as I heard Bavor in the background, explaining to High Command.
“Yes, a damn weapon cache! By the throne, they had kraks and multi-meltas! They’re preparing for an attack, I just know it. Aerial and orbital scans of the immediate sector revealed a hut, and further scanning revealed some trace of an underground area. We’re assuming this is their base for now.
No need sir, I’ve already organized an attack squad from my vets. They’re moving out at 0200, in an hour towards the base. No, we aren’t using the Rhinos. Because they’re too loud! This is going to be a quick attack. We’re sending them in on a Tauros. Yes sir.”
After a few moments, he flicked off the vox. I walked over to him as I finished strapping on my flak armor. “Ready sir. What’s the rest of the squad’s status?”
“Waiting and prepping in the Tauros.”
“Good. See you in a day’s time with the cultist’s heads.”
“Aye. Emperor protects, Arkain. Go and be his holy hammer.”
We shared a salute. “Goodbye father.”
“Goodbyes are for those not returning. Do me proud and come back soon.”
I nodded grimly, and left the armory to join the squad.
When I got to the Tauros, I took a quick view of them. Only Dalmak was there from my squad, a disheartening prospect. I had hoped Bavor would simply use my squad rather than make a hodge-podge of his personal “best”. I knew my squad’s weaknesses, their strengths. Besides Dalmak, this group was a mystery.
One of them, a lanky girl, was adjusting the sights on her scope, and by the extended barrel and IR goggles, I could guess she was our sniper. Dalmak was our demo man and driver. The short stocky fellow hefting a heavy bolter must be our heavy weapons. The man loading a combat shotgun could be our breacher. And I was the leader. They would do well.
“Analyzing us, eh?” Dalmak asked as he turned from the driver’s seat, sarcasm lining his voice. Knew me too well.
“Examining. There’s a difference.” I hopped up into the Tauros, and we were moving.
Heavy weps spoke up. “If a difference means one is deciding how many bullets we can soak up and one is how many bullets our thinkers want us to soak up, then sure, there’s a difference.”
A spell of laughter went up, lightening the mood.
We stayed silent for near twenty minutes as we traveled. Sniper girl kept watching the slopes with her scope. Paranoid…noted. The silence was soothing, a moment of calm..the one before the storm, as it would turn out.
A long whistle went up from the west.
Sniper girl turned immediately, scanning the far-off slopes to the west for enemies. She shot once, and I looked in its direction to see a shadow falling in the distance.
“Signal. Ready up.”
Dalmak gunned it as I turned my lasrifle to full power, watching the hills.
The short fellow turned to our sniper. “Vaereem, what did you shoot?”
She looked away from her scope, and as she turned, the short fellow’s head burst like a balloon. Red giblets splattered the Tauros.
We dived to the floor as gunfire went up around us. Dalmak slammed down the pedal, hunching away from the windows as much as possible.
I looked at my soldiers to see breacher had a small vox-set in his helmet. “Hey! You! Get command on the line!”
“What?” He yelled, straining to hear above the gunfire.
“COMMAND VOX!! NOW!”
The sniper- Vaereem- was muttering something. “Mighty Emperor, spread Your divine light to protect me from the Darkness. Mighty Emperor, spread Your divine light to protect me from the Darkness.” She rested her lasrifle up on the lip of the Tauros, aiming and firing once, twice, three times. She ducked down when they began to notice her firing.
“Vaereem! What are their numbers?”
“Approximately twenty. Hidden well in the hills.”
I nodded, surprised by her calm in the situation. “Pray soldiers! Ask the Emperor to forgive us of our sins and protect us! Only by his Will do we survive this battle!”
I began to yell out prayer, my soldiers joining me as I did. “Sweet God-Emperor, forgive your servants our sins, and remember we are only mortal! Emperor, bestow upon us Your righteous fury and Your furious strength! Let us become the storm that blasts the enemy from your sight! Bless our shot upon this day!”
I stood, aiming towards the worst pockets of enemies and firing. “Let my shot strike true and your will be done, o sweet-“
And the Emperor denied me. A las-shot burned through my jaw, sending me falling to the floor of the vehicle. Blood sprayed the sides of the Tauros. I saw the breacher screaming into the vox.
“Command! We need reinforcements! We were ambushed! Repeat, we need reinforceme- aaarrgh!”
At that moment, an ambitious cultist had fired a mortar. It hit the ground in front of our vehicle, sending us rolling off the road, finally stopping nearly upside down.
We heard shrieks of victory. They grew closer as they got closer. They tore us out from the wreckage, most of us too disoriented to offer any real resistance. Dalmak was completely unconscious, his head bleeding from the steering mechanisms.
The breacher fought them, though. He killed three with blasts from his combat shotgun before they overwhelmed him. Several tore chunks of flesh from him with their teeth. He was tossed away, and one cultist set a flamer on him. He screamed as he burned. The scream was one of terror and agony. It gave me goose bumps, hair standing on my neck.
The hair was flattened as it was struck with a club, and I fell to the dirt, mumbling “Bad hand tonight…”
I dreamt of calm times, the cold winds making a breeze. It was disrupted by hot water splashing my fingers. “Damnit!” I yelled, hand feeling as if it was held over a candle too long.
“Pity...missed his face!”
I opened my eyes, seeing two shapes behind bars. They stepped forward, revealing they were connected. Both were hunched, almost rat-like in their features. When I saw the dripping bucket one of them held, I stood up, charging forward to choke the monstrous disgraces.
Chains pulled me back to the wall, the cuffs digging into my wrists. No matter how hard I pulled, they would not budge. I fell to the stone floor, a fresh burst of pain going through my jaw.
“What’s wrong? Lost your bite? Come on, Imperial dog. We’re waiting!” They waved a ring of keys in front of me, the high jingle taunting me. “Come get em doggy!”
Scowling, I wrenched on the chains again to no avail. The monsters laughed a horrible screeching cackle. One of them suddenly stopped, nudging the other. They moved to the side of the hall, bowing.
A man stepped into view wearing dark black robes. Blood had stained them long ago, with no effort made to clean it away. He looked to me, smiling. “This one has fire in him. Take him to the Indoctrination room.”
I opened my mouth to curse his name, and felt rough makeshift bandages scratch my jaw. I stepped to the back of the cell, forcing myself to stand. The conjoined bastards opened my cell door, stepping towards me. They held a steel collar in their hands.
“Quiet doggy. Just let us put your leash on.”
I waited until they had undone my arms, letting them put the steel collar on as I regained feeling in my arms. I swung a fist into one of their throats, sending both reeling back. I slammed my boot into their chest, moving behind them and grabbing their heads and throwing them to the ground as I had to Dalmak.
I whipped around, facing the leader. He was grinning wickedly, and began to clap. Bad idea. I rushed forward towards him, ducking low to tackle him. He raised a hand, sending the cell door slamming back into my charge. I fell to the floor, dazed.
“You will do well.”
He walked to me, grabbing my collar and dragging me up as if I was a doll. He looked behind me to the recovering mutants. He looked to me, and hissed “Remember your flame when you join us.” He tossed me back to the cell, and to the monsters.
Each did their fair share of kicking the “bad dog”. When they finally relented in their revenge, they began to drag me to the “Indoctrination room”. As we passed, I saw Dalmak lying in his cell, but no sign of Vaereem in any of the cells. I tried to call out to him, but a smack to the face silenced me.
Their leader had vanished by then, but his words rang in my mind, refused but nagging. I would not join them.
After being dragged down several halls, we reached a dead end. A single door, the color of crimson, stood at its end. It was opened, Vaereem being dragged out by two more mutants, and I was dragged in, hurriedly chained to a chair in the middle of the room. They left in a hurry, muttering. I tried to look back to see what was happening to Vaereem, but the chains would not let me move.
Eventually, three men entered, seeming to glide across the floor. Their purple robes seemed to subtly change, the patterns shifting in the corners of my eyes. Hoods covered their faces, but I knew their faces were horrible. They moved their hands in front of them, each holding an electro-flail on low power.
“Who are we?” They asked, hissing yet somehow echoing through the room in unison.
“Bastards to be smote by the Emperor.”
I felt tendrils snake around my body, sending shock through my body.”We are servants of the great Lord.”
“Who guides us?”
“The Emperor and his holy servants.”
Another sting, another shock. “Deny your Corpse-Emperor! Accept your fate! Accept the Lord of Change.”
“Who shall reign supreme once again?”
I mumbled through spasming lips “The Emperor…”
Tendrils wrapped around me, and pain shot through my nerves.
It went on this way for many hours. As I was dragged out, throbbing welts covering my body, I saw Dalmak being dragged towards the room. I raised my head painfully, rasping out “The Emperor protects...” to him. I hoped it would help.
When they tossed me back in my cell, things had changed. Though I still knew little to nothing about my surroundings, I knew Dalmak had survived, as had Vaereem. We could beat these sick monsters. We could escape.
I laid my head down, closing my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, a great shadow stood before me, and I lay on a battlefield. Skies of red wept blood, turning the land the color of rust. Soldiers fought around me, boltguns booming. My comrades, my enemies, neither spared, both sides instantly burning away like paper. I was alone.
I looked upon the shadow, and two orbs of blue fire came into being, looking back to me. “You deny yourself for the cause of a false god; dismiss your greatness as luck. You deny your potential, and by doing so, you disappoint me.”
“I know not your name, nor your desires. How am I to serve that which I know nothing of! ”
Lightning burst from the sky, sending every part of my being into agonizing convulsion. When I began to scream, a thunderclap went through the sky, drowning out all other noise.
“Obey. “ Lightning.
“Relent.” I am tossed across the field, slamming to the ground.
“Change.” The sky grows another moon, changes to blue, shifts into a portrait, tells long lost memories, and burns away in sorcerous flame.
“Arkain! Wake up!”
I opened my eyes, looking over to the wall where the sound was coming from. Eyes greeted me from a brick-sized hole in the wall. I sat up best I could, looking to them.
“Aye, I found a loose brick in the wall. You know where we are?”
“An emperor-forsaken place. Beyond that, I have no idea.”
He sighed. “Same situation here. I don’t even know if we’re on Cadia anymore.”
“It doesn’t matter where we are. It matters how we’re going to get out.”
“Said like a true Cadian. How do you plan on doing that, though?”
I thought back to my original waking. “The conjoined bastards have the keys. Next time they try to take us, we take them down.”
“Next one lined up for indoctrination is Vaereem. They were talking about it down the hall earlier.”
“Any idea where she is?”
“Nay. If we’re getting’ out of here we need to find her too though.”
We heard walking from down the hall, the stuttering oddity of the conjoined’s walking letting us prepare. Dalmak muttered “Looks like Vaereem went up again…” before a brick slid into the hole, blocking my view.
“Oh dooooooggy…ready for your daily sermon?”
They stepped in front of my cell, both sporting bruises. One held a laspistol...that would complicate things.
“Be a good doggy and we won’t have to use this to put you down.”
They unlocked my cell, stepping in with the laspistol aimed at my head. As they put the steel collar around my head and unchained my arms, I watched the laspistol waiting for an opening. None appeared.
As I was led out of the cell and down the hallway, I began to panic, thinking no opening would present itself and I would either die now or die in the Indoctrination Room. Just when I was about to make a last-ditch effort to overwhelm them and surely die, Dalmak began screaming.
The conjoined wardens turned to his cell, and as the laspistol moved, so did I. I yanked forward, pulling my chain out of their hands. I turned, slamming my foot into their stomach.
They doubled over, falling to the ground. I kicked the laspistol out of their hands, and grabbed their heads. I slammed them to the stone over and over, blood spraying across the stone and on me. Long after they were dead, I was trying to kill them. It was a good feeling.
Dalmak’s voice snapped me out of my brutality, and I took up the keys and laspistol from the corpse. I undid my collar, throwing it down as I moved to Dalmak’s cell. I unchained his ankles from their bonds, and we began to move towards the stairs leading out of the cells.
I looked back to see Dalmak standing over the corpse.
“They deserved it. Come on, we need to keep moving.”
As we reached the stairs, we were met with two guards were waiting at their peak. I shot one three times through the chest before he could fire, moving to the side as the other got his own chance. He began to run down the stairs, and a wild shot from me sent him ducking. Just long enough for Dalmak to run up and grab him, throwing him down the stairs. The man hit the bottom, unconscious.
We wasted no time reveling in our victory, moving up the stairs. I stopped halfway up, turning and firing one shot down the stairs into the man’s head. I continued climbing, smirking with the satisfaction of his death.
When we reached the top of the stairs we were met with three hallways.
“I don’t remember this being here…”
“Neither do I. I thought it was only one.”
“When in doubt, do the right thing, eh?”
We went with his choice, moving to the right. We were met, again, with more hallways than should be there. We kept the pattern of moving to the right, moving through five more turns before ending up in a single square room. We looked behind to see that the hallway that had been there was gone.
“What the hell…”
I nodded, turning and examining the room. I saw that a small trapdoor rested in the center of the room.
I looked to Dalmak.”Go in?”
“Nowhere else t’go.”
I nodded, opening the trapdoor. A ladder descended into a shaft, its sides dimly glinting as if gems had been long ago tucked into the dirt. I went in first, fighting to keep a grip on the rusted, slimy rungs.
As we descended the ladder, a faint whisper began to emanate from below. Dismissing it at first, it eventually rose into a loud, overpowering chant as we grew closer to the bottom. I looked up towards Dalmak. “Do you hear that?”
When we finally dropped off the ladder, our landing was muffled by a thick layer of moss. Looking around we found that we were in some sort of cave. The chanting seemed to be near now, coming from around a nearby corridor.
I went to the corridor, ducking close against the wall. As I turned the corner, I saw a huge cavern, tinted blue from the reflections of the oddly calm lake inside. The chanting seemed to be coming from around the walls, spoken in some long-lost language.
I approached the lake, and I suddenly felt an unstoppable urge to drink. My throat felt as if I had eaten desert sand, and I could barely stand. I fell to my knees, cupping water in my hand and pouring as much of it into my mouth as possible, carelessly letting it dribble over my shirt.
The chanting stopped. Dalmak entered, looking at me incredulously.
“By the Throne, what are you doing?”
I stood, feeling off-balance. “Thirsty…” His face began to morph, eyes growing wider, features changing to a grinning jester, a crying baby. I stepped back, terrified of him.
“What’s wrong with you?”
I heard a voice, high and insidious. “What is the Warp?”
“The Warp is the demon-place...bad place…”
“What? Arkain, what happened?!”
“No, child...demons are merely its inhabitants. Let me show you a taste.”
My mind began to fill with pictures.
Swirling. Grabbing. Throwing.
Madness and violence, decay and hedonism.
Surrounding you, enticing you, mocking you.
It gives you a taste that blows you apart, its hints leaving you as nothing.
Twisting mazes and battlefields with blood falling from the black sky.
That is the Warp.
I screamed in nothingness, felt my body ripped apart and spread over worlds. I fell thousands of feet into the wet bloody flesh of the innocent.
Sliding and grabbing in desperation, my nails ripped off, skin torn away in ragged shreds.
Fall into a hole, land in a maze. Silence.
Then the whispers start. They tell you to go through the maze, go right, left; run away they are behind you!
Knowledge seeps from the walls as wisps you cannot see truthfully, though you desperately grasp at them.
You run to it, wanting it, needing it. You hit a dead end and the ground snakes up and wraps around your ankles. The wisps become your friends and they beat you. The walls tell the tale of your sins, the whispers turn into mocking laughter.
You scream and scream but no sound comes, no help, no stopping. Emperor protects me, emperor kills you and abandons you, and Emperor cannot help you now.
There is only one, one salvation that offers you the knowledge to destroy and rend those who oppose you.
Everything stops; you turn your head to the never-ending void above.
A word etched in flame, one of power: Tzeentch. It comes toward you and burns you away, the whispers following you.
You rise and you see a mirror. Eyes are sunken holes of blue flame, your skin is blackened and stretched tight, you raise your hands to hide your face and you sink your claws into yourself.
The mirror, the mirror on the wall, it changes, it shows you commanding armies. You are twenty feet tall and fire leaps from your hands and scorches worlds, you cleave the false Emperor in twain and bring Holy Terra to its knees. You take the Black Ships and lead the psykers to conquer all.
You want it. A voice calls out. Dalmak. “The Emperor protects!”
Screams of hatred and rage fill your mind. “The Anathema is nothing! Your Corpse-Emperor will burn as everything, and you will never see it coming. Even now you fear us, but you cannot stop us. Be gone!”
You are ripped from your body and thrown into space, suffocate, torn to shreds, feel yourself rot, thrown from orbit, mind filled with knowledge so ancient it gives you the power of everything only for you to fall to its power, become a slave.
That is the Warp.
“It lurks within you. This power. Deny it if you wish. Now, it is awakened.”
I briefly returned to reality, felt flame bursting from my mouth, my eyes, and sorcery encircling my body. I hear a call, seeming far-away, a desperate scream. Dalmak.
I completely return to see the one I thought my friend pushing me into the lake, the fire is extinguished. He holds me under and I cannot breath. His hands suddenly leave my body, and I float to the surface, gasping.
I swam to the edge of the lake, painfully pulling myself onto the cavern’s floor. I looked over and saw Dalmak hanging in the air, the man in black robes standing behind him. The man turned to me. “It is good you kept that fire.”
He threw Dalmak to the ground, and he lay still. I yelled out, a hoarse rasp. As I saw his chest rise and fall, I breathed a sigh of relief. I joined him in unconsciousness, the world turning to black.
I was carried away from the lake, blackness coming and going from my vision. Chained into the chair of the Indoctrination Room, I never saw my cell again.
Dalmak had betrayed me. Tried to kill me. We had been friends from birth... and he had tried to kill me. I would make him pay, someday.Vaereem was gone, vanished into the shadows of this place.
Years seem to pass, as I sat chained in this room. The walls gave off a chill permanently, the warm gaze of the Sun never reaching me. It had left, and all that was left was darkness and pain.
The short breaks given to me were not welcomed. When I was continued to be beaten, the pain would eventually fade, be a distant thing. When they left, it returned, and I could feel it, throbbing and burning across my skin.
Would the Emperor allow this? No. He was gone, and the world of my home was a foggy thing. I could barely remember what was there before this place. Only flickering stills remain. Explosions. Gunfire. A face..father.
The man in the black robes would watch now. The persistent mockery of a smile never left his lips, yet he stayed silent as he watched those in the purple robes whip me, shock my defiance away.
Whenever he would leave, he would give me one last look. He seemed almost disappointed in me, in my defiance. Like he expected so much more from me. It was a different look than the one he had given at the lake, for the expectation and pride had gone.
I wait, now. I wait for them to come again. They will be happy now. I know the truth. The Emperor left us long ago, and all that was left was this place. Maybe...maybe the man in the black robes would be proud of me again.
"Who are we?"
"Servants of the great lord.."
"Who are you?"
"An instrument of his will.."
"The will of whom?"
I paused. Thoughts from before this place floated up to my mind. Memories of scripture, of battles and victories. Then, they were obliterated, torn and cast aside as memories of the lake burned my mind. It lurks within me...
"Lord of Change..Changer of Ways.."
Their whips went to rest at their sides. One turned to the man in black robes.
He stepped forward, walking up to me. He looked into my eyes, raising a cupped hand in front of me. He touched it to my chest, then raised it, a globe of fire residing in it now.
"Your flame is back. Use it well."
He turned to the men in the purple robes.
"Release him. Send him to my quarters."
He watched me, always. Trained me and taught me. He gave me my cell back, a room to sleep in. He gave me everything.
As he entered the cell, I woke from sleep, lingering words staying briefly in my mind before fading away. "Do not ask which creature screams in the night. Do not question who waits for you in the shadow. It is my cry that wakes you in the night, and my body that crouches in the shadow. I am Tzeentch and you are the puppet that dances to my tune...”
"Come with me. You have been deemed ready."
I followed him through the ever-changing yet familiar walls, whispering trailing back from above. It grew louder, the whispering of a hundred creatures no man's words could describe.
We entered a large room, a cavern. The lake lay in the center, a stone pillar inscribed with pulsing words of red standing among the calm water. A man was chained to the pillar, emaciated, filthy. He screamed and I knew his voice.
I walked towards the lake, slowly, as if I was in a dream. The bed of the lake seemed to rise, a large puddle around the pillar. My bare feet touched it, the warm water going out in a small wave. The man opened his eyes.
I stretched out my arms, blue robes falling back to my wrists. I turned one of my hands to the water and spoke in the words of power. The runes carved into my welcoming flesh glowed, and the water hit his face with the force of a hammer.
A roar of eager pleasure went up from the walls, the creatures tasting the blood in the air.
Kill him..burn him...he betrayed you...
"Arkain! Please, we were brothers! We fought with each other, and we beat these throne-damned monsters! What's happened to you!"
The runes glowed again, and fire twisted up my arms like chains, illuminating my grin. Vengeance...finally.
"Remember yer father! Don't you want to see him!"
The fire leaped out, lashing and scorching his arms. "He was a liar."
Liar...betrayer...kill him, kill them...
He screamed from the pain, desperately throwing his body away from the pillar.
"Arkain! No, stop this!"
The fire twirled around my hands in thick streams, hungry and impatient.
He began to scream in the false words, the walls hissing in fear and pain. "I FEAR NO EVIL, I FEAR NO DEATH, FOR THE EMPEROR COMES FOR ME! I-"
His words were stopped as the flame leapt out, a great inferno stretching over the pillar, water boiling. He was gone.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. " You have done well."
I smiled in his pride, my shoulder sagging slight from exhaustion.
"Go and rest. When the flame rises again, you will return to the father of lies."
I saw a vision of melting, hissing snow, of Bavor screaming. My hands lit dimly as the Warp grew happy.
Cadia, one year ago. One week after Arkain's squad was deployed..
Bavor sat at the side of the table, silently fuming.
"The squad we sent was obliterated! All that was left was corpses and the destroyed Rhino! Scouts have reported heavy armor moving in towards our position.They've already destroyed Jaklyme."
"All the more reason to pull back to the capital city! There's nothing here but villages and this outpost. We don't have the resources to defend ourselves!"
"Then why the hell aren't we requesting aid from other planets!"
"You know just as well as I do that we can't ask aid from them! They're under strength or destroyed from the Black Crusade, not to mention the feuding governors!"
Bavor rose from his seat. "My son is dead, along with some of the best in the force. We will not sit here and bicker while the cult grows." He turned.
"What's the progress of the investigation of the cargo ship?"
"It deployed troops and shot down our investigative squad before taking off and leaving the system. We initially believed the squad was killed by gangers, but recovered security footage proved otherwise."
Bavor frowned. There wasn't enough troops to do what needed to be done here, and pulling the troops out of Kalnorm would lead to civilian deaths in the hundreds.
"Contact the other planets, and request whatever aid is possible. Politics be damned."
"Bavor! Why stir up a hornet's nest when we can simply fall back to the capital! You are wasting resources and exercising the poorest of military strategy!"
"Damnit Senator! We are Cadian! Have you forgotten what that means? We won't give them an inch of our ancestor's ground, and we will destroy them, in the name of the Emperor and Holy Terra."
"Commander? Prosan and Solar Mariatus report it will be two weeks before they can deploy troops. The others do not have troops to spare or are not responding."
"Then that's two weeks we'll have to defend on our own."
So they did. Throughout heavy losses and heavy armor strikes, they survived. When the reinforcements arrived, the cult was wiped off the face of Cadia, their former base a crater now.
They thought it would be the last they saw of the cult.
I looked out of the viewport, seeing the familiar lands. It was just as I had left it- going into winter, the cold winds stirring up snow. We passed over a Imperial Guard command post, one that seemed familiar, though bigger. A gray dot stood in the center, but I was too far up to make anything substantial out.
We traveled deep into the backwaters of Cadia, farther than I knew existed without a settlement. Eventually, we landed outside a small shack, the door's hinges rusted and the boards beginning to show signs of rot. I turned from the viewport to Tarask.
"Master. I don't understand. Why are we here?"
"You shall see."
I was led out of the ship with Master Sorlis and several cultists, armed with lasguns.We went into the shack, and in the back wall there stood a door, a codepad set beside it and made of ceramite. Master Sorlis tapped in the code, and it slid to the side, revealing a stairway leading down into the depths of Cadia's earth.
He extended a hand and orbs along the walls lit, sorcerous blue flame lighting the way. We began to descend, and when we reached the very bottom, I saw a great stone room. It's walls were unadorned, pillars rising to the ceiling without design on them. Corridors led away from this room, into unknown recesses.
Master Sorlis turned to me. "This is yours. You are to bring the cult back to it's glory, and watch this world for the Changer of Ways. Bring those who are Warp-blessed to this place and train them, bring those who wish to serve to this place and use them."
"I don't know what to say, Master. Changer grant you great power." I bowed respectfully, hair falling to the floor.
So I did. The cult grew slowly, children and men alike kidnapped from their homes, trained and broken, their submission to the Changer of Ways my duty and my joy. We skillfully avoided the wretched searching of my ignorant father, and we grew. As we grew, we changed.
My Master came upon Cadia once more, and gave me the gift of knowledge. Rituals of change became commonplace, and mutation reared it's beautiful visage. Then came the day when we knew we were strong. Strong enough to strike back and crush their lies.
"Today is that day, my minions! Today we strike back in the honor of Tzeentch! Today we slaughter these dogs of the Corpse-Emperor! Today we finish what our brethren started!"
I turned to the wind, snow dusting my face, my bare chest. Runes inscribed all along my form began to glow with an unholy light, as did the bodies of my blessed followers. Talons clicked as the soldiers moved their hands, bloodcurdling screams and roars coming from too many mouths.
I looked upon the command post ahead with nine eyes, my figure gaunt and cold. Contained balls of warp lightning crackled in my hands, ready to be unleashed. I focused my mind and brought forth an infernous avatar, it's form the image of my Master, that he may witness this in some form.
“Do not ask which creature screams in the night. Do not question who waits for you in the shadow. It is his cry that wakes you in the night, and his body that crouches in the shadow. He is Tzeentch and you are the puppet that dances to his tune! NOW CHARGE! CHARGE TO BRING THE CHANGER OF WAYS HIS GLORY!"
Bavor stood upon the walls of the camp, looking out at the wild through his binoculars.
"They're back." A cold whisper, cutting into the soldiers.
"Are you talking about..?"
"Yes.Prepare the men."
They began to charge.
"Close the gates! Snipers on the towers, guardsmen man your stations!"
Red shots began to come out from the towers, striking down the advancing line. Fire began to rain down upon the command post.
"Open up a vox line to High Command, tell them of the situation. Defend the Emperor's command soldiers! We are Cadian! We held the line against the Black Crusades, and we shall hold the line now!"
Screams of pain and shouts of orders filled the air, red blasts cutting down the front lines of the enemy force. Something stood at their head, a man glowing in unholy runes, hands ending in great black talons, skin paled to a ghostly white.
He looked through the binoculars again. Las-shots seemed to bounce off around him, into his soldiers.His face...no. It couldn't be.
They hit the base, clambering over the walls. Shots hit the first, but as they continued to pour there was too many to keep out. Soldiers began to fall as their bodies were torn apart , the hissing and feral snarling of the mutants striking terror into the hearts of the soldiers.
"HOLD THE LINE! FIGHT THEM BACK!"
Bavor pulled his own bolt pistol from his holster, shooting down four advancing mutants. One jumped on his back, tearing three jagged tears into his flesh. He reached back and shot through it's head, grabbing a ladder and sliding down.
"Fall back to the armory! Double time soldiers!"
The Cadians fell back, firing over their shoulders as they ran. Bavor hit the door with his shoulder, the doors slamming open. He held it open, waiting for his soldiers. He saw many torn down, tackled and torn apart by the mutants. His lieutenant, the woman who had managed to escape the grasp of the cult, was near the doors.
"Hurry Vaereem! Keep moving! You can do this!"
Their leader, Arkain, flew into the air, slamming into the earth on top of Vaereem. Her head was crushed into the snow. She raised her head, blood seeping from his mouth.
Bavor fired the entire clip of his bolt pistol at his former son. Each bullet was held in the air in front of him. He grinned, and Bavor slammed the ceramite doors shut as the bullets impacted them. Locking them, he fell back to the weapons section.
"Grab the biggest and deadliest guns you can find. Everything is permitted. We must protect this for the Emperor."
Men rushed past him, all the flamers in two-man teams, stationary heavy bolters aimed at the doors. He grabbed a boltgun for himself, kneeling and aiming at the doors. Dents started to form as the mutants launched themselves into the doors.
"Emperor, spread Your Divine Light to protect me from the darkness."
The doors burst open, and the Imperial Guard opened fire.
For each cultist killed, three more were climbing over it's corpse. Fire framed the doorway, Promethium staining the floors.
Even as every man fell around him, Bavor kept firing. Falling further and further back into the bunker, he kept firing until his ammo ran out.Then he began running back. He made it to the entrance of the armory, seeing his friends corpses.
Reaching for another magazine, he found none.
He looked to the nearest doorway to see no cultists following. Instead, he heard the heavy thump of a calm walk, the scratch of talons against metal. The hand slid around the doorframe, and he entered.
"That man has long been dead, ignorant fool."
"It's still in you. The Emperor is still in you. Son, you can stop this. Help us."
Fire conjured in his hands, the corridor filling with fire except for the narrow strip I and my former father occupied. I could see him begin to sweat.
"Ever wonder what happened to Dalmak?"
"Don't do this son. I raised you. I loved you. The Emperor loved you. Stay with us."
" 'I brought you into this world, I can bring you out'? How cliche. You could at least be creative and say something meaningful before you die."
I stepped forward, pulling a dagger from my waist. The hilt was covered in runes, engraved with the Chaos Star of Tzeentch, a living eye blinking and watching. The blade was wreathed in sorcerous flame, and sharp as the mind of a Lord of Change.
"Goodbyes are for those not returning." He raised a bolt pistol and shot me through the knee. I fell to the floor, and he shot me in the shoulder, then through my back. Blood pooled around me.
He stepped over to me, standing over my soon-corpse.
I raised in the air, and the dagger swiftly flew through the air and through the man's chest. He fell among his fellow guardsmen's corpses, and began to die.
"Come now, and devour your meal."
My followers ran in, ripping parts of the guardsmen off and slicing the flesh off with their teeth. I walked to the center of the camp, looking at the grey stone monolith. Engraved upon it were "In memory of the heroes of the Battle of the Backwaters."
Followed by a list of rotting corpses.
At the bottom, "In honor to those who died to find the threat. Dalmak Tarsuk, Korl Rattif, Trent Jaktu, and Captain Dalmak Bavor."
A gout of fire went out, and the last name became a scorch. I walked into the snow, boots crunching into already-freezing blood.
My son had died on that day.
That is what I kept telling myself.
As I lay here amidst the fallen, I feel their corruption, like a heat wave, surround me. I feel my own body losing the battle for survival. I see the cultist wretches devouring my friends’ corpses. None matter. I will not die here. I will not allow myself to. I reach out to Private Aldlan's holster.What matters is the feel of the las-pistol in my hand. I raise it, and begin firing…
I cut down seven before it begins clicking, and they rush towards me. They crunch my bones and tear my flesh, and I scream for the last time.
The Cult survived and prospered for a bit, conquering another Cadian camp before reinforcements were issued and the cult was driven back to it's base, two-thirds of it's members slaughtered.
An Inquisitor gained word that they possessed a heretical text, and sent in a team of acolytes led by the psyker Vixus Kragov. The remainder of the cult was wiped out by the Acolytes, the text removed. Captain Arkain was believed to have been killed, but some say he was seen in the area before climbing aboard a ship.
His presence is unknown, but many believe he still roams the galaxy, gathering followers for Tzeentch, and for his Master....