To Be A Knight Of Grey
The gang boss took another swig from his hip flask of vack, a hard, fiery drink native to the hive slums of Jora IV. He swished it around in his mouth, feeling the burn of the alcohol. Putting the flask back in his belt and looking back towards the front of his stretch ground car, the best that chem money could buy, he swallowed it finally and felt the burn go down his throat and into his stomach. That was the stuff.
‘How tunking close are we Droog?’ he asked.
Droog, the boss’s driver, didn’t take his eyes off the road. He’d already lost enough ears to know that was a mistake.
‘Close sir, ‘he said, ‘about another five, seven minutes maybe,’
‘Good,’ the boss, his name was Hitcer, replied. ‘Are the boys in place?’
‘Yessir, they’ve been in position for the last half hour, Tarl’s reported no change or movement inside the building,’
‘Good, I don’t want those tunks moving one damn inch until we’ve got them in our sights,’
‘Absolutely sir, absolutely,’ said Droog.
Hitcher took another swig of his vack. When he kicked his head back to let the drink in his eyes went to the third and last occupant of the stretch car.
Sitting away from him the kid was leaning forward, looking at the floor and holding his head with his hands, like he was trying to drown out the noise around him.
Hitcher took a bigger drink than he originally intended.
The kid made him uneasy.
Sure the little nine, or was it ten?, year old had made himself an asset to Hitcher’s gang, knowing where all the enforcer ambushes were and such, but he was obviously touched by something.
Hitcher sneered at the kid, he wanted to dump him on the road and leave him, or better yet pump him full of solid ammo and throw him in the trash. He wouldn’t be the first.
But he knew he wouldn’t.
He’d thought about it before and he was sure he’d think about it again. The kid was useful.
But the moment he started thinking for himself… woe befall him.
Hitcher looked at his auto pistol. A full clip at the ready. Six more in his belt and a shotgun strapped to his back along with a couple auto carbines in the trunk. He’d be safe for now.
‘We’re here sir, ‘ said Droog.
‘So we are,’ said Hitcher, ‘come on kid, time to earn your food,’.
The kid came.
The last minutes of the two year long gang war came swifter than anything else like it in the history of Jora IV.
Compared to every other gang war in history it was the most devastating occurrence on Jora IV to have the misfortune of taking place.
Not the smallest factor in this being the fact, that while Hitcher was preparing his assault on the cult, whose name has been hidden by inquisitorial agents, which was masquerading as just another gang, was in the process of summoning a daemon.
Born from a world of blood when man was young, the daemon, whose name brings insanity, was foretold to rise on this night. And when the servants of the imperium know when an enemy is coming, be it from within, without or beyond, all steps are taken to destroy it before it can become too great a threat.
This is why five Grey Knights had laid in wait above the planet within their strike cruiser, The Adamant.
When the daemon rose these five men, led by Justicar Fortis Vir. Speeding through the atmosphere with a tail of fire the Grey Knights plummeted towards the earth, right above the hive spire the summoning would take place.
Bursting apart a mere half mile from the surface of the earth the drop pod delivered its deadly cargo.
Freefalling through the air now, the Grey Knights would hit terminal velocity in a matter of moments. It wouldn’t matter though.
In place of their standard backpack were master-crafted jump packs, gifts from the Cult Mechanicus of the forge world Mars given in gratitude for the aid two hundred Grey Knights gave in helping to cleanse one of the outer forge systems to the galactic east.
Slowing their descent before it was too late the mechanical wings that formed part of the jump pack unfolded to their full wingspan at the psychic behest of their users.
Just before hitting the hard pre-fabricated spire mold, the Gey Knight squad folded their wings around themselves and became balls ceramite and adamantium.
With momentum and nigh on impervious armor on their, along with poorly maintained living quarters, the Grey Knights barreled through floor upon floor of the spire, crashing down towards their goal: the daemon about to be brought forth into the real world.
When Fortis Vir finally hit the target floor he landed on his feet and folded his wings back behind him, giving him a clear line of sight of the entire scene.
He saw cultists trading fire with other mortals clad in loose clothing and covered with elect’tats and piercings. Some kind of gang or something.
Fortis did not care. The enemy of his enemy would die next if they interfered.
Behind and around him the four men under his command crashed down just as he had done moments ago.
‘Squad Vir,’ he voxed to them, ‘open fire,’
With the precision only an astartes could claim a score of cultists fell with just as many shots from wrist mounted storm bolters in a fraction of so many seconds.
‘Verson, Gallet and Fahellen, keep gunning the cultists down, target the leaders first. Narren with me, we shall slay the daemon before it rises,’
The squad acknowledged this by click blinking the order received rune in their helmet.
Fortis took off from where he and his squad had landed and sprinted towards a pit the cultists had carved out of the floor and filled with blood. If the daemon would rise from anywhere, it would be there.
Few cultists stood in his way, as members of the gang stormed in all around they started giving up in droves.
As if it would help them.
Neither the gang nor the astartes showed anything resembling mercy.
The hivers saw it as a weakness.
The Grey Knights didn’t even know what it was.
When Fortis and Narren reached the pool of blood they saw that the ritual was almost complete. The blood was boiling, and something was moving just under the surface, trying to break free. But it couldn’t, not yet. They saw immediately that the pool was too deep for them, that jumping into it to slay the creature within would be suicide, and why they didn’t have a problem with this normally, the Grey Knights were stretched too thin across the galaxy for any such heroics to take out a minor, yet still capable, daemon.
The two Grey Knights fired their storm bolters into it. Nothing happened.
Enraged, Fortis unleashed yet more of the holy bolts from his weapon, yet still nothing happened.
The beast within the blood stirred again, larger this time. The marines were too late.
You must stab it in the heart
Fortis did not know where the voice came from, he looked to see if Narren had heard it, but his brother marine was still pouring bolt after bolt into the blood, trying to stop the daemon before it rose.
In the heart with the blade! Hurry!
Fortis looked around him and took in his surroundings.
The cultists had lost the fight, but a few of the stubborn heretics kept firing into the ranks of the gangers.
Around two hundred men and women lay dead on the floor.
Fortis was about to turn back to the task at hand, but our of the corner of his eye he saw… a child? Looking straight at him?
Do it do it do it!
Fortis didn’t know what was going on, but he knew that child must be special, likely a psycher, hive worlds breed them in dozens.
Taking hold of his nemesis force weapon from its sheath at his waist, Fortis drew forth the bright sword.
In the heart in the heart intheheart! When it dies the blood will drain! Screamed the voice in his mind.
Taking a breath, Fortis leaped into the blood pool. And all went red. Beyond that, Fortis lost all memory of that night.
‘Justicar? Justicar?’ came a voice, gruff, yet with an edge of concern from the night around Fortis Vir’s mind.
He pried his eye lids opened and saw his squad arrayed around him.
‘What time is it? What happened?’ he asked.
‘It’s a little while after you leapt, we thought… to your doom Justicar,’ said Fahellen, ‘Just a few minutes, I’d say. We should leave soon,’.
‘Yes,’ agreed Fortis. ‘Just a moment though, I need to see to something,’
Rising to his feet, Fortis was shaky at first but his astartes conditioning remedied that.
After the Justicar had walked off the four battle-brothers of the squad had a rare moment of relaxation, or at least their approximation of the word.
‘Where is the local law enforcement?’ asked Narren.
‘It’s a hive planet Narren, if the law isn’t corrupt, its too ineffective to be worth corrupting,’ answered Gallet.
‘You there,’ said the grey god.
The boy looked up from the ground he’d been sitting on since the little war ended.
‘Are you going to kill me now?’ he asked, slightly sad, yet with a hopeful edge to his voice.
‘No boy,’ said the god, ‘was that you screaming earlier?’
‘… you… heard that?’
‘I didn’t think anyone could hear me when I yelled in my head…’
‘I can, and I’d like to learn more about just how you do that,’ said the god.
‘Will you kill me when you find out?’
The god said nothing, then: ‘perhaps, if I must,’.
‘Alright,’ said the kid.
‘Now follow me,’ said the god.
The kid stood up on two malnourished legs.
‘What is your name?’ the god asked.
‘I… don’t know,’ said the kid.
The god was silent.
Two Months Later. In The Halls Of Titan
Walking down the ancient hallways of the Grey Knights fortress monastery more often than not would give Fortis time and space to contemplate in peace. But with chaplain Durendin walking with him, he could not help but feel slightly less than his usual self. Not that he had done anything wrong, but the chaplain always seemed to bring this out in everyone.
‘So why did you bring back the boy?’ asked Durendin.
‘I felt that there was something unique about him. Something like what I sense when I take part in helping to train the novices but… different somehow,’
‘Do you think that perhaps this one lad can bring something to Titan that the dozens delivered every month cannot?’
‘I do not know my lord, what I do know is that somehow he knew how to slay a daemon of the warp, something he had never seen, and he told me how to do it and I was the only one there who heard him,’
‘Have you given thought to the notion that perhaps the child is tainted by the warp in the worst of ways?’
‘That is what I thought originally, but he survived my examination onboard The Adamant. I do not believe him to be tainted in any way,’.
‘Do you know how his training progresses?’
‘Yes, I asked the master of recruits if he could keep an eye on the boy for me, just so I would know if I missed any form of corruption earlier,’
The chaplain was silent.
‘Do you think he would make a good Grey Knight?’ asked the chaplain at length.
Now it was Fortis’s turn to be silent.
‘You are novices in the ranks of the Grey Knights. You have already become greater than you ever could have become in your past lives. But you are not worthy of the armor and blade yet!’ shouted the master of recruits, an old astartes with graying hair by the name of Asual who was standing above the training floor on the observation deck.
‘As of now your minds are weak, your bodies are fragile. But I, and others like me, shall turn you into something to be feared. Something that will bring light to the dark place in the galaxy and destroy it. We will make you Grey Knights.
Deep within the ranks of a hundred novices just like him, Markus, that was the name the god had given him, stood alongside others clad like him, in a simple grey one-piece designed to cling closely to his body.
‘Today you begin the second week of your training,’ said Asual, ‘Over the course of the next thirty-six hours you will learn how to fight in ranks, and you will all be monitored to make sure the first two implants are functioning correctly,’
At this Markus thought back to that cold cold night he didn’t know how long ago, when he lay naked on a bare metal table and they cut him open…
‘Servitors!’ barked the master of recruits, ‘issue the pikes,’
Coming from their stations all around the training floor, ten servitors with ten long spears each marched into the ranks of the novices. The young men each took a pike when a servitor paused before them. They knew what to do. The lash had made sure of that.
Once all the novices were armed, Asual began barking instructions.
Markus faced right, moving, or at least trying to move, in perfect synchrony with the rest of the hundred. He wasn’t alone in this. None of them had reached the point where they would achieve anything like the perfect cohesion of their astartes lords.
‘That was pathetic!’ barked Asual. ‘Thirty laps around the floor on double gravity now!’
Suddenly everything got heavier and it was harder to stand up. Markus nearly fell over right there and then. But he didn’t. He got started on the thirty laps with his pike in hand instead.
On the observation deck of the training hall the gravity was just normal, normal for the super-dense core of Titan that is.
‘How does he progress?’ asked a voice from behind Asual.
‘Badly, he’ll never make a marine,’ replied the aged master of recruits.
‘Do you even know which one I’m talking about?’ asked the voice.
‘No,’ smiled Asual.
The voice chuckled and Fortis Vir stepped next to Asual.
‘Did I ever make a marine?’ asked the justicar.
‘Yes but I couldn’t exactly tell whether or not during the first year could I?’
‘I suppose not,’
‘If the boy has a marine in him we’ll find out. If not, the chapter gains another servitor,’.
Fortis was silent for the second time in as many hours.
‘Why did you give him the name Markus?’
Fortis remained silent.
‘Let me know how he does,’ said the justicar as he turned to leave.
Below them, Markus trained.
5 Years Later
The Adamant docked above the Grek Knights fortress monastery for what must have been the thousandth time since it was built millennia ago.
Recent battle scars all along its hull marked where the forces of a traitor Lord Admiral had tried in vain to destroy it before it launched the boarding pods containing the Grey Knights that had slain him and his daemon guard.
Brother-Captain Fortis Vir dismissed his battle-brothers to the monastery, distracting himself a little while longer by instructing the servitors where the heaviest damage was and what he wanted them to repair first.
He didn’t need to do this, he knew everything would be as good as new the moment he and his men were dispatched again.
But he did it anyway. It comforted him to know the systems with the heaviest damage would be seen to first.
When this was done Fortis walked back to his quarters, the same Spartan room that had been his since he made battle-brother all those years ago. It provided for him a place to maintain his weapons and armor in private, where he would have no company save his own thoughts and.
Resting each piece of his aegis armor on its stand at the end of the room, Fortis donned his robe, a simple thing made of white cloth that signified the fact that he had just returned from the eternal war and desired time to contemplate the victory. Everything within the monastery symbolized something. From the pillar taking the form of Grand Master Mandulis to the one-pieces the novices wore.
The first stop Fortis made after donning his robe was to go by the officers’ chapel. Before he was a captain he had stayed exclusively in the battle-brothers’ chapel and pray. This is what he did normally, preferring to pray with the men under his command and he would do this. But before that he would always stop here, to pray, like other officers, for the men he had lost.
He saw fellow brother-captains Hallace and Deren praying on opposite sides of the room. Fortis took a spot in the middle, maintaining as great and equal distance from the other two captains. This was a place to pray in solitude. Not together.
He thanked the Emperor for allowing their time to come in battle, where it should come. He mourned the loss the way every officer should, before mourning with his men, equal in brotherhood during the entombment where he, or others who were closer to the fallen than he, would speak on their behalf.
After he made his peace Fortis stood and walked out the ornate double doors that led in and out of the room.
His next stop would by the apothocarium.
‘Will you please explain to me why you do not take advantage of your rank and wear the terminator armor?’ asked apothecary Thellus.
‘I don’t like how it slows me down,’ replied Fortis as Thellus poked and prodded his back, searching for any infection left near the scars of the biggest and most recent cuts.
‘Well I just love how you leave yourself free to rush into swords and axes,’ replied the apothecary. Most Grey Knights found his tone disrespectful and his attitude unbecoming of the Emeror’s finest.
Fortis appreciated his straightforward manner.
‘You know me apothecary, you know me,’ he said.
‘Hmm,’ the old Knight said. Then: ‘What was this? Did you get bitten by something?’
‘What? Oh yes, there was a daemon hound on the ship. I killed it and there was no taint. I made sure of that on the voyage back,’
‘A dog? A Grey Knight was scarred by a dog?’
‘It was a big dog,’.
Upon leaving the apothocarium Fortis made his way to the training decks. It was time to check up on Markus.
He found the master of recruits, still Asual after all these years, presiding over a new group of one hundred novices, just the way he had last found him five years ago.
The novices were doing laps on triple gravity. They must have really angered Asual. Or he was just getting grumpy with age. Maybe both.
‘Anything I can help you with Brother-Captain?’ the astartes asked.
‘Yes, where is Markus today?’
‘Markus… oh yes, that lad. I put him and what remains of his formation in the simulator today, to test how they each handle being alone in a no-win scenario,’
‘Thank you brother,’ Fortis turned to leave, but Asual wasn’t done.
‘Brother Maynar is testing them,’
‘Thank you again brother,’ he said before continuing.
Asual turned his attention back to the novices below.
‘I’ve meet a dreadnought that can run faster than that!’ he shouted, ‘quadruple gravity!’
Fortis made his way through the hallways to floor with the simulator rooms.
The first person he was brother Maynar, reading from a scroll, who greeted him with only the barest hint of a nod.
In the corner an apothecary examined a novice just recently removed from one of the sim rooms. the boy’s skin was red all over and he was sweating through his cloths. He seemed to have collapsed from exhaustion. He had Fortis’s unspoken sympathy.
Every Grey Knight remembered the torture of the sim rooms, not just the mental and physical exhaustion, but horrifying experiences beheld by all within the cold rooms as the machine spirit sought to push them into the worst situation their mind could conjure, and then past that.
While Fortis and other Grey Knights could now walk into the rooms and face the simulated opponents as just another enemy, the novices could, and did, still feel the most human of emotions. Fear.
While Fortis and his brothers still felt fear at rare times, they had had enough training and conditioning that it did not control them.
The novices weren’t there yet.
‘How does the novice Markus progress?’ Fortis asked.
Maynar looked from the scroll.
‘Young Markus has been taken out of the simulator and placed on punishment duty for the next month,’.
Anger flared in Fortis. He suddenly could not help but think back to the days he spent in the simulator.
‘Why?’ he asked.
‘The whelp takes after you,’ replied Maynar, ‘He decided to break the equipment and forgo the training and the lesson. Just like you did,’
‘I think you’re still mad I beat the test,’ said Fortis, turning away.
Maynar said nothing.
Fortis turned to leave. He exchanged no more words with Maynar. He knew where the punishment decks were.
When Fortis came to Markus’s cell, he saw a completely different person from the one he had brought in all those years ago.
Where once an unhealthy and malnourished boy was, a stronger, healthier, yet still slim, teenage had taken his place. The biscopea implanted within his chest was not yet done pushing his bones to grow past their human limits. He was still bigger than the trillions of others his age in the Imperium Of Man though.
Markus sat on the cold hard granite floor, knees up to his chin. He looked just like the first time Fortis saw him, after dispatching that daemon on the hive world.
‘Care to tell me how you got here?’ Fortis asked.
Markus did not look up from the floor.
‘I won,’ he stated simply.
‘How? It’s an unbeatable test,’
Fortis knew that wasn’t true. It could be beaten, even if the only way to do it was technically cheating.
‘I hurled by spear into the simulator’s projector,’ Markus said.
‘And how did you know to do that?’
‘I don’t know… I just knew,’
‘Like when I found you?’
‘Were you heard by anyone?’
‘Like when you heard me?’
Fortis was silent.
‘What will happen to me?’ asked Markus and Fortis was broken away from his thoughts.
‘What? Oh, nothing serious. I expect you’ll be kept here for a time, and then you shall be returned to your class. In the meantime you are supposed to meditate on how wrong it is to cheat. But you won’t be doing any of that,’
‘Why not?’ asked Markus.
‘I didn’t, and because I’m unlocking the cell door. If brother Maynar gives you any trouble for this, tell him to talk to me. I outrank him,’
Markus smiled as Fortis unlocked the door with his palm print. There was a hydraulic hiss as the locks on the door went from closed to empty. The door opened. Markus stood, but did not leave the cell.
‘I must go now, I have several funerals to attend to. I must take my leave,’
‘Yes my lord,’
‘I shall see you when you are promoted,’
‘Yes, you are almost half way through your training, you will be ready to take to the field in a matter of years,’
‘What if I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting?’
‘Then you wouldn’t have survived your first year,’
Fortis Vir left the novice.
Seven Years Later.
‘Congratulations,’ said master of recruits Asual, ‘You are now no longer novices,’
Markus and the other twelve remaining astartes to be from his class let only the barest hints of smiles break from the hard mold of their face.
Asual saw it though, he did every year.
‘But you are not yet Grey Knights,’
The small grins faded instantly.
‘With few exceptions, none of you have met the enemy on the field of battle. This changes soon,’
If Asual did not have their attention before, which was almost impossible, he most certainly did now.
‘The Adeptus Mechanicus research outpost Quadra Typhonis sent up an emergency signal on all Imperial frequencies. At 0800 hours this morning the Grand Masters of our order were shown a video recording of the final moments of the tech lords’ defense of the outpost. It was enough to convince them our skills were required. The Adamant is docked above our monastery. Brother-Captain Fortis Vir has volunteered his squads and his ship to this mission. You will be following his orders. To the letter. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Sir yes sir!’ chorused the junior battle brothers.
‘Good, now go and don your armor. Captain Vir will expect you to be ready and awaiting his inspection on the deck of The Adamant before the hour is up. Go,’.
The thirteen brothers took their leave and marched to their barracks to don their new suits of armor.
When they were out of earshot Asua was left alone and said, quietly, to himself: ‘And may the Emperor give you guidance,’
Three weeks later The Adamant was in high orbit above a medium sized asteroid, with many smaller rocks orbiting around it.
‘We won’t be getting any closer Brother-Captain,’ said one of the Ordos Malleus serfs on the command deck of The Adamant.
Finished: Too Much Love Will Kill You (working title), an original fiction novel. Working on: Second draft of Too Much Love, and the first draft of A Winter's Tale (working title).