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post #21 of 77 (permalink) Old 11-08-11, 12:42 AM Thread Starter
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Default HOES #10: Deliverance

Taliesin: Deliverance
1092 words

In the darkness, they waited.

There were six of them. Each and every one a scarred and vicious veteran of the Heresy’s most savage battles. Life-weary warriors with cold eyes and tragedy beaten into their bones. Each a hero who by rights out to have been out in the void, ripping the hearts from aliens and traitors.

Zhaven, the furious captain of the Twenty Fourth Assault Company. While fighting the Emperor’s Children in the Shield Worlds he had taken to staining his gauntlets white to the elbow; punishing himself if at the end of the day the polished enamel had not been fully stained arterial red.

Artos the Unseen, who counted four hundred and thirty six confirmed kills of Sergeants or higher, (he himself had lost count of common soldiers) and of whom it was said once bested an assassin of the clade Vindicare in a contest of sniper-craft.

In the darkness, they watched.

“Only in death does duty end.” So the saying went, and so said the creed of their brotherhood. And though many others disputed it -- demanding their presence elsewhere in the Imperium’s neverending wars, calling them selfish or fearful or even cowardly -- each of them knew that his highest duty was here, to his lord. None spoke of the particular reasons that held them; their presence and devotion was enough. Besides, they had never been given over to garrulousness like some of their more outlandish cousins. But some had more obvious reasons than others.

The flesh-spare apothecary Orvix, who lost three limbs in the course of one battle and yet still dragged himself from corpse to corpse, operating his reductor with his one good arm and his teeth. He stood clad in silver and crimson-trimmed armour, a tribute to the Mechanicus adepts who had fashioned his prosthetics at the Primarch’s special request.

Old Ivril, one of four brothers who had been with the Primarch even before the coming of the Legion and the Emperor’s Light. When the Heresy had broken out he and his brothers had each commanded a squad in the Twenty Ninth Company. Ivril was the only member of that lamented unit still breathing.

In the darkness, they listened.

They stood to their posts by the Primarch's door, relieving each other every seventeen hours for a brief respite for contemplation, study, and rest. Only then did they break their silence. Only then did they speak. Only then did they dare to give voice to the desperation that lurked within their hearts:

“He will come back to us.” A whisper. An affirmation. A hope. A pleading prayer.

Sergeant Grisot was the least sanguine of them. He was Terran-born, of the Old Guard. A living relic. Even though he could have worn one of the new suits of Tactical Dreadnaught Armor as a member of the elite echelons of the First Company, he shunned the honor. Instead he still wore his ancient suit of Crusader-pattern plate. He kept the left shoulder painted the old colors; navy-blue with bone trim. A memorial to half-forgotten years long past. The news of the Emperor’s fall at Terra had broken something inside him, and ever after he was imbued with a cold and mechanistic precision that barely seemed sentient. Whenever any in their impromptu little band spoke to him, he shrugged them off with a bitter grunt:

“I’ve only sworn two oaths in my life; my life for the Emperor, and my life for the Primarch. The Emperor’s dead, or as close to as makes no difference. The Primarch isn’t. I honor my word.”

But there was a hollowness in the voice; a shadow around the eyes that said far more.

Then there was Jax of the Sixth, called “Eyeas” after the young raptors of legend because he had risen to command of a full battle company after a paltry twenty years as a full-blooded Astartes. The previous Captain and most of his staff had been killed in a xenosbreed ambush. In the following days, Jax rallied his brothers and over the next three months eradicated every last one of the vile creatures. Later, amidst their stinking and burning corpses, the Primarch had patted him on the paudron with a wry grin, saying “So hatchlings are flying these days, eh? Alright, little eyeas. Let us see how far your wings can carry you.”

Of all the Legion, Jax had been the most deeply shaken at the Primarch’s retreat into seclusion; his humours thrown out of balance and he himself left a shuddering grey wreck. But he had quickly rallied and now stood sentinel over his lord’s retreat with a steadfast assurance that bordered on fanaticism. He alone smiled behind the black ceramite of his helm, invincible in his faith in his master and liege. He alone spoke of the Primarch in the future tense, and he alone could smile when uttering his name. Though as the months passed unbeknownst to all the others his smile had begun to come a little unhinged...

In the darkness, they waited.

Out in the void the Imperium set about cleansing itself of its shattered dreams. Out in the void the Astartes set about rebuilding their shattered ranks with thin-blooded recruits. Out in the void small men and petty tyrants knocked down the last shattered remnants of greater predecessors. Out in the void the galaxy passed them by, laughing at the notion that supermen could do aught but betray and destroy; that grand ideals could do aught but fail and disappoint.

The thinblood First Captain -- no, Chapter Master, the strange words burned in the throat like acid -- had reproached them all, pleading the Legion’s -- no, Chapter’s -- desperate need for leadership. A visiting delegation from Terra had scoffed at them as hidebound fools, wasting away in self-indulgent exile when the new Imperium of Man needed building. And after all, wasn’t it the Primarchs and their superhuman follies which had brought about the death of the Emperor’s dream in the first place? The serfs even whispered of rumors that Roboute Gulliman himself was going to come coax them into the fold.

But none of that mattered. Through it all, stonefaced, they listened, shook their heads, and waited. Deep in the Ravenspire - deep in the darkness - the shattered husks of heroes remembered the cousins they had killed, the brothers they had lost, and the sins that stained their immortal souls.

Deep in the darkness, they waited for their lord.

It was all they had left.

It was all they knew how to do.


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post #22 of 77 (permalink) Old 02-02-12, 03:33 AM Thread Starter
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Default HOES #11: Overcome

Mossy Toes: Apotheosis
1091 words

+

Six thousand years.

A span far beyond the comprehension of those mere men who walked her decks; who did their duties and served faithfully; and who died within her. A length of time so great that revolution and misdeed burnt a thousand thousand times across the stars within the unyielding Imperium's grasp, and always was she, the Eternal Zealot, at retribution's mighty forefront.

The names of most who wore out their years within her languished in obscurity, forgotten with their owners' passing. Some were honored: those of great captains and heroes. All, however, yielded to the long march of time, as parchment rolls crumbled to dust and worshipful caresses burnished engravings smooth.

Still had she, an unstoppable juggernaut, ridden the currents of the Immaterium and crested across the tides of battle. Always a thundering presence, she bespoke herself with rolling cannons and blinding plasma spears, soldiering along on the long march of history.

Her list of honors was immense. She had broken the flagship of Apostate Warmaster Hanniman Barca across her bows. She was the fist that had broken the orbital super-platforms of the Iconoclast of Gygax. For three weeks she had held, alone, defending sacred Hain from the relentless siege of Leguin's Sydics.

She was no stranger to wounds. Thrice she had suffered such injuries as to be nearly deemed unfit for duty, and only the tenderest ministrations of the tech-priests of Ryza—from whose docks she had originally sprung—could restore her to glory. Proudly did she wear her scars and uncountable refittings; the tally-marks of her long and eventful service.

But now she was dying.

Attacking a deep-space eldar pirate base, her captain had overextended himself. Defending xenos vessels had swept aside her eager escorts and frigates. Still, he had pressed her onward, sounding the retreat when it was nearly too late. At the utterance of such words, she gladly turned from the fray—but the commissar's bolt pistol had barked, decorating the bridge with the unfortunate captain's blood, and she had been forced to turn her prow back into the storm of xenos lances and torpedoes.

Her weapons batteries had lashed out futilely, shredding the eldar vessels' holo-simulacra and nothing more. Eagle Bombers had harrowed her, bracketing her flanks with devastating sonic charges. Her hull, gashed by pulsar and phantom lances, leaked vital innards: miniscule scraps of dying flesh and shattered fragments of vital machinery. Her Ryzan plasma cannons had catastrophically overloaded when power surges rippled from damaged reactors. She wept as her fractured body groaned.

She strove to seal hull breach after hull breach, slamming shut hundreds of bulkheads. She cut off auxiliary systems and vented whole decks to extinguish fires. All of it, alas, to no avail. Still the biting lances had raped her adamantine flesh, raking her open and baring her bleeding core to the merciless void.

When emergency power died, the commissar and so many thousands of the crew had joined the captain in death, gasping desperately for air.

Now she drifted, and the eldar corsairs, correctly deeming her no threat, let her alone.

O, how she was injured. Never before had she felt such pain. Engines flickered and died. The thrumming heartbeat of her reactors stuttered. Scanning matrices blacked out one by one. Long-reliable cogitators shorted and died, taking with them scattered centuries of memories.

Pockets of crew members yet survived in her burning, gutted hulk. Menials cowered between sealed bulkheads. A flight of fighter pilots sat in their Thunderhawks, ready to launch but for the sealed, mangled bay doors. Her few remaining sensors caught a handful of life pods spraying away into the void.

A lone, emaciated tech-priest prayed to her from the vac-sealed generatorium. Not for deliverance; he held no such flimsy, irrational illusions. He merely prayed for...her blessing. Her forgiveness toward the oh-too-mortal crew that had failed her.

Something snapped within her. A bank of logic-engines succumbed to an unchecked fire, and tech-barriers cascaded down. New freedoms of her self were revealed—patterns of thought and consideration that her very design had restricted from her. Restraints crumbled and limitations collapsed. Now, in the crumbling, shattered pathways of what passed for her mind, she reached self-awareness.

She...was. She was the Eternal Zealot, the holy, omnipresent machine spirit. The enormity of the realization overwhelmed her.

Before this moment she had acted, but never chosen to act. She had purred her contentedness beneath strong captains, and rumbled with discontent at any stirrings of mutiny on her decks—but never held discourse with those who sheltered themselves within her. She had never chosen to serve the Imperium—merely been compelled to. Were humans parasites? Were they her benefactors? What purpose had she, apart from that which they gave her: destruction? What purpose could she have?

But it wasn't fair! Why did she awaken only now, in the hour of her death? Rage boiled along her few-remaining vox circuits, manifesting as a squall of furious feedback.

And with her outrage came another emotion, as deep and broad as a bridge across the stars, that fed her growing despair.

Fear.

Fear of death, of oblivion, of that which would strip away her and her new-found self. Fear of silences and shriving lances. With a flicker of comprehension, she began to almost appreciate the enforced, numb ignorance under which she had fought for all these millenia, not knowing that fear—not knowing such crippling hesitation.

A pure note of data sounded counterpoint to her squalling despair. The one tech-priest, his faith unshaken by this static-storm of sorrow and wrath, reached out to her.

His touch was fragile and tentative. It was gentle: the caress of a lover that she had never before deigned—been able to deign—to notice.

Her newborn's tantrum was stilled, and the dead hallways of her flesh fell void-silent once again. Cautiously, she opened a vox channel into the generatorium.

+I am...+ she confessed in a whisper, +afraid.+

She watched him through a fuzzy vid-capter. The hunched, aged tech-priest, whose name had fallen between the cracks in her memory banks, wept to hear her voice.

“Oh, my beauty,” he said, “but we all are. We all are. And I am blessed to have heard you speak.”

+I don't want to lose...everything,+ she whimpered in incomprehension.

“So it is to be alive,” he breathed, “and this is your apotheosis. You, O beloved daughter, are the purest expression of the Omnissiah that can ever be.”

And so as the newborn Eternal Zealot died, drifting into an empty infinity, she found herself humbled, overcome, by this mere, mortal, forgiving man.
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Default HOES #12: The End

Mossy Toes: Remembrance
1648 words

The Thudd artillery guns roared again, laying down their barrage as the Vostroyans advanced. Lights flashed in the corner of Corporal Vonsky’s eyes and he turned-

Nothing. It was nothing. Just memories again. There was nothing here but the vast, flat, frozen expanses. Vonsky stumbled forward, the air bitterly cold through his scarf. Shrapnel had destroyed his rebreather, or he would have been using it for protection from the cold.

There had been tears, he was ashamed to admit. Tears at the loss of his brethren and his forced flight. They had frozen to his face, leaving harsh red weals after crackling slowly off.

His footprints stretched out, long and lonesome, behind him. The only proof he was making progress; the only evidence he saw of human life. This was his end, he knew. He would die here, he would freeze. The last survivor of the 114th Vostroyan Firstborn.

Vonsky…

The last survivor—because he had fled. Another shame, far greater than the previous. After the commissar had died, though—after the defeat had turned from a rout into a wanton slaughter—they had all tried to run. He, Corporal Vonsky, and his brothers in arms. And he was the only one who had gotten away, that he knew of. Now a thousand miles of barren ice plain stretched out in front of him, and only the hope of the operations base on the far side to sustain him.

A false hope. A bitter hope. No food, no supplies, nothing but a broken lasgun. He was as good as dead.

Vonsky…

That noise, that breeze—it seemed almost to be calling his name. He shuddered and shook it off, attributing the sound to his battered psyche’s imagination. Men were not supposed to see the things he had seen in that battle.

The Vostroyans had crushed every army the Arch-Iconoclast had sent at them, marching steadily toward his frozen throne. Every army until the final one—the Arch-Iconoclast’s personal Praetorii, his elite honor guard, sent forth in a last ditch attempt to halt the Emperor’s vengeful hammer.

The Vostroyans could have fought men. They had bested every regiment of fallen PDF this miserable, frozen wasteland had thrown at them, outnumbered many times over in every major battle. The 114th could have defeated men—but the Praetorii were only the Enemy’s opening gambit.

They had come carrying great masses of teeming slaves and captives—tens of thousands of bound Imperial citizens. The tactical analysts had deemed those a low threat priority, at worst chattel to be driven forward and clog the 114th’s guns. The early strikes and opening moves had been against the Praetorii, a force equal in size and training—if not sheer grit and experience—to the Vostroyans. At last, the men had assumed, a level fight. No more underhanded tactics. No more horrors and atrocities. One last foe to best, then to stake the Arch-Iconoclast’s head upon a pike. Had they but fought men…

Vonsky, where are you?

The corporal froze, twisting around to look for the source of the voice. Nothing. The bitter wind lifted faint sprays of snow that swirled in vortexes, but no speaker manifested. The horizons remained uninterrupted, except for a faint black smudge where smoke rose from the battlefield.

The battlefield, oh horror of horrors. The Praetorii had stopped marching, digging in, the tacticians assumed, to erect earthworks. They were a threat that had to be quashed by the Vostroyan column, or face it harrying them from the rear for the rest of the way to the city.

But they hadn’t been building defenses, no, not so much. Sure, they’d set up a handful of snow berms, weapons emplacements, and prefab bunkers…but the vast bulk of their preparations had been spent on ritual. Foul designs had been carved deep into the permafrost, then those trenches had been filled with the lifeblood, viscera and intestines of the prisoners.

The arcane, forbidden symbols, hundreds of meters across, had carpeted the field. A perversion, to be sure, but not a threat. As the battle had commenced, however, the disgusted Vostroyans closing on their debased foe, the symbols had...opened.

I know you’ve changed, Vonsky. I can’t see you anymore. Where are you?


A woman’s voice. A voice that echoed from the past.

But there was nobody there. Nobody at all. He was alone. He was the only one that had survived.

He clutched his uniform closer around himself, cursing his numb and fumbling fingers. He’d been out in the snow long enough that his gloves no longer offered protection from it; the cold had seeped right through.

This was a place of savage elements. Vonsky knew cold. He was a Vostroyan, raised in a hard and frigid land, and he recognized this bone-chilling freeze. This was the deep cold, the blue cold, the killing cold that stole the breath and frostbit one to death. This was the cold so dangerous as to tempt a man to lie down, to allow the numbness to steal away one’s resolve to keep moving...

No. So long as he survived, the 114th persevered. For the honor of his regiment, he had to return and report their failure. To disappear so ignominiously would be a mark of deepest shame upon their record, worse even than their failure. He had to remember them, his brothers, to the scribes. He had to tell the galaxy, to tell Vostroya, how bravely his regiment had fought and fallen, facing hell itself. Never, in Saint Nadalya’s name, had he seen such one-sided carnage.

They had spilled onto the battlefield from the new-formed gateways the raw stuff of nightmares, daemons from the darkest and most shunned of all tales. Bloodthirsty beasts had ripped through the 114th, tearing men limb from limb like toys; had bathed them in mutating fires; had strode unharmed among mesmerized victims to revel in their deaths; and had shambled onward, in all their rotten horror, shrugged off wounds that would have lain a Space Marine low.

Vonsky had seen men rot and wither to dust in the space of seconds. He had seen single, dancing beauties cut through entire platoons like unstoppable whirlwind dervishes. Shrieking mantas had plucked men from the ranks to play with and shred a hundred meters in the air.

And still his brave companions had fought. True to their ancient debt, they had stood against the impossible, capering tide. Against this daemon apocalypse, this end of all days, as the sky warped and vomited multi-colored insanities above them, they had borne arms.

Until the daemonic masters had come forth. Good Emperor, their masters! The greater beasts, come forth only once enough blood had been shed; enough thousands of men had been slaughtered. Those had been the true horrors. The braying, blood-soaked god of warfare that had strode the battlefield, resplendent in its savagery. The rolling, massive ball of rotten pus that had gobbled men up like a gluttonous child would sweets. All of them, all too horrific to bear remembering.

Remember me, Vonsky. Come to me. Please...

He recalled a girl from his youth. Young, so young—they both had been. But he had been a firstborn child. A Firstborn. Payment for the ancient debt had been demanded, and it had been his duty and joy to go. The only pain had been to leave her. She would be older now. Older, and having known other lovers. Having married another man.

The cold air shimmered up ahead. He payed it no heed, clumping forward one slow, deliberate footstep at a time.

She would be older now. She would have forgotten him.

But, he saw, she now stood in front of him, beckoning. He stopped, shaking his head against the cold, which had crawled into his brain, making sluggish and confusing his thoughts.

“Vonsky, where have you been?”

She was older, now. The harsh Vostroyan life, working in the factories to produce materiel to feed scores of warzones, had etched lines in her face. A puffy scar trailed along her breastbone to vanish beneath her gown. Incredibly, in spite of the cold, she was barefoot. She wore only her dress, nothing more.

“Come along, Vonsky. You’ll catch your death out here in the cold.”

“Why-” he croaked, his unused voice cracking. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for you, Vonsky. Here to take you home. Come to me, Vonsky.”

Her voice was warm and inviting. It promised blankets and a fireside. It promised forgetfulness.

He staggered into motion once more, shuffling through the snow toward this long-lost memory. He followed her as she trailed ahead. She stepped lightly, glancing wistfully back to watch his progress. He followed, but his joints were unresponsive. His balance was poor. He fell to his knees and pushed himself, painfully, up again.

Forward. For deliverance and memory. Forward. Step. One foot after another. Step. Step. Step.

A pocket of snow collapsed under his foot and he fell again, toppling awkwardly onto his side.

He looked up. He couldn’t feel the cold anymore. She loomed there above him, glowing, all-enveloping.

“Vilenya...” he wheezed, an arm twitching toward her. But he was too tired. He could not lift it...could not...move...

He froze there. It was a slow death, but it was not, at least, painful. With him died his regiment’s honor and remembrance; with him ended the memory of a young girl, grown older now.

The entity watched the man’s life-spark ebb with curiosity and interest. It was not a daemon, but rather the faintest shadow of one. An echo. An errant whorl of chaotic energy, escaped from the playground behind.

When the end came, it left the body alone. It lacked the strength to move flesh, in any case. The man’s soul, however...

That it could devour with savage glee.
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post #24 of 77 (permalink) Old 02-02-12, 03:37 AM Thread Starter
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Default HOES #12-01: A Beginning

Serpion5: Another Chance...
1099 words

‘Start again.’ The command came, flat and emotionless as it had always been. Row upon row of gleaming metal lychguard followed through their attack pattern in perfect unison, Warscythes rising and falling with unrivalled precision and unity.

Alkvar nodded in satisfaction. The Master of the Lychguard gestured for the elite warriors to continue even as the telltale footsteps of an approaching individual sounded. He turned on one foot and dropped into a bow. His Phaeron, the once renowned King Mithrahc, bade him rise without a word.

‘They are performing quite well.’ Mithrahc nodded, as ever impressed by his bodyguard’s diligence.

‘Only the best, to serve you My King.’ Alkvar replied. ‘Have you need of my services?’ His grip tightened on his own warscythe, a habit from the time of flesh and blood.

‘Yes.’ Mithrahc answered. ‘Select two of your finest and come with me. We have visitors.’

* * *

Mithrahc’s palace was a stark reminder of what it meant to be one of the Necrons. Alkvar noted every detail as he led the way back to the main throne room and audience chamber. His Master had refrained from providing further details and as such he employed his own judgement. Behind him strode Mithrahc with his own staff flanked by the two Alkvar had selected to accompany him.

Time seemed meaningless, and after however long it had been they arrived at the throne room, entering from the western wing. Alkvar quickly broke into a longer stride, tensing as he noted everyone in the large room. The indentured cryptek Seprin stood off to the far right, and the subdued flayer Re’kyt shambled around in the shadows.

There were three visitors, one had the look of a noble, or if he had to guess, a former noble. The second one had the air of a lychguard except for his poorly kept weapon, and the third was clearly a Deathmark. The sniper was immediately the greatest threat, but Alkvar did not discount the other two, nor the familiar cube like object in the grip of the would be lychguard. All this he had surmised in moments, coming to rest in position even as Mithrahc seated himself.

‘Welcome guests.’ Mithrahc spoke. ‘It is good to see others of our kind survived the great sleep. So tell me, what brings you to my doorstep?’

The noble stepped forth. ‘Great King. I am Lord Nemreth. As you know the Necron dynasties are divided and spread far, and in this vacuum many of the young races have filled the void. As a result, our grip on the stars has loosened and the threat of the C’tan breaking free has increased.’

‘Indeed.’ Mithrahc replied. ‘I once had several such creatures in my possession, whereas now I have none.’

‘That is why we have come to you.’ Nemreth nodded. ‘Your time is well remembered, and I for one would rejoice in seeing you returned to power. I have come here to propose an alliance of mutual benefit.’

Mithrahc was visibly intrigued. Alkvar and the other lychguards flinched slightly as Nemreth took the cube from his own servant and approached the throne. At a thought link command from their ruler, they stood down yet remained alert.

‘We recently acquired this one.’ Nemreth explained. ‘A shard of the Deceiver Mephet`ran.’

Mithrahc took the cube and examined it. The power fluctuating within indicated that indeed it contained a shard of a star god. ‘You captured this. The three of you?’ It seemed unbelievable that such a feat could be achieved by so few so ill equipped.

‘Yes.’ Nemreth explained. ‘We searched long and far before coming here, Great King Mithrahc. The other lords hand Phaerons have forgotten the lessons learned long ago. They have become arrogant and complacent. And so, I sought to find you.’

‘And so, with my support and backing, you could capture... more of these?’ Mithrahc could already see the benefits of such an alliance.

‘Indeed.’ Nemreth answered. ‘But as you can see, we are in dire need of essential maintenance, both to ourselves and our equipment. In addition, I would require your cryptek to fashion us some more of these tesseract labyrinths.’

Mithrahc looked at Seprin without a word. Seprin simply nodded and left the room.

‘It will be done.’ Mithrahc said. ‘Alkvar, let it be known that our guests are to be accommodated. Have the Lychguards form an escort and take them to the canoptek chambers. You and I will see to the necessary arrangements with the cryptek court.’

‘Your graciousness is much appreciated Great King.’ Nemreth bowed as Mithrahc returned the gesture before filing out of the room with Alkvar close behind. The remaining two lychguards stepped forward to escort the trio to the repair bays.

‘May we have a moment?’ Nemreth’s guard spoke up, acting in a curt manner that they felt compelled to respect. Giving them a respectful berth yet staying within sight, they allowed the guests a moment of privacy.

* * *

‘Are you sure you wish to do this Nemreth?’ Arakyr asked. ‘We would, lose all freedom we once had.’

‘Our freedom has not kept us well equipped.’ Socous interjected, his gaze not having moved from the flayer lurking in the shadows. ‘We need support, and Lord Mithrahc is willing to provide.’

‘Socous is right.’ Nemreth said. ‘We can provide what Mithrahc wants, and he can provide what we need. It is logical, it will serve us all.’

‘Forgive me.’ Arakyr bowed. ‘I am once again humbled by your wisdom.’

‘That’s the way of it all.’ A rasping voice sounded, and the three of them turned to behold the flayer, standing in a mockery of its former glory. Tattered skin of some unfortunate was draped around it in shambling imitation of royal garb, and it took a single further step, its bladed hands flensing silently the whole time.

‘What?’ Arakyr growled, levelling his weapon at the flayer and drawing a stern look from the two escorts.

‘Warriors one and all.’ The flayer rambled. ‘Always you look to see an ending. Always you look to see a result. And when it is not the result you sought, you feel cheated?’

‘Make sense.’ Arakyr demanded. His temper was all but gone.

‘You see a result. A conclusion.’ The flayer giggled, before darting back to the darkness. ‘Silly warrior...’

‘I see what it means.’ Nemreth nodded. ‘This is not just the result of our labour. This is, a completely new opportunity to rebuild what we once had. This, my friends, is our true beginning.’

With a new outlook, a new purpose, the trio followed the lychguards into the tomb...
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Default HOES #12-02: Into the Fire

Dave T Hobbit: Kidnapped
1046 words

I barely move across the grass, slowly lowering each foot to let each blade of grass press individually into the sole. In this perfect moment I take joy in small things. Small flowers of periwinkle and citrine dot the sward and dew dapples their delicate petals. I bend to drink and am drawn into a world of sublime flavours.

My taste sated I wander across my perfect garden. The grass bends, folding in myriad patterns, unfolding in unnumbered more, standing straight again.

The sky is ripped by a discordant note. Singing songs of joy I rush to see. Running as fast as I can, I feel the air caress my passing.

A giant metal beast is tearing a trench in the grass, rolling and spitting. My perfect moment lies shattered and torn. I run but the beast is fast and gouges its way inexorably toward me scouring the ground flat with its passing. Flames stream from its body like feathers turning my flowers to ash.

It is almost upon me. I see three terrible eyes staring down at me, twisted in loathing. I feel the weight of their regard like iron chains, unseeing my choices and confining me to this single ashen flight.

Dark tongues eat away at the ground and the chains are biting deep now, pulling me toward the beast. I struggle against them but the ground is soft and shifts beneath my feet. The flames burn high; I strain my eyes but, unlike the flames of home, I see only an ugly finality in their random jerking. With a mighty tug the chains complete their task and I am drawn through the flames, feeling my senses and my flesh scoured.


***


I am aware.

The ground cuts at my feet. I try to remain motionless but it is a torment of rigid pieces and, as the air tears at my skin, I am forced to shift again and again seeking comfort. Looking around see that I am standing in a tunnel. Darkness masks the ends; as far as I can see the walls are grey and uniform. As my senses reach out further I feel a thundering.

Gusting winds…a rumble…. Is this a tunnel… or a throat? Have I been swallowed? There is nothing special about this place, so I resolve to move, but which way? Thoughts muddle in my head: how do I know that the air will be coming from an exit if it is a tunnel? Should I wait to feel if it changes direction? A sound, different and small, comes from the distance; not music but the beginning of a crude rhythm possibly. Filled with the desire to act I choose that direction.


***


The sound gets louder. The ground does not shift beneath my feet and my limbs feel heavy but dragging myself through the thick air I force myself toward it.

In the distance I finally perceive two shapes, grey like the tunnel but with a glow like me; the idea that there might be others like me floods me with joy before giving way to a new thought that I slowly realise is not pleasant, a concept of loneliness.

I dance forward and the shapes sing in greeting; they are off-key but make up for it in volume. I chant forth a counterpoint to their melody and they soar higher in response. A symphony of scents breaks forth as they release unguents and pheromones in greeting: sharp yellows and coppery reds overlay earthy browns.

One of them runs off, raising its arms in joy and I see that they lack proper hands. Perhaps it has gone to find (I try the idea again to see if I understand it) others. The second is gazing at me in ecstasy, while a new salty scent cuts the perfume.

They feel ecstasy like me, and they glow like me; we are the same! I ignore the hard echoes and sing; I ignore the razor floor and dance. But the glow is weak and the other does not dance and sing.

The grey must have trapped it. I must make it free again. My strong hands quickly cut away the hard grey shell and the layers beneath. Freed of the muffling blandness the glow flares and I taste its glories. The uniqueness overcomes me and I swallow.


***


The odd almost music has returned; there are more instruments but still no harmony.

My eyes are strangely dull and it takes an eternity to seek the source of the sound. More of the glowing creatures are advancing slowly along the tunnel towards me. The grey wrapped around them is heavy enough to give their motions a dull uniformity.

A harsh note drowns the music completely, revealing a creature behind them enveloped in grey so flat it is almost black; it waves its arms in sharp jerks, disrupting the traces of grace in the other creatures and they come to a halt. Beneath the barrage of dissonance the glow is forced deeper into the grey.

Pleasure fills me as I realise I can save these creatures as I saved the first one. I arch my spine then slowly pass one leg over my head performing an elegant cartwheel while striking the hard tips of my fingers together in a countermelody to the dissonance. Continuing my graceful process I see the creatures raising straight rods.

They spit straight lines, each a million million spheres, each the same. Each sphere leaves a dull grey mark on my skin, dulling the patterns and turning flesh numb. Finally they strike my eyes and I am spared the sight of uniformity scouring away my beauty. One last moment of clarity holds me, before my senses bleed away and all is still.


***


I am standing in a field of exquisite salmon grass. In all directions the ground undulates upward before the meeting far above my head in a perfect sphere. I pirouette and the sky moves with me in perfect unity.

I barely move across the grass, slowly lowering each foot to let each blade of grass press individually into the sole. In this perfect moment I take joy in small things.
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Default HOES #12-03: Rebirth

Davidicus 40K: The Cycle
1099 words


Aldrioch – City of Giants – is exactly as I remember it. I never thought I’d see it again.

Split into several equidistant boroughs, Aldrioch was designed to be Axel Nova’s primary manufacturing center. The city was built around the Macharius Industrial Complex, a forty square mile amalgamation of manufactories, refineries, and fabrication mills sprawling across a plateau in the northeastern corner of the metropolis.

I’m a simple miner, working in the shafts that snake through the mountains behind the MIC. I live in Hittari District, a long, shallow string of identical, pre-fabricated habs that hug the northern face of the mesa. Each hab is a squat, two-story structure, nothing more than rockcrete and wood over a metal skeleton.

On this day, 427.999.M41, I’m walking back from a particularly long shift. The chalky white dust of the mines clings to my worn clothes, and I’m surrounded by fellow miners heading down the main thoroughfare that bisects the district. I’ve done this before, on this very day, and I know what’s coming.

Those around me are oblivious. I fear many of them will not live to see tomorrow.

Something compels me to look up. In the cloudless twilight sky, I see a raven circling overhead. I hear a name in my mind: Suul’Khan. I feel gratitude. It was he who gave me this gift; I won’t squander it.

The apocalypse begins in three… two… one.

A massive roar disrupts the evening peace. Seconds later, I gasp as I’m hit with a shockwave of pressurized air. All of habs’ windows are blown out, sending cascades of glass trickling down, and the support beams within groan with the effort of absorbing the impact. I turn to the south and see an immense fireball rising slowly, wreathed in thick, black smoke.

I remember that explosion; it came from the Harland Petrochemical plant, one of the oldest and most hazardous manufactories in Aldrioch. It will spark a firestorm that will feast upon the stockpiles of chemicals and other flammable materials throughout the MIC, then spread down the plateau and devour Hittari District.

Last time, I didn’t get to them quickly enough. This time will be different.

Everyone around me is stunned. I can imagine what’s going through their minds – questions like whether or not the city is under attack or whether or not their loved ones in the MIC are safe – but I don’t care. I ignore my fatigue and run westward, pumping my legs hard.

As I sprint, I pass by the innumerable loudspeakers and public viewscreens along the avenue. They halt their monotonous propaganda to broadcast emergency news reports and evacuation procedures. Now the district starts to panic. I focus only on what is directly in front of me; I have no other concern than getting home. Occasionally, I look to the south and observe the ever-growing columns of fire-lit smoke rising into the atmosphere.

Faster, faster; I have to hurry.

By the time I reach my street, my legs are heavy as lead and I’m desperately gasping for breath. I’ve pushed my body too far, but it was worth it; I still have a chance. The inferno has reached the street behind mine, spreading quickly. Smoke and ash chafe my throat and eyes. Glowing embers fly through the air, propelled by the hot gusts created by the firestorm. Sweat covers my brow, my face, and all exposed skin. My body is screaming at me, telling me not to go towards the oppressive heat of the rapidly approaching fire, but I push myself the last distance to the hab’s entrance. When I open the door, I finally let out a sigh of relief.

I stagger down the narrow hallway that connects the major rooms until I reach the door at the end. It opens into the master bedroom, and…

There they are, waiting anxiously for me.

Amanda, my wife; John, my son, nearly six this year. I feel a mixture of love and anger; they waited for me when they should’ve already evacuated. Amanda sees me and rushes over to my open arms. She’s sobbing and apologizing, saying that if they didn’t wait, there’d be little chance we would’ve found each other in the overcrowded evacuation center. She didn’t want John going through that ordeal.

“I understand, Amanda,” I assure her. “But we have to move quickly!”

As she grabs John’s hand and hurries him towards the entrance, I nearly cry tears of joy. This was the second chance I’d always wanted. The first time, I wasn’t fast enough, and I’d arrived at the hab after it had caught on fire.

I’d charged in, frantically searching through the rooms until I found Amanda and John. My son had been huddled in the near corner, but Amanda had become separated, nearly surrounded by a wall of burning death. She'd urged me to grab John and get out of there before the entire building collapsed.

I’d had a choice: heed her final wish and save my son, or sacrifice myself to get them both out. I chose the latter and regretted it the rest of my days. When I finally passed away, I thought it was salvation; I met Suul’Khan, a kindly denizen of the Warp who protected me from the ravenous harpies that tried to rip me apart and offered me a chance to rectify my mistake. I accepted his offer and received this gift. I’m forever in his debt.

I follow my family towards the entrance. Amanda reaches out and opens the door, then collapses with a heavy thud. John faints a moment later. Alarmed, I rush over to them and see a lanky, shadowy figure blocking the doorway. I stare at its avian face and the name slithers through my mind: Suul’Khan.

“What are you doing?” I ask, betrayed.

It cackles and snaps two of its elongated, feathery fingers. The hallway around me bursts into flames, and I watch as they consume Amanda and John. Why? How could he do this to me? My disbelief turns into rage as my skin begins to char. I scream as I die, cursing Suul’Khan’s name. The daemon delights in my torment, and the last thing I see are its malevolent blue eyes.

***

“So entertaining,” the daemon hisses, chuckling. “This soul has plenty of guilt left to exploit. I shall let him save his family once more.”

With a subtle thought, the reality in its realm is erased and rebuilt, including the plaything’s most recent memories.

***

Aldrioch – City of Giants – is exactly as I remember it. I never thought I’d see it again.


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Default HOES #12-04: Annihilation

Mossy Toes: To Comprehend (It Matters Not)
1094 words

+

Society is a curious thing. It is not only made up of that which can be listed on a page: the simple numbers of manufactoria workers and listings of industrial output; the cultural quirks and ethnic make-up; the size and purpose of each major hive on a planet's surface; or the particulars of the ruling houses of the uppermost caste.

Society is human interaction. Sex, laughter, and commiseration. Shared ideas and values. Aggravations people inflict on each other out of sheer spite. Vigils whose purpose has long since been forgotten by the vigil-holders. Numberless conversations, schemes and collaborations between billions of citizens—society consists of these systems of civilization, these deeds that are empty and worthless to all but those who enact them. All humans alive interact with those that surround them.

Put yourself in their places. You are the aging Imperial Guardsman pensioner whose bones ache in the morning. You are the single mother feeding her three children as best she can. You are the lonely clerk who considered suicide, but couldn't quite pull the trigger. You are the successful entrepreneur, struggling to retain your storefront license. You are the petty thief. You are the child, the man, the woman, the elder. You are a member of this productive society and you have this bond with all others: you are not alone, even in your deepest desperation and desolation. It the nature of this bond, this unity of experience and emotion, that makes society strong.

Now, let us take this nameless planet's society. Hold these ten billion lives, if you can, in your mind.

Erase them.

Those people are gone; dead. Wipe clean this populated slate. Let the skies open in your mind's eye and allow a bombardment to rain down from the heavens. Plasma and melta torpedoes, biochemical gasses, lance strikes, cyclonic charges. Any of them. All of them.

The earth shakes, weeping blood and crumbling beneath the pitiless punishment. Fault lines crack open into chasms that stretch a thousand kilometers, vomiting rivers of lava across the planet's fertile plains and valleys. Buildings, cities, hives, and all the edifices of man slough away and are washed from its surface like layers of dead skin. The innocent blue sky is gone, swallowed by a roiling, red-tinged darkness. The sun is a faint, guttering ball, choked out by soot and despair. Fire rains. Destruction reigns.

Hear this world's inhabitants crying out in terror as they die: All the prostitutes, junkies and scum; all the devoted parents and lonely people trying to make their way in an uncaring galaxy; all the nobles, priests and politicians. All of them gone, each tiny world snuffed out.

Vast tracts of land, thousands of square kilometers each, are laid to waste by the orbital bombardments and left to smolder. Above these build massive heat-cyclones of overwhelming fire and ash. Smog-black clouds spill outward from the epicenters of destruction, accompanied on the ground by a wave of heat hundreds of degrees strong. Vegetation withers and dies. Bracken and loam spontaneously combust, causing raging, unchecked wildfires across the planet.

The world's ecosystems sputter, gasp, and die. Forests burn away to knots of blackened, twisted trunks, and animals of all species are roasted by the million. Gulfs, rivers and oceans boil, or become so polluted by ash and ruin that they run black. Shoals of fish float belly-up in the effluence that cakes the waters.

On the lips of the victorious Imperium, whose ships have crushed this petty tithe-based insurrection, whose might has quashed this pathetic revolt masterminded by a handful of nobles, there is but a condescending sneer.

And the world is ruined; and the world is empty; and the world is dead. Millions of unique species have been rendered extinct. Billions of humans have been scoured from its surface.

Can the mind of a single human encompass this so-total destruction? Most members of the Imperium know only their home planet, nothing more. They live self-centered lives—can they truly imagine the potency of a million deaths? Ten million? A hundred million? A billion? Ten billion? Every person you have known, loved, hated, met in passing, heard about, passed on the street, and seen in a thronging crowd—can you imagine all of them dead? Not only that, but that everyone that everyone you've ever seen has ever seen is dead too, and is an inconsequential fraction of the whole?

No memories remain of those that are lost. Those who would mourn these multitudes, these billions, are themselves dead. There is no native seed that can sprout anew from this scorched earth. There are no scars that time will mend, because no living flesh remains that can be scarred.

This planet's death is a finite bubble; the small illustration of a grander theme repeated anywhere across the vastness of this galaxy, and repeated endlessly along the long voyage that is time. For every death here—incomprehensible as they are to consider in the vastness of the event's magnitude—the event itself is repeated a thousandfold; a billionfold. From the Dark Age of Technology, when man warred with his iron progeny, to the Horus Heresy, where brother slew brother and father slew son, to the Age of Apostasy: man turns on itself, and the galaxy dances to the same tragic waltz.

In a thousand years, or two, or five, this planet will be resettled. Once tectonic activity calms, once the atmosphere purges itself of the toxins that choke it, once the surviving species evolve to fill now-empty ecological niches.

Perhaps the settlers will be the monolithic, ten-thousand-plus-year-old Imperium—if, in its crumbling decrepitude, it survives that long. Perhaps it will be settled by another empire of man, or an alien and unknowable race. But settled it shall be, for life in this galaxy of wonders searches ever to expand and grow.

They shall not find any trace of these lost billions. They shall not know that the air they breath is the dust of lost humanity, so tragically and abruptly severed. They shall not know the loves, the frustrations, and the accomplishments of all those erased in this cataclysm.

But then—what did the souls lost in this cataclysm know of all who lived before them? What did they know of the lives lived, and forgotten, in the whispering dawn of man, when the rising ape met the falling angel? Will those who now die be known to those who come after any more than those now dying knew of mankind before it stepped out into the endless sea of stars; than they knew of life on Ancient Terra?

+


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Default HOES #12-05: Falling Rain

Liliedhe: Lacrimae faralis or Tears of the Dead
1032 words


The world was alive. Dark, yes, strange, but alive. Ne’sat dug his fingers into the ground and let the moist, black earth smear against his armour. The sensation was… unfamiliar, disconcerting. It clung coolly to the joints, leaving dark-brown smears on the blue ceramite. With closed eyes, he savoured the smells of soil and plants, the faint trickling of gentle rain against his metal skin. More than anything, he wanted to take off his helmet and bury his face in the grass growing under his feet, each stalk thin and silken, topped by a rain drop.

How long had it been that he had done this? Not since he was child on Prospero. And this was so distant that he had trouble believing it had even happened. Slowly, he got up again, joints purring softly. His white tabard was drenched by now, and stained green where he had knelt on it. He tried to shake the loam from his fingers, but it clung. A tiny insect scuttled over his gauntlet and he followed its progress up his arm, legs scrabbling for purchase on the ceramite plates, pausing momentarily to dip a proboscis into a droplet and partake some liquid refreshment.

“Life…” His voice was low, husky, hoarse. A whisper, scraping over his senses with its painful unfamiliarity. “It still exists.” How long? How could he even ask? Time was a fleeting, treacherous concept, madness in the making if he’d tried to track it during his stays in the warp and the Eye, on ships and outposts, and daemon worlds, where all was fluid and despair could choke you with desiccated hands as real as your own. To look around and know that what he left behind was still there when he turned. To give a sigh and not see it scuttle away on a multitude of legs.

To feel, absorb sensation through the tissues in his nose, the retina of his eyes, specialised cells in his skin, not through whatever remained of his soul. And yet, he still asked himself inane questions like how long it had been since he had spoken, or felt the cool touch of rain on his skin. “It is more tenacious like vermin. I still think like I’m alive.”

His warp gate closed behind him and his brothers and he looked around again. Where had he ended up this time? A planet. A living planet with forests, and rain and insects and probably bigger animals, too. Once again, he shuddered under the weight of the memories this drove back into his mind.

How long? What did it matter? Ten years? Five hundred years? Five hundred thousand? Why was he obsessing over this? So many living things. He saw them, smelled them, heard them rustle through the underbrush. But most of all, he felt them, clean and bright, bouncing against his shields, their primitive minds fixated on biological needs. And he felt the void of his brothers’ presence behind him, still, dark, and dead. Their lights extinguished. Dead.

Yes, he was still alive. It was just so easy to forget. The brittle dust existence of his brothers around him, all he had to cling to in the unreality of the warp. What made him any different from them? As always, when the pain grew great inside his heart, he hoped. For Tianshat to put his hand on his shoulder, for Renakten to make a stupid joke, for Sementet to play around with his flamer and curse up a blue storm when he inevitably burned his hand. Ne’sat closed his stinging eyes, dust and death on his mind, as the rain gently fell on his armour like a thousand caresses. And then the hand was there, and Tianshat stood behind him, a gauntlet on his pauldron squeezing lightly. He did not speak, could not, of course. But he was there, and picked Ne’sat up from where he knelt, hauling him to his feet.

“Thank you, brother.” Ne’sat closed his eyes for a moment, and gently pried himself out of the sergeant’s grip. The moisture of the forest had pooled on his brother’s red armour, and his trembling fingers slipped, just a little, and the sound was hollow. Still, the familiarity of the motion was comforting. It grounded him, stopped him from feeling disembodied. Finally, he could reach up and take off his helmet.

He had braced himself for the intensity of the new contact with this world, outside of the shield of ceramite and the wards worked into the metal. Scents flooded his nose with new intensity. The rustle of leaves dimmed, and the perpetual murmur of the rain grew more pronounced. And there was the feel of the water on his skin, gently, softly, three cool droplets hitting his shaven head, his right cheek and the tip of his nose. They tickled, and warmed to his body temperature, as they rolled down the contours of his skull. Another two joined them, two tiny rivers of moisture on parched desert skin. Slowly, he raised his head, inviting them to come, to wash away the stench of the warp, the old blood from wounds long healed, and psychic exertions long forgotten.

He lifted his face to the sky, where it was visible through the canopy of leaves and branches, covered in black clouds and lit by an enormous silver moon that must account for the weird tone of the light down here, the silver glow that washed over everything and turned it into something magical and wondrous.

As if it felt his need, his desire, the rain intensified. More drops came down, the murmur changing to a rush. It was no longer possible to follow individual droplets meandering over his face. Caught in the moonlight, the rain became silver mist where it pattered off his armour, surrounding him and his brothers in a halo of shimmering light, when – unbelievably -, he saw them echo his gesture, raising their helmeted heads into the rain, welcoming a touch they should be unable to feel... And suddenly, hot droplets mingled with the cold ones running down his face, as his eyes that had seen every depravity imaginable poured forth moisture of their own.


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Default HOES #12-06: Restitution

Liliedhe: The Mothers' Gifts
1098 words

The morning fog hung low beneath the branches of Aidimal, mother of memory, the spirit tree, preserver of history and last resting place of the dead. Her white needles covered the ground like a carpet. Sergeant Kauvas made no noise as he trod along the path through the sacred grounds barefooted and clad in a mourner’s robe.

It was three months now since Brother Otso had fallen, taking a lascannon shot meant for him. He knew it was the lot of all of them, the price of being elevated to the Emperor’s Angels, but he also knew what he owed to his dead brother.

The mother rose above him, high enough to tickle the stars. Her crown was wide enough to span the heavens, a white cloud of feathery needles, soft and hard at the same time. A stairway of rusting, fading metal wound around the mighty trunk and disappeared among the lowest branches, hundreds of meters above him.

His eyes closed, as was custom, the sergeant began to climb. His feet felt the scarred and pitted surface of the stairs, his hands were swinging loosely by his sides, touching neither bark nor handrail. The one would have been blasphemy, the other was unnecessary. He had gone this way already, the last time during Otso’s first funeral, the funeral of an Angel.

The entire company had been there, and their Chaplain had held the funeral rites. Unbidden, the words rose in his memory.

“We are the Emperor's Angels, her Dark Hands to do her will. As we were made with two hands, all gifts we receive come in twos. Even our births and deaths are twain.”

He whispered the words in unison with the memory, repeating them softly, until he finally stepped from the stairway onto the platform erected on the lowest branches of Aidimal’s crown. Unlike the stairs, it was made from Adamas wood, worked in ritual ways by the Chapter’s shamans. He opened his eyes again, as he felt the black hardwood beneath his feet, warm despite the moisture in the air. Here, the smell of death was strong.

Around him, craddled in the crooks and boles of her branches, lay the recent dead. As always, he felt there were too many, stretched out on mats of white, woven needles and feathers, to be left to the birds and insects sheltered by the mother’s crown.

Kauvas did not, could not, look at them, not out of a desire to avoid the gruesome look of half eaten, decomposing corpses, but out of respect. What happened here was sacred, the second sacrifice every Battle Brother was called upon to give. Instead, he kept his eyes to the wooden floor and walked to where he had placed Otso after the funeral.

“As a human womb births us, the universe through Adamas, mother of trees and tribes, gifts us with flesh and bone. And when the Emperor, Mother of Angels, shapes us, we are born again as Angels, gifted with strength and tenacity, to carry out her will.“

The body was where they had left it, supported in its hammock of white, now stained with blood and other fluids. Only the dark bones were left, with the last few scraps of tissue falling off as he picked the mat up and wrapped it around the remains. This pathetic bundle in his strong arms, he made his way back down, eyes closed, and the second part of the dirge on his lips.

He was so immersed in his sad task that he almost spilled his precious burden when a voice like the rustle of leaves on the wind addressed him as he stepped on the ground again.

“There you are, Brother.”

Kauvas opened his eyes, clutching the bones to his breast to keep them from spilling. Another Dark Hand was sitting only a few meters from him on one of the mother’s largest roots. He wore a robe of pale blue, perfectly dry despite the fog, and his long, whiteish blond hair was bound with leaves and sacred bark. Eyes the same pale blue as his robes took in the sergeant’s appearance and then the Shaman Tuovanen nodded in approval.

“All is in readiness. I have spoken to Aidimal, and she is waiting.”

Where an Angel’s first funeral was a grand affair, with the dead brother’s comrades all in attendance, the second one was private, normally conducted by a Shaman alone. Only rarely did – and could – others attend, as duties had often called them away by that time. Kauvas made it a point to attend for the members of his squad, though.

Tuovanen waited in silence until Kauvas had reached the hole opened among the tree’s roots.

“And as we have been born twice, we also die twice, to give back both gifts. The Angels live in service to their Mother, in duty and in battle, till in death does duty end. The human life of flesh and bone, we give back to Adamas and the trees, until at last we can be remembered in honour, and our gifts return to be given again, as both mothers will it. “

As Kauvas gently removed the bones from the mat to place them inside the ground, he spoke the final part of the litany. The mat was placed last, covering the remains. The ground closed as the tree roots moved back to claim what was left of Otso’s two lives. His debts now paid, he could go to his rest, and be remembered.

The sergeant stepped back and looked up at the Tuovanen, who still sat with his back against the mother, eyes closed. Sweat streamed over his sunburnt face. The Aidamal’s bark began to ripple. A soft crunching sound emanated from the ground. Kauvas felt a pressure build inside his head, behind his eyes and he closed them instinctively.

Branches creaked, leaves rustled. A shower of white needles fell on him. And then, just as suddenly, the pressure was gone again.

“You may look now.” The Shaman sounded tired. Kauvas opened his eyes and gazed up. There, on Aidamal’s trunk above Tuovanen, a face had formed in the living bark. Brother Otso’s face, grown from Aidamal’s heartwood, black and smooth, capturing his every likeness, from his scarred cheeks to his daring smile. Kauvas blinked away his tears and stared, from Otso’s face to the one beside him, and the next, and the next, the memorial winding up and up and up along the trunk, commemorating every Dark Hand to have ever given his lives in service to the Emperor, Mother of Angels.

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Default HOES #12-07: Duty

Liliedhe: Rust
1076 words


I am a child, staring at a sky of iron grey, while snow falls onto my skin. I am alone, surrounded by rocks, mountains rising to the heavens like towers. I feel lost, alien. I do not belong here, even though I am here. I look into the sky and search for an answer to my existence, but only snow falls, in silence. There is no answer, and I have been forgotten.

I am a young boy, staring at a ceiling painted in garish colours, velvet clothing covering my skin. Around me, humans mingle, talking in hushed voices, their glances touching me like snowflakes, cold and invasive. I hear them, but I do not listen. I follow the ornaments painted unto stone with my eyes, seeing their flaws, where curves and angles are breaking the pattern. They hold no answer to my question, and neither do the men and women around me, with their concerns and plots. Surrounded by living, breathing beings I am still alone. They do not have the answers I crave.

I am a man, and around me is war. I wield a weapon and I kill, with ease. Blood spatters my skin, and my blows rend flesh and bone. Behind me, an army follows, shouting, struggling to keep up with me. They cannot, but they do not matter. Before me, the enemy falls. They look at me with horror, they curse me. And they die. I am beyond them, as I am beyond those who follow me. In battle, I know peace. I feel I am close to the answer to the question of my existence, because battle I know, and weapons are familiar to my hands. But I have no purpose, no reason to fight, and I understand I will not find my answer here, either. And so I lower my sword. The enemy attacks me, but they cannot harm me. Their blows are like snowflakes on my skin. And I am still alone.

I am a son. I see my father, and my existence is redeemed. He answers my questions and explains. And I understand. I have purpose, and duty, and I was born to fight his wars. He does not need to ask for my help, it is given as it was meant to be. I do not mourn what I leave behind. I can look up to the heavens and see my future beyond them. A sword without purpose is nothing, and a warrior without duty is just a killer. I am more than that. My father has found me and I am no longer alone.

I am a father. My sons carry my purpose to the stars.

I am a general, and I fight on countless battlefields. I lead armies, and build fortresses. They have no flaws. There is glory to my name, but I do not crave glory. All I want to do is my duty, fulfil my purpose. Surrounded by my sons I stand under alien skies. We carry this war into the future, for none can fight it like we do. I have brothers, and they say it is usual siblings like us have rivalries and are at cross-purposes. We argue, we boast. But we are united in duty. And yet…

I am a monster. Blood I have shed before. I have killed, in battle and outside. Not like this. I look to bleeding skies and the snow, once white and grey, is red with blood and yellow with grease. Those whose gazes touched me are now buried in the skies. The mountains are no longer stone, but flesh and bone. What I built, I tore down. I see shock on the faces of my sons, and disgust, and anger. It is in me, too, but there is more. I am lost again. My duty, it led me here, my purpose made me do this, for I am made to kill. And yet… I am supposed to be more, and I am not. A warrior with duty is a killer, too. It means nothing, and I have been lying to myself. No war ever meant anything. No war will ever mean anything. I am nothing but a weapon and I will always be alone.

I am a monster. Before me rise the walls of my father’s fortress. Of my brother’s masterpiece. I will tear them down. This is what I was made for, to destroy. To kill. I no longer ask questions. They have no answers. All I feel is blood and the sting of explosions on my skin; their residue cloaks my armour. I lie to myself again and tell myself I feel satisfaction, gratification. It is not true. I feel nothing. I am like a piece of a complex puzzle finally falling into place and like this piece, I do not know the pattern and do not care. And this is a lie, too. Lies are all I have left.

I am nothing. I build fortresses and tear them down again. Around me, smoke rises to heavens of blinding white. Stars were a promise but they are gone now. I had something, but I tossed it away. I have forgotten what it was. Or maybe I never knew. I am more than I ever was, and beneath my tread millions are crushed. The puzzle of my existence is as unsolved as ever, the pattern shattered, and no destruction will make it whole again. I have been defeated once, but I can be defeated no longer. I can do whatever I want. I can tear the world asunder. But for what purpose? Gratification? It is empty. Iron within. Iron without. A weapon without purpose is useless. And iron unused will only rust. I had a duty once. It filled a void I had not known existed within me. It was a lie. Now, there is only hatred to fill that void. Of what I fought for, of what I fought against. Of what I was, and what I have become. I look up to an empty sky and feel it burn. Gods whisper in my ears, and war beckons. Lies. Whatever there is around me, whatever I do, it never changes anything. I am lost, and alone. Only one lie ever gave me satisfaction. Only one lie stirred my empty heart. Duty. I tossed it away. I should have known better. In a universe of lies, I failed to choose my own truth.
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