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post #31 of 77 (permalink) Old 09-05-12, 12:13 PM
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Adrian: Inquisitor Repentant
1100 words


Something is in the darkness. I cannot see it, but I can feel it, sense it and hear it slithering all about, stalking me, watching me and drawing close to me. I am scared, but my fear will not cripple me. It hunts for me. I am sure it can see me. I am sure that if it truly wanted me dead that it could take me at any moment of its choosing. – Inquisitor Rafial Praag M41.267

In the darkest time of night when things grow from shadows and dreams into realities born, that stalk through the halls and run along the walls in search of the scent of fear left behind by those who run and cower into corners of no escape. These things laugh in their darkened souls as they draw near to the terrified host that they shall soon possess. They stalk about in the blackest shades with lifeless eyes and the coldest of hearts smiling through fanged and jagged teeth as oily dark as the darkest screams.

In the moonless night they see him turn not knowing which way to go. But he must run, of that he is sure, but he knows not where to go to escape the hunter’s snare. They can smell his sweat and fear. They can hear his blood-filled heart pumping harshly in his chest. He stumbles and falls but gets up quickly. They can smell the fresh blood from a skinned knee and a sliced thumb as it drips in zigzag lines along the street.

The man runs into the light cast by a business sign and stops. The shadowed things swirl all about knowing that he cannot stay there forever. He can see them moving blacker then the blackest darkness than he has ever known. He trembles and nearly falls from the weakness in his limbs. He can hear the claws of the daemons scratch the plas-steel walls and gouge their way through hardened sidewalks and streets taking purchase as they plan their continued hunt.

‘Get away from me for the Emperor is with me!’ he shouts. Terror and faithlessness fill his words and therefore have no effect against the daemon things. They understand faith and strength. They understand power and faithfulness. They also understand fear and shame, guilt and self loathing. They feast upon those things and grab onto them as a leach grabs onto flesh and drains the blood.

The man trembles and weeps for he knows his sins have found him out. He screams in the illumination cast by the business lights. Falling to his knees he bows his head and begins to pray. It is the only thing he has left. It is the only thing he can do. If he cannot make things right they will take his soul. Terror and torments for all eternity await him if he cannot repent. They claw the ground and begin to speak to him as he prays. They speak directly into his mind and his ears begin to bleed.

‘You forsook him long ago and now you expect him to take you back into his good graces? You denied him many times and when given the chance to change your ways you did not do it. You are ours to feast upon. This light will soon go out. Look! It begins to blink as its life ebbs away.’

The man weeps for he knows their words are true. He keeps his eyes closed and tries to calm himself, but it has been so long since his last communion; too long since his last confession. It has been too long since his last true emotion and act of contrition. But he knows he must continue for he cannot escape the judgment to come. ‘Mercy!’ he cries aloud. ‘Forgive me of my many sins.’ he begs.

‘You are ours and we will consume your soul and feast upon your flesh. The light is almost out and we will tear you apart in the darkness of your night.’

‘I have betrayed your trust and shamed your name. I have killed the innocent and cheated the poor. I have bared false witness and imprisoned the guiltless in order to advance my own agenda. I am guilty. Forgive me please.’ As the man prayed he found that he was no longer doing it out of fear but out of true remorse, true shame and emotion from a conscience he had lost long ago. He found that his intentions were no longer to escape judgment but to only be close to his Emperor once again. He knew that as an Inquisitor he had failed in his true purpose; to protect the weak and defend those who could not fight for themselves.

Inquisitor Rafial Praag opened his eyes. Though the shadows were deep and black and swirling with hate he found that he was no longer tormented by the thoughts of things to come, but was at peace with himself for the first time in years. He knew that once more he was not alone but was whole again in the presence of the Emperor of mankind.

The daemons faltered as the man’s faith grew. They hesitated as they saw that his sorrow and repentance was genuine. The light blinked its final time and they took their chance. A flash of light from a sword unused in righteous fury for many years flashed like lightning from the clouds and severed one of the daemons in two. Blood as black as sin splashed against the walls. Another nightmare creature was torn apart by the man’s shout of faith from repentant lips.

Thousands more, maybe millions more charged from the shadows but Praag did not fear. He knew he was forgiven and his many sins forgotten. The Emperor’s mercy would not be wasted on him. With growing passion and assurance he fought and swung his sword of light. He fought until the first light of morning broke the daemon’s back and forced them to retreat.

Wounded, bleeding, beaten and bruised Inquisitor Rafial Praag allowed himself to fall to his knees. There he stayed until the people began to stir from their residences, assured the violence had ended.

Praag had been a tyrant to many of the people that now surrounded him. Hundreds had gathered and he could feel their hatred of him. Slowly he stood and put his sword away. ‘My loyalty has been tested and I have been found wanting. I am ashamed of this and I will make things right.’

In full view of the people he bowed his head and prayed.
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post #32 of 77 (permalink) Old 09-05-12, 12:15 PM
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Dave T Hobbit: Freedom
1082 words


Water trickled down the walls. His shoulders almost brushed the walls and he needed to duck every ten metres to avoid flickering bulbs; even without his armour he was much larger than the natives. While the planet was not primitive, their technology had proved no match for the liberating forces. If these people did have something of power then why would they store it here? At least no one would spend longer than necessary down here so there was little chance that anyone would see him.

His destination was in darkness and seemed even damper. He could make out rotting fragments of crates floating in pools, before even his perfect sight was defeated by the murk. He reached for a switch.

"Leave it off." He dropped his hand without thinking. What could the natives have that needed to be inspected in the dark? Moving slowly forward through the standing water he sought out his companion. The shadows seemed almost to push back. Was that a glint of metal?

"Father? Is that you?"

"Thank you for meeting me. I apologise for the surroundings."

"It is no problem. What is this great threat that you need to show me?"

"My drive to free humanity from false gods is not the first. Before I revealed myself, before even we spread to the stars, there were those who warned of the problems of religion. They said, as I have said, that humanity must embrace science and reason to evolve; however, some said that the human mind has a dark side that cannot be overcome merely by explaining the benefits of living correctly. Over the millennia I have watched as religion brought us down and science raised us up and concluded that the warnings were shards of religion left in the minds of otherwise rational men by their upbringings.

"My success seemed to support my belief. As the myths of the past were replaced, conflicts reduced and contentment increased. The creation of my sons would have confirmed my theory: the best minds raised free of any myths. However, you were scattered and raised amongst those who had not abandoned all of the old ways.

"When you were found and joined my crusade I was filled with joy. I thought that the issues that occurred with some of your brothers before they accepted the wisdom of my actions were akin to a flux; their minds purging themselves of the sicknesses left by an imperfect education."

"And they now serve you as willingly as I."

"They do, and might continue to serve as I envisaged. However, the crusade does not proceed perfectly. I am concerned that not all of the sickness has been purged from all your brothers."

"They only wish to please you. If you are concerned then spend more time with them."

"If you place a bright light close to something your eyes are dazzled; even with your perfect eyes. To truly see the light must be placed some distance away. I am the brightest of lights; if I move closer then I will see less not more. I have decided to leave the Crusade. Without my presence your brothers will act according to their true natures instead of trying to reflect my wishes, and I will see if they truly are free of flaws. You must watch them for me my son."

"If my brothers seem to not always act as you wish it is because we love your cause: you taught us to value reason over faith; they try to understand your instructions but lack your knowledge. If you explain the reasons behind your commands they will act as you wish. You have not wrought ill. I will do as you ask, and rejoice when you see your sons are pure. However I have a suggestion. While your absence would allow flaws to show, waiting for months or even decades to see if anything showed would slow the crusade. If you seek to draw a substance from a solution it is quicker to add a small fragment around which the substance grows.

"The best generals know their enemy better than he knows himself. To understand why some cling to faith, I have read its lies. Repeatedly the story of a rebellion against the God or Gods appears. In each of them evil gathers on one side and good the other. If I accept the thesis that reason alone might not be the best path to our goal then this repeating story shows the human mind might be as with crystals. If a dissenting voice arises while you are away then you will soon see that your sons refuse to turn from your design."

"And what if there is no evil one to start a rebellion? You say they are in agreement then suggest there is one who disagrees?"

"There is one version I found that had supposedly been transcribed form the most ancient of lands. A proto-version of the first rebellion. The Creator wished his world to have free will so he went to each of his angels seeking an opinion that differed; each of them sought only to serve his grand design. At last he returned and told the first of his angels, the left hand to his right, of his dilemma. His firstborn replied 'I love you Father with all my being, and believe that all creation serves you freely. If one of us must be apart then I will bear the burden.' and the Creator wept as he threw his son from heaven.

"I love you Father with all...."

* * *

The Emperor's probe flowed seamlessly in. As expected Horus had reached the logical solution. However, Horus' mind was close to pure logic; an image of angles and crystals. He would try to dissent but his nobility would not allow him to commit deeply enough to draw out those who did not know that they were rebels; whereas a man who did not know he was playing a role, would truly live it.

The memories of the meeting dissolved, replaced by a private warning to his son that he would be announcing his departure soon. Next a small part of his absolute love melted away. Both easy enough to correct once he had discovered the truth. The Emperor succumbed to a moment of doubt: and a small weakening of his military genius would ensure he did not actually succeed in rebellion.

What weakness it taught to show a God weeping at what was necessary.
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post #33 of 77 (permalink) Old 11-07-12, 04:18 PM Thread Starter
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Default HOES #12-09: Family Ties

Bloody Mary: The Brightest Star
946 words

The Warmaster seldom has a moment of peace. The title is but unworn and new to him, but the duties that burden him have all but increased. The paperwork alone occupies a large bulk of his time. He can only hope that soon he will be able to delegate it to his subordinates. What is more, his elevation has not absolved him of his duties as the commander of an Expedition Fleet. The usual complications and issues await his attention.

Nevertheless, he has managed to find a moment, in which he will not have to be the Warmaster. For a while, he can just be Horus. He has sent away his advisors and instructed them not to bother him, unless it’s at least a small scale invasion. Now, he stands in his sanctum and tries to chase away the thoughts of obligations.

Shaking his head, he stops in front of his books. Those he keeps in his private sanctuary are merely a drop in the sea of knowledge he has absorbed. They are his most beloved pieces of writing, the ones he enjoys most. All of them are worn from multiple readings. His hand hovers over the tomes, before electing to take the oldest one.

It is not a book the public would expect a Primarch to read, but it is one of Horus’s most treasured possessions. While he does concur that he cannot learn anything of value from this tome, he considers it a treasure none the less. It is the very first gift he has received from his father. The memory of the day when he was given it is still fresh in his mind.

He flips the pages casually, as he wanders back to his desk. Once he stops, he leans against the massive piece of furniture, his hand resting on the scarred wood; too engrossed to bother sitting down. He opens the tome and starts reading the chapter on the Dreadful Sagittary anew.

By now, he knows it practically by heart, but it is of little consequence to him. It is the sign Father has chosen for him and when he reads about it, it feels like he is still with him.

***

The book is old and worn by numerous readings. Abbaddon recognizes it—Horus had shown it to him and the Mournival, back when Loken and Trogaddon were still his brothers. A gift from the False Emperor, he had thought the Primarch had gotten rid of it long ago.

And yet, he found it, lying innocuously among the other books. A bitter laugh escapes his lips—as if he needs more evidence that Horus was weak. The old primer is nothing but further proof that the former Warmaster had not been the chosen one the Gods needed.

Horus was weak. Abbaddon had learned the truth of it as he watched their cause crumble just as the Warmaster’s life had crumbled in the face of the wrath of the Anathema. Even with all the might of the Gods backing him, Horus had been too weak to deal the final blow. He faltered and died, leaving his forces headless and bleeding.

Absent-mindly, he leafs through the book. It has no value that much is clear. The information within are inexact at best, and incorrect at worse. A child’s book, given by a parent to keep them ignorant of how the world truly works. By keeping it Horus had proven he was such a child, unprepared for the great duty placed on his shoulders.

And so he failed.

No one has stepped up and taken his place—the Primarchs had each taken their Legion and fled. In the end, none of them dared to usurp Horus place, even after he had proven himself unworthy. The demagogue Lorgar, the first to discover the true Gods, bitter Perturabo, who had resented Horus’s rise to Warmaster, blood-thirsty Angron and charismatic Fulgim, none of them had even tried. They had fled.

He gazes down at the book and slowly, methodically starts tearing it apart. Page by page, he rips them from the cover. They scatter around him, like snowflakes, but he picks them up and continues his work of destruction. Each page becomes nothing more than scattered fragments. He spots the title “Dreadful Sagittary” and deliberately rips it letter by letter, and then the letters until the fragments are too small for his large fingers to grip. He lets them fall with a snarl and picks himself up.

He casts his gaze around the room, feeling memories assault him from every corner. Here, on this couch, Horus would lounge and speak with him and his brothers. There, on his desk he would sit and write, penning directives and signing reports. Shadows of the dead surround him—Horus towering over him in his black armour, Trogaddon laughing at Loken…

He shakes his head. The room belongs to the ghosts and he has no place for them. Without thinking, he throws himself at the desk, raining blows upon its sturdy surfaces. He rages, wrecking furniture and scattering belongings, until only ruins remain. And still, he cannot shake away the feeling that Horus is there, watching him with disapproval, as if he had any right to judge him.

Too much like his father, Horus had been prideful. Just like the Emperor, he had failed his sons. He left them with only bitter disappointment and broken dreams of glory.

Abbaddon looks around, taking in the destruction he had wreaked. He feels empty: the abandoned son of a god. Horus had left him, just as the Emperor had left the Warmaster back on Ullanor.

The brightest star had burnt out too early.


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Default HOES #12-10: Failure

Liliedhe: A Question of Perspective
1071 words

„And what happened next?“

That was the question every storyteller wished for and dreaded at the same time. Normally, Felix Jaeger preferred to write down his stories and thus escape direct interaction with his audience, but sometimes, on occasion, when he and his travelling companion were recognised, he found himself cornered and badgered into telling of their adventures.

And so he sat in front of the fireplace in a tiny tavern at the backend of nowhere, his broken leg – the reason they had hung around long enough to be recognised – propped up on a stool, surrounded by what looked like all the children in a 50 mile radius who hung on his every word. At least the beer was bearable here. Gotrek still grumbled, of course, not just about human brewing skills, but also about brittle human bones and human weakness in general. But – to be brutally honest – Felix didn’t mind the rest one bit. Even if he had to tell the same story again and again.

“And what happened next?”

He forced a smile, took another sip from his beer stein, gazed over his enraptured audience and continued:

“... from inside the cave we heard the monster bellow. Gotrek hefted his axe and yelled a challenge...”

The dwarf sniffed the air. “Never smelled anything like this, manling.” Felix did the same, and couldn’t smell anything – except the sharp tang of excrement and cat urine and that wasn’t different from any of the other about five thousand animal dens they had explored during Gotrek’s search for a worthy doom. So he just shrugged and lit one of their torches, before drawing Karaghul and advancing behind the dwarf into the stinking darkness of the cavern.

The entrance was low enough he had to duck – a problem the slayer didn’t share. Under foot, bones crunched and the ground was moist and slippery. Finally, the corridor widened, and they came into a larger chamber. A small streamlet ran through it and on the other side of it crouched an animal unlike any Felix had ever seen. It resembled a giant cat, but its hide was scaled like a snake’s.

Had some sort of chaos witchery fused a cat and a snake together?

Probably. For a moment, even Gotrek seemed surprised. They had been told to expect a catlike monster, but the locals had failed to mention those bizarre characteristics. They had been very vocal on the fact that the creature was supposedly invulnerable, with axes and arrows simply passing through it without doing any harm. This had been what had prompted the Slayer to seek it out, in the hope of finally finding his doom.

Felix hadn’t been hopeful – if he’d ever be because the end of Gotrek’s search meant his death, and he was still not sure how he felt about this – but of course he had tagged along as he had sworn on that one drunken night so long ago.

“Stay out of this, manling, this is my battle!” the dwarf roared and charged through the water, towards the monster.

With a long suffering sigh, Felix fixed the torch in a nook of the wall, wrapped his cloak around his free arm and went a few steps deeper into the cave, so he would see everything that transpired.

And then he gasped, for Gotrek’s wild charge had carried him past his goal, without ever making contact with the cat. Instead, he almost ran headfirst into the opposite wall, only halting his momentum at the last moment. The dwarf screamed his rage – and then it turned into a scream of pain, as six deep scratches suddenly opened in his bare back.

Felix had seen the thing leap, but from its trajectory had assumed it would miss. Surely it couldn’t have made contact with the dwarf... He couldn’t dwell on it though, for Gotrek once more raised his mighty axe and brought it down on the animal in a stroke brutal enough to cleave it in two. And once again, there was no contact. The creature turned, and began to circle around its prey...

It seemed like this time, the villagers actually had spoken the truth about the thing’s invulnerability. Sure enough, none of the dwarf’s swings managed to do the slightest damage as they passed through the monster’s body. The monster, on the other hand, ignored the slayer’s defenses, scoring bleeding cuts on his chest and arms.

Slowly, but inexorably, the dwarf was driven backwards, towards the slippery stones of the rivulet, where it disappeared into the darkness at the end of the cave.

Felix wanted to charge in, to help, but of course he could not. His job was to record Gotrek’s doom, not prevent it. Still, he moved closer. He just could not understand... He had seen Gotrek fight far faster, deadlier, and more impressive creatures, and they had all fallen to his rune axe... And now...

Now, the end was close. Only a few steps seperated Gotrek from a fall into the darkness... Water spilled around his sturdy boots, making the ground treacherous. Twice, he’d almost fallen, while the monster...

And that was when Felix noticed. The water – it flowed through the creature's legs – but there were some places where it seemed to flow around something. Four obstacles. Like, four paws. BESIDE the monster, not underneath it.

“Gotrek! Strike to your left! That’s where it is!” Felix yelled, while storming forward to prevent the creature from leaving the stream where the footprints gave it away. And then... he slipped. Felix lost his footing, and only just could keep himself from being disemboweled by his own sword. A sharp pain, accompanied by a loud crack, went through his leg and he landed on his face in the cold water, just as the creature’s tormented roar cut through the air, telling him Gotrek had finally figured out the reason of the beast’s invulnerability...

“So, the quest was a success? Gotrek killed it?”

With a sigh, Felix leaned back in his chair and felt a blush of embarrassment creep into his cheeks. After all, while Gotrek had fought for his life and bested another terrible monster, all he himself had managed was to break his leg by slipping on a stone.

“No.” The young man shook his head. “Gotrek killed the creature. But he did not succeed.” A pregnant pause. “The quest was a failure. He still has not found his doom.”


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Default HOES #12-11: Innocence

Mossy Toes: A Memory, Sundered
1100 words


Based on "The Fall of Kher-Ys" in Codex: Chaos Daemons, and borrowing heavily from the sonnet "Grief," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.


+

Kher-Ys is not silent, not yet. The Craftworld is utterly desolate, but oh no, it is not silent. So long as any of her people live, her corridors still ring with the remembered death cries of her people and the laughter of their slayers.

And one still lives. On a staircase in a despoiled courtyard, untouched by the ruination of her world, a white-gowned eldar maiden weeps and cradles the corpse of Kher-Ys's autarch: her father. His armor is rent and his corpse defiled. His spirit stone has been cruelly shattered and the silver wraithbone key he always wears around his neck, a finely-wrought locus of psychic power, is missing.

Human grief is an immense thing, capable of overwhelming any defenses the grieving can erect, but it is a pale thing by comparison to the true grief of an eldar. It is but warm, shallow and tempestuous water: never knowing the cold, deep sorrows to which the heart can truly sink. Hopeless grief is passionless; only those incredulous of despair, those half-taught in anguish, can possibly shriek in reproach and beat with futile fists against the fickle fates.

The maiden sits in the fading fragments and shattered shards of her world, and there can be no balm to ease her injury. As far as the eye can see, the crystalline landscape of Kher-Ys is dead. Its elegant structures are milky and discolored, and have been crazed into distorted, shattered parodies of their former beauty. The Aspect Shrines have been defiled. The sibilant, soothing song of the Infinity Circuit has died. The corpses of her people are scattered in horrific commonality: the abandoned playthings of a capricious god. She is the last, and memories of cruel laughter grant her no respite.

Why was she spared by the servants of She Who Thirsts? Why was so perfect and unflawed a soul not fought over rapaciously? Only because the greatest among the Dark Prince's servants present had already claimed her.

A shifting in the taste of the air presages his arrival: a faint and cloying musk the maiden finds achingly familiar. A gentle wash of warmth. A faint, fiery crackle. The scrape of metal upon wraithbone.

"Express grief for thy dead in a silence like to death," says the soft and tender voice she knows so well, "most like a monumental statue set in everlasting watch and moveless woe, till it crumbles to the dust beneath. Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet: if it could weep, it could arise and go."

She turns to face him: the immense, measureless blasphemy of that malign spirit possessing the Avatar of Kher-Ys. Its molten metal flesh has been twisted into a panoply of cruel barbs and foul sigils and its ever-bleeding right hand, the symbol of Khaine, has been severed. Its fires are banked and fading, no longer fueled by the orgy of destruction in which it has taken part: they shine faintly through the cracks in its ash-colored metal hide and glimmer with an avid cruelty in its eyes. When it speaks, smoke wafts between its dull, pitted lips. An ornate silver key dangles at its waist.

"Ail," she says. It is all she can say.

"Ilthania," he replies, nodding in deference. "Is not this form more fitting to my true nature? A demigod am I, now: the wrathful Young King bathed in sacred fire, capable of redeeming our declining race."

His every word is a cut across the tattered remnants of her heart, recalling the daydreams they had idly shared. Such daydreams had lured her, initially, from Kher-Ys abroad onto the Path of the Outcast. There, she had met and been bound inexorably to him: laughing Ail, beautiful Ail, compassionate Ail, whom she had thought to be a fellow Ranger. Ail, whom she had loved with the depths of the heart that only an eldar can bring to bear, and had assumed the love reciprocated. Ail, whom she had brought home to her Craftworld and inside its wards. Those wards had come crashing down, unlocked by the key at this Ail-Avatar's waist after he stolen it from the autarch's neck while the latter slept.

"Why?" Ilthania asks. She has to know.

"Secrets are my stock and trade to Keep," he replies, "but you have given me so generous a gift that I can tell you this. Among your kin, I am aptly named, and in that name lies the only reason that I need, my love: I am Ail'Slath'Sleresh, the Heartslayer."

"Your love?" she says, her voice curdled by a note of disgust and choked by the immensity of her emotions.

"My love. My purest, truest love--as befits your beauty." No smoke comes from his mouth, now, and when he extends his remaining hand, the cooling metal of his being creaks in protest. "Chaos is not a solely destructive force: the truth of Creation, the building up, is just as vital as that of Annihilation, the shattering of what has been built. Your life in wasting sorrow, now, is so very much sweeter than an abridging death."

Ilthania does not reply. What could she possibly say? Full desertness, in souls as well as countries, lies bare under the blanching, vertical eye-glare of truth in absolute.

Ail's stolen body cools further. The light in his cavernous eye sockets flickers. At last he moves again, and his still-extended left hand groans in protest as it reaches down to lightly touch her cheek. His metal fingers are cool where they touch her alabaster flesh.

Then his fires die and Ail's presence is gone. The scene is a tableau: The looming, defiled Avatar frozen in a lover's caress; the maiden sitting on the stairs; the fallen autarch, head still resting in her lap; and about them, the tragic dissolution of Kher-Ys.

After a suspended, infinite moment, Ilthania stands. She takes the key from the Avatar's waist and rests it, once more, around her father's neck. Then she departs, wandering as far as she can within the Craftworld's bounds. She seeks some unsullied place to hide herself away, but she will not find one, for the servants of the Dark Prince have been thorough in their play.

Before long, she will die. Though she eats and drinks not, it will not be deprivation that is her end. Nor will she visit harm upon her flesh, for to do as such would be to act in bitter parody of the violence of her foes.

She will die nonetheless, bearing what no heart can bear. Perhaps then, at long last, the drifting shell of Craftworld Kher-Ys will fall silent.

+


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Default HOES #13-01: Last Stand

Jonileth: Defense; Futile
1098 words


Fear permeated the small defensive bunker, almost as tangible as the mud caked to the defenders’ boots. Each man in the small fire team was rife with it, almost oozed fear from every pour. Each of the five men had seen action on nearly a dozen different worlds between them. Each man had extensive training, unshakable faith, and indomitable will in the face of enemies they had faced before. But they faced no enemy they knew of. Each of them had seen traitors rise up against the Imperium. All of them had, at least once, seen what the warp could vomit up from the depths of such a hellish realm. Two had even seen the blood of the alien spilled upon the ground before them. It didn’t matter now…

Maxus looked into the eyes of his fellow Guardsmen and could see the unbridled fear clawing at their mental discipline. Reflected in every man’s eyes was a gripping uncertainty and urgent desire to flee with every ounce of strength they had. He was sure even his eyes reflected such fear. The only thing that kept them rooted in the poorly made bunker was duty to the Emperor. The only fear that outweighed the fear of this new and unknown enemy was that of being marked a traitor and being killed for deserting their posts. If not for such promises of torment, each of them might have bolted at any moment.

The sounds of explosions, of lasgun fire, and screams of the fallen rang out all around them. It had been like that for untold days. Maxus and his small squad was the last bunker, the last bastion of protection standing between the invaders from some unknown place and the capitol of their small outpost world. More than likely the evacuations had already taken place. More than likely, a call for aid had been sent out. And it was entirely likely that they wouldn’t live long enough to see aid come…

Impact tremors rippled through the ground, tossing several loose crates the fire team had stacked up into the mud. No one made a move to gather them up. In fact, had Maxus not been looking in their direction, he probably wouldn’t have noticed. The pitch black darkness that bathed the battlefield gave the group little clue as to what had fallen, or perhaps what had exploded. If it had been some manner of drop pods, it meant that the defenders would simply be even more outnumbered, which made little difference as their line continued to collapse and decay with each passing hour. If it had been the result of explosions, it meant that the generators powering the outer ring of tarantula gun turrets had been destroyed and the advance was no longer impeded in the slightest.

“You think the other teams are holdin’ them off?” Maxus overheard his squad mate Ferris asking the Guardsman huddled next to him. The Corporal scoffed at the question. The sounds of death and carnage all around them could answer with certainty what Hayden could not. Maxus turned his eyes away from the two and set about scanning the muddy landscape that was visible to him. The small searchlights hardly pierced a few meters into the darkness, not even far enough to see the bunkers positioned in front of them. If not for the constant echo of the battle raging just beyond that veil of darkness, the Guardsman could have almost forgotten that there was any battle raging at all…

As his eyes scanned, he caught the dim glint of something bright in the corner of his eye. Maxus turned toward the ghost light and could make out small streaks, each of them so blue they were almost white. Had they not been traveling toward one of the makeshift bunkers out along the perimeter he might have confused it for friendly fire. The streaks of light intensified and grew in number over the next few seconds before an unmistakable plume of flame erupted.

“They’re here!” Maxus warned his squad while lifting his own lasgun up onto the bunker’s mud crusted window ledge. The rest of his squad did the same, each of them looking out nervously into the darkness. Blue-white wisps of light streaked into view. Most of them landed harmlessly into the muck with no great effect, almost haphazardly in their pattern.

“Hold your fire until you actually see something worth shooting…” Maxus told his fellows. While he’d never fought this particular sort of alien before, the tactics weren’t all that different. He’d even used diversionary fire to root out enemies on dozens of raids, drawing his enemies out from some hidden place to be slaughtered in number.

The chaotic light became suddenly accurate, shattering the spotlights that sat just in front and off to either side of their bunker. The blue-white flames that engulfed the spotlights bore an uncanny resemblance to daemon fire… and yet it was almost… beautiful. Maxus shuddered at the thought, and wondered why now he would consider the weapons fire that would likely be his demise to pleasing in appearance.

When the spotlights had burned out and the fire was no more, the probing bolts of energy stopped. A strange calm settled back over the inky darkness that now almost totally engulfed their world. The sudden lack of light played havoc on Maxus’ eyes for several seconds, forcing him to shift his head several times at glints of light that were not there. It didn’t take long for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, but when it finally did Maxus almost wished it hadn’t.

He could see the vivid blue outline of what almost looked like a man, except that it was proportioned too strangely to be any man he’d ever seen. It bore no resemblance to any Astartes he’d ever seen, nor any member of the Legions of Chaos he had been unfortunate enough to battle. Its movements were utterly mechanical, which were all the more unnerving.

“Open fire!” he proclaimed, letting loose a burst of hot laser fire at the ghostly blue visage in the night. His squad fired upon similar apparitions, and while he was sure that he’d hit it, the thing just kept coming. Again and again he fired… to no avail. The last thing Maxus saw before some blast from some other creature’s weapon took him into oblivion was a burst of light rising from the thing he’d been firing at. A glowing orb of blue-white fire that looked utterly beautiful and hideous to him all at once… then nothing…


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Default HOES #13-02: Grace

Romero's Own: Flames from Heaven
907 words

It is always with me.

I feel it like a blind man feels the sun on his face - as a pressure, unseen but always felt: a force just behind the eyes but there all the time.

I lie on the cold concrete of my bed, listening to the subdued hum of the watch-station's generators and the gentle click of the station's recorders as they monitor and catalogue some changing observation.

What is my life?

Still it lingers in the corners of my mind, like a cobweb just out of reach: a niggling presence, like a driving splinter in my mind, something I cannot ignore:

The Rage; The Thirst.

I fight these things in the quiet when the tumult of battle is stilled; when the last enemy falls, my battle continues. I hold damnation in the palm of my hand – and I must clench it tight, lest it consume me and all I believe.

May the Emperor guide me in these darkened watches of the night. May I remain within his grace for eternity.

My honour is my life.

I cannot sleep.

I sit up, my feet moving to rest on the cold, metal decking. In the corner of my cell stands a low wooden table, surmounted by an ebony statue of the Emperor and fallen Sanguinius. A small candle stub remains beside; I light it, and its feeble luminance shines brightly in the suffocating darkness.

What is my fate?

The gentle glow of the candle shades the features of our Primarch and our Emperor. Shadowy tears well from their ebony eyes.

I feel myself slipping away into blackness, my eyes telling me of the peril which threatens my soul – it is almost tangible and I nearly fall.

My duty is my fate.

Few of my chapter serve in these desolate regions. Commander Mordigael has been stationed in this sector for many years, but he is far away at Erioch, and I am here: a small station with little more room than is necessary for the maintenance of a lone Astartes and his equipment. Nothing more.

My lips move as I ask for guidance, for strength, but there is no surcease to my torment. No answer to my questions, only silence.

I step outside my cell and walk the cramped and acrid spaces of the station, grown so much larger by the blackness, shadows pressing in from all sides.

What is my fear?

Chaplain Andreus often told me, when I came to him disturbed by the Rage, that to experience the Blackness was a divine gift: a chance to experience the sublime presence of our beloved Primarch. Not something to be desired, nor wished for, but rather something to be understood and accepted as a part of the legacy left to us.

A legacy I must bear.

I wonder if I am strong enough.

My fear is to fail.

The arming room: my armour stands here, painted black, with the sigil of the Deathwatch engraved in silver and gold upon its left pauldron. My chapter's blood-red sigil remains on the opposite shoulder, in order – so the tech-priests tell me – to avoid angering the armour’s machine spirit. I wonder if the machine spirit feels as I do.

I am alone in the night. Will I ever return to see my home again? My brothers? And if I do, will I still be one of them?

Starlight shines through the small porthole which pierces the armoured hull of the watch-station: somewhere out there is Baal, my home – my brothers – lost in a sea of infinity and space.

The awful weight of the emptiness presses down upon my shoulders.

What is my reward?

Lights blaze to life, and the watch-station's voice begins to blare:

DEFENCE PROTOCOL ACTIVATED: DISTRESS SIGNAL DETECTED

TRANSMISSION REPLAYED

The pale green light of the pict-screen displays the transmission: a flash priority alert to Sector Command, originating from the planet far below:

The Great Devourer has come.

There is no room for servitors or chapter-serfs on my watch-station; I arm myself – it is a tonic for the soul.

My salvation is my reward.

I strap on my weapons; they are already loaded and ready. The magnetic holster on my thigh-plate clicks dully as it latches onto my bolter. I examine my chainsword carefully, looking for any pits or blunt edges; there are none. There never are.

The thick, heavy door leading to the drop chamber has been retracted by the station, and through it I see the heavily-padded interior of the drop pod. The reinforced retention bars shine dully in the harsh light of the sodium lamps.

What is my craft?

I hold my helmet in my hands, its green eyepieces staring up at me, and I see my face reflected in the armoured glass. The Rage rises inside me and I beat it down, my flesh rebelling against my will. Slowly, shakily, I lift my helmet and slide it down over my head, connecting the seals, locking myself inside the armoured shell. The Rage subsides, and my flesh calms; I become like my armour: pure, steady, unblemished.

I descend on wings of smoke and flame.

I am an angel; a fury; a bulwark against the darkness. I am the sacrifice which holds the horrors of the night at bay.

I am the one that dies so that I can live forever in the Emperor’s grace.

What is my craft?

My craft is death.


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Default HOES #13-03: Contempt

Liliedhe: The Splinter in my Brother's Eye
998 words

Deathwatch training is hard. It is not just about learning to combat unfamiliar threats in unfamiliar ways with unfamiliar weapons. Ways to wage war are what Space Marines have been created to master. No matter how new, no matter how badly the deck is stacked against them, they will deal.

The problem is far more mundane, and far more insidious. Ego. Ego and prejudice. Space Marines are geneforged demigods of war - but that does not explain all of their effectiveness. It all comes down to Brotherhood. In exchange for giving up a human life, with all those things humans consider important, Space Marines gain something else: a family that will support them unconditionally.

Like all families, battle-brothers will bicker, bait each other or quarrel. When push comes to shove, though, when lives are on the line, battle-brothers stand together. Grown from one geneseed, raised through the same nightmare of hypnoconditioning and battle, a Chapter stands by its own. Battle-Brothers die for each other.

In the Deathwatch, this natural advantage does not exist. Here, Space Marines do not share geneseed or upbringing. All brotherhood they have, they must develop from scratch. This is often difficult, as there rarely is a clean slate between Chapters, and differences in style, in tradition, even in beliefs lead to clashes.

And then there are the cases of genuine bad blood…


“The Ophidium Gulf. The Veiled Region. Where are my brothers? What did you do to them?” The rough, scorched voice of Navarre, the Black Templar, reverberated from the grey marble tiles of the ablutorium. The Veteran stood at an angle, feet planted solidly on the ground, leaning slightly forward and bracing his massive hands against the wall, while cold water rained on his shaven head, wide shoulders and scarred and branded back. Without leaving this position, he turned his head to the side, glaring over the impressive bulk of his biceps in the direction of the Space Marine who had just entered.

Asphodel, the Dark Angel Apothecary, much younger and less heavily built, showed no sign of having heard the question. He calmly strode into the room, a towel over his shoulder which he placed on a hook, before picking another sprinkler and turning it on. He turned his head up and allowed the water to fall on his face and broad chest, still completely ignoring the glare of the Black Templar, who now turned from his meditative position so he could watch his maligned brother.

Still the water rained down, cold and slightly salty, forming streaks over his broad face, beading on his jutting brow and dropping onto scarred cheeks. Some of it pooled in the grooves formed by the bulky muscles on his shoulders, before overflowing and splattering on the stone tiles. Several drops carried a faint red tinge they had picked up while travelling the geography of old and new wounds scattered over the canvas of the veteran’s body.

“The Ophidium Gulf. The Veiled Region. Where are my brothers?” He repeated, his tone stone cold, the grinding of gears broken centuries ago.

The Dark Angel lowered his head and turned around, before rubbing water into his short dark hair. His body, slighter yet than the older Space Marine’s, offered much less structure to the falling drops, allowing them to swiftly flow over swarthy skin and pale scars, although they were just as pinkish in colour when they fell onto the grey marble and made their way towards the drains.

“They helped your brothers. They won that war for you, and you threatened them. You stole their victory from them. You killed them when their backs were turned.”

This was the moment when the other Space Marines in the Ablutorium began to take notice. A dozen eyes, light and dark, in human colours and much more exotic hues, turned towards the Black Templar veteran and the younger Dark Angel. Bad blood between Chapters, prejudices, baiting and arguments were nothing new. This, this straight accusation was.

And still the Lion’s son showed no reaction. He had taken one of the scrub brushes and was working the bristles over the exposed parts of the black carapace, turning his back towards his accuser as well as the spectators.

“I will not turn my back to you, Dark Angel. I have sworn an Oath to fight here, and if that Oath demands I fight with a member of a rotten Chapter like yours, I will. But I will not trust you, nor allow you to watch my back. In Dorn’s name, be glad my Oath protects you, you scion of traitorous curs.”

Now, the drops raining from the Black Templar’s fists were a deep red, congealing on the tiles as he ground his nails into his palms hard enough to draw blood. The massive muscles in his arms, shoulders and neck bunched, the tendons standing out like white ropes. His voice had dropped ever lower, and yet, everybody in the ablutorium had heard his speech.

Finally, the Dark Angel stepped out of the water, picked up his towel from the hook where he had hung it and wiped himself dry. Then he turned and walked towards the door, still giving no notice, no sign, however miniscule, he had heard any of the insults and accusations.

Only when he stood under the doorframe connecting the ablutorium to the dimly lit antechamber, he turned and looked at the tense, seething figure of the veteran, and addressed him. His voice was deep and smooth, calm, without emotion or judgement and his eyes were cold and quiet. “Consider this, brother. When we are in the field, I will hold your life in my hands.” He paused, and suddenly smiled, a thin expression, twisted downwards by the duelling scars on his cheeks.

“If I was the debased, traitorous cur you insist I am, consider this, too.” The Apothecary placed a hand on his chest, right where the progenoid lay craddled underneath skin and muscle and bone. “I will hold your legacy in my hands.”


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Default HOES #13-04: Competition

Liliedhe: Fuses
1094 words

Brother Thranis of the Blood Ravens stirred his tasteless, odourless gruel without enthusiasm and then raised the spoon to his mouth. Clear liquid the consistency of petroleum jelly dropped from its sides. With a grimace, he swallowed, lowered the spoon again to take another mouthful and reconsidered.

As a Space Marine he could eat pretty much anything organic. It wasn’t really the food that offended him, but the atmosphere in the Watch Fortress Refectory. Where the mess hall aboard the 3rd Company Battle Barge Litany of Fury was full of laughter, good-natured teasing and the susurrus of animated conversation, this place was quiet and depressing.

With so many different traditions in one place, the camaraderie that pervaded a Chapter was missing. Some didn’t talk at all, just prayed silently over their food and ignored their surroundings. Those who did talk usually limited their interactions to a select few brothers, often their 'cousins'. Some were shunned completely, especially Librarians and those marked by geneseed anomalies. Unfortunately Thranis shared their fate, even though he was neither a psyker nor marked by mutation. Going by the jeers of 'Witch' that followed him around, he was considered a Librarian by proxy, since his Chapter valued them so.

And even if conversations happened in the refectory, they were different. Good-natured teasing became stinging insult. Friendly rivalry gave way to serious power plays which could erupt everywhere at any time. Duels or brawls were forbidden and punished, but a determined soul could always find a way to assert their superiority.

At this point, a raised voice cut through his musings. He looked up and saw – without any real surprise – the Space Wolf Skrallan drop into an unoccupied seat and place his elbow on the table in a universal gesture of challenge.

“Well, old man” – under different circumstances, the Wolf’s laughter would have been infectious, while here it was merely obnoxious – “let’s see what you are made of.”

The subject of Skrallan’s ire, Navarre, the veteran Sword Brother of the Black Templars, raised his shaven head from his meal and threw a glance that should have seen the troublemaker eviscerated on the spot. “Get lost.”

Thranis got up, unclear on his own intention. Did he want to leave before all of this devolved into ugliness that might see him caught up in it, too? Was he going to step in and try to defuse the situation, before it escalated? Or was he simply trying to find a front row seat for the fireworks?

“He” – the Space Wolf pointed at a Battle Brother of the Salamanders Chapter – “said he had heard him” – now he indicated an Ultramarine – “say that you said you could take me. Well, show me what you've got.”

A mere glance at the Templar should have told anyone how amazingly unlikely this claim was. He went rigid, massive slabs of muscle straining against the fabric of his black fatigues. Clearly, he had never heard of these allegations and resented them.

‘I’m going to regret this.’

The Blood Raven crossed the hall in a few long strides, and dropped into the seat beside the Templar, startling him from his obviously mounting fury.

Then, everything happened at once. The Space Wolf perked up, grinning “Oh, a challenger”, while Navarre growled “I fight my own battles, witch”, and Thranis swallowed a sigh.

“This isn’t a battle, and I’m not a witch.” He put his arm on the table. “I just need to work up a little appetite, to be able to deal with this food.”

Grinning, Skrallan slid over and grabbed the offered hand with calloused fingers. “Whatever you say. Brother Navarre, give the signal.”

By now, several more brothers had come over, watching. Armwrestling wasn’t exactly spectacular, but it beat the dour silence that afflicted the Refectory otherwise.

The Templar glowered at both of them as he got up, but he didn’t refuse. “Second hand on the table. Fight clean. In the name of the Emperor, GO!” As the referee, he had to watch closely and he did.

Thranis felt the weight of his gaze more than the Space Wolf’s efforts to force his hand downwards. He pushed against the other Space Marine, planting his feet solidly on the floor so he wouldn’t be unbalanced, never taking his attention off his opponent's yellow animal eyes. It had been years since he had last done this, back when he’d been a Scout.

Now, as trainee in the Deathwatch, the situation wasn’t that different, he realised, as he shored up his will against his opponent’s enthusiasm. He had no idea if he could win – Skrallan’s Chapter was renowned for their physical strength. And yet, the Blood Raven held his own, as his body began to react to the situation. The challenge had been impulsive, but now the bout was underway, he was unwilling to lose which surprised him. Seemed like there was still enough of Scout Thranis left…

He gritted his teeth and had to concentrate not to show them in a gesture of dominance or to add his growl to the Wolf’s, who bared his fangs and began to show strain, too. Skrallan's reddish mane was dark wet already, and he blinked furiously to clear his eyes. Sweat soaked Thranis's fatigues, collected on his bald crown and ran down his face and arm. Slowly his second heart began to pick up pace in answer to the physical exertion. Only loosely was he still aware of Navarre prowling around them, and the other brothers watching.

The tabletop was getting slippery. Distantly the Blood Raven heard encouragements, and he noticed most of them seemed to be for the Space Wolf. “Take the witch!”

Adrenalin peaking in his system, Thranis finally abandoned his self-control and forced his burning biceps into supreme effort. “I’m not a witch”, he snarled.

That didn’t mean he was stupid. Teeth bared, he changed the angle of the force he brought to bear on his opponent a minute amount and gave one last heave: As Skrallan attempted to counter, his elbow slipped a fraction and the Blood Raven exploited the opportunity. Their hands crashed down and it was Thranis who was on top.

To the credit of the present brothers, they were cheering him, as the Templar announced in his death knell voice: “Winner, Thranis.”

The Space Wolf rubbed his hand. “Not bad for a witch.”

And with a speed that nobody would have believed the bulky Black Templar capable of, Navarre caught Thranis’s fist before he could lay Skrallan out.


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Default HOES #13-05: Treachery

Lord of Night: He Who Betrays First

The air was alive with bolter fire and the screams of the dying, both exhorting and plaintative. The streets of Serus III's primary shrine-city were being torn apart by the gods of war raging in them, clad in crimson armour chased with leaf of gold script scrimshawed across each plate of metal and festooned with bloody spikes. The Word Bearers had come to Serus III, their only goal to destroy the bastion of the hated God-Emperor that lay before them. The Adepta Sororitas, daughters of the Emperor, bled and died in the streets to hold them back. Only a single fortress still stood, the primary cathedral-shrine of the planet, and thus far the Word Bearers were stalled as the guns of the shrine kept them back.


"This delay is unacceptable! The gods will not wait for your competence to reveal itself!" Gar Kaloth, Dark Apostle of the Word and Speaker of Litanies, raged at his assembled champions. Each had burned worlds for the Word of Lorgar, and yet now a simple shrine was stopping them. That the shrine was protected by an impenetrable four layers of void shielding meant nothing to the gods, they had been promised the prize and it would be theirs.

"And now we must rely on heathens, degenerate scum to do what you supposed Champions of the Word could not!" Gar Kaloth's anger was almost visible. His men had failed to crack the shield wall, that the whores of the Emperor known as the Sororitas had pushed them back was an intolerable offense to both his pride and the word of his blessed Daemon-Primarch. That outsiders were required to finish this affair was salt in the wound.

"Amussssing." Gar Kaloth looked up at the disturbance, his champions bringing to bear bolters and blades at the new arrival. Clinging to the ceiling of the debased shrine the Word Bearers had based themselves in was a figure in power armour of midnight blue. His feet were taloned like a bird's, and his helmet was cast in the image of a bird of prey. Crackles of lightning danced across his frame, the two lightning claws that flexed slowly as he hung inverted, only his talons keeping him attached to the ceiling.

Arkannis of the Soulrenders chuckled as he observed the groundwalkers below him bicker and insult his brethren. If their opinions had been something that mattered to him, he might have cared, but they were not and he did not. His Raptors were to do what these worms had failed to do and destroy the void shields protecting Serus III's final shrine-hold. He could sense the Word Bearer lord's hate of him, and as the maggot laid out his plan Arkannis was sure of two things. This would be child's play for his warband, and that the Word Bearers would betray him as soon as they could.


Arkannis hissed as his lightning claw gutted the frail woman. Her bastardised power armour was no match for the ancient weapons. As she fell, bleating some prayer to the corpse-king, his brothers dispatched the rest of the herd. They had landed among the scum only seconds before, catching them unaware as they made their way into the first vent shaft. The void shields were impenetrable to artillery and the Word Bearers couldn't advance through without the main guns of the stronghold firing on them, but the Soulrenders could. Arkannis and twelve of his brothers loped into the vent, big enough to permit entry to their immense forms.

"You know what to do, go!" he snarled. Shon Kel nodded, bobbing his head up and down three times, before scurrying off with five others in another direction. Arkannis hissed, so far so good. As he led the Soulrenders further he wondered how Krixus was doing, he should be nearing his target by now and once he had achieved his goal the Soulrenders could retreat and leave this place to the bastard Sons of Lorgar.

Not long after they entered the vents Arkannis cut a hole in the wall and entered into a colossal chamber. The generators that lined the walls hummed with barely restrained energy, all of it feeding the guns that kept the Word Bearers from advancing. The Apostle's plan was to mine this place with charges and destroy it, but Arkannis had a better plan. Though he doubted Gar Kaloth would agree that it was better.


Gar Kaloth grinned as he watched the void shields flicker and die. The scum Raptors had done their job, and now all that was left was to destroy them. The cannons that lined the walls of the shrine fell silent, and the despair of the Sisters of Battle was a delight to his depraved senses. Now all that remained was to destroy both of the wretches, the Sisters would die under the bootheels of his men and the Raptors would be gunned down as soon as they tried to leave the vents. Nodding to his champions the march began, over 500 Word Bearers advanced under the chanting dirge of hovering servo-skulls and robed cultists that marched with them.

Suddenly his vox flared to life, the sounds of death and roaring chainblades coming in clearly. He could hear bolter fire as well, his own men were under attack. But all the Sisters and Raptors were in the stronghold!

"Lord it's the Raptors! The scum flanked us, their attacking the armouries and stealing everything. We're trying to hold them back but!-"

Gar Kaloth roared in anger as the vox cut out, the sound of a chainblade skewering his master of arms was the first sign that he had been betrayed. The second was when the guns of the shrine-hold came to life again and annihilated his position in a storm of lascannon and missile fire. Gar Kaloth died realising he had underestimated his opponent.


Arkannis smiled as he watched Krixus present the spoils. His second had led a second group of Raptors, their goal to pillage the Word Bearer armouries and extract payment that he knew the whoresons would never have given freely. Disabling the guns temporarily had given the Word Bearers bravery enough to advance, and reactivating them had ensured their destruction. Detonating the hidden charges that Shon Kel had planted on the Sororitas's supply of demolitions, turning the shrine into a crater in the process, had given them free reign to pillage and enslave the entire planet.

Arkannis laughed as he thought of Gar Kaloth's plan to betray them. The Word Bearer had forgotten something very simply about betrayal. He who betrays first, lives.
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