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post #41 of 77 (permalink) Old 06-17-13, 04:58 PM
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Default HOES #13-05: Treachery

Liliedhe: Out, damn spot...

I am washing my hands as my Master’s voice interrupts me. “Acolyte Abelard, report to my office at once.” I acknowledge, dry my hands and go to him.

His office is dark and squalid as always, piled with trophies, ancient books, scrolls and the rests of meals. Sometimes I don’t know if a bone I carefully dislodge from the carpet is the remains of some fowl he ate or something foul he destroyed. He knows what everything is. He doesn’t tell me. He likes me unsettled as he squats behind his desk like a vulture, black cloak with high collar almost hiding his withered, pale face.

He is toying with something as I enter, and with a sinking feeling I recognise a black feather. Almost as long as my forearm, asymmetrical, it is a flight feather of some large bird. Or not a bird.

I bow before him. “Inquisitor.” No greeting, he merely gestures for me to sit in the deep armchair standing opposite of his desk.

The upholstery is faded and stuffy, smelling of mold and rancid blood. There are rumours about this chair. All different, all insisting on something lethal hidden in it. I wouldn’t know. So far, I always rose from it again, all my appendages intact.

Behind my Master a holoscreen blinks frantically, showing nonsensical characters scrolling upside down. It paints my face and hands green. It can’t erase the black stains on my fingers.

Blue eyes bore into my own. “What is treason, Acolyte?”

“To turn against the Imperium.”

The answer comes by rote, hammered into me during my training. My fingers - proof of my guilt - tremble.

“And what is Treachery?”

This one is harder. It isn’t a crime in the catalogue I learned. It is much more personal. “To turn against someone to whom you owe loyalty”, I try.

My Master nods. He dips the black feather into a pot of ink and begins to write. My fingers start to itch.

“Do you owe me your loyalty, Acolyte?”

His tone is smooth, purring, idle. His eyes are anything but. They are searchlights, boring into my soul.

“Yes, my Lord. I do.”

He nods and continues to write. His desk is so cluttered I cannot see what he is writing. My mind sees my death certificate, written out in the inklike blood of the creature I killed. The creature at the root of my treachery. The creature whose tears still stain my hands.

“You are washing your hands a lot.” A casual observation.

“Yes, my Lord.” Another twine for the noose to string me up.

“It has been said that this is a symptom of internalised guilt. Are you feeling guilty?”

What would I give now for a poker face. For the ability to tell a blandfaced lie. To smile and answer ‘What would I have to feel guilty for?’ I can’t do that. He would see right through me. Even if he doesn’t know of my foolishness yet, he would know then.

“I am not sure, my Lord.”

Am I feeling guilty? My hands are stained since I touched the tears of that mutated beast I caught and killed on my Master’s orders. I shouldn’t have done that. I should know better than to touch something tainted. It was stupid but it was not treachery. I betrayed nothing. And yet, there is this pervasive feeling of ... something. Of having sinned.

“Explain.” He has stopped writing and turns the quill, so perfect, so dark, in his fingers.

I raise my hands. I know better than to hide them. “I am washing them because they are dirty.”

“Those look like ink smudges to me.” Why is he offering me excuses? I know better than that. I know lying, even lying by omission, will damn me in his eyes. “Ask the scribes for a better soap.”

I close my eyes. I see my life flashing before my eyes. Once again, I see the moment of my fall. Of my betrayal. I stand over the mutilated body of the chaos thing, this unholy mixture of bird and man, armoured in plates of ceramite. I trapped it and now I kill it, firing sanctified bolts into its chest, turning its innards to mulch. I feel again the compulsion to look into the dead things eyes, black-in-black eyes, so old, so empty, so sad. I see the trails its black tears have painted on its face. Tears of sorrow, shed while it was living still. And I close its eyes. Stain my fingers, stain my soul. To this day I don’t know why I did this. How I could feel pity and respect for something damned.

“It is not ink, Master.” I drop from the chair to my knees. A little furry thing disappears under my Master’s desk. I see the litter of centuries on the ground, and bury my hands in dead things.

“Get up.” The disinterest is gone from his voice. Now it is sharp like a whip. My body obeys before my mind even registers his order.

“I ask again: are you feeling guilty?”

My voice is a broken whisper as I admit my failing, finally purge it from my soul. The consequences will come later, the punishment. Now, I confess.

“Yes, Master.”

“Why?” He uses the tone he reserves for the heretics, for those who turned from the Emperor’s light. Sharp, unforgiving, cold. Although everyone who abandons the Imperium is a serious blow to him, they would never hear it in his voice. Or see it in his face. Neither do I as I cannot look at him anymore and watch my feet and the worms crawling over them.

“Because I showed pity to the enemy. Because I felt curiosity and sadness and fascination instead of hatred and revulsion.”

He is silent and in the silence I hear his soft breath. And feel my own tears, painting trails on my face.

“Ah, Abelard... So young. So romantic.” Now he sounds wistful, even sympathetic. “Of all my Acolytes I knew it would be you to betray me like this. Not with your actions but with your heart. A heart... The most dangerous liability for all of us...”

I hear the sound of a bolt pistol being cocked. I know it well; it is my own. The first shot tears through my chest. I don’t feel the second shot as I collapse among the dead. I cannot breathe. My vision, my hearing fade as do my thoughts.

A hand, spotted with age and clawed with arthritis, wipes away my tears.
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HOES #13-06: Serenity

Bloody Mary: Serenity of Purpose

Steam rose from the cauldron and the water bubbled. An herbal scent permeated the room, sharp and fresh. The ritual was almost prepared, save for the final ingredient—Seth himself. The necromancer sat in front of the window, and absentmindly brushed his hand against the back of what had once been his cat.

Its fur was matted, but magic kept it from rotting. Sometimes, it would remember how to purr, but not today, not that Seth noticed. His mind was elsewhere, his thoughts fluttering like startled birds. Amon, his son, his world, was out there, where war was raging. The child he had longed to protect from the cruel world that took his mother, ran off and was lost to him, but still Seth had to protect him.

But he would not be able to protect him as he was. He was too weak, too lost to keep the war from ending his child.

A failure of a healer, a failure of husband, a failure of a father, a failure of a man—his mind sung and sung, and told him he would fail, but Amon was the last piece of a world that had crumbled, the single gem, the tether that held him back from going where he did not want, and oh just once, he wished he would not fail. Not just wish, wishing was not enough, but what else was left to him?

He swallowed, and tried to focus. It was of crucial importance that he was calm during the ritual, though serenity seemed an abstract concept. Where would he find the elusive peace? Memories of the green-blue eyes, set in a tanned face, and smile sweeter than summer wine only ever brought pain, and the image of a dead, dead body, a gaping hole where her womb was staring accusingly at him.

But with pain came focus. War was raging, and his son was out there, unprepared for the cruelty of the world. What other way did he have to atone for his failures, but to protect him? And to protect him, he needed more power, power that his body used for all those useless functions.

To save his child, he needed to die a false death, and remake himself. In death, all was lost, but sometimes a glimmer of once-had-been remained. If he could make his love for his child this glimmer… Death would take all burdens and distractions, but if he managed to keep this one feeling in his mind as he died, it would give purpose to something new. A creature that would know no fear, no pain, and would never stop. His love would live on in a new form: as the driving force for a creature of terrible serenity of purpose.

Amon would be safe, and the father who failed him would be no more.

He put down his once-familiar, and with a steady hand, Seth took a brush and dipped in a bowl filled with red ink. Slowly, he drew a pattern on his arm, swirling signs flowing down and down, until it was covered in them wholly. Then, he dipped it in the boiling water.

Pain came, but he held the limb submerged, until flesh started peeling from bone. Slowly, he drew it out, and carefully ripped the skin and muscles away, revealing the bone. Patterns, red like blood, swirled and dancing down the skeletal limb, and Seth knew he would be his son’s salvation.

His thoughts stilled.

Clarity came.

Seth rose and stepped away from the cauldron, letting the water boil on. He cast of his robe and picked up the brush again. He dipped it in the bowl of ink, and resumed painting the same swirling patterns over his body. His movements were no longer slow, but remained deliberate. The brush glided across naked flesh, all where Seth could reach.

For a moment, he stood still, smiling to himself.

No longer did he fear. He knew it would work and he knew this time he would not fail. The certainty gave him purpose and clarity he had not felt in ages. It stilled the fluttering birds of his thoughts and focused them on the cauldron.

He steadied himself with his skeletal hand and stepped into the boiling water.

The pain was even worse, but the flowing patterns worked and Seth retained control of his legs, even as his muscles cooked. He knelt in the water, allowing his useless flesh to die, and with it his hunger, his need for sleep...

The sharp scent of herbs mingled with the smell of his own flesh boiling, and Seth thought that if someone had entered now, they would have been sick. The observation was a far away thing, almost as if it was about somebody else.

What did others matter? His purpose was all that mattered, a crystalline shining beacon, the tether that would keep his spirit bound to his body.

For the last time in his life, Seth remembered his son. The green-blue eyes, so very much like those of his mother. The solemn face. The steady low voice. The way he would bow over a tome, when he was reading.

“Father, I can feel death in my bones.”

The words that would return each time Seth taught him a spell.

“Father, I’m cold.”

Seth filled his mind with the thoughts of his child, and dove into the boiling water. The world was pain, and he welcomed it. Every terrible second made him anew, until all that remained was his purpose—there was no fear, no pain, no distraction.

He let his humanity die that day.

That which rose from the cauldron was a being of one purpose, unburdened by a man’s weakness and hesitation. It was no longer Seth, the necromancer, who failed to be all that he had wanted to be.

It was a guardian spirit that would never let its charge down. All that would threaten Amon, son of Seth, would meet its end—this was the purpose it existed for. It did not hate those that it would destroy, and neither did it love.

It was, and its existence was its purpose.

In death, Seth had found peace, and took it from his son once again.
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post #43 of 77 (permalink) Old 10-08-13, 04:20 PM
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HOES #13-08: Absence

Ye Olde Grandma: The mortal affection

”I assume there is a point to that”, Aetius said, indicating Cecilia’s dress. During their previous meetings she’d come in her simple remembrancer robes, but tonight she was clad in a scarlet silk dress that left her arms, her back and a lot of her chest bare.

Cecilia smiled. “Perceptive”, she said. “I thought it well-suited to further illustrate the points I believe I’ll be making tonight.”

Aetius frowned. “Explain.”

Cecilia kept smiling as she glanced across the room. La Fenice was, as always, filled with people, and though Astartes were not uncommon here, Aetius was the only one present tonight. At this hour though, the spirits had taken their toll on the patrons, and Cecilia felt certain they’d be spared most of their attention.

She’d indulged in a few drinks herself while she waited and couldn’t help but giggle as a server came over with two fluted glasses and a bottle of wine. His gaze lingered on her exposed skin.

“That”, she said to the Astartes when the server had left. “That’s your explanation.”

Aetius poured himself a drink and leaned back. Clad in a simple toga he looked every bit the magnificent hero, with skin pale and smooth like marble. Reclined as he was now, wineglass in hand, Cecilia found she saw him less like a warrior. He almost fit in, among artists and philosophers. Almost.

“I saw arousal”, he rumbled. “I heard an increase of heartbeat from that man and saw his breathing quicken. That is the carnal desire, yet no more than so. It is not, from what I’ve learned, the full extent of the mortal affection.”

The mortal affection. He’d taken to calling it that, because the word love already had its meaning to him. It was the bond between battle-brothers and, in particular, the affectionate fealty to their Lord Fulgrim. That made sense in his world, though it made things harder for Cecilia to explain.

“You are correct of course”, she said, “though one shouldn’t underestimate the part played by mere arousal in the greater concept that is mortal love. Remember that the next time you indulge yourself in such poetry and prose.” She smiled a wicked smile.”For the most part the author merely covets the recipient’s body.”

Aetius took a sip. “So it’s lies then?”

“No, no, no”, she laughed. “Well, sometimes.”

Aetius frowned. Cecilia drank deep while weighing her next words.

“To be fair”, she said, “such desire is for the most part a complementary factor. A man may love a woman, and in doing so he loves all that she is, body and person both.”

“We know that the server loves your body”, Aetius said. “Approach him, and he may prove to love the rest of you.” He cocked an eyebrow, unsmiling. “Correct?”

“Indeed”, she laughed. “Then again, I am looking my best tonight.”

“I noticed. During our previous meetings you evoked behavior such as that shown by the server merely once, while tonight men and women have laid eyes on you three times already.”

Cecilia coughed, barely keeping the wine behind her teeth. She looked at the Astartes before her with wide eyes, staring up at his face. His calm gaze flitted momentarily to the side, quick as lightning.

“Four times now”, he added. “You blush. Are you well?”

“I honestly never thought…” she mumbled. “I mean, four times?” She looked down at her dress, realizing that perhaps it was too much.

She resolved to plant her elbows on the table and lean on them, covering herself as best as she could. Aetius simply stared as she shifted her posture.

“It’s a strange thing, your mortal emotions.”

“So you’ve told me”, Cecilia muttered.

“Over the years I have delved into some of the finest art and poetry of the human species. By decree of my betters I have sought perfection in culture as well as in warfare. And…”

Cecilia put down her glass. “And?” she said.

“I see easily the magnificence in the statues of old heroes. My heart soars to look upon the landscapes of Chemos rendered in imagists’ paint. Even the ruminations of Karkasy are not beyond me.”

Aetius lowered his gaze.

“Yet the true meaning behind the poems and prose which discuss the concept of… of what you would name love; that still eludes my understanding. I study the matter as frequently as I can, but the words remain dead to me. They do not kindle in me the recognition as other things do.”

The subject had been hinted at during their previous talks, but this was the first time Cecilia had witnessed anything like this candour. Aetius had put his wineglass down and laid his massive hands on the table. His voice was as level as always, but she saw something new in his eyes, something haunted. A shiver ran through her and she instinctively raised her own glass to her lips. She’d had a lot to drink, in fact, and her mind had probably been dulled by it. Perhaps she’d only imagined what she saw.

“I will not lie and say that it doesn’t vex me”, the Astartes went on. “For all our talks I am still in the dark. The mortal affection seems to lie at the core of much of human existence, and yet mortals often shy away from it. As you did.”

He fixed her with a stare and said no more. Cecilia found her voice.


“You were shamed when I informed you of the looks you drew. Why is that, when the encounter with the server gave no such concern?”

Cecilia struggled with her thoughts. Once again she was reminded of how thin her dress was.

“That’s different”, she mumbled. “I can’t be thought of as easy, as some cheap...”

“Why?” Aetius interrupted. Cecilia cringed.

“There is no honour...” she began.

“It makes no sense”, he stated. “What rulings would seek to hinder you from pursuing your purpose in love and reproduction? What hypocrisy is it to condemn you if you do? Know that I shall gladly aid you if I can; I still recall everyone that found you desirable, and their names can be yours if you wish.”

Cecilia blinked. The room was spinning around her. Aetius’s massive frame filled her vision and somewhere far away someone laughed.

“No”, she whispered. “Please.” Her cheeks felt wet.

Aetius’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “Perhaps it is for the best that I do not understand. Mortals are weak, and your reasonings as well.”

“Be glad then”, she heard herself answer, “for you will never understand.”

She saw the haunted look return.
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HOES #13-08: Absence

Lord of the Night: Lost Memories

I awake. The darkness recedes, I feel like I have seen this before but I cannot remember where or when or why I would have. Data scrolls down in my optics, systems coming back online. I remember what I am, and the momentary tinge of sadness that passes through what remains of my heart is another thing that I feel I have felt many times before, but I do not remember. I am a Dreadnought of the Adeptus Astartes, specifically the hallowed chapter that is the Howling Griffons. My name is Gabriel Kuroso and I know this and one thing. There is something absent within me. But I cannot remember what it is. My systems are all active and working at near maximum capacity, my organic parts or at least what little remains of them are still functioning, in some cases barely but that is the way it has always been, I think. Something is absent, I know it. But what it is escapes me at the moment, but I feel that it should not.

In front of me scurry a mixed group of the living, some are servitor slaves that do the main work of reviving me from my dreams of war and death, some are serfs recruited from those that failed the initiation trials, and some are Techmarines of the Chapter that are responsible for my care. Suddenly a face flashes in front of me, it is a stern face with short blonde hair and piercing green eyes that promises honest and fair judgement. I cannot remember who this is. Perhaps he was a serf that I knew in life, or a Techmarine that cares for me even now, but I do not see his face among the mortals and brethren around me. It will come to me, I am sure of it. For now I focus on my surroundings, I am in a great bay of machines and forges. This is where the Techmarines work at their weapons and repairs, and where I live when I am not called upon by my living brothers. It is a functional place, we are not a chapter for beauty or form but rather function. If it works, then that is enough. I am unsure where that phrase came from, someone once told it to me but I can't remember who or when or even if I was alive when I heard it.

This is the first time I have been awoken by my brethren, and will be my first mission as a Dreadnought. I feel a fierce pride in my surviving heart that I will soon bring death to the Emperor's enemies and gain revenge against... what? I do not remember what crippled me, what was it that put me in this shell of adamantium and mechanical parts? Was it one of the Traitor Legions? Perhaps the brutish greenskins or the arrogant Eldar? Perhaps even the disgusting Tyranids or one of the minor races that clamour for our deaths and our souls. I cannot remember. No matter, it will come to me I am sure of it. And yet I still feel as if something is absent. I run another internal systems check, which comes back and reveals nothing. I am fully functioning, and yet my heart is telling me that something is wrong, that I am missing something important but I cannot fathom what it is. Could it be my memories... no they are fine. Merely hazy from my reawakening, they will return shortly.

One of the Techmarines approaches me. His armour is as I remember it, the rusty-red of the adepts of Mars while his shoulderpad carries the rampant griffon that is our heraldry with the quartered yellow and red that are our colours. They make me feel proud, we are a mighty Chapter and though the perils we face are many it is good to see that we still stand even now... whenever now is. I think back on my years of service, I can't quite recall when I began my service but I am sure it was long and fruitful. He begins to speak to me, addressing me by name.

"Venerable Brother Gabriel, it is good to see you among us once more. Once again you awake with little difficulty."

His words make me pause, again? But I have never awakened before this, and why did he call me Venerable Brother? One has to serve as a Dreadnought for at least two thousand years to earn that title but I have not served that long... I think. No! I am sure that I only fell in the last century, fighting... whatever it was that slew me. I think about correcting him but I am not sure that would be a prudent move, so instead I reply.

"It is good to be back."

My sharp voice is a shock to me. It is completely emotionless, which is good as I did not want my hesitancy to cross over into my reply, but it surprises me that it is so deep. But should it? I feel for some reason that it shouldn't surprise me, that I have heard it many times before and my shock is wrong. But that can't be, this is my first mission isn't it? Yes! It is. I look forward to it, in fact I can't quite remember why I was apprehensive anymore. I am sure it was of little matter. The Techmarine continues to speak with me, telling me mission parameters and the reason I have been awoken once more. I find it odd that he continues to call me Venerable Brother but perhaps he is new and it is a lapse of judgement, I will speak with the Master of the Forge later and have his error corrected.

For now I look forward to my first mission as a Dreadnought, but I still cannot escape the feeling that something is absent. I try to remember what but I can't, my memories will return soon. I am sure of it. They have to... don't they?

...Battle Report: 11927.8327 "Battle of Hybriday"
2nd, 3rd and 6th Companies deployed to planetary capital, designation "Granitehole"
Venerable Dreadnought Gabriel Kuroso, once 2nd Captain, deployed alongside 2nd. Eleventh deployment on record for Brother Kuroso.
Enemy Target: Orks.
Addendum: Kuroso's crippling at the hands of Orks can be avenged once more.
Addendum Secundus: Kuroso once again awakes with no memory after internment. His inability to retain memory is permanent, according to Chief Apothecary Vincento. Continue to monitor. Praise Guilliman. Praise the Emperor.
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Default HOES #13-09: Delay

Veteran Sergeant: Delay

They found the Minotaurs sergeant lying near a tangle of mutilated bodies. It had been a vicious and brutal close quarters fight. Stretched out around the large dugout were the bodies of Night Lords renegades and cultists alike. Inside the fighting position itself, the ground was a mess of severed limbs, rent bodies, and spilled innards. Though his helmet's filters kept out the smell, Veteran Marcus knew it must be awful. Discarded and empty weapons lay strewn about, suggesting that the final confrontation had been a whirlwind of blades and rifle butts. Three of the Minotaur's battle brothers lay unmoving amidst the carnage. Apothecary Tulio knelt down to check them for vitals. His vox silence told Marcus everything he needed to know.

The sergeant stirred, looking up at them. Marcus turned back to Tulio and motioned with his head. “Get him on his feet.” Tulio worked diligently, patching his narthecium into the suit's receptors, and working to identify the sergeant's most grievous wounds and push the proper stims to render him combat effective. Tulio was feeding the Minotaur's suit vitals to Marcus over the squad comms. The physiology of a Space Marine was extremely resilient, but it would still take some weeks before he would be at 100%. However, within a few minutes, Tulio was helping the Minotaur up, his system pumped full of combat drugs.

From behind his helmet, the Minotaur's voice projected from the vox emitter. “Thank you brothers.”

The Invectors stood silent. The Minotaur continued. “I am Veteran Sergeant Korragos. I am in your debt. Let me join you in taking the fight to what's left of this rabble.” He moved to retrieve a bolter that was lying amidst the bodies, but was stopped by Veteran Kester. He attempted to move around the Invector, who moved again to block him.

“What is the meaning of this?” The Minotaur's voice was inflected with a simmering rage.

Marcus looked to his closest battle brother. “Arctos. Your blade.” Arctos drew the short sword which was clamped to his pack behind his left shoulder, and tossed it to Korragos, who caught it reflexively. Marcus turned to Tulio, calmly handing him his boltgun, and then his bolt pistol. He then turned back to Korragos, and drew his own blade. The other Marines stepped backwards to form a ring around the two combatants.

“Traitors.” The Minotaur hefted the blade, assuming a fighting stance. Marcus dropped into one of his own, but said nothing in reply. The two began to circle. Korragos lunged, expertly striking at Marcus, who just as expertly parried the attacks and moved out of the way. Korragos whirled back around.

“I will cut both of your hearts out.” The Minotaur struck at Marcus again, who again deflected the blows, before delivering a short kick to his opponent's thigh, staggering him. Korragos brought the combat blade around in a sweeping arc, but Marcus was already gone.

They clashed again, Marcus catching the Minotaur's blade, and sliding it flat to lock them guard to guard. The Minotaur tried to loop an overhand punch at his helmet, but Marcus stepped back, sweeping around and the punch landed flush against his power pack with a dull thud. Marcus shifted his arm up to catch the fist between his collar and the pauldron before the Minotaur could retract it. Taking advantage of Korragos's momentary surprise, Marcus threw an elbow which rebounded off of the Minotaur's helmet, before Korragos was able to wrench his fist free and separate himself. The Minotaur was slow. This was almost too easy. Almost.

Korragos wasn't done yet though. “What did the dark gods promise you? What did it take to turn your back on your vows, your brothers, and your Emperor, traitor?” The Minotaur swung at him again, but he was a fraction too slow, and Marcus moved inside the strike, catching it forearm to forearm. The Invector drove two quick, short fists into Korragos's helmeted face, rocking his head back. The Minotaur staggered, and Marcus kicked his legs out from under him. The Minotaur dropped hard, but recovered quickly, rolling to avoid a downward strike that never came. Instead, Marcus simply watched him roll away and come up to one knee defensively. Realizing there was no follow-on attack coming, Korragos stood. But he seemed to know he was fading.

“If I were not so gravely wounded, I would destroy you, coward. Your victory is tainted and-”

“I've given you every chance you gave the Inceptors at Euxcine.”

The Minotaur said nothing, but the slightest flinch betrayed recognition. For a few moments, the two Space Marines stood silently. Suddenly, the Minotaur whirled, bringing his blade down on Kester. But the Invector veteran was faster, deflecting the strike with his boltgun, and kicking at Korragos, who leaped backwards out of the way.

In a sweeping cut, Marcus hacked through the soft armor behind the Minotaur's right knee, severing the posterior ligaments. Korragos staggered, falling to a knee, and Marcus looped the sword back around and down onto his wrist. The blade bit deep into the Minotaur sergeant's flesh and bone, and he dropped his weapon. Marcus gripped the Minotaur's pack with his left hand, wrenching him around violently. The Invector struck him on the forehead with the pommel of the blade, and delivered a kick that sent Korragos to sprawl on his back.

With a sweep of his boot, Marcus kicked the Minotaur's borrowed blade aside, where it was picked up by Maro. Marcus walked over to Tulio, and retrieved his bolt pistol. He turned back to where Korragos was sitting, having pushed himself up with his one good hand. Their duel had trampled bodies and entrails into the dirt, churning parts of it into a foul reddish brown paste which now streaked the fallen Minotaur's armor.

Without a word, Marcus shot him in the neck. The bolt round punched through the layered mesh of the soft armor, and into the Minotaur's throat, where it detonated, pulping the airway and fracturing his spine. The Invector re-holstered the stubby pistol as he approached the twitching Minotaur sergeant. Kneeling down, he carefully disconnected the seals on the bronze helmet, and lifted it gently off of his head. Korragos was not dead yet, his superhuman physiology fighting to overcome even such an obviously mortal injury, and his face was still contorted in rage. Through the dull black lenses of his helmet, Marcus looked down into the Minotaur's eyes, a vicious smile hidden behind his scowling faceplate.
“Burn the bodies. All of them. Their genetic legacy ends here.”

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Default HOES #13-09: Delay

Adrian: Worry is Bad

David Hasson thought he could delay the inevitable but he was wrong. The Inquisition had not only seen but were on their way at this very moment. David wished that he were a speck in dirt, beyond anyone’s notice, but as Chief Administrator of the librarious Lex, he was sure that even if he were a speck in the dirt, they would find him. The Inquisition could find anyone at anytime and that was a fact. So what he had failed to see and tried to hide when he did see it would cost him his life. He was under no illusion about that. They were coming and would put a bullet in his brain and really, there was nothing that he could do about it.

David sat on the chair outside the back door to his hab and tried to see past his impending doom. He tried to think of all the wondrous places that he had gone to as a perk to his position. He tried to remember all the beautiful women that he had slept with, another perk to his position. He smiled at the thoughts that came to him, but then frowned when the doom thoughts came back with a slap of reality. There was not enough money in the universe that could save him and he knew this to be true. What had he done that was so wrong to deserve death? He began to sweat even though the evening was cool. He looked up. The stars were bright tonight. They seemed to be just out of reach but he knew that they were as far off as his salvation. He began to tremble. David did not want to die. The very thought of being put to death caused his mind to race, to look for a way of escape. But David knew there would be no escape. There was only one way out and that was a bullet to the head.

David slept in fits and cold sweats. In fact, David did not sleep. He couldn’t sleep because of his worry. They would be at his door in the morning and then everything would end. Everything that he had worked for all his life would be as the fog, here today and gone with the wind. Oh, how he wished that he had done things differently. Oh, how he wished that he could unsee what he had seen. But that was a false wish. There could be no redemption. He had seen what he saw and that was the end of it.

The morning had come too soon. David had not slept at all even though he had lain there in his fine bed all night long. The sheets had been soaked with sweat and when he finally got up he was chill from the cool night air. He showered. If he must die at least he would be clean. Better to meet your death clean, he supposed. There was a knock on the door and David froze. He could barely even put two thoughts together. David’s dog began to bark but David did not get up. He was petrified. Finally the person at the door knocked again and with that, David stood and walked to the door. Each step was like walking though a dream. Every breath felt like he was fighting brutal gravity. Every blink of his eyes felt like crashing waves.

David took hold of the doorknob and took a heavy breath. He turned it slowly and pulled. It took every ounce of strength to pull the door open, but he did it. He had opened the door and was a bought to let death in. The Inquisitor smiled but his eyes seemed to be soulless. His stature was short but strong. His hair was black as a raven’s wing. ‘Won’t you come in.’ David managed to say without too much trepidation in his voice. The Inquisitor stepped through the entrance and looked around. The home was simple yet full of nice things. It was not something that boasted great power but was soothing to the senses. ‘Mr. Hasson. Your home is very beautiful.’ The Inquisitor said with genuine respect. He continued, ‘The morning is nice. I do love the country life. Living outside of the hive must be very relaxing?’ David realized that it was a question, ‘Yes sir. It is very relaxing.’ David had no clue what was happening. He expected a bullet in the head at any moment. ‘Would you like a drink?’ he asked. The inquisitor inclined his head. David went to the bar to pour a drink, but the Inquisitor stopped him before he could pour it. ‘Do you have milk?’

Milk. Yes he did have milk. It was rare and expensive, even more expensive than most jewels. David poured the milk for the Inquisitor and handed him the glass. The inquisitor drank it slowly. David stood there in his living room sweating and pale. The shot would come soon. He could feel it. He knew that the Inquisitor did not come all this way for milk. ‘I have something to ask you, Mr. Hasson.’ he said. He sat the empty glass down slowly and gently. The glass on the table. It stood out to David like a burning fire. For some reason David could not see anything else. He focused on it like it was a lifeline. ‘You have recently come in contact with forbidden literature. Do you remember anything of what you have seen?’

There it was. Now he would die. David answered truthfully. ‘Yes sir. I remember every word.’ The Inquisitor nodded and stood up. He reached for a leather pocket and dipped his hand inside. David closed his eyes and tried to prepare himself the best he could, but he was still shaking, almost uncontrollably. ‘Open your eyes Mr. Hasson. You are not going to die today. I need a person that I can count on to be able to remember and interpret meanings for our team. I make an offer to you.’

Years later as David read what before would have surly brought about his death, he smiled. Sometimes the Emperor’s will is better than we could have ever dreamed.
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Default HOES #13-10: Relaxation

HonorableMan: A Last Lho-Stick

They came out of the darkness, the soot and smoke congealing into gold-trimmed war-plate of the deepest black, roaring chainweapons raised high and already coated in drying blood. Boltfire rang out, mass-reactive warheads blasting away at both Cadian trooper and concrete cover; answered by eye-searingly bright las bolts, the armored giants nevertheless moved forwards, inexorably, inevitably.

It was a losing fight, the Cadian sergeant knew- but they were Kasrkin, the best of the best, the Caducades sea-eagle brand upon each and every trooper’s neck. They would not break, would not fall back, would fight to the bloody end. That was what the Imperium asked of them, and they’d be damned if it got any less than that.

He popped up, leveling his hellpistol and snapping off a shot. The bright ruby beam leapt from the weapon’s muzzle, flying true; one of the towering traitor warriors faltered and then fell to his knees, half of his helmet and head missing. Four more searing bolts of energy lanced out, transfixing the traitor Astartes’ torso, and it finally collapsed.

That would not be enough.

A bolt-round hit the waist-high concrete barrier that the sergeant crouched behind before detonating, sending shrapnel ripping across the faceplate of his helmet; the elaborate HUD inside his visor flickered and died. He didn’t have time for this. Ripping the helmet off and throwing it aside, the sergeant stood and snapped off two more shots, striking another traitor but doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

They were drawing close now, despite the increasing volume of hellgun fire and the slowly-rising number of Astartes dropping under its weight. The sergeant ducked down and drew his sword, more than a meter of adamantium crackling with energy, a weapon that could easily cut through even these traitors’ power armor, and stood-

There was a Chaos Marine right there, and the sergeant realized that there was something cold against his stomach.

He looked down, weapons falling from suddenly nerveless fingers.

The Chaos Marine wore a pair of lightning claws, and three half-meter blades were embedded in the Cadian’s gut. A slow smile spread across the traitor’s pallid, unhelmeted face, revealing teeth that appeared to be pointed fangs, and a tongue sporting its own mouth.

The sergeant flopped to the ground as the traitor withdrew his claws, violet eyes open wide, his breath a cloud of mist in the cold air. It was so very cold, despite the armored and heated bodysuit; almost instinctively, he curled up on his side- or tried to, legs not responding to his will.

With a derisive snort, the traitor Astartes turned away and moved on. He was too close for that cursed battle-plate to provide any protection from a hellpistol- with a grunt of effort, the Cadian reached out for his dropped weapon. He couldn’t reach it; dragging himself closer, his gloved fingers finally closed around the pistol’s grip, but his killer was already gone, disappeared into the rubble.

The sergeant coughed. Something dribbled out of his mouth, and he was fairly sure he knew what it was. He became aware that he was lying in a puddle, a ruby-red puddle that was only growing, fueled by the founts of his wounds.

It didn't hurt very much. That was a bad sign.

Dragging himself over to the concrete barrier that had provided him cover earlier, the Kasrkin sergeant propped himself up on it in a sitting position. He had no illusions- this was a mortal wound, and there was no help coming. His squad was dead, of that he had no doubt- Astartes weaponry made quick work of most beings, often rendering them into unrecognizable gobbets of bloody flesh, such as he could see carpeting the ground not far to his left. Apparently the rest of them had been butchered while he had been distracted.

A burbling laugh left the sergeant’s mouth. Trained from childhood, equipped with the best armor and weaponry available… and slaughtered like this, all dead in a single cold afternoon on some little-known shrine world.

It was almost funny.

The sergeant dug in a pocket with shaking hands, gloved fingers finding the battered pack of lho-sticks and closing around it. There weren’t many left, and he dropped two before finally getting one out and between his lips. It didn’t matter- he wouldn’t need them again, that was for sure. He dropped the pack, too, trying to put it back in his pocket; his lighter came out of a different pocket, smooth chromed metal cool even to his gloved hand.

It took two tries to get a flame to leap out, orange at the top, blue at the bottom, wavering in the breeze. It caressed the end of the lho-stick for a brief moment, as the Cadian brought it close; snapping the lighter closed, he dropped that too.

He inhaled deeply, letting the lho take away the pain and the shaking. Reaching up, he took the small paper tube from his mouth with two fingers, dropping his hand to his lap. The end was stained red, the sergeant noticed; almost as if that had caused it, he coughed hard. It was a wet, rough cough, the kind that hurt his throat; flecks of blood came out, and more dribbled thickly out of each corner of his mouth.

There wasn’t much to do, he idly reflected, as one died. All one could do was sit around and wait for it- for some reason, the wounds weren’t quite so painful, or else he’d have contemplated finishing it quicker with the help of his hellpistol. But no, it wasn’t so bad, not at all- in fact, it afforded an opportunity for sitting down and not doing anything.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a chance to just sit down and have a smoke.

Taking another drag from the lho-stick, the sergeant tapped ash free from the end. No, transit through the warp he’d heard was boring for other soldiers, but for a Cadian, a Kasrkin? God-Emperor no, they spent that time training, mock-assaults, hand-to-hand combat, intensive studies on the enemies they’d most likely encounter. And when they weren’t on board a naval vessel, they were fighting. No respite for the best of the best, none at all. Never-ending training, and then battle. That was the life of a Cadian- he’d never really known anything else and hadn’t even thought about it. Not until now.

Something cold landed on his cheek. Something else. Again. Again.

It was snowing.

The lho-stick dropped from between his fingers, sizzling and dying in the claret-red pool that had formed beneath him.
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Firemahlazer - The Craven Beast

Captain Crassus could feel the harsh glare of all the shadows boring down from the steep hills of the valley. The small town of Pella materializing into view was the source of his uneasy worrying. He quickly decided the feeling was not an instinct, considering his crow-eyed troopers were on the fence about their instincts as well. No doubt the fear radiating from the march-weary guardsmen from the Consentia Fourth company was about as raw as the wounds in last month’s casualties. Crassus would have to trust his scouts on the decision to force-march during the dead of night. The actual chance of coming under attack proved to be very low, according to his most trusted men.

“Slave Raiders… you hear that? A town goes silent and they want us to go investigate- in the middle of the frakking night!” One of the grunt-privates had spoken up towards the fore of the marching column.

The smack of a hand across his helmet by one of the Sergeants, Cassius Beatiatus, interrupted his rant. “Shut your gob, Lysuscis, and the nefarious Eldar being involved is just some gossip. Rebels could have easily stormed in and taken Pella for themselves.”

Lieutenant Ceasar of the first platoon suddenly chimed in smirking in the Captain’s direction. He raised his voice over the gossiping rank and file. “Makes little difference given the situation. The Fourth company all by its lonesome out in the fearsome wilderness, most of our vehicles broken and shattered, and the march shooting our morale to an all time high. Whatever’s at Pella, I’ll give them a day or two to surrender tops.” Ceasar’s words earned a couple of snickers laden with dark intent.

“Consentians! Halt!!!” Crassus raised his fist at the very entrance leading into the town. His orders were echoed down the chain of command and soon the entire company was kneeling on the roadside. He could feel their eyes fixated on his back.

Ceasar made to stand beside his Captain, sharing a similar look between themselves. “What in the name of all the Primarchs?” The Lieutenant mouth was visibly gaping.

Crassus folded his arms patiently, a knowing smile crossing his lips. “I’d say an unharmed town of Pella. A welcome sight. Gather the men, we’ll rest easy tonight!”

The weary tension among the Consentia Fourth immediately dissipated in the wake of relieved rejoicing. Three men abreast at a time marched into the undisturbed city much to the surprise and exaltation of those still awake so late in the night. Their joyous cries soon woke the sleeping and a crowd began to form from the windows and balconies.

Lysuscis’ obnoxious voice shouted over the bellowed cheers of his comrades. “Why is everyone celebrating!? We could be sleeping out on the street tonight!”

Ceasar was about to turn on his heel and punch him hard in the gut -a fellow Consentian warning- when a boy no more than eleven years suddenly rushed up to the head of the marching column. Ceasar and Crassus both stared down the boy with questioning gazes, the impatient looks on their faces quickening the boy’s certain praise.

The boy looked distraught with renewed hope. “Did the Emperor send you!? Have you come to liberate us!?”

“Liberate you from what son!?” Crassus gestured with his arms all of Pella.

The boy’s voice erratically shifts into inhuman tones and volumes. His smile too warps into something terrifying. “... Liberate us from our shackles!!!” The monstrosity hiding in the form of a boy suddenly explodes into a nexus of energy. The core cackles madly while it continues to adapt into a humanoid shape. A horrible one at that.

“Consentia Fourth! To arms! Kill everything in site!” Crassus’ piercing cry is echoed by decade veteran soldiers. The deamoness before him suddenly attempts to decapitate him in a wild spectacle for her deamonic on-lookers, but her disgusting claws fall short.

The specters of the former citizens of Pella suddenly transform all at once, taking on the forms of lavender she-deamons and suddenly spring their carnival of slaughter on the fourth company. They beset on the slower, confused soldiers first, closing entire distances with bounding leaps and literally tearing them apart with their wretched claws in front of their comrades. The able-bodied still capable of putting up a fight are close enough to the sudden storm of death that they are painted in the blood of the fallen.

Crassus leaped backwards into Ceasar. His plasma pistol discharging a molten hole in between the eyes of the she-deamon that had attempted to take his head the moment it looked real enough. His Lieutenant spins him away on instinct, taking his chainsword and side-stepping a sudden flurry of claws. His skill shows through even as he lashes out in desperation, severing a trio of separate limbs from their owners. Ceasar quickly steps back into their reach and cuts through them all at once with a vertical swipe. The monomolecular edges of his blade easily part through vulnerable flesh, spraying arterial blood all over himself and Cassius who fights beside him. Such was their bravery.

Yellow trails of unloaded las-fire fly through the air and light up the dark streets of Pella. The battle cries of human warriors suddenly intermingle with the insanity of singing deamonic entities. Deamons pouring in from every angle fall where they stand under the weight of fire, absorbing a wasteful amount of firepower as they attempted to claw their way to fresh blood. The alien creatures came forth in a stampede colliding hard into a wall of resistance.

Someone shouts. “Crassus! By the Emperor, death from above!”

The Captain immediately tuck and rolled away from the retracting press of lavender bodies, making enough room for a very slim creature to fall upon his previous position. His long serrated blade clanked against the ground futilely, then the mandrake - a headhunter, command had warned- jolted off his knees and connected a savage kick across Crassus’ temple. Crassus couldn’t react to the Eldar’s lightning coup de grace. The creature’s triumphant cry mixed with the defiant screams of both Ceasar and Cassius.

The deamonic entities echoed his declaration of victory with mocking laughter. The Dark Eldar continued their cruel revelry even as their disguises -very realistic holograms- began to fade away altogether. Ceasar fell to his knees in horror at witnessing the horde of Wyches and Mandrakes butchering the wounded and trapping the survivors.

A Succubus grips him violently by his hair. “Bring this man a communication device. He has a quite a story to tell.”
"We advance south, towards Spartacus and those who would join him in rebellion! Let our shadow fall upon them! And every man, woman, and child so touched by it, struck from this world! By the might, and glory, of Rome!"
-Simon Merrells as Marcus Licinius Crassus
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Xabre - A Nightmare Unseen

Sanguinus lay on the ground, his body still convulsing in its death throes. Dark blood pooled from beneath his body, staining his ivory wings crimson. His chest fell with his last breath, the broken blade of his sword buried through his armor and into his heart. His eyes closed, and the Angel was gone.

The pool of blood continued to spread, gathering at the feet of a god among those counted as gods among men. The great Betrayer, Horus, was standing there, towering in armor of slate grey and ebony. Done with Sanguinus’s weapon, Horus drew his own, a fel blade rumored to be gifted by the gods of all things terrible. Lightning crackled on the blades of the claw that graced his other hand.

As dark and ominous as Horus seemed, the figure above him was just as magnificent. Even now in the darkest of times he seemed to defy description, a perfect creature that burned with all the glorious radiance of the sun. Golden armor as exquisite as was ever crafted graced his form, making him seem both regal and imposing, elegant and lethal all at once. The two figures were perfect opposites, the void of night against the blaze of the stars. Only Horus would dare to try and eclipse the magnificence of the Emperor of Mankind.

There was only one thing more absurd than the idea of father and son in conflict like this, and that was it would be witnessed by a mere mortal. In the shadowy corners of the throne room was another presence. He had no name, merely a string of numbers, a designation that seemed pointless and pathetic compared to the colossi before it. The figure was tiny and frail, and in the back of its mind it knew that was normal for a member of the Choir, though it could not remember what the Choir was. No other thought existed except for what was happening before it.

Horus and the Emperor were speaking to each other now. The sniveling creature heard them, but there were no words. From the Betrayer came terrible sounds of fire and thunder and death, while his father’s voice was a chorus of angels and a symphony of peace. The thunder grew more terrible, while the symphony was calm and soothing, each growing more intense as their argument heated. Finally the discussion came to its climax, with the quiet finality of the Emperor’s melody more terrible in its sudden chill than all the noise that Horus spouted.

The time for words were over with the Emperor’s final dismissal. From his throne he drew his sword, a blade of golden light that defied true definition. Like two titans of ancient Terra, Horus and the Emperor did battle. They were forces of nature, elemental powers that seemed less like men and more pure primal entities. The creature watched from the shadows, terrified of being caught up in the maelstrom. Its robes caught in fiery wind, threatening to draw him in, and his fingers bled as he clung to the wall and watched, unable to look away.

The battle seemed to last for hours, days, lifetimes. The two warriors moved in a blur that could not be followed by the unaided eye, and yet the huddling, numbered being saw every detail in slow motion. Blades flashed against blades in a corona of light. Armor was torn and blood was spilled. Small cuts gave way to grave injury, and still both fought on. At last one of the figures fell to his knees. It happened so fast that the choirman needed heartbeats to realize it was the golden Adonis that had fallen.
The menial had no control of what happened next; he screamed. It was the cry of mortal terror, of loss beyond any soul could ever hope to endure. Behind the Emperor’s throne, the very sky shuddered out the window, and fire rained from the stars as the universe mourned. And when the mortal’s scream abated, he turned and fled.

He had no idea where he was going. He disappeared into the shadows and found himself running blindly down endless tunnels. At one point he found himself running through corridors that seemed like they belonged in a starship. Rounding a corner brought him to the dark avenues of the City of Silence. The golden halls of the Imperial Palace gave way to ancient stone roads. Through it all he kept running, with the echoes of his own scream following. Somewhere in the midst of his flight, the menial’s mind managed to process that this was wrong. Some terrible dream.

As soon as that thought triggered, he found himself at a dead end. The hallway ended in a dark room, some form of observation lounge. A massive window overlooked the curve of Holy Terra from orbit, and the entire mass of the palace could be seen from above. The city was burning, and fire fell from his perch in space, searing the world. The man ran up to the window, slamming fists against the glass. Behind him, nothing allowed escape as shadows closed in. He was trapped, watching the end of the galaxy. He banged on the class, clawed at it. Above Terra, a star exploded over the northern plane of stars. He watched the nova expand, until a blazing eye like fire could be seen. All at once the numbered wretch knew what he had seen. All he had to do was get the warning to Him, down there in the fiery blaze that was the palace. If he could just claw through the glass…

“Dead, you say?” The Mistress of the Astropathic Choir followed her assistant, already looking bored. Telepaths burnt out all the time, after all.

“Yes, Mistress. But this one was strange. Come, see.” The assistant all but pushed the Mistress into the small cell.

Inside the sleeping chamber was a small withered husk of a man, his body pressed up against the tiny slit of a viewport his chambers provided. His eyes were gone, burnt out of their sockets, and his fingers were mangled and broken, bloody and shredded from digging and clawing. Bloodstains around the window gave evidence to that. He had bitten his tongue and choked on it, it seemed, as if the rest were not enough.

“What could have caused it?”

The Mistress had no answer. In the distance, she saw a tiny flicker in the window, through the blood. A star had blossomed from the warp, and the flicker seemed to burn, like an eye in the darkness.
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Xabre - The Three Wise Men

Vorastrix banked through a bank of flow clouds, the bronze-skinned dragon soaring towards the mountain range crowning his home. Seated upon his back, Eldran’tyr, second son of Caledor and warrior mage gave a laugh as he felt his hair catching in the cross drafts. In the distance, he saw drakes circling over his father’s home, the smaller beasts the color of old blood, larger than the great eagles that roosted in the highest peaks, but nothing compared to Vorastrix’s majesty.

Beneath them, as the dragon and rider came closer, Eldran’tyr could see regiments of heavily armored spearmen drilling. They were formed into strong phalanxes, each glittering in their mail armor, drilling with sword and shield. He saw another grouping of them off to a side, peppering targets with arrows.

“Magnificent, isn’t it Vora? Father promised me a glorious army, and he did not disappoint. I hear the drakes will come too. You will have playmates.” The elf prince laughed aloud, guiding with his knees and thoughts to bring the Sun Dragon down on the large ‘landing pad’ that had been cleared behind the keep, as befitting the lords of Caledor, where so many dragons hailed. The creature’s response echoed in his mind. Shiny elves in shiny skin. They would burn like all the rest.

The dragon landed easily, barely disrupting the loose gravel beneath them. Eldran’tyr undid his harness, and sliding down as Vorastrix lowered himself so that the mage could land easily. The onyx and crimson of Tyr’s armor whispered as his limbs flexed when he landed, the golden chains that held his spellbook twinkling against his hip. Like any elf, he was graceful in peacetime or war, and his years riding in the saddle of Vorastrix had, if anything, enhanced that.

As Eldran’tyr stepped forward, four men stepped forward to meet him. One was an older elf, dressed in crimson robes, with an elegant golden crown shaped like a dragon. The other three was girded for war in ornate but functional armor. Each carried long two-handed blades across their backs, hilts appearing from dark crimson cloaks. All three had the look of veteran warriors. In unison, the three swordsmen took to one knee, bowing their heads to the prince.

Tyr’s father bowed to no one. The current Lord of Caledor, like his predecessors, had taken the name of the realm, and answered to no other. Closer, Eldran’tyr saw that beneath the robes he was wearing dark armor, just like his own, enchanted to withstand dragonfire and the trials of aerial, mounted combat. Instead, the mage offered his own bow, at the waist as befitting his own station and his father’s.

“My lord. You summoned me home, and so I have returned.” That was a very brief summary of course; Caledor’s summons had mentioned a great gift for his son, as befitting a Dragon Prince of Caeldor, and his standing as one of the magi of the realm. His father had wished him home immediately, to put him at the head of a great army, an expedition out into the world to show the might of the Elves to all, to prove they were not a fading people.

“So I have, and so you have.” The prince agreed. With one hand, he gestured behind him, and the three stood, stepping forward. “I am sure from your perch, you saw the host I have gathered. There is a host of elven bows and spears worthy of a true prince, not to mention the drakes flying overhead, and a force of Knights, trained from my own guard. What do you say to this?”

Dragon Knights, drakes, spearmen and archers. Truly a grand force. Vora’s words echoed in Eldran’tyr’s mind, almost in time with the same words in his own thoughts. The difference was that while Eldran’tyr saw glory at such a host, his steed’s mind was mocking, as he felt that most mortals, lacking a dragon to give them strength, was just more fodder for the war.

Tyr bowed low. “I am honored by this gift, father, my lord. I will endeavor to live up to your glory, and lead this host to—“

“You misunderstand me, my son.” Caledor’s hand came out, fingers tilting Tyr’s head to look at him, and then slowly raise him to stand again. “This is your host, certainly. You will ride with it, and I have no doubt that your strength, along with Vorastrix’s,” at this the prince bowed to the Sun Dragon, for even the youngest of the great beasts were worthy of respect to the elves of Caledor, “will bring us glory and honor. But you will not be leading this force.”

That gave Tyr pause. His mind raced, thoughts tumbling through his head. He did not understand; he was a son of Caledor. Certainly, as second son he was not heir, but he was a warrior mage, with his own dragon, he deserved his own force of war! How dare his father put him beneath another lord! Force his tone calm and even, he managed to ask the next question in what he hoped was a neutral tone. “And which wiser, more experienced lord shall command, my lord?”

“Again, you misunderstand me.” Caledor spoke. Then he stepped aside, and the three armored warriors stepped forward. “Three wise men shall guide your efforts in this war. I present to you the first of a new breed of warrior for Caledor. Aldor, Gareth, and Elladan are Loremasters, trained and Hoeth in the arts of the blade, and spellwork. They are three of my greatest generals, and shall lead your force. You will learn from them, and follow their guidance.”

Generals. They were not even lords of their own houses, but generals that led his father’s men. Tyr’s jaw locked, his teeth grinding quietly. He forced his expression to remain aloof. How dare he! Slowly, cautiously as to not give away his irritation, Eldran’tyr bowed in turn to each of the three Loremasters. “I look forward to learning from you all, Masters.” He glanced back to his father. “Is that all, my lord? Vora is eager to hunt, and it has been a long flight.”

The Lord of Caledor waved his hand in dismissal, already turning back to the loremasters. Behind him, his son mounted the Sun Dragon, and they took to the skies again. He looked back to the three with a shrug. “In the fires of war are all weapons forged. You three will be my hammers. Do not fail.”
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