(1,099 words, including title)
Aldrioch – City of Giants – is exactly as I remember it. I never thought I’d see it again.
Split into several equidistant boroughs, Aldrioch was designed to be Axel Nova’s primary manufacturing center. The city was built around the Macharius Industrial Complex, a forty square mile amalgamation of manufactories, refineries, and fabrication mills sprawling across a plateau in the northeastern corner of the metropolis.
I’m a simple miner, working in the shafts that snake through the mountains behind the MIC. I live in Hittari District, a long, shallow string of identical, pre-fabricated habs that hug the northern face of the mesa. Each hab is a squat, two-story structure, nothing more than rockcrete and wood over a metal skeleton.
On this day, 427.999.M41, I’m walking back from a particularly long shift. The chalky white dust of the mines clings to my worn clothes, and I’m surrounded by fellow miners heading down the main thoroughfare that bisects the district. I’ve done this before, on this very day, and I know what’s coming.
Those around me are oblivious. I fear many of them will not live to see tomorrow.
Something compels me to look up. In the cloudless twilight sky, I see a raven circling overhead. I hear a name in my mind: Suul’Khan. I feel gratitude. It was he who gave me this gift; I won’t squander it.
The apocalypse begins in three… two… one.
A massive roar disrupts the evening peace. Seconds later, I gasp as I’m hit with a shockwave of pressurized air. All of habs’ windows are blown out, sending cascades of glass trickling down, and the support beams within groan with the effort of absorbing the impact. I turn to the south and see an immense fireball rising slowly, wreathed in thick, black smoke.
I remember that explosion; it came from the Harland Petrochemical plant, one of the oldest and most hazardous manufactories in Aldrioch. It will spark a firestorm that will feast upon the stockpiles of chemicals and other flammable materials throughout the MIC, then spread down the plateau and devour Hittari District.
Last time, I didn’t get to them quickly enough. This time will be different.
Everyone around me is stunned. I can imagine what’s going through their minds – questions like whether or not the city is under attack or whether or not their loved ones in the MIC are safe – but I don’t care. I ignore my fatigue and run westward, pumping my legs hard.
As I sprint, I pass by the innumerable loudspeakers and public viewscreens along the avenue. They halt their monotonous propaganda to broadcast emergency news reports and evacuation procedures. Now the district starts to panic. I focus only on what is directly in front of me; I have no other concern than getting home. Occasionally, I look to the south and observe the ever-growing columns of fire-lit smoke rising into the atmosphere.
Faster, faster; I have to hurry.
By the time I reach my street, my legs are heavy as lead and I’m desperately gasping for breath. I’ve pushed my body too far, but it was worth it; I still have a chance. The inferno has reached the street behind mine, spreading quickly. Smoke and ash chafe my throat and eyes. Glowing embers fly through the air, propelled by the hot gusts created by the firestorm. Sweat covers my brow, my face, and all exposed skin. My body is screaming at me, telling me not to go towards the oppressive heat of the rapidly approaching fire, but I push myself the last distance to the hab’s entrance. When I open the door, I finally let out a sigh of relief.
I stagger down the narrow hallway that connects the major rooms until I reach the door at the end. It opens into the master bedroom, and…
There they are, waiting anxiously for me.
Amanda, my wife; John, my son, nearly six this year. I feel a mixture of love and anger; they waited for me when they should’ve already evacuated. Amanda sees me and rushes over to my open arms. She’s sobbing and apologizing, saying that if they didn’t wait, there’d be little chance we would’ve found each other in the overcrowded evacuation center. She didn’t want John going through that ordeal.
“I understand, Amanda,” I assure her. “But we have to move quickly!”
As she grabs John’s hand and hurries him towards the entrance, I nearly cry tears of joy. This was the second chance I’d always wanted. The first time, I wasn’t fast enough, and I’d arrived at the hab after it had caught on fire.
I’d charged in, frantically searching through the rooms until I found Amanda and John. My son had been huddled in the near corner, but Amanda had become separated, nearly surrounded by a wall of burning death. She'd urged me to grab John and get out of there before the entire building collapsed.
I’d had a choice: heed her final wish and save my son, or sacrifice myself to get them both out. I chose the latter and regretted it the rest of my days. When I finally passed away, I thought it was salvation; I met Suul’Khan, a kindly denizen of the Warp who protected me from the ravenous harpies that tried to rip me apart and offered me a chance to rectify my mistake. I accepted his offer and received this gift. I’m forever in his debt.
I follow my family towards the entrance. Amanda reaches out and opens the door, then collapses with a heavy thud. John faints a moment later. Alarmed, I rush over to them and see a lanky, shadowy figure blocking the doorway. I stare at its avian face and the name slithers through my mind: Suul’Khan.
“What are you doing?” I ask, betrayed.
It cackles and snaps two of its elongated, feathery fingers. The hallway around me bursts into flames, and I watch as they consume Amanda and John. Why? How could he do this to me? My disbelief turns into rage as my skin begins to char. I scream as I die, cursing Suul’Khan’s name. The daemon delights in my torment, and the last thing I see are its malevolent blue eyes.
“So entertaining,” the daemon hisses, chuckling. “This soul has plenty of guilt left to exploit. I shall let him save his family once more.”
With a subtle thought, the reality in its realm is erased and rebuilt, including the plaything’s most recent memories.
Aldrioch – City of Giants – is exactly as I remember it. I never thought I’d see it again.
“Blameless Skies” (1099 words, not including title)
Stepping through the lidless scarlet eye, she is in ‘a-place-which-is-not-a-place’, somewhere other than reality; where dream-stuff is made and imaginations cavort with one another in limitless carnality.
Idols of Gods lie shattered amongst creeping vines which entwine like lovers amongst the broken pink-flecked cobblestones.
Upon a cerise lounge-seat reclines a human, his pure skin radiating menace and enthrallment in equal measure. Like an opening door inside empty lodgings, his words and energy lure her to know more, even though she knows doing so will be her end.
“You arrived not a moment too soon! This place bores me so, but I like revisiting past achievements.
“Let me ask: Which type of God denies you the lusts which you have always wished to slake; or the sensations which you can only dream about?”
“When I can give all that you desire, what use is Khorne, the so-called ‘Lord of Skulls’..?
“At my side, rivers of gore await your merest beckoning: Foes will quail in terror beneath your majesty, unheeding your peerless deathblow which panics their entire army.
“Friends shall throw themselves onto their own blades; not because they love death or hate life, but merely for a chance their exultant demises may catch your glance.
“What blight could Nurgle’s rotting corpulence bestow to dull the glory I proffer?
“An offer of life surrounded by dead flesh and maggotted decay? No! I refuse for one so blessed to be reduced to the level of my brother’s eaters-of-corpses.”
The courtyard walls of this ‘room-that-is-not-a-room’ shake with unbridled fury, irreparably damaging priceless paintings, statues forever broken by madness.
“What, then, of the originator: the God of Change? Constant inconsistency?!
“Why would anybody reject life singularly dedicated to realms of pleasure and exuberance?
“He offers a life allied to base sorcery, but is this trifle to be your allocation? Magic affords great power, yet exacts a steep price, neglecting vitality, sensation and emotion...all of which are necessary to feel truly alive.”
“Even should someone take my brothers’ allegiance, if any experience joy or fulfilment in their works, they nevertheless contribute towards me.
"You know this to be true. There is but one choice, for am I not a giving God as always promised?
"Glory in the new talents bestowed upon you. Yet, for every gift, there has to be a price:
“Most loyal maiden, deprave yourself in every way you crave...become more than you ever thought possible, although someone less than you always were...”
Her merest gasp of wonder at these possibilities is sufficient agreement for The Gift to latch upon her like the most determined paramour.
Although every nerve-ending and sense rebels at this initial violation, her next heartbeat welcomes the intrusions which invade the rest of her form.
Synapses quickly fill to overloading and (with no way to stop the empowerment even had she willed it to cease) bolts of electricity course through her body, contorting her limbs in every possible direction.
In spasming frenzy, muscles and bones continuously tear, break and reform under inhuman strain and she collapses to the marbled floor, screaming with ecstasy and agony in equal measure until unconsciousness robs her of sight and thought.
When vision and control finally return, it takes several moments to realise her talons have grown: now four feet in length, their new pearlescent lilac hues catch the pale skittering light, brazenly attempting to bedazzle and beguile even their owner.
She grins -perhaps a little too widely- at the thought this effect will have upon her foes.
Leaning upon new-formed limbs, she catches sight of her own reflection in the marbled fountain: three pupil-less jade eyes stare back, roaming across an image of armoured yellow skin, the several rows of needle-teeth which overfill her oral cavity and a face adorned with a crown of slender horns akin to the herbivore antee-lopes of Ind.
This is knowledge she never possessed whilst mortal, but it now lies amongst an intriguing archive of information already held by her new form.
As he flits between the tongues of this world, his voice is so clear and precise; she understands the hidden meanings behind the words of all races, not just their traditional diction.
Despite hearing the frantic carving of her claws which gouge and break the intricately carved floor as she stands, there is something inherently ‘wrong’.
A tiny part of her acknowledges that this is something she should take note of, but it is submerged beneath a tide of longing as his gaze locks with hers.
Although his lips do not move, her voice is not hers to command as she echoes his words: “Always -and forever- mine...”
Allegiance duly sworn, her new form -Sharessa- stands before her lover...her master...her mistress.
Incautiously ignoring any mental differences which have occurred, her eyes blink against the maelstrom of colours which now swirl around her, simultaneously calling her in two directions.
His soft voice touches her earlobe with feather-like delicacy:
“The option to the right offers an eternity at my side...things will change, but you will no longer care.”
“The option to the left returns you to where you once were, with a chance to now make a difference, but only thanks to me...”
The right doorway holds a scene of milky blue, where strange and unnervingly wondrous animals eagerly lap at the waters, before their eyes lose focus and they slump into pleasurable langour and indolence.
On the left, the life she left behind -full of torment and anguish- those she loved cut down around her. But her new form now offers more comforts and opportunities than she had ever believed possible and she approaches this second portal.
“There will have been changes since you left and the world will not be as you knew,” the God warns.
“Only by dying at another’s hand can you come back to me, whereupon each time we shall resume this conversation.”
Stepping through the sinister opening, she returns to the corpse-field she had departed:
Beheading her first eager opponent, she feels nothing as her razor-sharp claws shear his neck.
Moving faster, her entranced opponents fall to each blow, yet her limbs register no impacts.
Gore fountains from slashed torso’s and rent limbs; she smells the vitae’s coppery tang, but there is no dripping of the scarlet liquid upon her flesh.
Pausing, the grass and rocks beneath her naked feet are neither cool nor sharp; the wind which bends the trees does not cool her skin.
Stripped of the sensation of touch, she has now become as unfeeling as her God and she howls her loss, deprivation and self-loathing against the blameless skies.
Great stories so far, everyone!
As ever, the words of my tales are mine, but I can't lay claim to the concepts or inspiration.
There might be some punctuation mistakes here(?). If so, please let me know so I can put them right to make a better read for yourselves.
popping them out all over the shop here
and some of them are fantastic,
in contrast especially after my underwhelming entry last time :(
i struggle for inspiration
Not that I really know but, speaking for myself: I don't 'write', I 'transcribe', so it's "100% inspiration and 0% perspiration" for me so (perhaps?) I feel your pain.
I think stories are a bit like the old joke about buses: Sometimes, they don't come at all; at other times, you might get 3 or 4 coming along at once.
For me, stories come somewhat sporadically. Sometimes I can be inspired to write volumes, other times I couldn't get a word down that looked right to save my life. But generally they flow well enough.
Old Acquaintances (1,085 words, excluding title)
As the army slowly awoke beneath Mithrahc’s decrepit palace, the cryptek Seprin made his way deeper into the underground labyrinth than even the spyders knew to tread. Here he had buried long ago his most precious of prizes; the last of Mithrahc’s “servants” still to hold loyalty to him. Seprin was under no illusions that the coming of Nemreth had tipped the odds firmly against him. If the cryptek was ever to take his vengeance on the old phaeron, he would need the support of those he could count on. Even though Mithrahc had not ordered the awakening of the other two crypteks, Seprin could easily claim a misinterpretation of the order.
Once Lirac and Neka were awakened, there would be little the old fool could do. He passed through an archway barely remembered in his crystalline circuitry and walked a corridor utterly devoid of light or ornament. His eyes saw not the physical walls of this pathway but instead the layout of the complex before him. He navigated by a projected map on his senses, the absolute dark having rendered him all but blind.
Finally he reached the chamber his circuits told him was his destination. With a hard to recall thought command, the large room illuminated. A dim green glow revealed the details and contents that Seprin had all but forgotten over the long sleep. Innocuous cabling was scattered about, simple glyphs adorning the walls in ancient script, and in the centre of the room lay two sarcophagi that were twins to each other in every way.
If Seprin could smile, he would have as he prepared to return this place to awakening...
* * *
With Alkvar to one side and Nemreth and Arakyr to the other, Mithrahc watched as his legions rose from their tombs by the dozen. Adding to the lychguard and immortals that had already stirred, uncountable Necron warriors emerged from their alcoves and fell into marching order, overseen by clusters of Canoptek Spyders and nanoscarabs. Adding to their ranks were the ponderous Ghost Arks and Annihilation Barges, supported from behind by the lethal Doomsday Arks and Monoliths.
‘This day, has been too long in coming.’ Mithrahc spoke with an air of nostalgia. ‘And now we finally prepare for our return to power.’
‘Indeed my lord.’ Nemreth added. ‘With what we have here, capturing the god shard I reported will be within our means. With it in our control, few will be able to stand between us and our victory.’
Gibbering laughter could be heard as somewhere out of sight, the Flayer Re’kyt responded gleefully to the newly arrived of his own kind. Drawn by the mobilization and the promise of blood, more flayers had begun to gather and instinctively sought out the former noble as a dominant and cunning leader.
‘Brothers and sisters come to me!’ The deranged killer bellowed with a cackle of ecstasy. ‘We will feast tonight!’
His ramblings were largely ignored by the nobles except for a slight chuckle by Mithrahc himself. This would indeed be a day to remember.
* * *
All had gone well so far. Despite the ages and the barely generated power being sent here, the two sleeping crypteks had survived stasis intact. As Seprin watched the final stages of revivification playing out, he could barely contain his anticipation. On the left, one of the vibrating sarcophagi finally cracked as its occupant sought release into the world.
‘Lirac, step forth my able apprentice.’ Seprin called.
‘Sixty million years... And still am I beholden to you?’ Came the answer as Lirac stepped forth. She had been not long out of childhood when biotransference had been instigated and only her status as a cryptek allowed her mind to remain intact. It was unusual for a woman to hold a title of importance in necrontyr society, yet Seprin had taken it upon himself to tutor two female apprentices, the second of whom even now stepped forth from her own erstwhile bed.
‘It is our place.’ Neka said, speaking to Lirac. Both of them spoke with a metallic tinge of a typical Necron, made eerie by the feminine tinge they both carried.
Neka’s form was one of a multi-limbed goddess, slender and seeming to lack physical presence. Her two legs were reverse jointed like a swift running beast of old times and her six arms rested in a myriad of peacock-like patterns, framing her teardrop shaped death mask.
Lirac by contrast was an intimidating figure, appearing as a simple mask and spine surrounded by a swarm of nanoscarabs that constituted her body and limbs. Neither one had been designed with combat in mind, but in the past when needs were dire, both had proven themselves capable of massive devastation. Neka wielded raw energy and plied her craft as a plasmancer, while Lirac was far more subtle and employed the craft of an ethermancer to destroy her foes from afar.
Seprin laughed. It had been too long since he had enjoyed the company of his most able servants. Mithrahc feared what they could accomplished and had barred Seprin from both awakening them and from wearing the true body he had crafted for himself. But that time would come, and when it did his rebirth would be complete. For now, this small victory would be enough.
* * *
‘If I could feel...’ Mithrahc began, speaking to the many thousands of Necrons marching before him. ‘I would feel reborn. I would feel the power of millennia coursing through embattled veins. I would feel the promise of conquest and glory waiting to be seized by my own gauntleted fist!’
Countless empty eyes stared back, utterly uncomprehending of what their king spoke. From his Command Barge above the throng marching through the main assembly chamber he watched. It was a massive and vast room that would fit his legion fully one and a half times over, stretching several kilometres in all directions.
‘Instead...’ Mithrahc continued. ‘I feel nothing. I have no joy in this. I have no anticipation of what we will accomplish...’
Of course you don’t. Seprin sniggered from afar as he listened via the Tomb Matrix. Your emotions belong to me now you senile old fool.
‘But even so.’ Mithrahc concluded. ‘We will conquer everything. We will re-capture the gods themselves and bring the upstart young races to their knees. They will serve us as is their place! And we will reign supreme forever. My legions...’
Silence pervaded the vast chamber as Mithrahc slowly raised his arms above his head.
‘ONWARDS MY CHILDREN, TO CONQUEST!’
Expeditious Stories 12-03: Rebirth
Word Count: 1,092
Groynstompa startled at the shout, turned, and blanched. He released the gretchin he’d been holding down and torturing with his grabba-stikk and ran before the approaching runtherd could zap him with some judicious voltage.
Nikappa picked Chiptoof the gretchin up out of the mud. “Youse iz betta den ‘e iz. Youse shmat fo’ a grot.” He slipped the gretchin a knife that was almost a shortsword in its hands. “Go show da lad wot youse made of.”
“You’z now Kitbash! You’z goin’ help me build.” Big Mek Zagdreg prodded the cringing gretchin’s chin, chest, and legs with the head of a mace as big as it was. “Den you’z goin’ be wun pilot.” The gretchin’s eyes never left the mace head of stacked gears and cogs. Zagdreg watched the gretchin for a moment, then seeing that it was sufficiently cowed, stomped back to his shop. “Oy, Kitbash! Git in ‘ere!”
The newly named Kitbash looked around for cover.
“Now!” The bellow shook loose a sheet of corrugated iron from the roof; it clattered against the cracked mud of the flats.
Kitbash ran as fast as his legs could carry him; as he pumped his arms, the basket that was still in his clenched fist scattered the fungus he’d been collecting for the brewerz.
Chiptoof checked the squiggut binding the knife to the haft and then the rope cinched at his waist once more. He only had one chance at this. Holding him makeshift halberd aloft, he took a couple of deep breaths and began running toward a large hole in the ground as rope played out behind him, “Wun, too, tree—waaagh!”
Still screaming, he leapt into the dark, thrust his halberd down, and adjusted his aim. A few seconds later, there was a short, sharp squelch as his halberd impaled the squig that had been eager to receive with mouth agape the falling gretchin.
Breathing hard, Chiptoof undid the rope, retrieved his knife, and struggled with the dead weight of the squig as he tied up its tail.
Climbing the rope, he pulled himself out of the cesspit. Now came the hard part. It took him nearly an hour before he managed to drag the squig up and out.
“‘Ere’s yer bitz. Now where’s me leg?” Kitbash set down a metal tray, grating, and coal filched from around Zagdreg’s workshop.
Chiptoof jammed his knife into the squig’s hip joint and casually dismembered it. He held up the severed leg. As Kitbash reached for it, Chiptoof pulled it back. “Youse wants me to barbeque it?”
“Youse gonna luv it.” Chiptoof grinned. “Can you gets sum beer?”
“Squig onna stikk! ‘Ot an’ fresh! Git yer squig onna stikk ‘ere! One toof only!” With a practiced hand, Chiptoof turned the skewers on his portable grill as his other hand brushed on a thick brown sauce. He was making teef hand over fist. Kitbash and his mates had come by earlier and bought three skewers off him. They had promised to return with more teef. He smiled to himself; soon he’d buy a dead killy blasta. He’d paint it red with his blood afterward.
The gretchin turned and saw Nikappa striding toward him. As the runtherd approached, he flicked a toof over to the gretchin. Chiptoof’s hand blurred, pocketing the toof, and offering a skewer. “‘Ere you go, boss.”
“Dis not wot I tawt you wuz goin’ do.” Nikappa eyed the skewer for a moment and then bit. “Mmm. Tasty.” He bought a couple more and walked off, looking for a good vantage point for the contest.
“Oy, git back ‘ere!”
Chiptoof turned at the commotion. One of the face-biter squigs for the upcoming kissing contest was scurrying around and through the legs of the Ork crowd. Groynstompa was in pursuit.
The crowd began to open up to let the runtherd through. Some Orks pointed and laughed, others exchanged teef in bets.
Chiptoof saw that the squig was running toward him and automatically dropped down into a crouch. As the squig hopped over cowering Chiptoof, Groynstompa lunged, with his grot-prod extended and its voltage near maximum.
Coarse laughter erupted from the crowd at the public failure. Minutes later, unnoticed, Kitbash dragged the electrocuted Chiptoof away.
“Boss, I gots ya wun pilot, so I don gotta be wun, rite?”
Zagdreg turned away from the killa kan to find Kitbash dragging another gretchin into the workshop. “Das stone cold dat iz. Doin’ dat ta wun o’ yer mates.” He nodded in approval. “Put ‘um on da slab an’ giv’ me wun o’ dem wot smells good ya got dere.”
Chiptoof woke to the taste of copper in his mouth. In the time it took him to understand what had happened to him, his systems had warmed up. Gradually, he began to distinguish light from cookfires, bonfires, and random arson. These lent the base camp a ruddy glow.
Zagdreg woke to the reverberating howl and the following tinny, manic laughter; in the darkness, he grinned as he heard the pistons work. Kitbash had also heard and whimpered even as he continued to gnaw on a leftover squig leg.
In the morning, Nikappa stood in the doorway of the gretchin’s hovel. “Wun, too, tree, fo’, fiv’, lots.” A lot of gretchin had been stomped into the mud of the floor and unable to extract themselves had suffocated.
Shaking his head at the waste, he walked over to his fellow runtherd’s hut. He wasn’t about to clean up this mess by himself. “Oy, Groynstompa, ya lazy git!”
Shoving the door open, Nikappa winced at what was inside. The back of the hut was gone. By the light of the morning sun, Groynstompa lay, pinned to the ground at his neck by his own grabba-stikk. His grot-prod had been shoved into his vulnerables. From his rictus and the scorched smell, voltage had been at maximum.
Nikappa pulled the grot-prod free with some difficulty and worked the controls. Electricity arced from the other end. Well, it was his now. Before leaving, he quietly ransacked the rest of the hut.
Zagdreg fiddled with the buzz-saw arm on the killa kan. He was bothered by the fact that an electrical shock had shorted out the control mechanism in the limb so easily; he barely noticed the fact that the killa kan was facing in the opposite direction he had left it last night or covered in mud. “Had fun did ya?” A disingenuous snore issued from the kan’s looted vox-caster. Zagdreg laughed. He was definitely building another one.
1,093 words (not including title). More Steel Wardens bolter action :)
A Boarding Action
"Nigra Mortis! Nigra Mortis!"
Brother-Sergeant Pontius tried his best to ignore the infernal chanting. The vox-net had been secured from scrapcode incursions. The squad was already reciting the Litany of Purity. But it was all to no avail; the damn warp-spawned voice was speaking the words directly into their minds.
Another group of misshapen forms appeared down the corridor. They were terrible, bloated beings that were leaking pus and excrement. They were the remnants of the derelict ship's crew, who were suffering an agony worse than death.
Pontius freed them from their pain with three bursts of his boltgun.
"The Estimates are growing worse by the minute, Brother-Sergeant!" said his second-in-command, Brother-Logis Archmides, "We require decisive action!"
A fresh wave of the warp-maddened crew appeared ahead of the Pontius team, while more shambled towards them from behind. Other Steel Wardens took up positions and began gunning them down, while the Brother-Sergeant held off on making his decision. To push forward, he knew that somebody had to be left behind.
"Novice Felix!" Pontius shouted, turning to the young Astartes, "I know this is your first Quest with us, but you will have the honor of serving as the rearguard."
"Understood, Brother-Sergeant," Felix replied with no hint of emotion in his voice.
"I will not lie to you. You will not survive."
Felix snorted under his helmet, "Don't be so sure, Brother-Sergeant. I am not so easy to kill."
Pontius ignored the snide remark, “Would you like to request any additional war gear?”
“I already have a demolition charge, just in case,” Felix replied as he readied his boltgun, “But I would like to ask for a melee weapon, for when the ammunition runs out.”
Brother-Sergeant Pontius nodded and drew his blade. It was a fine weapon – a Brennic Psi-sword - but Pontius never liked it very much. Like most of his fellow Steel Wardens, he believed in the primacy of ranged combat.
“A blade from my home world,” Felix said approvingly as the Sergeant handed him the weapon, “I thank you for this, Brother-Sergeant. The Emperor Protects.”
“And the Omnissiah watches over us,” the Sergeant replied, before turning to face the foes blocking their way to the lift, “Pontius Team, on me! Assault Pattern Omega-Two!”
With those four words, each member of the squad instantly knew his place. Brother Manlius took the lead, driving back the horde with shorts bursts from his flamer. A pair of Battle-Brothers marched beside him, their bolters set to single shot, and they expertly picked off any who had survived the flames.
The remaining six Space Marines – Pontius included – followed in their wake to protect the flanks and rear. Every intersection and side-compartment had to be cleared or bypassed. Grenades were used liberally, as was Brother Camilus’ Heavy Bolter. It seemed like an eternity before they reached the lifts.
But in reality, it only took them less than fifteen minutes of intense corridor-to-corridor fighting. They had dangerously depleted their supplies of ammunition, and most had suffered some damage to their power armor. But every member of the squad had made it without injury – except one.
The ship shuddered as a demolition charge went off. Pontius did not bother to check his auspex for life signs. Novice Felix had done his duty.
“I have lift controls!” said Brother-Logis Archimedes, just as the doors slammed themselves shut, “We will reach the bridge momentarily!”
“My fellow Wardens, prepare yourselves!” Pontius ordered, “Our warp-spawned foe awaits!”
His men did not reply with words, but with actions. They assumed firing positions. The moment the doors opened, they were ready to unleash a barrage of devastating explosive rounds at whatever monster lurked in the bridge.
Yet somehow, they were still taken by surprise.
As the doors opened, a mass of tentacles suddenly swarmed in. The Space Marines opened fire, but their bolter rounds had little effect. One tentacle wrapped itself around Archimedes’ head and popped it like a melon. Brother Camilus shouted as something grabbed him by the leg and dragged him into the center of the swirling mass. Blood and Ceramite spurted out after it swallowed him whole.
“Keep firing! Keep firing!” Pontius shouted, as the monster grabbed two more Marines and consumed them. Manlius tried to hose the daemon with flames, only to be slapped backwards by one of the tentacles.
Finally, in desperation, Pontius primed a Melta-Bomb and threw it at the daemon-thing’s mouth. If his team was fated to die, then they were going to take Nigra Mortis with them.
Everything went white as the bomb went off. Pontius felt himself thrown off his feet, and he landed somewhere hard and painful. Bones were broken, and he suspected that he had also suffered internal injuries. By some miracle, the auspex still functioned, and revealed to him that three of his men had survived the gambit, albeit they were all unconscious.
But then Pontius realized they were not the only ones to survive the blast. Writhing in agony, with half of its mass torn off, Nigra Mortis was still alive.
Pontius tried to reach for his boltgun, but the enraged daemon smashed it to pieces before he could do so. The daemon grabbed his arms, and then his legs. It held him aloft, spread-eagled, before once again shouting its name.
Pontius did not close his eyes. He waited for the killing blow.
But instead a blur went past him, and suddenly he was free. A new voice somehow drowned out the daemon’s screams.
“Vae Victis!” shouted Novice Felix, as he plunged the psi-blade into the heart of the warp-spawned beast. There was a final horrendous scream.
And then finally, silence.
Breathing heavily, Pontius managed to sit up. He stared at Novice Felix – battered and wounded - yet still alive.
“You’re supposed to be dead,” Pontius said dryly.
“My apologies, Brother-Sergeant,” Felix replied snidely, “But our calculations are called “Estimates” and not “Certainties” for a reason.”
“And how did you get up here so quickly?” Pontius wanted to know.
”Stairs, sir,” Felix answered with a shrug, “Good, strong, steel stairs.”
It was Pontius’ turn to snort under his armor. “Very well. Inform the fleet that we have accomplished our Quest.”
“Only a full Battle-Brother is allowed that honor,” Felix pointed out.
“Indeed, Battle-Brother Felix,” Pontius explained.
Underneath his armor, no one could see Felix’s proud smile. He was still smiling as he spoke into the vox.
”This is the Pontius team, our Quest is complete. This ship is no longer the Nigra Mortis. This ship is once again the Might of Akkadia.”
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