Heresy-Online's Expeditious Stories 12-08: Loyalty
Welcome to the year's eighth Heresy-Online's Expeditious Stories (HOES) Challenge!
For those of you that are unfamiliar with HOES, here's how it works:
Each month, there will be a thread posted in the Original Works forum for that month's HOES competition. For those of you interested in entering, read the entry requirements, write a story that fits the chosen theme and post it as a reply to the competition thread by the deadline given. Each and every member of Heresy Online is more than welcome to compete, whether your entry is your first post or your thousandth. We welcome everyone to join the family of the Fan Fiction Forum.
Once the deadline has passed, a separate voting thread will be posted, where the readers and writers can post their votes for the top three stories. Points will be awarded (3 points for 1st, 2 for 2nd, and 1 for 3rd) for each vote cast, totaled at the closure of the voting window, and a winner will be announced. The winner will have his/her story added to the Winning HOES thread.
The idea with the theme is that it should serve as the inspiration for your stories rather than a constraint. While creative thinking is most certainly encouraged, the theme should still be relevant to your finished story. The chosen theme can be applied within the WH40K, WHF, HH, and even your own completely original works (though keep in mind, this IS a Warhammer forum) but there will be no bias as to which setting is used for your story.
As far as the theme goes, please feel free with future competitions to contact me with your ideas/proposals, especially given that my creative juices may flow a bit differently than yours. All I ask is that you PM me your ideas rather than posting them into the official competition entry/voting threads to keep posts there relevant to the current competition.
The official word count for this competition will be 1,000 words. There will be a 10% allowance in this limit, essentially giving you a 900-1,100 word range with which to tell your tale. This is non-negotiable. This is an Expeditious Story competition, not an Epic Story nor an Infinitesimal Story competition. If you are going to go over or under the 900-1,100 word limit, you need to rework your story. It is not fair to the other entrants if one does not abide by the rules. If you cannot, feel free to PM me with what you have and I'll give suggestions or ideas as to how to broaden or shorten your story.
Each entry must have a word count posted with it. Expect a reasonably cordial PM from me (and likely some responses in the competition thread) if you fail to adhere to this rule. The word count can be annotated either at the beginning or ending of your story, and does not need to include your title.
Without further ado...
The theme for this month's competition is:
Entries should be posted in this thread, along with any comments that the readers may want to give (and comments on stories are certainly encouraged in both the competition and voting threads!) 40K, 30K, WHF, and original universes are all permitted (please note, this excludes topics such as Halo, Star Wars, Forgotten Realms, or any other non-original and non-Warhammer settings). Keep in mind, comments are more than welcome! If you catch grammar or spelling errors, the writers are all more than free to edit their piece up until the close of the competition, and that final work will be the one considered for voting. Sharing your thoughts with the writers as they come up with their works is a great way to help us, as a FanFiction community, grow as a whole.
The deadline for entries is Midnight US Eastern Standard Time (-5.00 hours for you UK folks)Monday, 27 August 2012. Voting will be held from 28 August - 3 September. Remember, getting your story submitted on August 8 will be just as considered by others as one submitted on August 23! Take as much time as you need to work on your piece!
If simply being victorious over your comrades is not enough to possess you to write a story, there will be rep rewards granted to those that participate in the HOES Challenge.
Participation - 5 reputation points, everyone will receive this
3rd place - 10 reputation points
2nd place - 20 reputation points
1st place - 30 reputation points
If you have any questions, feel free to either PM me or ask in this thread.
Without further nonsense from me, let the writing begin!
Table of Contents
Romero's Own: Apostasy
Son of Azurman: The Return of Knight Brightsword
Andygorn: Purpose Renewed
VulkansNodosaurus: Written in Steel
Adrian: Inquisitor Repentant
Rems: Flickering Embers
Dave T Hobbit: Freedom
Zinegata: Where True Loyalties Lie
Liliedhe: The Choice
Bloody Mary: Of Beasts and Men
now heres a loaded one...so many connoations to be used....
I was inspired by Dave's topic from last month (as Duty is one of the US Army core values as well as one of my alma mater) so decided to pick another from that same avenue of thought. And it's certainly broad enough to be interpreted in enough ways that we should get some great stories :)
well done mr Boc and nice to see you back, just wherever you get deployed be safe i have cousins in the military so i know the worry that comes with it
Just looking through a dictionary (as you do :P) and realized the meanings kind of did contradict. So i wrote a story. YAY.
997 words in total, you can check
Chen Lopez was confused.
It wasn't good to be confused on the battlefield, especially when said battlefield involved battle against Sisters of Battle bringing battle to those seeking to battle against Man, the Emperor and the cult based on said emperor. But it was where his confusion stemmed from nonetheless. Why the realization that the citizens of Fodera were not alone on the fringes of the galaxy wasn't the momentous event it was supposed to be. Why the alien ships were actually crewed by fellow humans, said to have originated from the lost homeworld of Foderan myth. Why those humans had descended to the surface and declared that they were purging heretics.
Ducking down in his trench, one of many outside the last bastion of hope that was the planet's capital, Chen reflected that the way the battle was going, it soon wouldn't matter, that they were as good as dead already. Still, as he raised his rifle over the ridge and began pounding away at the approaching enemy, he supposed he might as well take out as many of the bastards as possible.
"Keep up the fire!"
More screams on his end. Screams nearly drowned out by the war cries of the invaders. Invaders that were all female for some reason, armed and armoured far better than Fodera's defenders and apparently more devout to their cause as well. A cause that had "the emperor" uttered in seemingly every sentence.
"For the Emperor!"
"Forward Sisters! Saint Sebastian demands it!"
Yeah, you do that, Chen reflected, managing to pop off one of the warrior women as she exited from what was apparently called a Rhino. You do that…
There were other reasons behind this invasion, or at least according to intelligence. They'd been monitoring the invaders' communications as best they could, and apparently their state body (called the Imperium) had emerged from what their scholars were calling the Age of Apostasy. Some kind of religious civil war where their homeworld had been usurped by someone called Vandire, only to be cast down by Saint Sebastian Thor. Right now, the Imperium was engaged in the "Age of Redemption," cleansing apostasy from the stars and delivering death to those who rejected His divine word.
People like those of Fodera…
Chen opened fire at the invaders, but it was like casting stones into a stream in the hope it would stop the flow. Here and there one of the women fell, but their armour absorbed most of the shots and their own return fire was notoriously accurate and deadly. His comrades were falling alongside him and all Chen could do was dive for cover as a grenade cleared out the rest of the trench section. And as he steadily rose to his feet, he saw two things-warrior women surging up through the trench…and one of them levering her oversized pistol at him.
"Die, heretic…" she uttered.
Surprisingly, she did. Surprisingly, she lowered her pistol. Surprisingly, Chen lowered his rifle as well. And to add to his surprise, he managed to keep his gaze on her face rather than her armour-covered chest area.
"Speak, heretic…" the woman said. "I may hear your words and judge you."
The pistol was raised again.
"Just…just…tell me why!" Chen burst out.
"Why are you attacking us? Why…why does this Age of Redemption you speak of have to amount to this?" He gestured around the trench. "Why just attack? I mean, we have open minds, we would have heard you out and-…"
"An open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded."
Chen blinked. Was that a quote? Certainly it seemed a bit forced in for casual conversation. Still, at least the Battle Sister seemed intent on talking more with a bit more clarity.
"This is a crusade," she explained. "To erase the shame of the Age of Apostasy. To bring redemption to heretics, and-…"
"Wait…apostasy…heretics?" Chen asked. "You know, those are two separate things you're talking about."
"Well…" the soldier began, trying to think clearly and ignore the screams emanating from further down the trench. "The definition of heresy is when an individual or group's beliefs stand in contrast to those of the accuser. By that definition, in your eyes, we'd be heretics."
The woman smiled. "Good. You admit your fault."
"Um, sure. But apostasy's different. Apostasy is formal disassociation from a religion after prior association. But Fodera has never been part of the Imperium. We've been cut off ever since the warp storms of the distant past, before your Imperium was apparently founded. You can't accuse us of apostasy when we technically never committed it."
The sister remained silent. If he was making any chinks in her intellect (or lack of it), Chen couldn't see. Still, her pistol was still lowered, so that was a plus. Maybe…just maybe…he could end this war right now.
"So, under these definitions…" the 'heretic' began, "this isn't a war against apostasy, but mere heresy. So in light of that, surely you could give us a chance to repent and all that rather than charging us with an action we never actually committed?"
Chen met the woman's gaze. Her pistol was still lowered. Her mouth was still silent. Her chest area was becoming more and more appealing. Perhaps this would be the turning point in the war. Perhaps a chance for peace existed. Perhaps…
"Die heretic," the sister whispered, raising her pistol. "You won't confuse me with your definitions and heathen logic."
Chen fell silent.
That's what happened when a depleted uranium round shattered your skull.
As the sister turned away for a second she found herself questioning her loyalty. But these people were heretics, their mind games would not work on her.
will probably get it up tomorrow
wont be entering, we finally got a completion date for our move and it means no internet after the 16th for a while, so i would not be able to vote.....good luck guys
The return of knight brightsword
14 years,14 years its been since i had set foot on my own home planet and now this happens, i should never have left. mau’kraal was my home,my birth place and my childhood.i did this,if i had never have left than maybe i could of helped them,i could of helped them escape but now its too late.
as a tau i was born on the world of mau’kraal,born to a loving family and a breathtaking land.since a young age there has always been a fire in my heart,a fire that allowed me to travel great distances and overcome large obstacles and when i became a shas’la i used that fire to gun down my foes and impress my superiors.upon reaching the rank of shas’ui my superiors noticed me,they noticed my talent and saw my fire.an ethereal called aun’vre vior’la shi’shas approached me,he asked me if i wanted to follow my heart.at first i didn't understand what he meant but i answered,yes i said and before i knew it i was fighting for vior’la.
i spent the next 10 years fighting for my new sept and spilling blood in the name of the greater good.My name is shas’el mau’kraal or’es m’yen var (fire knight mau’kraal powerful unforeseen brightsword)my home is in danger and i will defend it whatever the odds.my duty to the empire,my fire as a shas’vre and my loyalty to my family these are what drive me and now it will drive me into the heart of this evil.
“shas’vre we are approaching the surface now,the demon forces broke threw the defenses before anyone could respond leaving the civilians an easy target.the civilians and remaining shas’la are making a stand 11 tor’kan from the landing space.we are landing here as it is the only place on the surface that the chaos forces are not monitoring,try and make your way to the survivors outflanking the demons and distract them enough that our reinforcements can land,”came the pilots voice.
“i understand,hover here and i will drop down to the surface.i don't want to risk you getting shot down,”i replied
“very well,for the greater good.”
“for the greater good,”i muttered as i prepared my xv9 for battle.
with an ion gun on one arm and a burst cannon on the other i was ready.
slowly the doors of the orca opened to reveal the rocky,sandy surface of mau’kraal.
as the hazard suits legs approach the edge of the ramp i gaze around to look upon what remained of my home.mau’kraal was once a land of tall mountains,long green fields and clean blue water falls but it had since been transformed into a rocky,corrupted world were dust and ash had replaced the grass.the cataclysmic arrival of chaos was killing his world but i still had time,time to drive back there forces and send them to whence they came.
as i dropped to the surface the orca that had dropped me off closed the ramp and set off back into space,before it could return a demon prince swooped at the orca crashing it to the ground and then flew off again.i slowly gazed around hoping i hadn’t been noticed.the horror of seeing my home like this was murderous like a claw around my heart,but i will not yield no not wile i could save them.the faces and corpses of tau littered the surface,there bodies scarred and there faces were filled with horror.how could they,how could something be so heartless.as my hazard suit navigated its way around burning wreckage and skull piles my eyes looked forward as i knew that looking back would bring only despair.
as i passed the wreckage of a mau’kraal orca i heard it,something was moving in amongst the wreckage.a demon?no,this was no demon it couldn't be. as i opened up the remains of the cargo bay i saw him.he looked up at me,never before had i seen such fear.my own father how could it be,his scarred blue face covered in dirt and blood splatter.his clothes torn and burnt,his legs crushed under a fallen drone.slowly i removed my helmet,this was my father i could not deny him to see his son for the last time.as my head was free of my helmet i placed it on the ground and gazed down at him,upon seeing my face his eyes became flooded in tears.the joy that appeared on his face was more than anyone had seen,hope had returned to his weakened face.i quickly grabbed the drone and threw it across the orca,i reached out and carried his body outside like a new born baby.
“o how very touching,”chuckled a corrupt voice.
i looked up and there he stood,his armor blood red with gold trims.along his waist dangled severed heads and skulls of tau and men,on his chest and shoulders lay the same gold symbol.his head corrupted and evil,a star shape had been cut into his forehead and wires inserted into his neck.this was a lord,a lord of chaos and destruction,a lord who had committed atrocities so large that they ad been heard across the galaxy.this was a minion of blood and his gold symbols showed it.
“welcome to my new home,i hope you like what ive done with the place,”he mocked.
“how could you,they were innocent and you hunted them for sport.
oh im sorry but i think its a little to late now,once that last group are finished this world will be taken by he glory of khorne.join me and you will rule the stars.”yelled the khorne worsipper.
“Never will i join a pawn of chaos!”i screamed charging into him.
Hi all, glad to be back here after a short absence and looking forwards to seeing people's thoughts.
As ever, these are not my thoughts, they are the thoughts which came to me. I usually put things down as they come to me, but I think it makes the tales quite a lot stilted and 'bitty'...there's often many different things and I should realise by now that there's not enough space in 1100 words to put them all down satisfactorily.
I haven't read everything published by BL/GW, so I hope you'll give me a bit of ''artistic licence'' if any of this obviously contradicts the published/canon background.
**********1st Draft in case of typo's**********
“Purpose Renewed" (1097 words)
Upon a field of bleached bones, beneath impossibly azure skies, a warrior falls...the last of her tribe. Screaming in agony, the intended death-blow spins her around and her spear impales the head of the man who thought to kill her. He had not been very wrong, but hers is the last body to crumple amongst the ashes of millions of fallen.
Limp fingers try to stem the flow of vitality, holding onto life as it spurts from her ruined side. Yet -like all human emotions here- it is a childish and futile gesture at best.
On her knees amongst the dessicated and the decaying, still her spear does not fall from her grip. She tries to let it go, but her hands are robbed of energy and nerves refuse to respond.
Vision fades and blackness descends as she thinks of the army on the right flank, their cheers resounding as longed-for victory is theirs at last. Their shouts of triumph are the last thing she hears. Almost.
The pressure from years before re-enters her head, trying to crush her brain against the inside of her skull, she feels talons grip the back of her mind, squeezing and forcing her to open her blood-covered eyes in despair.
In response, she hoarsely shouts: “I am tired and weary of this life...leave me alone!”
The familiar growl howls at this disobedience:
“A true warrior would never lie down and beg for death! Was I wrong to raise you so highly in the eyes of others? Do you deem yourself worthy enough to dictate to the Commander of all soldiers?”
The earth shakes beneath her prone form, scattering boulders from the sick and twisted terrain as the Old World feels the incredulity of a Living God.
Battered and broken, she can barely move except to emit a barking laugh. At this, the tumult instantly ceases and silence descends over the dying and the disembowelled, alarming the carrion-animals and the expiring man-beasts upon which they gluttonously feed.
“You are my Favoured, esteemed above almost all your race. Who do you think you are to spurn such Gifts? A true warrior...one who is worthy of the name...knows neither pain nor lethargy, not whilst there are foes to end! Speak. I would hear your pathetic excuse.”
The bellows reverberate not only through her head, but also her entire being, energising it despite her mortal injuries.
Her stilting reply: “You seek to goad me...questioning my skills and spinning tales of my own frailty and also of revenge. Yet your challenges mean nothing to me! I have killed across five dukedoms, innocents and guilty alike fell to my blades. I reaped more than my fair share for you; more than most will ever do in Your name. Let me rest now. I am but a mortal -with all human weaknesses- and lost my pride at the end of that Slaaneshi’s lance years ago.”
“But it did not end you...I kept you safe to wreak vengeance in later battles, slaking your desires in the lifeblood of former victors.”
Thunder roars in the distance and lightning streaks across the plains, turning victor and vanquished alike into dust, leaving barely any remaining.
“Look upon these few faces. I have left your lieutenants alive, ready to accede to your every command. All you have to do is to say the words and be returned.”
Despite many wounds, she strains up to see the bloodied and maimed -yet undefeated- forms of Graangar Lord of a Hundred Beasts, Earl Osric Rathan the Despot from the Northern Wastes and the fallen Elven Princess, Jalerienne, Mistress of The Gore-Cults. Three heads bowed in supplication and obeisance.
“Jussst three ssstrokesss shall remove their heartsss...a mossst fitting offering to Him in thisss place” whispers the spear held tightly in her grasp. Like some feral hunting-beast, it's obsidian blade twists around, trying to taste their leaking blood upon this realm’s ethereal winds.
“I have no need to return...that place holds no more interest for me.”
A shrieking wind envelopes them all, clouding the scene in the choking bone-dust of innumerable slaughtered. When vision returns, only three remain: Jalerienne is missing, swept away by the whirlwind.
“What need have I for further victories when my name is already lamented in a dozen of The Empire’s cities?” the dying woman continues.
A huge sucking sound deafens the survivors, the sonic wave sending them sprawling into the dirt and relics of long ago. As hearing returns, Graangar’s mane -the last trace of him- disappears out of sight beneath metres of sand and ash.
Unbowed, she continues: “All I loved are dead and forgotten. None remain who hold me in any esteem.”
A shout of agony stirs her from selfishness...horrendous ripping sounds as the Earl is sheared vertically, showering her in crimson liquid, his jagged remnants littering the landscape.
“Now it is so.” her Lord’s voice booms out once more, then begins The Twelfth Catechism of Hatred:
“When your body twists and thrashes; as your mind cracks through the strain, who shall be there to ease the pain..?”
“...naught by my comrades’ fury.” she concludes.
From any other mouth, the response would be automatic, but it is just as heartfelt as when she swore the oath that brought her here. On the horizon, a long-disused castle crumbles to final ruin under the shockwave of a God’s victory-smile.
“When heart breaks and last darkness approaches, what guides you to the final test..?
“...naught but the hate of the warriors at my side.” Her faltering voice steadies as their words suffuse her being. Mountains rise in a neighbouring realm, permitting armies to undertake new crusades.
“When loved ones die, mind splinters, voice snaps from wailing and loss. You resist The Gods for one more minute with them. Who calls you to such clarity of purpose..?”
I]“...naught except the brothers and sisters whose lives shield me and whose skulls I shall take during The Endtime.”[/I] she whispers.
“Correct.” The God answers. “Now, three call your name from that side. Take up arms against my foes, reborn anew. Regain your feet and your armies. Become my Champion, greater than before.”
Instantly regaining her newly-clawed feet, she begins to glide upon freshly-formed wings back to the portal which brought her here.
“I do not fight for you. I fight for my comrades-in-arms. I fight for the loyalty of my subjects.”She warns Khorne.
Had His Brother not claimed such emotions, The Blood God might have looked upon his most exalted Champion with fatherly pride as Valkia The Bloody returned to the lands of the living.
Heresy Online Expeditious Stories 12-08: Loyalty
Written in Steel
Warsmith Tank Isilint beheld the prisoner without pity.
The captive Iron Warrior- one of Enttas’- stood motionless. This wasn’t a consequence of his bindings, which were reasonably loose, but rather a result of the taken Marine’s unconsciousness.
“We should keep him alive,” Devartin suggested. “Besides, Enttas left him behind. He’ll probably join us anyway.”
Motioning his second-in-command to silence, Isilint beheld the captive for another few moments, then silently and furiously sliced his head off.
Devartin and Isilint’s towering bodyguard Kapertastel made no comment.
“May the Gods watch over us as they clearly didn’t over this imbecile,” Isilint said. “Devartin, bring the body to Reval- let the sorcerer take care of it. And tell the Sphere to prepare for battle.”
“We’re attacking Enttas?”, Devartin asked with probably-false eagerness.
Isilint nodded, and Char Devartin, Iron Warrior of the Silver Sphere warband, rushed off to perform his duties. The Warsmith continued standing impassively until his second-in-command left, then let out a roar of loathing.
The Sphere was among the more powerful warbands (or, for the more traditional, Grand Companies) on Medrengard, and Isilint’s efforts had brought it within striking distance of being the strongest without doubt; defeating Enttas was necessary to secure his hold on Region Delta, though. But Enttas had steadily escaped a direct confrontation through Medrengard’s many tunnels- until now. It was an obvious trap.
But the hatred that burned within Isilint’s armor didn’t truly care. Enttas was a traitor to the Legion, a follower of Olympian ideals. Isilint, in Chaos, was loyal to what the Iron Warriors had become.
And that would be all that mattered.
* * *
Warsmith Zun Enttas nodded calmly as Isilint’s silver-armored Grand Company, having at last found the trap, stumbled into it.
Onkopolm and Amfelix were fighting below. Titanic engines exchanged fire in the huge cavern, crushing the chamber’s decorated walls. Isilint’s soldiers swarmed Enttas’ machines, even as Enttas’ infantry climbed Isilint’s daemons. The word alone should have been enough to dissuade the Legion from associating with Warp-spawn too closely; the things were simply too dangerous, no matter how useful they could prove. Some in the Legion, even the Primarch himself, had become similar beings; the act changed them, weakened their grip on reality and logic.
Recognizing his state had become excited once more, Enttas recited the Unbreakable Litany and methodically marched into battle. His morningstar shattered daemon-flesh like glass, and his back-mounted bolters rent apart enemy plate. He murdered in silence, but across his line a cry erupted through daemons’ howls and fire’s crackling.
“Iron within! Iron without!”
His soldiers were pressed and outnumbered, but holding. They would not need to hold much longer.
And from above the cracking ceiling, Ergas Utbyrgan dove into combat on wings of iron and breath of steam.
Behind Utbyrgan, dozens of similarly suited Iron Warriors crashed into Isilint’s ranks. Among them was venerable Turreras, the Dreadnought’s wings five times the size of the other warriors. The former Warsmith had forged them himself, turning his walking coffin into an eagle of death.
As Enttas watched, surrounded by collapsing giants, Utbyrgan swept down and obliterated Char Devartin- Isilint’s sycophantic second-in-command- in moments. Yet the enemy Warsmith was nearby, and with a hurt cry he hurled a man-sized axe into Utbyrgan’s helmet.
And, with a scream that echoed across the impossible planet of Medrengard and returned back to Enttas’ maw magnified hundredfold, the Warsmith broke into a run.
* * *
“Faster!” Isilint screamed to Reval.
The Sorcerer nodded and threw the corpse from before onto a bloody bonfire.
The Silver Sphere was holding, but cracks were appearing in their defense. Shells beat through the floor below them. Fire devoured the air around them. They were outnumbered, on the edge of devastation.
But Isilint hated the weaklings who accepted such disasters as fate. He would give anything to avoid becoming an outcast. It was not his best trait, but desperation led to heroism.
And now, the Silver Sphere was fighting heroically. True, a number of them, those that didn’t believe in Isilint’s plan, had left; but with every kill Isilint made he imagined he was slaying one of those cowards.
First use the Primarch. Then take his place. I will make a greater Legion.
“I can’t do it!” Reval screamed to Isilint over the sound of falling daemons. “I needed Warp-touched flesh!”
Isilint turned around and fired his bolter at Reval’s exposed head.
The Sorcerer fell into the pyre, and an image began to materialize. The summoning had begun. Isilint could already see the calculating horror on his counterpart’s face- Enttas understood.
Before Isilint, Kapertastel fell, impaled on a power-claw meant for the Warsmith. The next instant, the Dreadnought with that claw was far away, soaring on impossible wings. It was Enttas who emerged next, but he did not have the chance to strike Isilint.
To the Warsmith’s left, a grey form blinked into pseudo-reality. It looked in many ways humanoid, but the dark gray suit of armor on it concealed every identifying feature save the face. Massive claws, constantly burning, replaced fingers. A ceramite horn pointed out of the daemon-prince’s forehead.
Isilint fell to his knees immediately, and Enttas barely resisted doing likewise. A mixture of awe and satisfaction surged through Isilint’s mind. The daemon-hating, logic-revering Warsmith would be ended at last, and by his own gene-father at that.
“You aren’t-” Enttas began.
Then Perturabo sliced Isilint’s head open.
* * *
“Why?” Enttas asked his father later, when the battle was over.
Perturabo- or rather, his avatar, for his true consciousness was in the Iron Fortress the entire time- shrugged. “You were more an Iron Warrior than your foe. But that isn’t enough of an explanation, of course.”
“It isn’t,” Enttas said. “I- dislike what you’ve become.”
“And what the Legion has become, too,” the Primarch said. “But neither of these is a sin. I myself often feel deeper disgust than even you at both. Yet you were loyal- you did not paint your armor silver over iron. You did not entertain the thought of taking my throne. Isilint did both. Yes, Olympia is dead. We killed it. But you are its children, more than you will ever be mine.”
“Are we the only ones who believe that?”
Perturabo grinned. “Far from it. In one way or another, whether they know it or not, all loyal Iron Warriors believe it.”
And then the Primarch’s avatar disappeared, leaving truth sharpened in its wake.
Something is in the darkness. I cannot see it, but I can feel it, sense it and hear it slithering all about, stalking me, watching me and drawing close to me. I am scared, but my fear will not cripple me. It hunts for me. I am sure it can see me. I am sure that if it truly wanted me dead that it could take me at any moment of its choosing. – Inquisitor Rafial Praag M41.267
In the darkest time of night when things grow from shadows and dreams into realities born, that stalk through the halls and run along the walls in search of the scent of fear left behind by those who run and cower into corners of no escape. These things laugh in their darkened souls as they draw near to the terrified host that they shall soon possess. They stalk about in the blackest shades with lifeless eyes and the coldest of hearts smiling through fanged and jagged teeth as oily dark as the darkest screams.
In the moonless night they see him turn not knowing which way to go. But he must run, of that he is sure, but he knows not where to go to escape the hunter’s snare. They can smell his sweat and fear. They can hear his blood-filled heart pumping harshly in his chest. He stumbles and falls but gets up quickly. They can smell the fresh blood from a skinned knee and a sliced thumb as it drips in zigzag lines along the street.
The man runs into the light cast by a business sign and stops. The shadowed things swirl all about knowing that he cannot stay there forever. He can see them moving blacker then the blackest darkness than he has ever known. He trembles and nearly falls from the weakness in his limbs. He can hear the claws of the daemons scratch the plas-steel walls and gouge their way through hardened sidewalks and streets taking purchase as they plan their continued hunt.
‘Get away from me for the Emperor is with me!’ he shouts. Terror and faithlessness fill his words and therefore have no effect against the daemon things. They understand faith and strength. They understand power and faithfulness. They also understand fear and shame, guilt and self loathing. They feast upon those things and grab onto them as a leach grabs onto flesh and drains the blood.
The man trembles and weeps for he knows his sins have found him out. He screams in the illumination cast by the business lights. Falling to his knees he bows his head and begins to pray. It is the only thing he has left. It is the only thing he can do. If he cannot make things right they will take his soul. Terror and torments for all eternity await him if he cannot repent. They claw the ground and begin to speak to him as he prays. They speak directly into his mind and his ears begin to bleed.
‘You forsook him long ago and now you expect him to take you back into his good graces? You denied him many times and when given the chance to change your ways you did not do it. You are ours to feast upon. This light will soon go out. Look! It begins to blink as its life ebbs away.’
The man weeps for he knows their words are true. He keeps his eyes closed and tries to calm himself, but it has been so long since his last communion; too long since his last confession. It has been too long since his last true emotion and act of contrition. But he knows he must continue for he cannot escape the judgment to come. ‘Mercy!’ he cries aloud. ‘Forgive me of my many sins.’ he begs.
‘You are ours and we will consume your soul and feast upon your flesh. The light is almost out and we will tear you apart in the darkness of your night.’
‘I have betrayed your trust and shamed your name. I have killed the innocent and cheated the poor. I have bared false witness and imprisoned the guiltless in order to advance my own agenda. I am guilty. Forgive me please.’ As the man prayed he found that he was no longer doing it out of fear but out of true remorse, true shame and emotion from a conscience he had lost long ago. He found that his intentions were no longer to escape judgment but to only be close to his Emperor once again. He knew that as an Inquisitor he had failed in his true purpose; to protect the weak and defend those who could not fight for themselves.
Inquisitor Rafial Praag opened his eyes. Though the shadows were deep and black and swirling with hate he found that he was no longer tormented by the thoughts of things to come, but was at peace with himself for the first time in years. He knew that once more he was not alone but was whole again in the presence of the Emperor of mankind.
The daemons faltered as the man’s faith grew. They hesitated as they saw that his sorrow and repentance was genuine. The light blinked its final time and they took their chance. A flash of light from a sword unused in righteous fury for many years flashed like lightning from the clouds and severed one of the daemons in two. Blood as black as sin splashed against the walls. Another nightmare creature was torn apart by the man’s shout of faith from repentant lips.
Thousands more, maybe millions more charged from the shadows but Praag did not fear. He knew he was forgiven and his many sins forgotten. The Emperor’s mercy would not be wasted on him. With growing passion and assurance he fought and swung his sword of light. He fought until the first light of morning broke the daemon’s back and forced them to retreat.
Wounded, bleeding, beaten and bruised Inquisitor Rafial Praag allowed himself to fall to his knees. There he stayed until the people began to stir from their residences, assured the violence had ended.
Praag had been a tyrant to many of the people that now surrounded him. Hundreds had gathered and he could feel their hatred of him. Slowly he stood and put his sword away. ‘My loyalty has been tested and I have been found wanting. I am ashamed of this and I will make things right.’
In full view of the people he bowed his head and prayed.
I'll have a crack at this. It's 1000 words exactly.
Fiery contrails rent the night’s sky as blazing stars fell to the world below. Hurtling through the stratosphere glowing, manmade comets shuddered with the violence of their journey. Their occupants barely noticed; gene forged bodies nestled within harnesses, diamond hard minds focused inwards towards the task at hand. Vengeance, nay, justice was at hand and the Angels of Death would not, could not be denied.
Enhanced eyes, glaring out from a pugnacious, snout nosed helm gazed up at the falling lights and knew that they heralded the death of this world. The long war was over; it was just a matter of playing it out. Standing on the Northern battlements the warrior lowered his head, even as his grip on the parapet grew tighter. His mighty form, clad in armour forged with knowledge dragged from the fires of war and the Old Night, stood in silhouette against the night sky. Dull light from flickering illuminators, dimmed from reserve power, reflected from the mirror finish of his warplate, playing across huge pauldrons inscribed with acts of valour.
Heavy footfalls broke the warrior from his reverie. “Arastus, we are to attend the Gatehouse in Sector N5”, spoke the newcomer in a timbre as rough as gravel.
“Very well Belasus,” replied Arastus, his cultured accent revealing his upper hive birth.
Turning, he nodded in greeting to his comrade, actuators humming as his helm mirrored the movement of his head. Like his own, Belasus’ armour shone, oath papers fluttering in the cool night’s breeze. Unhelmed his friend’s face betrayed nothing of his feelings, indeed a sandstone cliff would hold more expression than Belasus’ gnarled, patchwork features. Belasus The Rock, the warriors of Second Company called him, a reference to both his taciturn personality and presence on the field of battle.
Together the warriors strode off along the parapet, mortals making space for their paragons. As the demi-gods made their way through the mass the humans jostled against one another, bowing in respect. Arastus could hear the mortal’s hearts hammering in their chests, fear, awe and blind fanaticism exuded from their fragile bodies. They too could sense that this was the end and were desperate to comport themselves with dignity alongside the Astartes.
Breaking through the press of unaugmented humanity the two warriors strode quickly to their sector. Arastus’ boots thudded against the plascrete as he walked, servos humming sub-audibly. The fortress stretched around them, a dark, gothic monstrosity of admantium and plascrete. It was the heart of a planet and a warren of passageways. Tunnels, walls and towers were the veins of this beast. Missile batteries, ordinance emplacements, AA guns and more studded its skin, creating deadly fields of fire.
Reaching the staging area he nodded to Darius and Gilgemon, the last remnants of his depleted squad. Crashing gauntleted fists to breastplates in a sonorous boom the two Astartes inclined their heads in greeting, faces hidden behind helms with glowing green eyes. Armed and ready for what was likely to be their last stand the Marines stood clad in Mark IV war plate, the power armour polished to parade sheen, sigils and badges freshly applied. Godwynn pattern bolters were mag locked to thigh plates, belt pouches bulged with ammunition and grenades, chainblades were sheathed at the hip. Similar scenes could be found throughout the citadel, brothers gathered one last time before the coming storm, anxious mortal’s thronging around them like frightened children at the legs of parents.
Before Arastus stood the tattered remnants of Squad Parthenon, Second Company, loyal to the last. Rank, organisation and formality mattered little now. Honour and bitterness remained along with a stubborn desire to spit in the eye of their foe. As long as there was breath in his body, life in his limbs Arastus would fight on, that was what it meant to be an Astartes; to stand beside your brothers and fight. Fight until he could fight no more, for that was all he could do. As they stood behind the crenulated bastions, studded with emplacements, the sky grew brighter. The inky blackness of night giving way to a warm glow, washing the stars out.
It was a false dawn however, the glow of a thousand orbital macro cannon firing in unison. With the roar of an angry god the very sky seemed to suddenly split in two and thunder and fire rained from the heavens. Arastus maintained his position, unconcerned. Only the widening of his stance betrayed him as a living being not a statue.
Such blind bravado was rewarded a moment later. With an actinic hum the banks upon banks of void shields shimmered to full power, creating an inviolate bubble around this last, mighty citadel. Lightning refracted from the skein of the bubble, shields absorbing the furious punishment met out to them. No mere orbital barrage could topple the Palace. No, what a hundred giga tons of ordinance could not do, it would fall to Arastus’ erstwhile brothers to accomplish, with blade and bolter to bring vengeance and what they believed to be justice.
So the burning comets fell to earth, to lodge within the skin of the citadel like ticks upon the hide of a rhino. Like blossoming flowers of steel, the sides of the craft split in a shimmering haze of heat, disgorging bio engineered death.
One such pod fell to within a hundred feet of Arastus and his brothers, crushing a platoon of mortal soldiery into paste in a thunderclap of noise as the shock of the impact threw dozens more to their feet. The ground ruptured beneath the vessel’s violent entry and it tilted forward at an angle, engines whining down. In a dull clang the doors of the drop pod opened, the red liveried occupants disembarking in cold efficiency, already snapping out perfectly placed shots into the swarm of flesh about them.
Waving his brother’s on; pointing towards the foe with his chainsword roaring into life, Arastus howled across the com net, face twisted in a snarl of anger and bitterness,
FreedomWater trickled down the walls. His shoulders almost brushed the walls and he needed to duck every ten metres to avoid flickering bulbs; even without his armour he was much larger than the natives. While the planet was not primitive, their technology had proved no match for the liberating forces. If these people did have something of power then why would they store it here? At least no one would spend longer than necessary down here so there was little chance that anyone would see him.
HOES August 2012: Loyalty
His destination was in darkness and seemed even damper. He could make out rotting fragments of crates floating in pools, before even his perfect sight was defeated by the murk. He reached for a switch.
"Leave it off." He dropped his hand without thinking. What could the natives have that needed to be inspected in the dark? Moving slowly forward through the standing water he sought out his companion. The shadows seemed almost to push back. Was that a glint of metal?
"Father? Is that you?"
"Thank you for meeting me. I apologise for the surroundings."
"It is no problem. What is this great threat that you need to show me?"
"My drive to free humanity from false gods is not the first. Before I revealed myself, before even we spread to the stars, there were those who warned of the problems of religion. They said, as I have said, that humanity must embrace science and reason to evolve; however, some said that the human mind has a dark side that cannot be overcome merely by explaining the benefits of living correctly. Over the millennia I have watched as religion brought us down and science raised us up and concluded that the warnings were shards of religion left in the minds of otherwise rational men by their upbringings.
"My success seemed to support my belief. As the myths of the past were replaced, conflicts reduced and contentment increased. The creation of my sons would have confirmed my theory: the best minds raised free of any myths. However, you were scattered and raised amongst those who had not abandoned all of the old ways.
"When you were found and joined my crusade I was filled with joy. I thought that the issues that occurred with some of your brothers before they accepted the wisdom of my actions were akin to a flux; their minds purging themselves of the sicknesses left by an imperfect education."
"And they now serve you as willingly as I."
"They do, and might continue to serve as I envisaged. However, the crusade does not proceed perfectly. I am concerned that not all of the sickness has been purged from all your brothers."
"They only wish to please you. If you are concerned then spend more time with them."
"If you place a bright light close to something your eyes are dazzled; even with your perfect eyes. To truly see the light must be placed some distance away. I am the brightest of lights; if I move closer then I will see less not more. I have decided to leave the Crusade. Without my presence your brothers will act according to their true natures instead of trying to reflect my wishes, and I will see if they truly are free of flaws. You must watch them for me my son."
"If my brothers seem to not always act as you wish it is because we love your cause: you taught us to value reason over faith; they try to understand your instructions but lack your knowledge. If you explain the reasons behind your commands they will act as you wish. You have not wrought ill. I will do as you ask, and rejoice when you see your sons are pure. However I have a suggestion. While your absence would allow flaws to show, waiting for months or even decades to see if anything showed would slow the crusade. If you seek to draw a substance from a solution it is quicker to add a small fragment around which the substance grows.
"The best generals know their enemy better than he knows himself. To understand why some cling to faith, I have read its lies. Repeatedly the story of a rebellion against the God or Gods appears. In each of them evil gathers on one side and good the other. If I accept the thesis that reason alone might not be the best path to our goal then this repeating story shows the human mind might be as with crystals. If a dissenting voice arises while you are away then you will soon see that your sons refuse to turn from your design."
"And what if there is no evil one to start a rebellion? You say they are in agreement then suggest there is one who disagrees?"
"There is one version I found that had supposedly been transcribed form the most ancient of lands. A proto-version of the first rebellion. The Creator wished his world to have free will so he went to each of his angels seeking an opinion that differed; each of them sought only to serve his grand design. At last he returned and told the first of his angels, the left hand to his right, of his dilemma. His firstborn replied 'I love you Father with all my being, and believe that all creation serves you freely. If one of us must be apart then I will bear the burden.' and the Creator wept as he threw his son from heaven.
"I love you Father with all...."
* * *
The Emperor's probe flowed seamlessly in. As expected Horus had reached the logical solution. However, Horus' mind was close to pure logic; an image of angles and crystals. He would try to dissent but his nobility would not allow him to commit deeply enough to draw out those who did not know that they were rebels; whereas a man who did not know he was playing a role, would truly live it.
The memories of the meeting dissolved, replaced by a private warning to his son that he would be announcing his departure soon. Next a small part of his absolute love melted away. Both easy enough to correct once he had discovered the truth. The Emperor succumbed to a moment of doubt: and a small weakening of his military genius would ensure he did not actually succeed in rebellion.
What weakness it taught to show a God weeping at what was necessary.
- Word Count: 1082
Where True Loyalties Lie
Lord Inquisitor Radkilff knew that he had become a legend. With a career spanning two centuries, he had slain countless foes in the Emperor's name. He showed his devotion by always fighting on the frontlines against the alien, the mutant, and the heretic. Cleansing the world known as Legalus VII was supposed to be no different.
The renegade Guardsmen tried to bar his advance, but their lasfire was useless against his force shield. Calmly, he walked forward in full view of the enemy, slaying foes using his plasma gun and power sword.
"Repent now!" Radkilff declared as he beheaded another Akkadian trooper, who had tried to impale him using a bayonet, "For the Emperor will soon judge you for your treachery!"
Suddenly, the firing stopped. Despite his long experience fighting the enemies of the Imperium, Radkilff was surprised. He didn't expect his words to have any effect on the Traitor Guardsmen.
But a figure emerged that promised to give an explanation. It was a giant encased in grey ceramsteel armor. A Steel Warden. A Space Marine.
"I was not aware that the Astartes have come to aid me," the Inquisitor said as he saluted the Marine, "Have you come in strength?"
"Enough with the charade, Radkilff," the Warden said as he aimed his plasma gun at the Inquisitor, "We know the truth."
"You dare raise arms against me?!" the Inquisitor shouted, only to realize that another Warden had appeared behind him, wielding a two-handed Psi-Sword.
"You created the cult that corrupted Legalus VII," said the second Warden, "And you declared Exterminatus on this world to cover up your treachery!"
Radkilff looked at the sword-wielding Warden and smiled sadly. He dropped his weapons and said, "These are all baseless accusations. Will you now execute an unarmed man to satisfy your pride?"
The remark caught the Warden off-guard. He hesitated from delivering the killing sword-stroke.
And it was all the false Inquisitor needed.
What was once Inquisitor Radkilff uttered a single word, whose origins could not have been human. The sorcerous word struck the Space Marines like an explosion, sending the exposed Wardens flying through the air and revealing the others in their camouflaged positions. Painfully, the Warden who hesitated tried to stand up, seeking to atone for his mistake.
But he didn't need to. The "Traitor" Guardsmen now sprang into action, deploying the heavy weapons they had held in reserve. The thing which was once a champion of the Inquisition screamed as it was pummeled by volleys of autocannons and rocket launchers. Two Leman Russ Tanks then entered the fray, and lobbed their enormous shells at the warp-thing which was now emerging from Radkilff's mangled form. It took fifteen shells in total before the monster was finally reduced to a pile of lifeless pus.
"If I had known you would hesitate, I would have shot the Inquisitor myself," grumbled Brother-Logis Cicero as he walked over to the sword-wielding Marine, "A plasma gun still has a decent chance of penetrating a force-shield."
"My apologies Brother-Logis," Veteran Brother Felix replied as Cicero helped him to his feet, "Fortunately, the Guardsmen prevented my mistake from becoming a fatal one."
The rest of the squad was now emerging, most of them hurt but none fatally. Felix could see that Brother-Sergeant Pontius was already conferring with the commander of the Guardsmen - a young Akkadian Captain with blonde hair and kind blue eyes. Felix felt his heart sink as his superhuman hearing caught their conversation.
"We must leave immediately," Brother-Sergeant Pontius told the Akkadian Captain, "Radkilff may be dead, but the Inquisition will still burn this world in two hours."
"We both know that my troops are never going to get off this planet alive, Warden," the Akkadian replied, "And even if we do, the Commissariat will simply have us shot. We're already traitors as far as the Imperium is concerned, it is better for us to die here as soldiers."
"There must be another way," Felix said as he joined the conversation, the Brother-Logis right behind him. But neither Pontius nor the Akkadian Captain said anything in response.
"Captain, what is the name of your unit?" Cicero finally decided to ask.
"The 105th Akkadian Rifles," the Guard officer replied with a shrug, "We're just a regular Guard regiment."
Cicero shook his head, "No you are not. You are part of the Fifth Founding of your world. You have campaigned honorably for seven years. You already have five battle-honors to your credit: Halon III. The Ma'Ten March. Skalantia. Dusanbay. Omikron Station."
"... And Legalus VII," Felix added quietly.
"And Legalus VII," Cicero agreed, "This is more than enough to confer them the honor of the Vir Omnibus, is it not Brother-Sergeant Pontius?"
There was a pause as Pontius considered Cicero's recommendation. The Vir Omnibus was an ancient and sacred tome owned by the Steel Wardens. Contained within were the names of countless non-Astartes units that had fought valiantly alongside the Space Marines – some of them dating back to the time of the Legions. Every year, during the Chapter’s Founding Anniversary Rites, the names are read out loud – as a reminder that one does not need to be transhuman to know no fear.
He understood the difficult consequences of what the Logis was asking. Nonetheless, the Sergeant nodded. He turned to the Akkadian Captain.
"I am sorry. We cannot save your men," Pontius said, "But this we vow: The Imperium may forget. The Imperial Guard may forget. Your home world and loved ones may forget."
"But we will remember," said the Pontius Team in unison, their voices speaking as one for the entire Akkadian 105th to hear.
The Guardsmen had no response save silence, and a few tears.
Finally, the Space Marines left the Akkadians to their fate. Every member of the 105th would die a soldier’s death
Besides the Akkadians, eleven billion people died needlessly at Legalus VII. The Inquisition would never admit to its mistake.
But the Pontius Team had told the truth to their Chapter Master. After many long deliberations, he decided to defy the rest of the Imperium and honored the 105th Akkadian Rifles by adding them to the Vir Omnibus.
Many times the Inquisition asked to have this decision overturned. It came in the form of rational requests, impassioned arguments, and even outright threats.
Yet each time, the Warden's reply was the same:
Your loyalty is to your good name. Our loyalty is to heroes.
And a last minute story from me...
This time, as the knife caressed her throat in a wholly superfluous gesture of threat – who needed to threaten a woman whose life he was allowed to end without even an explanation or anything more strenuous than the push of a button? – Mera did what she had dreamed of the last three years and finally turned the tables on the Commissar. She took him by surprise as he had not expected her to fight back. After all she never had...
This time, though, she grabbed his hand, heaved him back with all her considerable strength, and punched him in the throat with her other hand. Choking, he fell down, but before he could recover or draw his weapon, it was her holding the knife, and she used it well.
Eyes wide, he stared at her, then, in his last moments, he hammered his fist against his chest onto the concealed controlbox he carried there, mouth twitching.
Mera sat back on her haunches, and grinned. “No, Wilson. It will not work.” Frantic, he tried to activate the prisoner’s explosive collar again, but once more, it failed to detonate. The smile did not fade from her face or her eyes, until he had moved his last. By then, every other woman in the cramped, dank dugout behind the pass was awake, staring at her and the body of the man who had been having his way with her since he had been assigned to the ‘bitches’, as he had called their unit.
“Feth you, Mera, you killed us all!”, Janara hissed, keeping her voice down. The gaunt woman attempted to lunge at her fellow prisoner, but two others held her back.
“Silence”, Ennis hissed, at four years of service the ‘veteran’ of 3rd Company, and thus holding a bit of authority over the others. “We need to decide what we will do now.”
Mera calmly rose to her feet, and picked up the Commissar’s bolt pistol and combat knife. “I can tell you what we will do. We will kill the Lieutenant and the Corporals.” Her sunburnt, frost-bitten face was cold and commanding and not even the mangy dog burned onto her forehead didn’t detract from that. There were rumours that Mera had been a General, before a miscarriage of Justice had seen her convicted to the War Dogs. At least, she had always insisted it had been a miscarriage – but then, they all did that.
General or not, her aura of authority was natural and surprisingly easily assumed. “But, but the Collars...”, someone babbled in the dark.
“The Collars are no longer working, or do you think I am stupid?” Mera sighed, then signalled to Ennis and another woman to watch the door. “Remember yesterday? Commissar Dooley died in the Avalanche?” The others nodded. This high in the mountains, avalanches were a constant threat, and the greenskin bombardment of their position, more enthusiastic than accurate, was exacerbating the problem.
“It was me who dug her out. She held the detonator in her hand, and it was crushed. She had pushed it, with enough force to crush it, but obviously, it did not work. I think it is the Mountain, the rock is blocking the transmission or whatever. Point is, they can’t kill us all – and of the five officers and two commissars they sent with us up here, four are already dead, because the avalanches came down on them, rather than the forward positions where we fight. So, will you follow me, or do you want to get shot when they find him?” She pointed towards the dead Commissar, sprawling in an already freezing pool of blood.
The women looked at each other, hesitant. Most of them had not been in the Bitches long, and were still desperate to keep their little bit of life. After all, turnover in the Penal Legions was high... And mutinies were virtually unheard of – the collars guaranteed their good behaviour... Take the collars out of the equation...
Mera eyed them with contempt. 'Come on. Where’s your spine...’ She said nothing, though, because she knew it was a toss up whether they would follow her, or decide to kill her in the hope of warding off punishment from themselves. So she waited. ‘Emperor...’ Not that she felt confident that the Emperor would actually listen to her...
“And what will you do then? If we kill the Lieutenant, what then? We are stuck on this mountain, with a mob of Greenskins on one side, and the Guard on the other. There’s no way off planet for us. We can’t run.” Ennis once again showed that it was her level headedness, more than her absolute viciousness in a fight that had kept her alive for so long.
“What we do then?” A smile stole on Mera’s face. “We hold this pass. We give the fething Greenskins a bloody nose until they kill us. Yes, I’m not going to lie. We will die. We got sent here to die, and that is what will happen. But we will do it on our terms, not on those of some crazy fethheads too incompetent to lead a unit anybody gives a feth about. We can hold this pass long enough so the defenses around the cities will be ready and enough reinforcements have arrived to win this war.”
“You are one crazy bitch”, Janara spat. “If I go rogue, I want to live. Not die up here, with my ass frozen off.” A couple of other women also nodded in agreement.
“Then go. Help me to take over this unit, and everybody who wants to leave is free to do so. I do not think you will have a chance, but I’m not fething Wilson Trent. Run for the valley, if that’s how you want to go. I’ll hold the pass alone, if I have to.” With that, Mera walked towards the door, showing her back to the others, giving them a last chance to make their decision...
From the Minutiae of the Acrotiri Campaign:
--- Posthumous Pardon and Commendation for the 3rd Company of the All female War Dogs Penal Legion, for holding the White Water Pass for over two weeks despite the death of their commanding Officers and Commissars and loss of supplies early on.
Of Beasts and Men
956 words without title
The day had barely started, when Tilda’s life changed forever. Her family always ate breakfast together. Her mother would talk about social events, while her father would sometimes grunt non-cosmetically. Today had been barely different.
“The governor is having a ball, dear,” her mother said. “It’s high time we introduced her to her officially, don’t you think?”
Tilda’s father gave her a long measuring look, before saying, “Yes, she’s old enough.” His gaze lingered on her for a while longer, as he considered something. “I think it’s high time to see how well she trained her dogs, isn’t it?”
Her mother smiled weakly. “If you think so, dear?”
“I believe the man who the guards caught stealing last week ought to make for fine sport,” her father stated. The maid that had been serving the breakfast went pale, but it went unnoticed.
Tilda swallowed, nervous and excited at the prospect. She was about to speak up, when the unthinkable happened. One moment Tanny had been serving them breakfast and another she was bashing her father’s head in with a heavy wooden tray. Blood, bone shards and grey brain matter splattered over his shoulders and the table. Some stained Tanny’s dress and apron. Tilda’s mother sat frozen, fear written all over her features as the maid came for her with the splintered tray in her hands. The girl still wasn’t sure how come she had acted, but somehow she managed to rise and grab a chair in time to save her mother.
They left Tanny bleeding in the dinning room, not bothering to check if she was out cold or dead, and ran. Tilda had to drag her sobbing mother behind her. Familiar corridors seemed to suddenly have become menacing, every door a possible hiding-place for another killer. Tilda ran in blind panic not pausing to consider and simply letting her legs take her through the mansion. A primal instinct told her to get as far away from the dinning room and, unthinkingly, she obeyed. Her mad rush ended, when she collided with her father’s butler. He caught her and Tilda nearly started crying in relief, when suddenly her mother pushed her away.
“Tanny went mad,” she snapped, her voice laden with hysteria. “She killed Gabriel!”
The man froze dead and Tilda felt a cold weight in the pit of her stomach. She knew what the man thought now—he was a dead man, even it was the maid who committed the crime. He had hired her and with one unsound individual the whole staff would be held in doubt. Without thinking he grabbed the nearest object—a paper knife—and lashed out. The wild swing caught Tilda’s mother in the throat, the next in the eye. She sunk to the floor and Tilda’s wild gaze met that of the butler.
From that point on, Tilda remembered very little, only terror and frozen-frame-like pictures. She wasn’t sure how the blood-stained knife had ended up in her hands or how she got to the kennels. The dogs had not attacked when she stumbled in. Muffin came to her and licked her hand, and Coral yelped and yipped like always.
Tilda closed her eyes and buried her face in the soft, warm fur. Muffin was the largest of their dogs and the fiercest. Tilda was the only person she’d ever let come close to her and right now, this, along with a knife was all the girl had to protect herself. Somebody would have found Tanny by now and the butler as well. They’d have found her parents, both dead and they would panic, just like the butler. Once they knew she had escaped, they’d come for her and kill her. She needed to act first.
She rose slowly and looked around. Here, out in the open, she was an easy target, but she could not go back to the mansion. Instead, she calmly opened the door that kept the dogs inside the fenced area and let them run. Muffin and Coral stayed by her side, as if sensing she needed them.
It didn’t take long for the screams to start—the dogs were vicious beasts and her father had always warned her not to let them out. Father said a lot of things and Tilda suddenly wished he had kept his mouth shut at least that one damned time. He’d be alive…
Muffin growled; a low menacing sound and Tilda ducked behind one of the kennels. Her dogs did no such thing—following their training and instinct they both jumped. Tilda clutched her knife in sweaty hands, not daring to peek out. She listened to the high pitched screams of terror and pain, until finally they died down.
Father had trained the dogs to attack anyone but him and Tilda. Even her mother would not have been safe from them.
Tilda rose and looked towards the dogs. They stood over the bloody ruin that had once been somebody she had known and curiously felt nothing for the dead. Whoever they were, they would have tried to kill her. It was them or her, wasn’t it? Her true friends, true companions were the canines.
“Heel,” she said her voice loud and clear, just like her father had taught her. Coral and Muffin returned to her sides, panting. She patted their heads and looked on thoughtfully towards the mansion. Barking and screams were still ringing out. Tilda felt a pang of regret—some of the dogs would surely be killed and they did not deserve that. They were good creatures, obedient and predictable.
Coral and Muffin in tow, she made her way towards the cars. She was not safe here and needed help to get rid of those who’d survive.
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