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The Twisted Path

By Viscount Vash

Edreth was riding hard. His mount would not last much longer, its flanks were lathered and blood now mixed with the foam flecking its mouth. The animal’s long, sure strides were now a stumbling, stuttering gait. Suddenly the wretched creature’s heart finally gave out, its front legs folding under it, throwing Edreth from the saddle.

How much time had passed? Edreth came too, lying near the dead horse, its neck twisted at an unnatural angle. Edreth’s arm was broken, the bone jutting through just above the wrist. After making a crude splint and bandaging it, he collected his gear from the saddlebags. He stopped as he removed his laspistol from the saddle holster, checking its power cells – about half charge. One of the many gifted to his tribe by the Master the weapons power unnerved him: with guns such as these, his tribe had risen above the continuously warring rabble to unite them and lead them into service of the Master. Just the thought of The Great One spurred him into action – he must report, no delay would be tolerated.

Kicking the dead horse, he spat a curse and, leaving his pack, he set off. The comforting tap of the holstered pistol lent him strength: speed was now his only hope of redemption. The tower awaited and his Master would have need of the information, information that had been bought with a hundred lives.

The tower stood in the far distance, the blue flickering energies moving across its black surface were visible even now, like an arm reaching for the sky with a clawed hand on top clutching a large crystal, drawing pure power into itself. Eldritch lightening burst from the claw tips, forking off as if to destroy the very heavens with its wrath.

The octagonal tower sat in the middle of the huge sprawling encampment of the massed tribes. The sentry was from a different tribe, but he saw Edreth’s facial tattoos and recognised him instantly. ‘Sire, may I assist you?’ Edreth smiled, savouring the fear emanating from the warrior. It nourished him, restoring the purpose that the blood loss and journey had stolen from him. ‘A steed!’ he shouted It would save time, and footslogging through the camp was not befitting to his status.

‘Yes, my lord,’ said the sentry, but the warrior was in motion before he’d even finished his sentence. No, it would not do for the masses to see one of the Eight Tribes’ leaders wounded and on foot.

Once mounted, Edreth wasted no time. He rode straight for the tower, his horse thundering through the camp, scattering men before him, canvas dormitories, armouries and munitions dumps flashing past until he reached the edge of the clear space around the tower’s base. No one liked to be that near to it; Edreth himself had never been so close, as the chosen had always brought his orders to him. As he dismounted, the horse bolted, whinnying its fear as it galloped away. Ignoring the horse, he stepped on to the scorched earth around the tower, the hairs on his body standing on end. The barely contained power of the place made him think that the horse might have had the right idea. Dismissing the feeling, he continued to the stairs at the base of a tower that until a week ago had not even existed.

‘Your purpose?’ The strange metallic bark of the armoured guard’s challenge jolted him back to the present. Looking up, he couldn’t help but shudder: his master’s chosen towered over even the largest of tribesmen.

‘The off-worlders, they are here as the Master predicted!’ The guard’s armoured mask showed no expression other than the snarling reptiles moulded to it. The glowing red eyes didn’t flicker or blink as the unyielding gauntleted hand snapped out, seizing Edreth’s damaged arm. With no sound other than his own yelp of pain, the guard dragged Edreth up the stairs and through the metal door into the tower, through passages and up on to strange moving platforms until he was hauled through one last door. Then he was thrown to the floor. ‘This one says they’re here.’

Edreth stared at the floor. Even here the blue light crawled in veins through the stone. Edreth fixed his gaze on armoured feet as his master grasped the back of his head. Pain, such pain, surely the entire world was not large enough to contain such agony. Never in his seventeen years had Edreth felt its like. Images blurred through his mind as the Master tore his memories from him.

Edreth saw the face of his brother, ‘Sire, look there!’, the ships landing, blood red, the False Ones, in armour like that of the Chosen but lacking the embellishments. He gave the order to attack: now, before they are ready. The heads of these would please his Master. He watched as his men charged the False Ones, those who had lasrifles giving covering fire, beams of light stabbing for their targets, the staccato chattering of a heavy stubber blending with the chug-chug-chug of the heavybolter. The charging men swept like a wave rushing towards a cliff, and like a cliff, the red armoured forms were unmoved as the charge crashed against them. Twenty, no, twenty-two of them. There, two chariots with no beasts to draw them. This is what he must report. ‘Your command, my brother!’ He wheeled his horse, knowing he would never see him again. ‘I must report!’ Another sacrifice for the Gods that had been his for less than a year.

The pain ceased as quickly as it had begun. ‘Blood Angels twenty two, no librarian, a rhino, a razorback – deal with it.’ The lizard-masked guard moved off. ‘It will be done, sorcerer.’

‘Your service is valued, Edreth! It is time for you to become one of ours.’

Sobbing, gasping for air, Edreth looked up. ‘Master?’

‘To become one of us! To join Alpharius’s Chosen! Soon, more worshippers of the False Emperor will come and we will be ready for them!’
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