RiaR: Winners' Thread

The Bolthole's monthly 1,000 word story competition.

Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:28 pm

Eremite

By Mossy Toes


+++

"In order to understand what I do here, Interrogator," Harzachi said, heedless of the dozen hellguns leveled at him, "you must first imagine the warp as an imperfect plane." His segmented bionic legs clicking as he walked from the shipside laboratory's porthole to his workstation.

"Stand down, Archmagos Geneticus," Vutch growled over the barrel of his gun.

"The gravitational metaphor of weights upon a rubber sheet is apropos, though the weights, of course, represent psychic loci rather than bodies of mass. The sheet itself is holed in many places; we call such locations, where psychic energy flows unchecked, warp storms.

"Why, then, do heretics claim that their dark masters require human sacrifice? My experiments have tested the permeability of this overlying plane relative to our reality. Upon one's death, the soul is discharged into the warp at an analogous point on that plane. Many millions of deaths in a concentrated locale have the accumulative effect of so many grains of sand placed upon that rubber sheet--though individually nothing to fear, enough can bend or break the walls of this dimension."

"Step away from the workstation, Harzachi, or we will shoot. I want your hands where we can see them and no surprises from you."

Harzachi gave a small nod. He stepped back from his workstation and slowly extruded his writhing mechatendril hands from his robes.

"During my early experiments into the nature of the soul," he continued, unperturbed, "I dared to ask what millennia of Ecclesiarchal theologians have not. They seek to affirm the dogma that the soul's eventual destination is to be judged by the Emperor after death. I, however, wondered where the soul begins. That is exists is not the issue at stake: our instruments are capable of measuring the warp-field energy fluctuations intrinsic to and shaped by the contents of the mind. The soul is the warp, if you will forgive the pun, to our corporeal weft.

"But whence, then, springeth the soul? The answer, my research proves, is self-evident. It begins in the warp, and correspondingly returns there after death. There is no measurable intercession from the Emperor; the soul is not eternal, and upon death, merely dissolves into raw warpstuff. Does this proof so offend the Inquisition that I am to be extinguished, Inquisitor?"

Vutch spat. "I don't give a damn what you think you've proved, Harzachi. It's how you acted and plan to act on your findings that has us here now."

"You need not fear my experiments. I mentioned the dangers of widespread deaths to assure you that I have tested the permeability of that plane exactingly, and there is an exceedingly low probability that this resource-gathering expedition of mine will cause a sizable warp-reality breach."

"This isn't only about the danger of your foolhardy scheme causing a warp rift, Throne-damn it! It's not even just the human cost: that you were going to slaughter an entire hive, a hundred and thirty million Imperial citizens, for no reason but expediency. I'm here at the behest of the Culexus Temple, for your invasive breach of their records. Your obsession with untouchables has gone too far."

"Ahhh," Harzachi said, nodding agreeably. "We come to my true field of study: the supposed 'Pariah Gene.' Not, I've hypothesized, a single gene but a series of gene-encoded potentialities unlocked in rare instances by an alignment of a variety of as-of-yet-unknown epigenetic stimuli--but I digress.

"The records of the Culexii revealed a striking fact: even with the near-insurmountable difficulty of detecting a psycho-negative individual--one of your so-called "untouchables"--in a large population, Hive Karisas has produced an unprecedented number of untouchables, blanks, and Pariahs. Seven assassins of that illustrious temple, plus nearly two score lesser untouchables pressed into Inquisitorial retinues, have been drawn from this hive in just the last two thousand years. What prompts this exorbitantly high ratio of psycho-negative individuals? Is the isolated gene pool of this hive conducive to producing blanks, or is there some sort of dietary influence? A peculiar radiation from one, or both, of the system's binary stars? Some rare mineral in the soil or air?

"The study of the psycho-negative has always been limited by one fact: scarcity. A strictly limited pool of bodies to study and of genetic sequences to compare. Not to mention the protectiveness with which the vaunted Culexii guard their secrets, of course. All my life I have been consumed with questions regarding the Pariah. How can such a 'soulless' human live? Why are they instinctively, universally detested? How can we synthesize the gene for insertion into prenatal subjects and/or cloning?

"Can you imagine such a weapon in the hands of the Emperor's servants? An unlimited number of anti-psykers, ready to push, perhaps, into the Eye of Terror itself. One could even create psycho-negative Space Marines. As the psyker mutation becomes steadily more prevalent in Imperial society, and it has been trending such since the Emperor walked Terra, we will need an ever more potent set of controls for such a population.

"I aim to learn what makes Karisas unique. Accordingly, my research holds the key to the Imperium's salvation. Would you dare interrupt such an undertaking?"

"You're insane, Archmagos. You delude yourself with hubris and meddle with powers greater than you. We know what you plan--how, after all, does one find a handful of untouchables in so massive a hive? Would you seriously have Hive Karisas's environmental control centers flood the hive with the psy-awakening drug Spook? Would you seriously turn every non-untouchable in the hive into a psyker just so that your psyk-out nukes would kill them and leave the untouchables alive? Thank the Emperor that we arrived in time to stop your flawed, rambling scheme."

"Such an assumption, Interrogator Vutch," sneered Harzachi with withering contempt. "Would I stand here calmly and permit you to cast all my plans into disarray? You may have taken your infantile maneuverings to be subtle, but be assured, I was forewarned of your approach."

A chill spread through Vutch. "You mean..."

"Precisely, Interrogator. I set my plan into motion thirty-five minutes ago; I imagine that by now, the Spook is circulating widely within the hive. You have no choice but to permit me to activate my pysk-out devices or risk a catastrophic warp breach and the loss of the entire planet. I will snare my prize yet."

"No..." Vutch breathed, looking out the porthole. "It's already too late. That many psykers..."

And reality on the planet far below them, contorted beyond imagining by the awakening screams of a hundred and thirty million newly empowered psykers, shattered.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:47 am

Faith of the Hunter

By Liliedhe


Where the beast passed, the light of the flames died. The fires, burning everywhere in the twisting corridors, continued to give off heat, but their light turned inward, represented now only by the shadows they cast. Even the fiery plains outside the windows seemed to lose their insidious glow. The daemons cowered behind pillars of burnt bone and broken skulls.

The ground shook where it tread. Darkness, thick and physical, covered the ground, congealing into pools along the walls and in the depressions left by the cloven hooves of the beast. The empty dying screams that floated on wings of gossamer and last regrets, became scorched and withered, burned by its rage. Embers, long burned, smoldered again.

The beast stopped, raising its great, horned head. Leathery wings, stretched over glowing bone, twitched. Stillness overcame its form, as it waited, sniffing the air. It had felt the hunter. A moment of intent, nothing more. Glowing red eyes scanned the shadows. There was nothing to see. Darkness held no meaning for the beast, just like light did not. It saw because it wanted to see, but it didn't.

It turned, taking in the air. Under its hooves, stones, smoothed by the tread of slaves and killers, cracked. Still nothing. Burnt and empty, the air. No scent of the hunter, no shadow cast. The beast felt for his rage, and was thwarted again. It roared, toppling columns, scattering black bones. Lashing out with wings and tail, it bestowed destruction on the walls and the floors, the high, arched, empty windows and the forlorn remains of the dead.

The beast shook its head, and became still again. It had been hunted before. It had always killed its hunters. Nothing could stand before its might. Sniffing, it smelt fire and rage, decay and the empty comforts of death. It smelled the ghost voices drifting through its mind and pushed them away. Where was the hunter? He had no scent.

Listening, the beast allowed the voices to reach its ears, but they were only the same as always, pleading, cursing, lying. Promising. It ignored them, looking for the voice of the hunter, for his sounds. Nothing. The only sounds the beast heard were its own, scales and skin, hooves. A heartbeat. And always the voices, pleading, cursing, lying. They were a caress on its skin, like the rake of a whip.

Sight, sound and smell were no help, so the beast dug deeper. Looked with its unique senses, for the rage in all living things, and all things dead. For the will to fight and kill, or to avenge, to stay alive against the odds. A bestial howl tore from the beast's throat like a volcano explodes from a glacier, shattering the walls.

It shuddered, crouching down. Somewhere in its mind, there was war. The hunter… He would strike, when it stopped being watchful. But it could not be weak. It wanted to find the hunter and tear him limb from limb, not play his game of stalking and tactics and cunning. It roared again, desperate to lunge, to strike. A dying shadow, last remnant of a scattered fire, twitched.

The beast pounced, wings allowing it to glide the distance easily despite its bulk. Claws rent, teeth tore. Gore coated the beast's face, dripping down from monstrous fangs. There! Once again a glimmer.

Intent. The hunter poised to spring. But he did not. The beast pounded against the wall, reducing it to rubble. Frustration at being thwarted formed itself to a desperate measure, to acknowledge something of it that had been dead.

"SHOW YOURSELF!" The scream tore itself from the beast's throat, no longer wordless. "COWARD! FIGHT ME!"

The beast tore through the corridors, crushing everything that moved. Leaving behind the hunter, but not the scream. Not the words. Not the voices. In acknowledging the existence of words, it had acknowledged them. The voices. The past. It crushed them to the floor, and ripped at them with its claws. It tore at them with its teeth. Blood spattered, painting the halls afresh in gore. It stomped them with its hooves, crushing them underfoot. But they would not be silenced. Pleading, cursing, lying. And promising.

And then, there was its own voice again. "I PROMISE!" At this, the hunter leapt. No intent. No wish to kill. No rage. Just a more insidious poison, the most insidious of all. A poison mortal to the beast, as it drifted on the smoking tendrils from the plains, the dark flames of the fires belching from its wounds. Hope… It trembled.

Claws outstretched, shadowwings behind, the hunter tore from the darkness of the beast's making. Lightning crackled. Metal screamed. Talons sunk into the shattered flesh of the beast, ripping through scales and skin, and white hot bones. Wounds. Blood. This was nectar to the beast, even if they were its own.

And so it laughed and lashed out, taking the hunter in the side with a massive arm. He fell, wings shattered, claws broken. The beast towered over him, impossibly tall. It raised a cloven hoof to stomp on him, to break him into pieces for his insolence. There was pain in its back, where the claws had ripped it, but this was nothing. The hunter had not struck to kill, only to wound.

And at this understanding, the beast's rage flared again. It smelled the poisonous odour of the hunter, the utter lack of fear as his existence was about to end. The beast would have torn apart the hunter, gladly. But it had spoken. It had understood. The voices were still around. So was the hunter, looking up, his eyes blacker than the beast's shadows, and so cold. In this cold, the rage slowed. It was driven back. And the beast set down the hoof again, and not on the hunter's body.

A hiss tore out of the beast's throat. The pressure of the voices increased. Pleading, cursing, lying. Promising. Hope. It shrank back. The hunter's voice joined the choir. Pleading, cursing.

Finally, the beast understood. It would have to speak, once again. It lowered its horned head to the hunter, baring its throat, offering its own death, to one who should want to live. The hunter lay utterly still. He did not even try…

"Not good enough."

The poison disappeared. The hunter's eyes closed, and something sparkled on his cheeks. No longer checked, the beast's rage tore through the dam of the hunter's coldness. A mighty swipe of a taloned hand threw the hunter through the hall, rending metal, shattering his body on the impact of a wall made of the dying curses of his kin. He crumpled, blood spreading over cracked stones. Once more, he looked at the beast, and now his eyes were full of hate as he spit blood into its face.

The beast began to laugh.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:49 am

Nightmare

By Sigan



The nightmare comes every night. It always starts with the same voice.

I am post-human. I have seen wars by the thousands, and I have killed more with bolt and sword than I care to count. I have brought battle to things that should never be, beings from beyond the veil of time and space. I have witnessed the destruction of civilizations, and the corruption of the Primordial Annihilator. For two-hundred and fifty-two years I have proudly served my Chapter, always first to battle and last to leave. Never have I faltered in my duty, and never have I felt fear or doubt.

Yet, this nightmare unnerves me to the core of my being. There is something powerful about it, something that appeals to the instincts bred in every sentient being since the dawn of time. The chill that comes from a wolf howling in the distance. The fear provoked by total darkness.
It is easy to believe that we are bred above mankind and all their concerns. Easy to forget that, deep down, there are things even the engineering of the Emperor, Beloved Above All, cannot suppress.

The nightmare is proof enough that we are all too human.

There are faces, too. Screaming people, contorted in eternal agony. I can never see them, but I feel the weight of their stares, of their accusations. They know I cannot do anything for them. They know they have been lied to: the Astartes cannot protect from everything.

Every time I try to see their faces, they fade in the distance, and their screams are renewed in an unholy crescendo. Then I turn my eyes and see the face of the daemon.

Its gaze is made from jewels of shining red, stuck in an ever smiling face. I can feel them looking at me, judging me, piercing me to the very core of my being. He is looking at me like one would look at a weapon hot from the forge, seeing the flaws and strengths of my construction.

Every night, it creeps closer and closer, and I can feel its iron grip on my being. Every night I wake up, cold from my own sweat, and I fall to my knees to pray the Eternal Emperor of Mankind’s forgiveness for my own weakness, for allowing the daemons of the Warp even the tiniest entrance in the realm of my mind.

And all along, I can hear it speaking to me. Its voice is loud like thunder, yet soft and poised. I can feel the edge of the smile creeping along its fleshless and unmoving lips even when I manage to look away. It promises me grandeur at his side, glory in battle and life eternal. It swears to rid me of my weak, mortal flesh envelope and forge me a new one through god-like powers. A part of me wants to embrace it, but my belief in the Immortal Emperor is too strong for me to succumb to such petty words. I shout my denial out loud, hurting my throat in an all too-human way, yet the daemon keeps coming.

All of this I tell to my Chaplain for the first time. He is the one who had chosen me all those years back and brought me in the folds of the Chapter. He has followed me ever since my first days as a novitiate. He hears, but he does not understand. He is not plagued by nightmares and the voices from beyond. He is kneeling, his back turned on me, praying the altar of the God-Emperor Triumphant silently while attending to my problems. But even if he does not understand, he is concerned. He knows me. He knows my strength and my faith. Too see me in such a state is a pain and a disappointment both. Pain for me and for my ordeal. Disappointment for my lack of willpower, my lack of capacity to just forget a simple bad dream and move on. Yet he does not say anything. I simply understand, through the way his shoulders slump, his breathing slows. His voice rises, and a chill I do not understand creeps down my spine. His words are balanced, and give no reproach. He gives me advice, support, reassurance. But I cannot listen to him. For when he turns around, I understand everything. My eyes and his lock, and I recognize his helmet. Not from our previous encounters, which are numerous, but from my dreams. It is his face I see every night. The lipless grin of the skull helmet and its fiery eyes. It is his voice I hear in my dreams, deformed by his fully-enclosed helm and by the passage of time. And I suddenly know why this nightmare was so powerful, so vivid.

It was not nightmare. It never was. Neither was it a daemonic incursion. They were memories. A tiny spark of my old life, my former life, had clawed its way into my mind, through the forced amnesia every Space Marine undergoes during his trials to finally join the ranks of the Astartes. I thought I had forgotten all of it: my mother’s anguish at my departure, my own fear of the giant clad in black and my denial of the fate it offered me. My resistance, my tears, my crying. They should have disappeared, through my transformation, faded under the weight of new memories my life as an Astartes had brought.

But they had not. After the tests, after the decades, the centuries of warfare, the child I have been is still alive somewhere.

Every night, I am this child.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:50 am

Ratione Peccati

By Liliedhe


Thranis, Battle Brother of the Blood Ravens on secondment to the Deathwatch, was moving through the rite of safe maintenance, carefully taking apart his bolt pistol, polishing each component, greasing where necessary and putting it back together. His lips moved as he called up all the ritual entreaties and blessings while his hands followed the movement pattern he had committed to memory back when he had still been a Scout. Neither took up enough of his attention to screen out the argument happening in the corridor in front of his cell.

He knew the voices, he knew the pattern of the altercation and he knew the outcome. Unless somebody decided to vary the litany for the 6th repetition, which he did not consider likely.

“Get out of my way, xenos lover.” That was Skrallan, the Space Wolf. Fenrisian accent, cultivated to be more obvious instead of being ground down by exposure to all the other intonations used by the Battle Brothers from other Chapters, a slightly petulant note to his voice and, as always, an intuitive leap for the next insult he considered fitting.

“There is a lot of room in the corridor, cousin.” The bored drawl of the Flesh Eater, Johash. Thranis had never heard this sort of accent and couldn’t place it, but the manner of speech was easy enough to interpret. The calm did not grow from a phlegmatic temper. Instead, it was a thin layer of self assured superiority covering a bottomless well of violence… And it would be removed the instance Johash found a nuisance to be sufficient to take notice of it.

“So step aside.”

Unfortunately, Johash and Skrallan where on two different training rotations, and their cells lay to either side of Thranis’s, who was on yet a third shift and had his rest cycle when those two started respectively finished their schedules, causing them to meet directly in front of his door. And this was rather thin, so he had a front row seat for this rather pedestrian melodrama.

‘Spirit of Foeseeker, travel gladly through this barrel…’ His rite continued, as he inserted the bore brush into the barrel and moved it back and forth, cleaning out residue.

Outside, there was silence. Thranis imagined both of them were staring at each other now, amber eyes on black ones. Or maybe the Space Wolf was twitching impatiently, while the Flesh Eater would merely look bored. He had never actually seen those altercations play out, just heard them. It was enough to make him sigh.

‘Remove all impurities, so righteous punishment can be inflicted…’

The sharp smell of the cleaning solution made his nose twitch. Sense memories flooded his brain, of all the times when he had followed this rite in less contemplative situations. Deft fingers discarded a soiled cloth and picked up a clean one to be soaked. He wiped the barrel down again.

“What does ork taste like? Like fire mushrooms? Is it true your holy book is a cook book with recipes for preparing them and all the other xenos you like?”

That was a new one. And actually rather… pointed, given the supposed proclivities of Johash’s chapter. Thranis’s hand, about to stopper the solvent bottle, froze. He heard something he didn’t want to hear. A step. Slow, deliberate, ponderous. Nothing like the quick, graceful movements of the Space Wolf.

A second one followed.

Thranis got up. Every time it got so far, he wondered about himself. It wasn’t like he was responsible what his temporary brothers did, right?

Three long steps took him to the door, while the slow footfalls became overlaid by a low, menacing growl, the kind a really big cat would make deep in its throat. On his approach, the door’s machine spirit reacted and opened it, revealing a familiar tableau:

Skrallan, fists raised, reddish mane bristling like the hairs on Thranis’s cleaning brush, eyes almost solid gold and fangs bared, and Johash slowly closing, black eyes blank and his aristocratic, ebon features covered by a sheen of sweat.

The Blood Raven stepped outside, causing both heads to snap into his direction, and held up the hand that still held the oil-soaked cloth he had intended to apply next. “Don’t stop on my account. I can continue the Rites of Maintenance later, when they’ve carted you off to the infirmary.”

It was irrelevant what he said, he knew. His appearance, his calm voice was enough. Some of the tension went out of the Flesh Eater and he shook his head to clear it, before shoving past them both and disappearing into his quarters, his shoulders hunched in shame. At least, that was how the Blood Raven interpreted it.

The Space Wolf, on the other hand, shot Thranis a venomous glance. “This is getting old, Witchkin. I fight my own battles. I don’t need you to protect my hide. Do you think I’m a weakling like you?”

“Protect you?” Thranis scoffed. It wasn’t for show. Even though his interference might be considered to benefit the aggressive Space Wolf, sparing him a possible beating and certain punishment, by now the Blood Raven would have gladly beaten the tar out of Skrallan with his own hands. That he did not was in deference to the oath he had sworn on his induction to the Deathwatch as well as his general dislike of waste. Like, waste of time, waste of energy, waste of resources to patch up Battle Brothers who had not been injured in the line of duty.

“I’m merely protecting my door. It’s so fragile; if one of you falls against it, it will dent so it will be impossible to open. And I don’t want to be late to my own training cycle.”

The Space Wolf made a rude gesture – at least Thranis assumed it was rude, his research had been inconclusive – and stalked off, too.

The Blood Raven took a couple of deep breaths before he went back inside as well. Despite his apparent calm, adrenalin surged through his body, because it had been prepared to counter the violence in the air if necessary. It wouldn’t do to continue the rite like this, so he focussed his emotions and slowly filtered them out, one after the other. This new focus enabled him to pick up again where he had stopped. He applied the cloth to Foeseeker’s barrel and gave it thin coating of oil.

‘Protect from inimical surroundings, so no tarnish may come to you…’
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby LordLucan » Wed Oct 02, 2013 2:26 pm

The Acolyte

By Corrigan Phoenix


Beads of sweat covered his naked body in a glistening coat, giving the hardened musculature there a carved, statuesque look that would have been pleasing in different circumstances. The crude iron bands and toughened leather cuffs held even his gene-enhanced body in place on the slab, holding him at bay for his tormentors. Blisters erupted across his calves, thighs and back as heat surged up through the stone. Pain swiftly followed, quickly gaining strength and building to gather in his brain. The temperature continued to soar, oxygen deprivation constricting-

his lungs as he ran along the alley. The brooding towers of the hive loomed above him, crowding into every angle, ever-present, as if watching his progress through its roots. Mist clung to the streets, stifling and sentient, like it wanted to misdirect him and entrap him within its damp coils. Against his thigh the holstered laspistol slapped repeatedly, heavy and annoyingly innocuous; a constant reminder that it was empty. A twinge somewhere in his chest made him glance down a side-street as he flashed by it, catching a glimpse of scaffolding off to his right. With a barely-audible growl of exertion, he changed course, footsteps echoing-

off the chamber walls as some piece of machinery started up. Vivid blue light flickered somewhere behind him, illuminating the grubby tiles for an instant before the electricity reached his shackles. Painful spasms shot throughout his body as every muscle contracted simultaneously, current-induced rigor sealing his mouth shut and cutting off his agonising roar. Something cracked-

as he pulled himself higher; a wooden strut snapping under his grip. A moment’s weightlessness caught him before he reacted, a hand shooting out to grab a metal beam above his head. He dangled there for a few seconds before collecting his strength and continuing the climb. The alley he had emerged from was already just a thin line by now, a crack amongst thousands in a spider’s web that made up the lower depths of the hive roots. His greatcoat billowed behind him in the wind, flapping incessantly like the wings of a giant bat, though he didn’t mind. It was a constant reminder of the strength of the gusting force, and the ease at which he could be plucked from the face of the hive. Fatigue built in his limbs as he climbed; the leaden feeling slowly-

creeping into his arms, legs and finally chest. The acolyte could clearly see the servitor’s pale, bland features as it smoothly slid each blade into his flesh. Emotionless and methodical, the many spidery limbs of the lobotomised servant crossed and danced about each other with mechanical choreography, ensuring no area of his body was free from the reach of the cold steel. Long cuts, deep borings, savage gouges and stuttering grazes were all delivered with the same identical motion. Each administration was perfect, attuned to the shape and layout of his inner workings to flay but not sever his nerves in order to deliver the maximum pain without diminishing feeling. Once again his threshold was approached, reached, and swiftly bypassed, and darkness enfolded-

his body as he slipped from the ventilation duct. The winding tubes of metal had been horribly claustrophobic, and seemingly unending. Luckily the slight mutation of his genes that granted him a few rudimentary psychic powers gave him a preternatural sense of direction and the varying ability to blend into the shadows. It was this potential that he utilised now, walking in the spaces between light as he delved deeper into the network of halls, tunnels and rooms within the hive. His agonising climb had brought him to the hive tower proper now, and the silence in absence of the howling wind was deafening.

The acolyte passed across junctions and circled around heavily guarded doors, following the directional twinges that his unconsciousness provided. Armed men crossed his path occasionally, yet he waited. He would know when the time came for violence. Time ceased to have meaning as he negotiated the pathways, countless men entering and leaving his awareness until a single moment that he had been awaiting. Something surged within his mind, like-


a brand searing into his brain, raw and hot with its power. The energy writhed inside his head, so incandescent that he could see the green flickering of it behind his eyes. A bass voice intoned within his mind, the words so potent and laden with power that the meaning escaped him. He felt its intellect wrap about his mind, tendrils of intent squirming for purchase in his psychic defences. The acolyte fortified himself, conjuring up images of steel vaults and locked doors in an attempt to keep his captor from his mind. Almost as an afterthought, he flicked a tendril of ethereal energy out in retaliation, hoping it would distract his opponent long enough for him to gather-

himself before flying out of the shadows at his target. His quarterstaff was already out of its holster and in his hand before he registered it, the butt descending in a blur towards the man’s head. Sparks flew as the metal casing on the end was met by the edge of a wickedly curved sword. Their arms blurred as they twisted and danced about one another, each searching for an opening in the other’s stance as strike after strike was met by equal force from the other. After a particularly complex flourish from his opponent, the acolyte thrust forward with the length of his weapon, catching his target full in the stomach and breaking the skin. The man went down hard onto the metal-plated floor, gasping for breath and a sharp pain blossomed in the back of the acolyte’s head.

Darkness lifted slowly, and he sat up. It took a few minutes of staring at his own body before he realised his skin was entirely unblemished, and a while longer for him to notice the lack of restraints. The acolyte stood gingerly, unsure of his own body.

“Be you pure of spirit and heart?” He flinched at the volume of the voice, though stood his ground.

“I am.” His own voice was quiet, and raspy from his ordeal.

“Be you loyal to Him, the highest above us all?”

“I am the God-Emperor’s own – as I have always been.” There was a pause before the reply came.

“And what of your traitorous words earlier?”

“There were none – for I would never break His holy trust.”

A golden hammer slammed head-down onto the stone floor before him, a giant of a man stepping before him, resplendent in royal blue robes and black power armour.

“Then grasp His divine hammer, say the oath before us, and be reborn anew as his vessel”

He knelt, and as he spoke the oath a weight seemed to settle upon him – the weight of his divine duty and the future of mankind.

An acolyte knelt; an Inquisitor rose.
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