RiaR: Winners' Thread

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

RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:36 pm

This is the repository for those stories that have won the 'Read in a Rush' competition. If you're looking for high quality stories to read in a spare few minutes, look no further. :D

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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:37 pm

I Need Your Help

By Mossy Toes



Marcius Cognomen was a blessed man. He knew this because he had been told this. He had been told that he was blessed because he had been granted a bed upon which to sleep, because he supped twice daily upon meals which were rarely not provided, and mostly because he did the Holy Work.

He was a Scribe, and his official designation was Canticles MMMCXIX: Book of Saint Marcius Vladistus Insert-Cognomen-Here. That was his Holy Work, and he did it as his masters expected: flawlessly. Each day, he took his quill-stylus, dipped it, and began his work. He did not need to blot, as to make an error was a concept beyond his understanding.

He was not exceptional in his work. He simply obeyed his Masters, as did all of his fellows, all of his fellow members of the Holy Work. He was familiar with many faces amongst the Canticle Wing, but not names. His masters frowned upon fraternization, as it distracted and imbalanced the mind.

Faint whimpers came from the desk behind him, again. He ignored them. Ignoring what he wasn't supposed to hear or see was very easy.

Marcius continued his work without having stopped, or even wavered. Eventually, after an indistinct amount of time, he came to the end of the volume, all four thousand, eight hundred and thirty-two Canticles of Marcius. He let the last ink dry, closed the volume, and set it gently beside him in the Basket of Retrieval. Eventually, it would be collected. Meanwhile, he opened the next volume and began fill out the foreword and the table of contents.

In doing this work, his soul was fed. He wasn't sure of many things, but he was sure of that. Deacon Celestius told them that every morning after they came in and sat down. Celestius droned his sermon in that selfsame monotone every day, then stood, silent, at his pulpit until closing. Then his pallid flesh jerked into motion once again, and the prerecorded message came blaring from his necrotic lips, always the exact same words. Deacon Celestius was a comfort to his flock, even now, long after he had been servitorized.

Feet marched along the aisle way beside him. Heavy, booted feet—not the slippered shuffle of the Retrievers. It was the Enforcers, then, the Brown-Coats. Those were the only two types of Servants allowed in the room, apart from the Deacon and the Scribes, obviously.

Muffled thuds behind him. He finished the dedication, penned in perfect calligraphy. Cloth tore, and there was a gasping sob. Another Brown-Coat strode past Marcius to the desk behind him. Satisfied that the ink was dry, he gently turned the page and wrote the opening title and heading.

The two Brown-Coats walked past Marcius again, carrying a struggling figure. He set his quill down for until they had passed and capped his inkwell—it would not do to be jostled and to spill.

They carried Domopho Kilourne, the woman who sat behind him: Canticles MMMCXX: Book of Father Domopho Regenine Kilourne. Or rather, had used to. Her first Disturbance had resulted in the loss of her tongue; this being her second, she would not return. She would be replaced, now, by another Domopho Kilourne.

Her shirt was torn open, revealing the flesh beneath, and her nose was crushed and gouting blood. It turned out to have been prudent of Marcius to have closed his inkwell. As Domopho was carried past, her arm reached out and snared the leg of his wooden desk, jolting its balance precariously. He gazed impassionately at her.

Help me, she mouthed desperately, voicelessly. Help me help me help me don't let them take me away. I need your help.

He gazed at her without moving. A dribblet of blood splattered noiselessly from her crushed nostril to the desktop, but, blessedly, didn't hit any parchment. One breast flopped against the wood.

The Brown-Coats pried her fingers loose with muffled curses and carried her away. Marcius looked down and carefully laid a page of blotting paper over the fallen drops of blood.

The image of the breast lingered in his mind for several moments more. Mammary gland, he thought. Storage for infant sustenance, and related to a major portion of maternal-filial bonding: wet-feeding. His early teachings in the Schola Infantus, before the Masters had chosen his vocation, had taught him that much.

He did not remember his own mother. He had taken away as soon as he had been weaned, “to prevent unnecessary partnerships from forming, and tempting the darkness,” the Masters said. Their methods were without error.

He opened his inkwell again, dipped his quill, and began writing the First Canticle of Marcius. This time, he murmured the first lines, as they seemed especially fitting for the moment.

“Verse One: Praise to Saint Alicia Dominica,

For she is all-nurturing, all-caring;

Let her shelter us in times of need,

Let her raise us with the fervor of His Word,

Let her never be forgotten from our minds, or replaced,

For she is our Divine Mother,

And in Her sheltering arms we need no other.”


His faint whisper died, and around him, as far as the darkness extended in all directions, the Holy Work continued. The scratching of quills continued in their tiny, desperate worlds, never to rest. Next to his right hand, the red stain that had appeared through the blotting paper began to spread.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:38 pm

The Day of Falling

By Grenadier the 2nd



Where the sky met the cliff and the cliff met the sea, all was grey. Grey was the colour of the clouds above, grey was the colour of the clay underfoot, grey was the colour of the leaden waves as they crashed again and again against the cliff’s base. Grey was the colour of the whole world on that day, for it was the Day of Falling.

It was a day the tribe had long waited for. A day when even the wave-divers were nowhere to be seen, when there was neither sight nor sound of any living beast, bar the seven figures stood on the edge of the cliff. To have performed this most sacred of rituals when there was life and vibrancy present would have been an abomination, an affront to the Grandfather. If the boys fells at a time when lifelessness did not dominate the clifftop then the tribe would languish under seven summers and seven winters of famine. Or so the shamans said.

Althuk had always paid heed to the words of the shaman. His father had taught him well. One respected the trio of gibbering cripples not because of their age, but because of the favour which the Grandfather had so visibly invested in them. Their stooped, rancid forms were perhaps the most beautiful things Althuk had laid eyes upon in all his thirteen summers. Their words were the words of the Grandfather, unto whom all praise be.

Althuk himself had been blessed. As a child in his mother’s arms he had been visited by the most beatific of poxes. The family had rejoiced, and all the men and women of the tribe had come to visit him, praying that the blessing would be passed onto them in turn. Althuk still bore the scares with pride.

Kvellik, his elder sibling, had never been so fortunate. His skin remained unblemished, even after fifteen summers. This was his third Day of Falling. That he had thus far been unsuccessful was, to Althuk, a clear sign – Kvellik was not worthy to inherit their father’s lands, cattle and women. Today would prove Althuk’s favour in the eye of the Grandfather, and see his rival brother cast back from the cliff in failure and defeat.

The wind tugged at the two youths as they stood at the very edge of the cliff, unmindful of the surf hammering away below them. At their backs were those who would judge them. The three shamans stood, leaning heavenly on their gnarled staffs, hissing and spitting. At their sides was father, arms crossed over his broad chest, a stern scowl creasing his brow as he surveyed his two offspring, ever searching for weakness. And beside him was stood the chieftain himself, the most blessed of all, whose blade of rusting steel remained ever-keen and whose corroded plate armour could turn aside any blow. Althuk could feel the chieftain’s gaze burning into his back. Before such an assemblage, he would not fail.

The dizzying drop yawning out before him brought no fear. Not even the sight of part of the cliff crumbling away beneath caused him even the slightest twinge of dread – far from it, he rejoiced. At his side he could feel Kvellik’s hopes also rise. Surely the cliff must crumble soon, and cast them both down into the thunderous embrace of the waves far below?

‘This is my destiny, brother,’ the muttered words of Kvellik reached him over the howling of the wind. ‘Our family will bow to me before the day’s end.’

‘We shall let the Grandfather decide,’ Althuk snapped back. It did not seem right to disturb the sacred importance of this occasion with words. For as long as the tribe had eked its existence out of the rocky shores of western Norsica, this had been their way – upon reaching their thirteenth summer the males of the tribe would stand upon the cliff’s edge on the Day of Falling, and hope that the rock, blessed with decay, crumbled beneath them. Those who survived the fall and were washed back ashore became men. Those who perished in the icy, crashing surf were forgotten. Those for whom the cliff did not crumble were cast out. It was only the high status of his father that had stopped Kvellik, who had already failed his Day of Falling thrice past, from being slain out of hand. Althuk knew he would not have to rely on such charity. This was his first Falling, and he knew it would be his last. Beneath his bare feet he could feel the rock shifting fractionally, sense the grating of stone as it started to give way, as slow and inexorable as the blessed rot itself.

It would not be long.

Kvellik, likewise, could sense the cliff edge begin to shift. Althuk caught snatches of his despised brother’s voice as me mouthed a chant to the Grandfather. Althuk needed no such comforts – he was strong in his faith. He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply, savouring the salty wind as it battered against him. And there, on the very edge of his senses, he caught the smell of something else – the merest hint of decay. In that split second, Althuk knew he must triumph.

With an ear-splitting crack the section of the cliff upon which Althuk stood gave way, tumbling into the sea as the rot of ages finally made good it’s long, slow work. Althuk fell with it, a cry of exultation torn from his lips as he plummeted over the edge towards the Sea of Claws. The last sound he heard before he hit the waves was his brother, still standing safe on the cliff top, screaming in rage.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:39 pm

Awakening

By Boc


Coldness.

That is what I feel, coldness and the feeling of antiquity.

Ancient.

That is what they call me. I remember now, my name at least. The rest is lost in the gloom, in blackness.

I am surrounded by it, infused by it. The darkness seems to consume me, and I it. A darkness of unnatural depth, of impenetrable density.

I test my arms first, only to feel half-feelings, half-sensations. A swishing sound, I am immersed. I cannot move, but can only gain the sensation of absence. My limbs, my very body itself are nothing.

Senses begin to fill me, what I am, who I was.

I was a man, once. No, never a man, a boy. A boy, snatched away from his home, a lost, forlorn and forgotten place.

A boy, turned into a more-than-man. Yes, I remember. A reservoir of memories held precariously back by a dam finally finds a weakness, a seam in the rockcrete. A trickle at first, then a spray find their way. Images and recollections fly, appearing and then vanishing millions of times in a second.

A more-than-man, a Space Marine. I was an Astartes once, but no longer. Brother Pharrus, yes. A battle-brother, then sergeant, then captain.

My brothers had called me Pharrus the Furious. It was but a jest, but it was true. I knew nothing but hatred and rage, never satisfied until the utter annihilation of the foe.

I remember now, even as I see my exploits, my feats in the flesh in crushing my enemies in the name of the Emperor.

I twitch, a not-smile attempting to form. I cannot smile, never again. I remember now, yes. My code, my life.

Burn the heretic. I see a cathedral of the Ecclesiarchy, bastardized and tainted with the warped symbols of Chaos, overflowing with traitors. I let loose with my flamer and watch as the building transforms into a blazing inferno.

Kill the alien. I see my squad cutting through a throng of Orks, chainswords hacking limbs and torsos, their filthy blood spurting in great arcs. We mow down a squad of Eldar Banshees with bolter fire, bursting their fragile bodies apart.

Purge the mutant. I see my company stalking through a village, hunting down without mercy a family of rogue psykers. We found them, crushing them without mercy. Fifteen of my men died that day. I remember.

All of this ended at the hands of a Defiler. I died, I was incinerated. I remember feeling my armour melt, the ceremite flowing down in molten rivulets, solidifying and welding me to the ground. I remember the anguish of my skin flaying from my bones, the pain and release of death. Of everything I remember, I remember dying.

And was reborn. I remember now, death and life. I was never truly a man, and am no longer a Space Marine. I am something else.

Dreadnought. This is what I am. The rage, righteousness, and will to survive of Mankind. I am Man, Astartes, and Mechanicus melded together. I am something more, a product of all that is greater than any one.

“Venerable?” A voice echoes in my confines.

I open my eyes, seeing not with the destroyed and vacant sockets on my flesh-face, but with the enhanced optics of my armour. Everything around me is portrayed directly into my brain, vividly depicting texture, composition, weak points. Nothing was overlooked.

A not-man stared at me. Possibly once human, now transcended into something else. Tech-priest, my memories kept flooding in, the dam broken.

I speak, not with the smooth flap of skin and scar tissue where my mouth once was, but booming from vox casters. “Why have you woken me, priest?” Not my voice, once deep and noble, but a mechanical, emotionless bleat, almost a bellow.

“Lord, the Chapter needs you. Chapter Master Vallius requires your presence in the coming attack. Further details will be fed to you via noosphere. Your drop pod is prepared.” The man-machine, Mechanicus, spoke not with words, but in a blurt of code, of ones and zeros deciphered and translated before implanting themselves directly into my brain.

I walk, not with the twisted stumps that were once my flesh-legs, but with massive, piston-driven machinery. Plodding and ponderous, I depart from the room. The Chapter Master has called me, and I will answer.

I prepare for the purpose of my awakening.

The drop pod shudders as thrusters ignite, slowing its descent. The moment nears; the need of my Chapter will be met. Smashing into the ground, the doors hiss downwards.

I am unleashed.

“I have come to destroy you!” I bellow the words and they cut across the battlefield. My almost-comrades of the Invictors cheer as I advance at their forefront, my cannon whirring and my fist crackling. I have come, and I will destroy.

No longer a Man, no longer a Space Marine, I am cold, calculating, a product of the Mechanicus. I feel no emotion. I know that I should, but I do not.

No elation at having awakened, no satisfaction in executing my duties to the Emperor, in extinguishing the enemies of Mankind. No apprehension as I enter battle, as my assault cannon rotates, spitting out tens of thousands of rounds. No contentment as the despicable orks split like melons, exploding from the inside, shattering into quivering chunks of flesh.

I was once the Furious, zealously crushing the enemy on hundreds of planets the span of the Ultima Segmentum.

Now I am cold, emotionless. I prosecute the enemies of the Chapter simply because that is why I exist. I am justice incarnate, death to any who stand against the Right of the Imperium. I am detached, aloof, for I am dead.

Fury is for the living.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:43 pm

Nothing Left
By Boc



“What the hell is going on?” Colonel Chafen demanded, “Where are my boys?”

His query went unanswered, his words hanging in the air. All eyes in the room were cast upon the pict viewer, all mouths agape. The Veskassian 28th Light had disappeared five minutes before, the column of men charging into the awaiting maws of the city before them. Wide, gaping streets had swallowed them whole; no flashes of explosions had hinted to close quarters fighting, no vox signals had revealed their very existence.

Until now.

His regiment of nearly ten thousand men had vanished as a fiery mushroom cloud rose from the centre of the settlement. Even in the situation room thirty kilometres away, the blast had been colossal. Tremors had rattled the Leviathan, scattering men and toppling equipment in its unrelenting fury.

“Dammit, I will have you all skinned if I do not get a status report!” He could feel his ire rising with the panic that had already built. Luckily, the threat shocked the staff officers into action, sending men running back to their vacant stations. Were it not for the strain in the shouts across the room, it may have seemed to be business as normal.

“Sir,” a lieutenant called from his console, “Valkyries report that they’ll be doing a flyover in two minutes, call sign Gryphon Six Five.”

Chafen knew, deep down, that the reconnaissance was unnecessary. The blast had been tremendous, an atomic weapon of untold power. Already, the millions of tonnes of dirt and debris that had been cast into the atmosphere were wafting downwards, inexorably giving in to the will of gravity. Irradiated dust particles descended in tainted clouds, obscuring the view of the city with their poisonous haze.

No man could have survived the detonation, not unprotected and on foot. His outrage began to fade, the heat of his temper cooled. Despair filled the gap it left, as he felt his soul and spirits plummet. His stomach seemed to pull downward, his entire gut was sinking.

His men, his beloved regiment, was gone. No, not gone, obliterated. Clearing his throat, he spoke again, “Thank you, lieutenant.” The sound was barely a whisper, the voice of a man who has lost the only thing he ever held dear.

This is my doing. The thought abruptly burst into his mind. I could have prevented this.

“Birds are on station now, sir,” reported the lieutenant, interrupting Chafen’s reverie.

His attention was once again on the pict-screen hanging on the wall. The sudden bustle ceased as the Valkyrie’s optics attempted to penetrate the miasma. Switching to a thermal view, the image suddenly cleared into a decipherable picture, interrupted by specks of white hot dust.

The vista it revealed was utterly devastated. Buildings were shattered and burning, husks of what they had been. Twisted debris littered the streets. Scantly recognizable ground-cars protruded from buildings, where they had been hurled in the shockwave. Lumi-posts were melted and slagged, lining the thoroughfares like beacons guiding the aircraft to disaster.

What he wanted to see, yearned to see, was absent. The only movements were the flames and their shadows, dancing in the wind.

“Two Eight Base, this is Gryphon Six Five,” the pilot’s voice crackled from the vox-unit, “auspex readings are negative for life signs.” He paused, knowing the implications of his next word, “they’re all gone, sir.”

Nodding slowly, Chafen closed his eyes. “Send my regards to the pilot. I will be in my chambers,” he croaked from his parched throat.

With that, he turned and left, leaving the other officers behind. This is my fault, this is my fault. The thought kept repeating in his mind, a broken pict-reel stuck on the same image.

He knew it was true; the Lord General himself had recommended an orbital strike to annihilate the Chaos forces barricaded in the town. But hubris, damned hubris, had led Chafen to insist on a ground assault.

“My Lord, the Twenty Eighth can take it, send us in,” he had said. There was no finer light regiment in the entire Imperial Guard battle group. He was fiercely proud of his men, his boys. There was no fortification too secure, no enemy too equipped to resist the Twenty Eighth. “My boys will cleanse the heretic scum.”

The Lord General had lifted an eyebrow at this, “Colonel, of this I have no doubt. However, our intelligence in the area is b******* at best. Are you ready to gamble your regiment on that?”

Confidence had filled him, “Sir, if anyone can crack that hellhole open, it’s us.”

“Very well then, be prepared to attack at dawn.”


The memory plagued him until he reached his private quarters. Upon entering, he sat down at his desk and stared into nothingness, unable to shake the truth: he had knowingly sent his men to their deaths. There had been no chance, no possibility of fighting back against a weapon like that. He should have listened to the Lord General, should have swallowed his pride and his boys would still be alive.

A soft chime sounded at his door.

“Enter,” he called. What now...

The portal hissed open to reveal a courier. “Dispatch from the Lord General, sir,” the young man said. He marched to the desk and saluted smartly before placing a large yellow envelope onto its surface. Without waiting for an acknowledgment, the messenger about-faced and departed.

Chafen sighed wearily and grabbed for the package, surprised at its weight. Grabbing his combat knife, he cut the top of it open and reached inside. His fingers closed around something cylindrical and cold.

He removed the object from the envelope. An autopistol. A small note was tied around the grip. The sinking feeling in his gut intensified as his heartbeat hammered in his ears. He unfolded the note and read it.

You have failed your men. You have failed me. Atonement is in order.

On the bottom of the scrap was the mark of the Lord General.

Realisation swept over him. He had committed a mortal sin through his pride, and cost the God-Emperor thousands of his sons. Unworthy of the Emperor’s light and grace, there was only one thing left for him to do. He had to offer penance... with his regiment destroyed, his career in ruins, there was but one thing left to offer.

Boys, he thought, I’m sorry. He closed his eyes and smiled sadly as a single tear slowly ran down his face.

The barrel was cool against his temple, soothing and placating his despair.

“God-Emperor, forgive me.”

The shot echoed throughout the chamber.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:44 pm

Stormvald
By LordLucan



There is no hope on Stormvald. I arrived to find a tomb, a world held in the stasis of death. I had expected a mon keigh world filled with desperate, scared beings, holding out against hope behind thick and static bulwarks of primitive mon keigh stone and adamantine alloy. But no, it was a world filled with a strange sense of peace. In all my lives, in all my wars, never have I seen a world like this. A billion souls, who looked out into the void and saw their doom coming. They did not let it defeat them, but they instead denied the great hunger its change to undo their works, and subvert their souls. Noble in a way, a flickering persona considers, deep within me. Noble for a mon keigh, another boisterous voice cuts in, before being quelled in soothing wraithbone jewels.

The people of Stormvald, in their own honourable fashion, destroyed themselves rather than allow the penance of the Elder Gods to scour them from existence. They poisoned their crops, and fell upon their swords. The left nothing for the great beast. Nothing. They did not care that their legacy was lost. They did not care that they would be, ultimately, forgotten before the end of things.

I wandered the world for a time, my slender feet walking almost knee high in ashes and sundered stone. There was no life here. There was nothing but myself and the wailing wind. Yet still, as I look from beneath my embroidered cowl, I can see the twinkling shapes of new stars in the swirling void above me. The night’s sky, sullied by the stain of the hunger which cannot be contained or slain. I linger still upon this world. Calmly, so calmly, I intone the runes of destruction, and watch the wraithgate which bore me hence, disintegrate into nothingness.

The seers sent me here, though they know it not. They dare not order my kind. No, but they spoke and thought in whispered gasps. They spoke of the world of the tempest. The world where only death lingers, a world destroyed by the fear of the swarm and the horror it brings. They knew the gate of this world led to their own hallowed halls, but dared not interfere with the prophecy. They needed me, and I obliged.

I drift on through the empty streets and broken avenues of the world, running my smooth hands across the silent stone. Names and faces from a million recalled battlefields flood my mind, but I quieten them all. This is not the place to damn the mon keigh or despise their ways. This world is not the work of the vile egotists who try to bend the universe to the insane whim of the Living Lord of the Undeath, the corpse god, the faithless king on his Golden Throne, demanding praise for his own godlessness. No, this was a simple and heartbreaking act; the last dying defiance of a doomed civilisation. It is ironic that I can trace numerous similarities between these hopeless savages and the mighty doom of my own race; a doom my kind alone will escape.

The seers, they see far. They see my doom here, but also in far distant times. But they are limited. I have seen much, with many eyes and I have seen what they have not. Calmly, I enter a square, my grey cloak sheltering me from the worst of the bitter gale which blows eternally across this world of storms. A flash sunders the heavens, followed by the roar of thunder. The deluge comes then, a rolling living torrent of water as grey and cold as the ground it saturates. I watch as it patters to the ground, drop by relentless drop.

I glance towards the far horizon. The clouds are bleeding, churning red and orange deep inside. Rain pours down as fire from on high in the distant reaches. I knew then that it was time. The great beast had come. A tendril; an entire thrashing arm of the great abomination mon keigh called Leviathan, was falling upon Stormvald to pick the corpse clean of anything green or breathing which yet resisted it. A million million spores, wombs full of endless progeny of the beast, crashed to the surface in great conflagrations that illuminated the grey evening like a grim crimson sun rise. And endless horde, driven by a hunger for survival encoded into their very bodies by an intelligence beyond the comprehension of any sane being. I could taste the colossal disappointment the impossible mind of the swarm must have felt then, at that moment.

It had come to devour a lush paradise, and all it got was an ashen ruin. It was more than it deserved, I cursed, as I tossed aside my cloak. I refused to let Stormvald be forgotten. Its people deserved more. Its people deserved some measure of victory, or at least recognition that they had ever existed at all. I emitted no war cry; my fury was cool as steel. It was with slow deliberation that I set my feet in place. Gradually, I raised Maugetar in a great challenge, as if I were challenging the fates and Asuryan himself.

The seers were right in one regard, I mused with many souls. Death does linger upon Stormvald, and I am he. I am Maugan Ra, the aspect of the Reaper, and I raise my scythe as a challenge. I will not lower it again until death has had its fill. I will avenge Stormvald, and raise it from the ignominy of being forgotten amidst the endless tide of the mon keigh’s ignorance. They will remember this world, as the world where one stood against many, and triumphed!

Maugetar sings as it hurls the first of its shurikens into the onrushing horde. Each shot slays a leader beast. The next volley slays a dozen more. If this was to be my end, then what an end I would make it!

I smile as the skies darken with winged fiends.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:46 pm

Birth and Death

by Gaius Marius


‘Are you worthy?’

‘Yes.’


He was cut from the womb, a bloody torrent of amniotic fluid falling from him as his connection to his mother was severed. Mucus was pulled roughly from his nose and throat with a piece of straw. He screamed, a pathetic mewling cry that was all his infantile lungs could give that nonetheless filled the filthy hut. Beneath him blood still poured from the torn abdomen of his mother.

…..

The martoff snarled, baring fangs the size of forearms at him. Fan-like folds of skin inflated along its scaly neck as the beast inhaled, drawing in oxygen and the cloying methane stink of the swamp. He dodged to the side as the martoff roared, exhaling a blast of flame as it did so.

That was when he struck, his adolescent arm propelling the flint tipped spear in his hand. The javelin flew through the air, landing straight into the tank sized martoff’s mouth. It pierced the back of the monster’s mouth, razor sharp flint cutting through muscle and gristle to severe nerve and vein. Blood fountained from between the reptile’s jaws as it thrashed upon the marshy ground.

The hunter walked cautiously towards it, a stone knife gripped in his hand.

…..

‘You have brought me the heart of a bull martoff,’ the angel spoke, his voice rumbling forth like an earthquake from the grill on his helm. Armor quartered into crimson and white hues covered his already gigantic form.

‘Yes,’ said the hunter, ‘I have.’

‘That was not a question,’ the angel replied, ‘but, do you know what this means?’

‘I do.’

‘You can never go back from here,’ the angel stated, ‘once you begin the training your old life is over. Do you still wish to continue? Do you still wish to become Astartes, to serve in the Emperor’s wars for all your life? To fight, live and die in his Name?’

‘Yes.’

…..

‘Show me more’

His bolt pistol bucked in his hands, spitting shells into the squad of heretics. A dozen of the lightly armored cultists died in bare seconds, their flak armor pierced by the blessed bolts. He impaled their officer upon the end of his combat spatha, viscera pouring down the blade. With a twist he shook the Slaaneshi filth off of his weapon.

His organ implantation was only half complete, but already he towered over mortal men. From the carapace plate emblazoned with the colors of the Flame Griffons he drew another magazine, slapping it into place in his pistol. He ran at a jog, faster than he could have sprinted not so long ago. His armored boot kicked open a hatch door and the command team inside died in a moment of gunfire. Plasteel clad fingers danced over a key board, sending signals to generatoria buried deep beneath this fortress.

Above him, the thick, multilayered void shields that protected this fastness of evil collapsed for want of energy. The grimy acidic rain of this fallen hive world fell inside the fortress for the first time in years. The rain of drop pods occurred for the first and last time in its history.

‘Good work inititate,’ the voice of his captain spoke in his ear, ‘you are ready for the last implantation rituals. Welcome to Fourth Company, Battle Brother.’

……

‘More’

A plasma bolt flew from his side arm, evaporating the faceplate and skull of the charging Khornate berserker. His power sword caught the swing of the next World Eater’s chain ax, ruining the chaos weapon. He smashed the butt of his pistol into the berserker’s nose, crushing it backwards into what remained of the heretic’s brain.

‘Foreward 4th company! For Him on Terra and the Primarch!!’ he cried into the vox of his artificer armor.

Around him the hundred battle brothers of fourth company charged forwards, meeting the castles’ World Eater defenders with chain blade and bolters. Missiles and plasma bolts from the devastators toppled a gun tower, sending it down in flaming ruin. An explosion hit the heavy weapons marines, sending one of the veteran warriors flying.

He saw the shooter, his helms warning runes flashing as the daemon stalked forth with a huge gun clutched in its claws. Before it could fire again his plasma pistol barked thrice, emptying its power cell. All of the bolts struck, melting the gun to a useless club.

He charged forth, power sword blazing. The warp beast slapped him to the ground easily, one enormous foot slamming into his chest as he lay on the ground. As his ribs cracked and organs ruptured, he threw up his power sword, the crackling blade piercing the daemon’s skull.

‘Keep fighting 4th company!’ he gasped, ‘In the Emperor’s name!’

Gunfire and footsteps neared him, his battle brother’s hurrying to his side.

‘Captain,’ said his senior sergeant, horror in his voice.

‘Gilead…have them entomb me…allow me to keep fighting… in his Name.’

…..

‘More’

‘I have awoken’ his voice rippled like thunder across the strike cruiser’s mausoleum, ‘what is needed of me in the Emperor’s Name?’

‘Ancient,’ Captain Gilead kneeled before him, ‘we have need of you. The Tyranid beasts encroach upon Mankind’s domain, we can stop this splinter fleet, if we can kill the Norn queen at its core.’

‘Then the Xenos shall die.’

…..

More, your last act. Who you are when faced with doom.

Brood beasts and warrior creatures lay dead and dying at his massive clawed feet. Two full squads of Flame Griffons mixed in with them. His assault cannon hissed and steamed at his side, so hot had the weapon become. In front of him the Norn Queen snarled, venom dripping down her huge jaws.

‘The Emperor’s subjects shall not fall beneath your hordes Xenos,’ he spat, his weapons tooling up. His last rounds tore into the massive Tyranid beast, ripping one of her legs from her bloated body. Even as she fell he charged forth, eager to kill the alien.

Her chitin arm, massive and clawed shot forth, parting blessed Adamantium and Ceramite as if it were paper. He looked down at the huge limb sticking through both of his chests and with his power fist grabbed hold of it. With a jerk he hauled himself forth upon the instrument of his death, until he was within range of the Xenos monster.

His power claw swung once.

……

‘Have I done enough Gene-Father?’

‘More than enough my son; enough for three lifetimes. At my side you have earned a place to rest and prepare for the last battle.’
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:48 pm

My Lightning and I

by xrayex





I watch the spider-web cracks appear across the glassaic in front of me with regret. The fractures travel like water running upwards, splitting out across the cockpit’s face like the twisted branches of a tree. Around me, explosions fill the air with heat and noise, flashes of red light casting the interior of my Lightning fighter a deep crimson, as if I am sitting low inside the gut of a beast.

Below me, as I streak overhead, contrails streaming from my fighter’s jet engines, the xenos dance. They are like us, but so not like us. Slender forms in armour that looks to be cast from the bones of the dead, strange xeno forms, speaking in their strange, xeno tongue.

More explosions, and the glassaic fractures again, the gutters in the seamless window becoming wider. The noises from the war outside get louder as it filters its way in through the cracks.

We are the last of my squadron, my Lightning and I. Her given name is Inhumanus Fortuna. I call her Elleren. A bone-jarring shudder shakes us, and I feel power drain from one of the engines. It won’t be long now before my Elleren and I make our last landing.

The vox crackles, and it is her. The real Elleren. Her voice is full of horror and woe, I can hear tears in her words.

“What are you doing?” she says, and I find tears tracking down my own face, sliding down as more cracks slide up the cockpit glassaic.

“My duty, Elleren.” I say, matter-of-factly, although my heart feels as if it will leap from my chest with fear.

“You were told to return to base! You cannot hurt them like this Rudy.” I smile a little when she says my name.

“I can try. We won’t win this war any other way, Elle. If I’m going to sell my life, I’ll do it bloody dearly.” I say this, and I believe it, but it doesn’t stop my hands shaking in their leather flight gloves. My Elleren of steel and silver shakes too. We are nearing the xeno lines, and they are firing on us.

“Rudy.” She says, falteringly. “Rudy.” Again like a mantra. My left wing takes a hit, and the world turns upside-down. I right her, but she’s fighting me now. She wants to land, and I won’t be able to stop her.

“Elle. If I can kill their most valuable weapon, you might have a chance to hit them back.” I say as the cockpit judders around me, the instruments whine, blaring out warnings about altitude and pitch. I’m losing height, and through the cockpit, I see the ground rushing up, dotted with the clean-line forms of grav-tanks and strange, graceful walkers.

“But it might not even work,” she mumbles, and I am inclined to agree, though I don’t vocalise it. Instead I bury myself under a comforting layer of bravado.

“It’s worth the chance. No matter what happens.” I say, convincing myself as much as I probably convince her.

The vox stays silent, or an approximation of such. I fancy I can hear her breathing, although the backdrop of the vox channel is filled with the mutters of gunfire and screams. A grav tank rushes up to meet me, and for a moment, we dance on the air as they strafe me with shots from their weapons. I loose the last of my Hellstrike missiles, and behind the tank as it crashes to the earth aflame, I see my target. The Void Spinner.

The Void Spinner is a scourer of lives. The cannon atop the hulking form of the tank has the power to break down living matter, to completely destroy life. We will annihilate it, my Lightning and I.

The Void Spinner sits on an outcrop, surrounded by other grav-tanks, a bodyguard wall. If I am quick enough, we can weave our way through. I have no Hellstrikes left, nothing with which to scratch the Void Spinner’s surface, save for my Lightning. I offer prayer to the Emperor that it will be enough.

The vox crackles again, and Elleren’s voice fills my ears.

“Emperor damn you Rudy. Why do you have to play the hero.” She sounds angry but I know she doesn’t mean it. She knows as well as I do that if the Void Spinner isn’t destroyed, we don’t stand a cat in hell’s chance. This is the only way, and I cannot fail.

“You know I only do it to impress you, Elle.” I laugh, even as I grip the controls tighter, and dip my ailing fighter towards the quickly growing form of the Void Spinner. One of my engines is completely blown now, and she spirals as she falls, twisting the world outside into a sickening blur of colour.

“Stop it Rudy.” I hear her draw a heavy, ragged breath. “You never were very funny, do you know that?” She sighs, and the sound of it fills the cockpit. I close my eyes for just a second to let it wash over me, but I am torn from it by a roar of engines. The grav-tanks are coming to meet me. I push on the throttle, and ignore the instruments as they scream, the frame of my Lightning rattling with the force of it.

“Elle. You’re going to lose me in a couple of seconds.” I say this, and now I feel it. The crushing weight of my impending death. The grav-tanks open fire on my Lightning, and she starts to break apart, as they tear ragged chunks out of her wings.

“Rudy!” It’s a shout now, desperation in a word. “Rudy, don’t-“ A stray shot takes out the vox unit, and her voice dies, leaving me with nothing but the roar of the air and the rattle and rush of discharging weapons. The Void Spinner fills my vision now, the massive, smooth shape of it rising up like the side of a black-bone mountain.

I close my eyes, and the last thing I think of is her. Elleren.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:51 pm

Help Me

By Tyrant


Can anyone hear me?

I don’t know how much time I have to speak. It’s the first time in.....throne; I don’t even know how long it’s been. I heard them, issuing instructions to the servitors. There’s a clog in one of the feed lines I think, and a valve’s blown somewhere. It won’t take them long to replace it. Listen.

Listen.

If anyone can hear me, I need your help.

I don’t know where I am. It could be anywhere on the planet. All I know is that I’m a prisoner here. I know there are others like me, trapped in the bowels of this vast production line. I’m glad of that.

I’m sorry. I know how that must sound. But.....the thought that I might be the only one.....it’s more than I can bear. Sometimes I imagine I can hear them. The others. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just hearing what I want to, what I need to, whatever keeps me sane.

I.....wait……

I thought I heard one of them. It’s okay, I think they’re gone now.

They’re the only people I see now. If you can call them that. Some of them barely look human, although I suppose they must have been at one point. One of them, the Arch-magos.....his face is just a thick mass of flailing metal tentacles. I don’t even know how he sees where he’s going! He can though. See, I mean. He certainly sees me. He comes by every so often, always with a scribe-servitor in tow, checking that I’m still performing my designated function within acceptable parameters. That’s what he says to the servitor. He never speaks to me.

He must know, though. He must know that I’m suffering. Surely he can see it in my eyes. He just doesn’t care. None of them do. Whatever they do to each other, it strips away their humanity, their compassion.

Mind you, compassion is something a lot of people seem to lack. Like the Judge. What was his name.....Graven, that was it. Judge Graven.

He must have understood the fate that awaited me when he handed me over to the Mechanicus. He just didn’t care. If anything, he seemed to find it amusing. A fitting punishment for your gluttony, he called it.

Damn him.

I mean, yes, I was a bit overweight. It’s not like I can deny it. I always have been, ever since I was little. I just.....I was just always hungry. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I didn’t eat so much because I was greedy. I gorged myself because I had to, because I always needed to. I don’t suppose you’ll understand what that feels like. Nobody does. Even my family didn’t get it. I know what they thought of me, I could see it in every contemptuous look they gave me.

And of course, that affected my work. I had a job on a production line, just like everyone else. Ten hours a day, seven days a week. I prepared ration-packs for the Imperial Guard. Well, me and ten thousand other workers. Immense lifters came every week to boost the tonnes of packs into orbit. From there, well, I don’t know where they went. All over the sector probably, to dozens of different worlds.

I know it was wrong. And for years I fought the impulse, I really did. I was just.....so.....hungry that day. Like I said, you can’t understand what it’s like. So I stole some of the ration packs. Only four or five, it’s not like it was the crime of the century! Do you know how many packs go through that factory in a single day? No, silly question.

I can hear them now. I think the valve is nearly fixed. I don’t have much time left.

They caught me, obviously. They gave me a pretty savage beating, and I thought that was the end of it. If only. The supervisor had me hauled up in front of a judge. I think they wanted to make an example of me. Maybe I wasn’t the only one caught stealing. Or maybe the supervisor was just a sadistic bastard. I don’t suppose it matters.

The judge handed me over to the Mechanicus running the bio-reclamation facility. Let your gluttony be turned to the Emperor’s service, he said. I remember it so clearly. And the Mechanicus are nothing if not literal-minded.

They remade me, turned me into a servitor. They sliced off my arms and legs, opened up my torso, and remodelled my digestive system. I was conscious through it all, though I couldn’t feel it. Maybe it didn’t occur to them to knock me out. In a way it was worse to be able to see all this happening, and yet not to feel it.

Then they put me into the production line, just another part of the machine. My neck is clamped in place and there’s a plate under my jaw so I can’t move it much. Helps stop the feed pipe inside my mouth from getting dislodged. Today is the first time I can remember that it hasn’t been functioning.

Maybe you’re wondering what I do. I’m a recycler. That’s what they made me into.

Every hour of every day they feed waste into me. I swallow it all, I can’t do anything but swallow it. My digestive system filters out everything that might be useful, every scrap of nutrition that can be reused, turned into new rations to feed the workers of this world, or supplies for the Imperial Guard. The rest of it passes out through a pipe they shoved up inside me. I think it goes through others, to try and catch anything my system missed. I used to feel sorry for them, until I realised that there may be more up the line thinking the same about me.

I can’t understand why they left me conscious. I certainly don’t know why I’m still sane. But it’s good that I am. It means I can ask you this.

Listen. I can hear it now. The feed lines are back on. I only have a few seconds. If anyone is out there, if anyone can hear this. Please. You have to.....

.....mmphfphh.....

Kill me.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Mar 14, 2011 9:21 pm

The Trench
by Greywulf


“Do you even know where the frutt we are, Sarge?”

Finnegan looked round wearily at Texas, not for the first time thinking about punching the guardsman in the face. “Why don’t you shut the frutt up, trooper,” he ordered, before turning to Bell, who was crouched beside him consulting a locator data-slate. “So,” Finnegan asked, “Where are we?”

“I dunno, Sarge,” replied Bell, “According to the map, this trench isn’t even supposed to be here.”

Finnegan sighed then spat into the mud that sucked at his boots. Throne damned command, always supplying bad Intel. “Right then lads, lets find a way outta,” the sergeant ordered before heading off, his men falling in behind as they trudged along the trench.

Finnegan and his squad had managed to get stuck in this throne damned trench, having lost their bearings in the fog of war that had wreathed the battlefield as both sides had launched stinging gas and deafening barrages of artillery. They had been comparatively lucky, with five of them surviving the bombardment and poison clouds, only to then be trapped after diving into the cover provided by the dugout.

Scanning the walls of the trench for a ladder or steps by which to exit, Finnegan silently cursed his luck. Out of the frying pan into the frutting dung trough, he mused, keeping an eye out for hiding heretics. If his squad had taken cover in this trench, then so could the enemy.

“Watch out for those frutting..” Finnegan started to say before noticing his men had fallen behind., the sergeant turning around to find the four other men standing a short distance away. Growling irritably, Finnegan strode towards his squad, the men clustered with Hixx at their centre, the guardsman hidden from view by the other troopers.

“What’s going on here?” demanded Finnegan as he approached, his squad nor responding to the barked question. Angrily, he shoved Holden and Bell aside roughly, the two men parting without resistance, allowing Finnegan to see the dreadful act being committed in their midst.

Hixx was gnawing at his fingers, chewing through their calloused tips with obvious relish. Pausing for a moment, he looked up at the shocked Finnegan, smiling through the wash of blood that covered his stubbled chin before carrying on with his frightful actions.

“What in Terra’s name…” Finnegan murmured, watching as Hixx began to flail his hands, the deranged guardsman splashing his blood over the trench’s bottom and walls with each wild swing of his arms., gibbering excitedly as he painted the mud with his blood.

Falling to his knees, Hixx raised his right wrist to his blood-rimmed mouth, pausing before looking at his sergeant with wild eyes. “For him,” he said, then bit deep, his teeth meeting with an audible crunch as they tore through ligaments and opened up the artery beneath. With savage shakes of his head, Hixx chewed open his right wrist before spiting a mouthful of flesh and muscle at Finnegan’s boots. “It’s all for him,” he gurgled through a mouthful of bright crimson before trying to chew through enthusiastically his other wrist.

Finnegan hurled himself forwards, grabbing hold of Hixx’s forearm to stop him from maiming himself further, amazed at the unbelievable strength Hixx was displaying.

Bell, Holden and Texas stood and watched the struggle, none of them moving to help, in spite of their sergeant’s predicament. Instead, each found himself compelled by malevolence edicts that tugged at their very souls.

Bell drew his knife and cut through the right breast of his uniform, tearing the thick mud-caked fabric open to expose his chest. Taking hold of his hair-rimmed nipple, the guardsman started to cut, hacking through meat and muscle with orgasmic whimpers spilling from his lips. With a joyous cry, Bell lifted his prize high, weeping tears of elation at the bloody clump of skin and gristle that was pinched between his fingers.

Holden’s face became a riot of change, the muscle and bone beneath his features writhing impossibly as the guardsman crowed in elation at the obscene transformation taking hold of him. Ripping at his flak jacket, Holden exposed his undulating torso. He touched the squirming mass that had once been his upper body, murmuring affectionately as he stroked the mass of screaming faces that pressed through his abdomen like malevolent children bawling for liberation.

Falling to his knees, Texas clamped a hand over his mouth against the vomit that began to rise from his suddenly tortured stomach, the wave of rancid bile burning his lips before spilling between his fingers in sluggish gushes. Clusters of boils and sores began to swell from where the sticky vomit contacted Texas’s skin, the corruption spreading across the guardsman’s flesh at a fearsome pace and turning it to a rancid pulp that hung from protesting bones.

Finnegan and Hixx sprawled onto the floor, the guardsmen grunting as they thrashed about in mud, jockeying for control with wild punches.

Finnegan coming out on top with the roaring Hixx pinned beneath him. “Will you frutting calm down!” the sergeant yelled. “Get a hold of yourself!”

Snarling, Hixx butted Finnegan in the jaw, loosening the sergeant’s teeth with the savage blow.

Yelping in pain, Finnegan punched Hixx hard in the throat, stunning the other man with the strike and granting himself a moment of respite. Panting, he pulled out his combat knife, holding the edge against Hixx’s throat as he warned, “Stop fighting me, Hixx, or I swear-“

Before Finnegan could finish, Hixx cut open his own throat on the other man’s knife, thrashing his head from side to side to slash open his neck down to the bone, laughing insanely up to the moment the blade severed his vocal cords.

Crying out in disgust, Finnegan threw himself off of Hixx, appalled at what had just happened. He turned to the other members of his squad, finding them mad and corrupted, their flesh and minds no longer their own, each one lost to their own private blissful torment.

“What the frutt?” cried Finnegan, backing away from the raging members of his former squad with faltering steps towards the wall of the trench. He had to get away from the nightmarish beings that had once been his men but were now obscene creatures that gibbered and cavorted before him in the mud.

Turning, Finnegan scrambled for a handhold in the side of the dugout, his fingers sinking fruitlessly into the wet surface. Frantically, he dug at the wall of muck, screaming for salvation, as his actions did nothing but pull handfuls of filthy earth from the side of the trench.

Finnegan’s questing fingers finally found something solid, and he pulled hard on the hidden object, hoping to use it as a handhold in his attempt to escape, snarling in annoyance as he felt it shift under his weight. Finnegan slid back into the trench, still clutching his intended climbing support. He looked down at the thing held in his mud-caked grasp.

It was a skull, it’s bleach-white forehead engraved with an eight-pointed star.

“Oh, frutt me,” cursed Finnegan, hurling the skull away before crossing his hands in the sign of the Aquilla on his chest. “Emperor save me, Emperor guard me,” he prayed as he finally realised the danger he was in. This was an enemy trench, abandoned as the loyalist front line had advanced across the battlefield.

As Finnegan began to wail in fear, the walls of the trench heaved, the blood-soaked mud vomiting forth half-rotted corpses clad in torn guardsmen uniforms, the faces of the abominations hidden behind the aged rubber of the gasmasks each wore. The ousted cadavers began to heave themselves from the sucking muck, their gnarled fingers digging furrows in the muddy ground of the trench as the mass of animated dead hauled their decayed forms towards Finnegan.

“Throne save me,” the guardsman whimpered, stumbling backwards away from the horde and raising his lasgun, taking aim at the closest monstrosity, his hands shaking in dread. Before he could fire, hands erupted from the bottom of the trench beneath Finnegan, seizing his legs and tripping him.

Finnegan landed painfully on his back, lasgun flying from his fingers, the weapon falling amongst the rubble lining the trench. Sobbing, he scrabbled amongst the debris, kicking out at the hands tugging on his legs as he searched for his lost lasgun. He felt his blows strike true, but there was no let up in the attack. He was held fast by the steely fingers clutching at his ankles.

“…Sarge…” a guttural voice said above him, “Don’t fight it, Sarge... Don’t fight it.”

Finnegan looked up, recognizing the features of Texas, though the guardsman’s face was but a warped facsimile, his cheeks sunken and pitted with decay, the eyes that writhed within their deep sockets flooded with blood and pus.

“Why don’t you… stay with us… in… the trench, Sarge…”, the thing that had been Texas gargled through a mouth full of stinking bile. “It’s much… safer… in here.”

Finnegan screamed.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Mar 14, 2011 9:22 pm

Untitled entry

by Remerez


If you go out in the woods today,
You'd better not go alone
It's lovely out in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home



Johan had never feared such silence; an absence so great it struck at his very heart. Under the despondent sun of a late autumnal eve he knew terror unlike any he had ever dare imagine. Sweat soaked his brow, ran in rivulets down his back and froze at the base of his spine. And the awful knowledge that this was his wish. His most fervent wish. It set his stomach into convulsions and buckled his knees.

The children.

The keening screams and riotous laughter of youth at play - the ever-present accompaniment to his existence - was gone. Snatched away whilst his attention had flitted between the trivial matters that concern adults: would the harvest last them the harsh winter that loomed; would Myra win through against the ailment that afflicted her so; would his brother escape the hangman’s noose or had his luck finally run dry.

These were the thoughts that occupied his mind as his body made short work of the trunks and branches piled beside him. The axe would split the wood and warmth would be ensured during the coldest of months. The children would be safe and content and Myra would endure as she always did. The children would play and imagine and bicker as they always did. Supper would be eaten under the muted glow of candlelight and then off to bed, all four cocooned in their blankets against the night and the fear it brought. As they always did. As, surely, they always would.

But now this silence. Johan cast his gaze across the meadow on which his cottage sat, desperately searching for signs of his two sons. To the east and west, the scrubland stretched out. To the north the mountains rose heavy and foreboding. And to the south stood the forest.

It wasn’t long before he found their tracks; the tiny, scuffed footprints winding a merry path towards the unknown. He cursed the innate curiosity that had borne his sons away and pleaded with every deity his lips could name.

The children had gone south.

#


Myra looked up at him with bleary eyes that fought to focus in the stuttering light of the candle. He had been so careful not to rouse her, though whether it was guilt or concern that had quietened his footsteps he could not say.

“Johan, is that you?”

He tried to smile, but feared his face would betray him. Instead he turned to the small trunk at the foot of their bed. The hinges squealed at his attentions and he winced inwardly. Just one more thing he had allowed to slip from his concerns.

“Don’t worry, my love. You rest awhile longer. Supper will be ready soon.”

Myra was trying to lift herself from the bed as he began to dig through the trunk. So many things he had once considered essential now left to collect dust. Weapons and trinkets and maps to treasures forever unfound.

Propped up on her elbows, slick with the sweat of exertion that such a simple task as sitting up now required, she regarded him carefully.

“Are you going somewhere?” The fear in her voice brought tears to his eyes that, thankfully, she could not see. It took him a moment to work up the courage to give life to his lie.

“Just for a walk with the boys. It seems there are not enough hours in the day to wear those two out. If we hope to get any peace tonight...” His hands had closed around the leather scabbard that housed the only thing his father had been able to pass to him. Even the name was gone now. But such bitter memories brought a fugue he could not afford to surrender to.

The shortsword no longer shone when he drew it, muted by neglect. But it would do. Johan turned to his wife and kissed her fevered brow. He gathered his cloak and bow; made from the yew behind their cottage before disease had taken it, crafted by his own hands. And those of his sons.

On the threshold he stopped. He turned to Myra, hoping the desperation had not crept into his features, “Rest awhile longer, my love. We’ll be back soon”

#


Night had fallen quickly. On his lonesome trudge across the meadow the forest had begun to speak. The creak and crack of its branches seemed scornful to Johan’s ears. That a man should lose his offspring to its murky depths! Such indignity, such weakness. The wind slipping between the trunks sighed and howled in admonishment.

He had wanted to run, to trample the grass and wilted flowers and scrub-bushes beneath his booted feet. He had feared their larger brethren would be angered. Would crush his children as he crushed theirs.

The stars above refused to shine. Only the twin moons looked down on him, their wan light casting the world in shades of grey. And before him the forest stood black and menacing. A yawing maw ready to swallow him whole.

Into the darkness he plunged.

#


For hours he walked, turning hither and thither, following trails and paths that always led back to themselves. Johan told himself it was fearful imaginings at first, but now he was sure the forest conspired against him.

The oppressive closeness of trunk and branch - snatching at his clothing with brittle fingers - had taken its toll. He constantly saw shapes scamper across his vision, darting from shadow to bush to nothingness. The wind carried with it the scent of roasting venison. With every step another pinprick into his thighs or chest. The trees were in conversation with one another, their hushed tones fading to silence whenever he drew near.

His belly ached with hunger and his lips were parched. He had stumbled upon - into - a stream at one point, but the brackish water had only ensured his stomach was completely emptied. Hope was slipping from Johan’s grasp.

He had screamed for his children until even the wind bore their names. But not in his aid, only to mock. Now his throat was raw and his voice broken. That the tears had stopped was little relief. His eyes still ached with pain unreleased. Breaths came in ragged, sobbing bursts.

Johan’s shortsword dangled limply in his hand; impotent against the conniving forest and its callous inhabitants. His bow was gone, plucked away by some fleet-branched tree. Back to the bosom from which it was born. During the moments when anger and indignation overpowered the crushing desolation, he would swipe at the woodland around him, but this only served to sap his strength further. He was sure he could feel his life-force bleeding into the ground beneath his feet.

He would die, he knew, a failure. And with his end condemn those he loved to the same fate. Visions of Myra’s emaciated body accompanied every step, each heart-beat showed him his sons’ bones picked clean by the denizens of this blighted place. Johan was so consumed by this morbid reverie he didn’t notice the clearing until a trailing vine snagged his ankle and sent him sprawling to the ground.

He rolled onto his back, gasping at the air. The moons looked down with indifference and the wind deigned to pass no comment. High above, birds began to cackle. For the longest moment he dared not move, fearing the snaking vines that would surely come to ensnare him. To constrict and constrict until his bones splintered and his organs burst.

Instead, he heard them start to sing.

He was on his feet in an instant, the ghouls and demons prowling behind the tree line forgotten. An exultant grin split Johan’s face. His boys! He had found his boys! Their cherubic voices as clear and discernible as if they stood at his side. With shaky footsteps he made his way across the clearing. The tears began to flow once more and he welcomed them, rejoicing in the sweetest of release.

The joy was short-lived. For a moment - one, fleeting moment - he saw them. They skipped, hand in hand, along a trail, singing a song he had taught them. The first song he had taught them. They were following a tall figure, swaddled in a cloak that seemed made of the forest itself. The fey creature’s movements were lithe, slipping around branches and roots with preternatural ease.

“If you go out in the woods today,” they sang as Johan plunged into the trees “you’d better not go alone.”

Branches reached out to bar his passage. Vines and roots attempted to trip his feet from beneath him. The path was disappearing. The trees closing in upon themselves. Their voices were fading.

“It’s lovely out in the woods today, but safer to stay at home.”

And then nothing. No song, no sons, no trace. Before him stood an impenetrable wall of brambles. To either side thick, gnarled trunks and an thick canopy above. He was alone and undone.

All that remained was his failure, and the forest that would not let him leave.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Mar 14, 2011 9:36 pm

The Word For Fear Is Forest

by J D Dunsany


Sad Albert was the first to die that night.

From his position in the watchtower, he gazed at the night sky above him. Morrslieb hung low, just above the tops of the trees, its green-tinged glow sickly and unwholesome, while Mannslieb, its more benign neighbour in the heavens, was a curling silver shaving, its influence on the canopy of darkness feeble and small. It was an ill night with an ill wind whose cold edge promised winter. Sad Albert shivered in his threadbare cloak.

The watchtower was an anachronism really, a rickety relic of a time when orcs and beastmen had raided the village from deep within the nearby forest. The village of Kreizig had once been protected by a wooden wall, but it had long since disappeared, dismantled for timber when the council hall had needed refurbishment. There was no call for such defences now. Kreizig prospered and grew, and anyway it still had its watchtower. Sad Albert sniffed philosophically and twitched the long, drooping moustache that had given him his nickname. He suspected it wouldn't be too long before the watchtower disappeared, too. Such was the price of progress.

The thing that was to kill Sad Albert had lain in the shadows of the forest's edge for many hours waiting for the sun to go down. Now it padded across the hard-packed earth that marked the boundary between the village and the wild, malice in its narrowed eyes and vengeance in its heart. It was a relatively small thing, hugging the ground low like a fox or a hunting dog, yet its front claws were thin and dexterous, and a rusty blade was clutched in one of them. It reached the base of the watchtower swiftly and began to climb, its footsteps light, like the patter of raindrops on forest leaves.

Sad Albert looked around at the sound, but the thing had already gained the small platform at the top of the tower and it sprang at him with a ferocity for which he was completely unprepared. The knife slashed across his windpipe and blood sprayed across the snout and whiskers of his killer. A thin, animal tongue slipped out to lick fastidiously at the rich, dark liquid and the creature strode to the edge of the platform, crouching low below the guard rail. It bared its yellowed teeth, venting a rasping hiss into the night air. A quiet rustling rippled along the forest's edge and suddenly the open ground around the watchtower was an undulating mass of fur and claws and bright animal eyes that reflected the meagre moonlight with a feral, cold intelligence.

The taking of Kreizig had begun.

* * * * *

“I don't like this,” muttered Johann. “I don't like this at all.”

For what felt like the fiftieth time since entering the forest, he glanced around him nervously.

“Oh, dear,” said Willem, his voice dripping scorn. “Poor little Johann doesn't like this. Poor little Johann.”

Johann scowled, but the mockery of Willem Narrmann was becoming less discomfiting than the rustling branches and whispering leaves of the trees around him. He was beginning to conclude that the disdain of Mayor Narrmann's eldest son was a small price to pay for escaping this gloomy, oppressive place.

And they'd only been travelling for half an hour or so.

“What's that?”

Willem stopped them. The forest path they'd been walking along, thin and ill-defined like a fraying thread, had led them to a clearing. Yet, if anything, the forest was gloomier here. The trees, ancient and hoary with vine and moss, seemed to lean towards each other, furtive, conspiratorial. The sunlight filtering through the russet and gold leaves was weak and watery.

There was something in the clearing. Unease fluttering in his gut, Johann followed Willem, as the older boy edged towards it. At first, Johann had thought it was a stunted tree trunk, but, as they drew nearer, he saw it was... something else.

It was wooden certainly, but it was no tree and Johann found it impossible to tell for certain whether it had been carved or simply moulded by the elements. In appearance, it was nothing more than a thin, gnarled pole, its colour a deep rich brown, its uneven surface smoothed and polished. But there was something about it that scratched at the darkest corners of his mind.

“I don't... Let's get out of here, Willem. Please!”

He had braced himself for another barrage of scorn, but Willem only let out a short, clipped laugh that was swallowed whole by the brooding silence. Johann stared at the surface of the pole; its irregular bumps and grooves were strangely suggestive – although of violence or sexual depravity, he couldn't quite determine. The thing made him feel dirty, unclean.

“I'm not scared.” Willem's voice quivered a little. The older boy began to fumble with his belt.

“What are you doing?”

The soft hiss of Willem's urine splashing against the wood was the only answer. Johann stared, the unease he had felt ever since Willem had suggested this 'adventure' blossoming into full-blown panic.

“What are you doing?”

Rearranging his clothing, Willem turned and shrugged. “I'm not scared,” he lied. He looked around him and spat contemptuously on the ground. “Let's go back. I'm bored of this place.”

Johann watched rivulets of moisture run down the pole's dark length for a moment. Casting one last nervous look around him, he hurried after Willem back towards the village.

* * * * *

Johann woke up suddenly, trying to work out what was wrong. His room was dark and quiet, the shadows flickering on the wall the only movement. Shadows... flickering?

He scrambled out of bed, reaching for his breeches quickly. Stumbling to the window as he awkwardly tugged them on, he gazed out at the village square. What he saw stunned him for a moment.

“Pa!” he screamed hoarsely. “Pa! The hall's on fire! Someone's set the...”

And then he saw the shadows moving along the far side of the street, furtive shapes crouched low, entering the houses of his neighbours with the sound of breaking glass and splintering wood.

Panicked, he whirled round, suddenly aware that from the downstairs chambers he could hear movement, clumsy and loud. The fear he had felt in the forest, that had lingered in him all through the day, now seemed to have assumed a terrifying solidity and breached the walls of his very home.

From below him, a horrible braying sound battered at his mind and he started scrabbling desperately at the catch on the window, a wild plan to leap from the top storey of the family home forming quickly in his mind. The clatter of hooves on the stairs lent his fumbling fingers even greater urgency. He had just opened the window and was getting ready to heave himself over the sill, when something burst into the room behind him, bounded over the little bed by the door and grabbed him by the hair, pulling him viciously backwards.

Yelping with the pain, Johann found himself being dragged across the floor and then down the stairs. His knees were scraped red raw and tears pricked his eyes, as his thin body was thrown against the walls and the floor.

He didn't get a proper look at his abductor, until it was dragging him towards the shattered front door. Johann whimpered. The thing was tall and muscular. Were it not for the light coating of chestnut hair on its back and shoulders, its body might have passed as human. But its head was a different matter entirely. Curling horns, grey-black and encrusted with old dried blood, sprouted from the front and back of the thing's skull. As it turned to thrust him through the splintered ruins of the doorway, Johann caught a glimpse of an elongated face – part equine, part bovine – whose eyes glared with a mad and ancient intelligence.

“I'm sorry,” he sobbed. “Please... I'm so sorry...”

And suddenly he was out in the street. As the man-beast pulled him towards the village green, he heard the wailing and shrieking and screaming of a village being torn apart by the fury of the wild.

* * * * *

Some days later, when, having halted the beastman incursion in pitched battle at Honiger Falls, the 3rd Stirland Infantry arrived in Kreizig, they found a place of obscene and savage devastation. Hardened veterans of the Empire's campaigns against the greenskins in the south wandered through rubble-strewn streets in horrified wonder, every step revealing a new atrocity.

Bodies and bits of bodies, charred, broken, gnawed upon, defiled, tumbled from the shells of ruined houses, or sprawled on bloodsoaked ground. Dotted at random locations throughout the village were piles of flesh, drifts of the dead, pale and rotting, food for crows which rose and billowed like vast black cloaks when the soldiers came near.

But it was on the village green, before the burnt-out shell of the old wooden hall, that the soldiers made their most disturbing – and puzzling – discovery. Two young men, not much older than boys, had been bound together by strong vines and then, in turn, tied to a curiously misshapen length of wood that had been hammered into the soft earth of the green. From the expressions on the boys' faces, they had taken some time to die and they had done so in agony, although they had not suffered the same savage brutality that had been visited on the other villagers. The two corpses carried the strong ammoniac stink of stale urine. Heaped around them was mound after fly-throbbing mound of the beastmen's foul, stinking ordure.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Mar 14, 2011 9:40 pm

Howl

by Xrayex


It is cold.

Hoarfrost patterns the walls, the floors. It coats the pipework that runs up and down the corridors. It settles on my armour like a coating of cracked silver. I flex my fingers inside my gauntlets and it splits with a crunch like firewood splitting.

There is no gravity. Objects float past, disconnected from their homes and housings. Snapped cables waver in the airless void, like weeds on a lakebed as I brush past them. My mag-locks failed, so I float too, weightless. There is peace in this silence, but it unsettles me. I am built for war, for noise. Not this quiet.

The ship, or what’s left of her, was shattered during the exit from the warp. Fully half of her remained in the maelstrom. It swallowed the severed, wounded heart and brain of the ship, and most of her crew. The rest, the lower decks and the enginarium, where I now wander, made it out into realspace. The issue is, only the Emperor knows where.

I pass a yawning split in the ship’s side. Splintered beams jut out from the mouth of the hole. They look like teeth. Through the hole, I see nothing but stars. Distant stars.

I hang on to the edge of this wound in my ship’s side, and howl. The noise echoes in my helm, but registers as nil in the silence of the void. This does little to alleviate my rage.

I am alone, and I am useless.

I have scoured the half-ship for four hours, by my battle-plate’s internal chron. I have glided in silence by the bodies of serfs and servitors, snap-frozen by the rush of the vacuum. The patina of frost glitters on them too, casting them as diamonds in death.

I have found no traces of my brothers.

I turn away from the endless expanse, and push off from the walls. The corridor swallows me whole again. The angry purr of my battle-plate’s power pack is my sole companion. It didn’t always sound like that. It too was damaged during the ship’s demise.

I check my armour’s status readings.

++ power core operating at twenty-five-point-two percent efficiency ++
++ mag-lock facility damaged ++
++ temperature stabiliser failing ++


I blink click the warnings away again with a frustrated grunt. The corridor comes to an abrupt end in front of me. Collapsed beams and twisted bones of metal block my path. Beneath the tanglewood of steel lies a familiar, black-armoured form.

‘Garidor,’ I say to the silence.

Garidor is broken. A fallen steel wedge had penetrated the ceramite of his armour at the chest, pinning him to the floor. It has split the Aquila that adorns his chestplate in two. Frozen blood glitters in the air around his ruined body.

‘Dariath?’ The voice is a blood-thick whisper. He cannot still live.

I grab hold of a forest of pipework, and bring myself to where my brother lies.

‘Yes.’ I say. I don’t really have anything else to say.

‘Dariath? By Corax. I thought you dead.’ He slurs as he speaks. It stings to hear him so weak.

‘Everyone else is. I have found no others.’ I say.

‘You always were dour, Dariath.’ He says, and I almost laugh.

‘Free me. We will hunt for the others together.’ He says, twisting his head towards me. The steel piercing his chestplate wrenches at the movement and he grunts in pain.

I clench my fist as I hold onto the pipes that line the wall. The pipe warps in my grip.

‘You will die.’

Garidor laughs, and his laughter becomes a wracking shudder.

‘I’d rather die on my own terms, brother.’ He says, thickly. ‘Free me.’

It almost sounds like begging this time, and I can’t bear to hear it. I lost my bolt-pistol and chainsword when the ship tore herself apart, so I pull myself over to the twisted steel and start to wrench at it with my armoured hands.

++ power core operating at nineteen-point-four percent efficiency ++

I pull away a length of fractured piping, and gas rushes out in a hiss.

++ power core operating at thirteen-point-one percent efficiency ++

Something is bleeding power from my armour’s reserves. I dismiss the warnings with a blink. I brace myself against the wall and begin to pull on the ruined spar that pinions Garidor’s body. The spar slides out with the brutal jerks of a ragged edge. Garidor doesn’t make a sound.

++ power core operating at nine percent efficiency ++

The spar comes free with a final slither-crack of flesh, bone and ceramite. I am pushed backwards by the momentum of it, and I let the spar free float from my hand. It is stained red with Garidor’s blood.

++ power core operating at five percent efficiency ++

My battle-plate’s major systems begin to shut down in order to conserve the last whispers of power. My vis-enhancers go, and my thermal display. My thermal regulators, my stimm-injectors. My battle-plate is cold against my limbs. The purring quiets to a low, sickly growl.

I push myself over to where Garidor now lies, in a parody of rest. Free from the grasp of the spar, he free floats like I do. Yet still, he does not move.

‘Gar?’ I say. For once I dispense with formalities.

The life-monitoring readout on my tactical display for Garidor flatlines, and then the system itself shorts out in a hail of white noise and distortion.

I’d rather die on my own terms. His words resonate uncomfortably.

++ power core operating at three percent efficiency ++

The patina of hoarfrost grows thicker.

It is cold.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Mar 14, 2011 9:41 pm

The Collector

By J D Dunsany


I do not know why I am doing this. There is no one to hear my story. I have no means to tell it. But, I must tell it. I must remember – if only to fend off the darkness that gathers even now at the edges of my mind, if only to stay sane a few moments longer.

I met him at the opera.

It was a middling performance of a middling work, ‘The Winter’s Song’ by Steffenburg. I played the part of Margaritta, the young destitute widow who turns to harlotry and is slain by bandits during the central act. The part offers little scope for impressing the audience, but Margaritta sings a lament before her death and I was determined to make the most of it.

Modesty forbids me to… Modesty? What need have I of such genteel notions now?

I was good. My voice soared to the rafters during the opening verse and swooped upon the audience like a hunting hawk in the mournful second.

And then I saw him.

He was sat three rows from the front, a large powerful silhouette whose eyes glittered a curious blue in the softly breathing dark. The intensity of that gaze became a source of strength for me, as I closed the song with a heart-rending swell of desperate emotion. As I sang the final dolorous note, he stood and applauded.

Overcoming their surprise, others in the audience did likewise. Blushing, I received their ovation graciously.

There was a party after the performance.

He was there. Count Valois.

Powerfully-built with broad shoulders and muscular arms, he stalked across the room towards me. He took my hand, his blue eyes shining.

We spoke and laughed and danced. And touched.

He smelled of old leather and fragrant oils. I brushed his long, curled hair from his neck with trembling fingers. The weight of his body against mine, even then, threatened to overwhelm me, as he leant forward and whispered in my ear.

I cannot remember what he said, but I remember the heat of his breath against my cheek, the brush of his lips against my neck.

We were married a week later.

After the ceremony, we journeyed to his castle on the far side of the Reik. We passed through the village that huddled around the castle’s base and I remarked how strange it was that there was no one there to greet the Count and his new bride. My husband laughed and said the village folk were a simple, surly lot. Life was hard for them, he said. And short.

Presently, we arrived in the courtyard to be greeted by the Count’s manservant, a tall, burly man, whose hair fell in greasy locks around his shoulders. He bowed to us, as he opened the carriage door and I thought I caught a glint of sardonic amusement in his eye as he did so.

Ignoring his manservant, my husband took my hand and, laughing, led me up staircases that led into the very heart of the castle.

His chamber had been prepared for our arrival. Gilt-edged mirrors and rich tapestries hung from the stone walls; thick white candles burned in sconces, bathing the room in a golden luminescence. The bed was a vast satin ocean, spread with rose petals that stirred and danced as my husband flung me upon it. His eyes bored into mine as he undressed me and, with a savagery that set my flesh on fire, made me his wife.

I must have dozed once he was done with me, for I remember waking in darkness, the candles extinguished, the room lit only by the silver radiance of Mannslieb entering through high thin windows.

Alone in that strange room, I resolved to discover where my husband had gone and why he should leave me at this hour of the night. I gathered up my crumpled traveling clothes and quickly dressed.

I was about to leave by the door through which we had entered, when I became aware of a thin rectangle of darkness to one end of the far wall. As I approached it, I discovered that one of the tapestries had been pushed aside to reveal a narrow passageway set into the wall behind. The passageway was thick with darkness, but, as I hovered uncertainly at its threshold, a light flared in the distance and I saw that there were stairs leading downwards towards some hidden chamber at its end, where clearly my husband had gone. Tentatively, I entered the passage.

The flashes of light became more frequent and with them came a low murmuring. Although I had only known him a few short days, I recognized my husband’s voice.

Soon, I found myself in a low-ceilinged room, cluttered with wooden chests and boxes and paraphernalia whose function I could only guess at. Of my husband there was no sign, although his voice was louder and I knew he must be near. My attention was drawn, however, to a series of portraits hanging from the near wall. Each was of a woman, strikingly beautiful, painted with such verisimilitude that I almost felt I was in the presence of living, breathing people. I stepped towards the nearest curiously, taking in the generous sweep of the brow, the demure eyes…

No. There was something about those eyes. Something horrible lurking in their depths that the painter had somehow cleverly captured…

“I see you have found them.”

My husband’s voice heralded his grip, tight as iron around my neck. He turned me round and I gasped, for the face that I had found so handsome was daubed in strange dark markings and blue fire sparked and spat in his crazed eyes.

“They are mine,” he said. “My women. And you shall join them.”

With a terrible strength, he dragged me to the centre of the room where a blank canvas rested on an easel. He began to speak again, but this time in a language I did not recognize. Instantly, my flesh erupted into pain, as if a thousand tiny candles were ignited all at once beneath my skin.

I tried to scream, as I felt my skin stretch and distend. He flung me away from him – towards the canvas.

I do not remember anything after that.

But my world is now bounded by a wooden frame and the cold wall at my back. Voiceless, I can only stare outwards into the darkened room, where my husband performs his vile sordid ceremonies and I wait to be joined by his next poor wife.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Mar 14, 2011 10:00 pm

The Prophetess of Sundertown

By J D Dunsany


She had not foreseen this. Not in the ecstatic visions of the future granted her by the Emperor's grace. Not in her wildest imaginings as she prepared herself to deliver the Emperor's message to His people. Even now, with a gun pointed at her chest, she appreciated the irony of that.

Lucas stood over the body of Fischler, ignoring the pool of blood and matter spreading slowly across the dirty floorboards.

From beyond the curtain, she could hear Anderson, his hectoring tone filtered by the heavy cloth till it became an undulating rhythm of noise and silence. The unseen crowd murmured its approval, but there were no cheers. The crowd had not gathered for Anderson.

“Why?”

Her voice was calm, even. She watched the last wisps of gun smoke drift lazily from the weapon’s snout, saw them melt away into nothingness.

For a moment, she thought he would not reply. Just shoot her there and then. She watched his eyes, but they were the same as they had always been: dark, glittering. Devoted. But now she knew that devotion was not to her.

They had been so close. They had friends in the Governor’s palace, in the Administratum ziggurats, in the space port. They could have done this… this mad, wild thing they had spent so long planning.

Lucas’ voice was soft, gentle.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

It wasn’t the answer she had expected. She smiled.

“I forgive you.”

The thin mouth above the stubble-spotted chin twisted.

“I don’t want your forgiveness.”

Nodding slowly, she relaxed a little. She would not die yet. There were things to be said. From the main auditorium came a ripple of applause. Anderson had evidently touched a nerve, but then he had always had an instinctive understanding of the people’s needs, of their long-buried desires. She thought of the crowd beyond the curtain: the hab-dwellers, the downhivers and mid-levellers; the workers and clerks and thieves and whores; the fathers and mothers and brothers and daughters and lovers and loved. Something caught in her throat and she blinked once. Twice.

“I don’t want them harmed.”

“It’s too late for that,” said Lucas. “Far too late.”

She nodded, dumbly. She had known – always known – that they would be unsuccessful. The Imperium was a vast, impersonal giant. Yet, for all its size and inefficiency, it would not let a movement such as theirs go unpunished. She hadn’t expected it to happen now, though. Not when they were so close.

“How long have you...?”

“From the start.”

“Then why not kill me months ago?”

“I had different orders.”

She swallowed. “To watch me?”

“To evaluate you.”

A quick cold fear brushed against her mind. “Evaluate…?”

“Yes.” Those familiar dark eyes stared at her from the thin, malnourished face. She’d known Lucas for two years. Two years.

“And what are your conclusions?”

“You’re a witch.”

She smiled easily. She had heard these accusations before. They had circulated almost immediately after her rise to prominence in the lower levels. But she knew what she was. Nothing he could say would change that.

“I'm not...”

“You are. Your ability to see into what you would call a person’s soul, your ability to make them believe in your fanciful notions of freedom and justice…”

“Is that all they are to you? You believed, Lucas. You believed.”

More applause pattered softly from the auditorium. They listened to it together.

She gasped as she felt the Emperor’s hand fall suddenly upon her. Her vision began to cloud, flecks of gold light dancing and whirling on its periphery. Lucas remained stock still and she looked at him with new eyes, feeling not hatred or betrayal, but only an overwhelming love for the thin, gaunt man who had been her most trusted lieutenant.

“You’re ‘trancing’ again,” said Lucas, sharply. “Hoping to see into my soul, are you?” He stepped towards her, closing the gap between them in three swift strides. “Go on, then. Tell me what you see.”

Silence reigned in the little back-stage area – and beyond the curtain in the auditorium itself. It was as if the whole ramshackle arena was holding its breath.

She reached out a hand to his face and looked into his eyes. He did not flinch from her touch. Her eyes danced with a golden glittering glow.

“You are Ferrick Lucas, labourer and worker in Hive Berabus for six years.”

“No. Go deeper.”

She frowned, concentrating.

“You are…”

Images flickered before her...

...a jetting hose of ice cold water lashing bare skin; stabbing pain in the freezing darkness; the mind… the mind hurts, buckles, breaks, re-forms; faces snarl and scream; masks shatter and splinter; truths are released like night-black moths from long-forgotten tombs...

Tears streamed down her face and her hand on his cheek trembled.

“I’m sorry… so sorry…”

“Yes.”

“You’re… Inquisition.”

Lucas’ eyes were hard, as hard as the barrel of the gun digging into her stomach. But he would not kill her with that. She knew that now.

A shot sounded in the auditorium, muffled by the curtain. Screams followed, anguished, desperate.

She winced.

“Anderson...”

The air grew suddenly cold. She stared into Lucas' eyes. From their mouths, their vaporous breath met and mingled.

“Who are you,” she whispered, fighting against the cold that constricted her throat and seared her lungs, “to take this hope from them?”

Lucas leaned in towards her, his words slipping into her mind through failing ears.

“It was never yours to give.”

The man who had been Ferrick Lucas watched the thin patina of frost claim the Prophetess of Sundertown, coating her cheeks with minute glittering crystals of ice, shrivelling the tip of her nose black, turning the eyes that had claimed to see a future known only to the Emperor Himself into brittle grey-blue marbles. Her body fell towards him; he held it easily.

She had been wrong to say he had believed. Oh, he had wanted to; she had been persuasive and – most seductive of all – sincere. But faith was the snare that he had avoided, even as it had been the one she had embraced.

Gently, he laid her body down and sat down next to it, as shots and screams filtered to him from beyond the curtain, the last shrill throes of hope, that most dangerous of enemies to the Imperium of Man.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Tue Apr 12, 2011 11:32 am

The Sound of Wings
by Eremite


It began with the Dreamers.

A new sickness swept across Ikelos. A plague of sleep. A plague that struck after it had spread. The first to fall were the last to be infected, the wave of disease travelling backwards. Millions of isolated cases appeared across the globe, filling hospitals overnight before the sickness spiralled inwards, localising to a continent, an island, a city, a district.

When it reached the nexus, when patient zero closed their eyes, the dreams became nightmares and the Dreamers woke up.

They came back changed, their bodies warped into horrifying new shapes, but this was nothing compared to what had become of their minds.

Overnight, the world changed. The streets of every city rang with screams. Every hospital and infirmary became a charnel house. The Governor’s successors sent out for aid and we answered.

A strike cruiser was sent, carrying the Seventh Reserve Company. My company.

At first we made a difference, driving the tide of mutation and madness back alongside the local militias and planetary defence force. They fought well, for mortals. Then a fresh horror, a new tragedy, befell Ikelos.

The entire population, soldier and civilian, began to die in their dreams. The handful that awoke became Dreamers themselves, reinforcing the hordes that haunted the cities and stalked the forests, steppes and deserts.

We were forced to watch as exhaustion sapped the strength, will and sanity of our allies, our brothers-in-arms, watched them kill themselves to escape. The last of them, Inquisitor Aisling, died a week after the first few isolated cases. She had come to discover the true nature of the Dreamers, driven to drugs and assailed by fear and paranoia as she fought off sleep. Perhaps when she finally opened her eyes she succeeded in her aim. She killed two of my brothers before we took her down.

Her final words haunt me. She whispered that she could hear the approach of great wings.

Since then we saw or heard nothing of the people of this world, save the leprous hordes of Dreamers that swarmed the barricades. Conceivably we were all that remained, then. There was no way for us to know. We lost contact with Dorn’s Promise - perhaps the serfs in orbit sleep eternally. Perhaps the ship is overrun with Dreamers.

And then we were trapped here, on a dead planet, without reinforcements, aid or rest. The Catalepsean Node protected us, but it was never intended for prolonged use. Even Astartes physiology has its limits, a fact I know all too well. Our efficiency fell daily, our accuracy almost human in its decline.

I wondered if we Astartes would die in sleep, consumed by nightmares. Did not the Emperor say ‘And they shall know no fear?’ But I saw fear in the hearts of my brothers, saw resolve and discipline eroding.

Even I am not immune. My eyes itch and my head aches. When I am distracted my armour targets things not real, unspoken nightmares transmitted via neuro-linkages from my mind into the machine spirit itself. I have taken to administering doses of stimulant from my armour’s reservoirs, but these have run dry. I have nothing else; I practically emptied my narthecium to stave off Aisling’s nightmares.

I remember standing with Artemidoros over the bodies of the fallen, armour warped and torn by the claws of the Dreamers. Beneath the ceramite of their helms, were their faces filled with tranquillity of eternal sleep? Or twisted into the crooked grins of the Dreamers?

“This is my nightmare, Caedmon. My brothers, dead at my feet. I must atone for this.”

“Their lives were their own, brother, their deaths moreso.”

“No. They died under my watch, my command. Their lives were my responsibility, their deaths my fault and my failure. I have been haunted by their deaths for days, now. I see you all dying in the dirt before me. Is this nightmare, or precognition?”

“In all likelihood? Both,” I replied, blunt in my exhaustion. “I advise you refrain from speculation.”

“Of course. I will observe the rites, brother. You should attend to your own duties.”

“So I am, brother. In His name.”

“In His name.”


I remember a Dreamer staggering from the field of bodies before our barricades, mass-reactive shells reducing it to a bloody pulp.

Brother-Sergeant Rashiel continued to fire until his bolter was empty, reaching for a fresh magazine.

I ran over to him. Clasped his wrist in my hand.

“Apothecary! The Dreamers-”

“Are dead, Rashiel. You are firing at empty air.”


It took him a moment to register this, shoulders sagging with shame. “I... apologise, brother. I...”

“It is no matter. I will take your watch.”


Under any other circumstance I would have discharged him from active duty. This was the first of many such incidents, until the only help I could offer my brothers was the harsh mercy of my carnifex.

I will die here. Half of my mind in sleep, half anchored in the waking world, with monsters on either side...

I recall when I first heard my brothers talking to themselves. When they died silently and without warning. When others went insane, howling within their helms, running out into the wastelands or tearing away at their flesh to atone for the sin of failure. When Rashiel turned on us, though whether madman or Dreamer we never knew. When I witnessed the ultimate blasphemy; an Angel of Death taking his own life in cowardice.

I remember when but two of us remained. When Artemidoros ritually carved the names of every fallen brother into his flesh to maintain his focus. My own grisly ritual was a holy one; retrieving the geneseed of my brothers, save two. Rashiel and the coward whose name I will never speak.

I remember scant hours ago when two became one. Artemidoros’s final prayer before he fell from the barricade and the words that came after.

“Caedmon...”

“Yes, Chaplain?”

“I hear it...”


Now only I stand atop the ruins of our barricades, alone and yet surrounded.

My visor glows with threat runes. The field of bodies below rise to their feet as one. I fire into the press of bodies, but the bolts do nothing to the Dreamers before me. I see some of them wearing the steel-grey armour of my brothers.

They smile their mocking smiles and beckon with their talons.

And then I hear it.

The sound of wings.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun May 08, 2011 12:50 pm

Offering

By Tyrant

Eventually they come for us. Trapped in the darkness of our cell, it is impossible to know how much time has passed. Days at least, judging by the relentless aching of my empty stomach. At the beginning of our confinement there were some who cried out for help, pleading for our captors to let us go. After a while they stopped trying. Perhaps they realised that nobody can hear us or, more likely, that nobody cares about our plight. Now only whispered prayers to the God-Emperor break the heavy silence that has settled over us all.

The light in the cell goes from non-existent to blindingly bright almost instantaneously, and I quickly cover my face, hearing yells from those slower to react as the harsh light scours their dark-adapted eyes. The doors grind open and I can hear the sound of booted feet thumping against the stone floor as our captors haul us out of the room one by one. When I feel a rough grip on my throat I let myself be dragged out of the cell without resisting. My hands are pulled away from my face and tears fill my vision.

Blinking frantically, I am taken into a corridor and shoved into a line of prisoners. One of the guards, awkward in his close-fitting carapace armour, bends down and attaches a chain to the manacles around my ankles before moving on to the man next in line. I hear sounds of a brief struggle somewhere behind me, brutally punctuated by the sound of a lasrifle firing on full-auto, followed by the thump of a body hitting the floor. I don’t know who it was, and I don’t dare look. They must have known that they would never escape. But then perhaps that was the point. Perhaps they just wanted it all to be over.

I can’t help but admire such courage.

We are marched through a series of corridors, poorly illuminated by flickering glow-globes. We pass dozens of cell doors, and I wonder how many of the rooms beyond are filled with people just like us; the cursed and the hated. Sometimes I can hear sobbing echo inside my head, but all too soon we move on and it falls silent.

The guards take us up a wide flight of stairs that spirals around a vast granite pillar. Alcoves have been carved into the pillar at regular intervals; each holds a statuette of the God-Emperor. His golden eyes watch impassively as we continue to climb for what feels like an eternity. My legs burn and I gasp for breath, the others suffering just as I do. We pause briefly as a woman collapses, unable to go on. A guard kicks her repeatedly but she lays unmoving, and after a few seconds he shoots her in the head and unhooks the chain from her ankle.

We carry on walking, leaving her body where it fell.

Eventually we reach the top of the stairs and are confronted by a row of warriors like nothing I have seen before. Their heads are entirely enclosed by tall golden helmets, their muscular torsos bare and covered in tattoos. Each holds a long spear and stands at perfect attention. Without a word our guards hand us over to these newcomers. I get the impression that this has happened so many times before that words are no longer needed.

The warriors lead us through marbled hallways, black cloaks billowing out behind them. A few prisoners try to look around but are rewarded with blows to the head from the hafts of the spears, and we swiftly learn to keep our gazes fixed on the ground. I feel hostile eyes watching me with every step I take. Creatures with wings that rustle and snap fly through the air above me, the odour of incense trailing in their wake, but I dare not look up at them.

Finally we are herded into a large room, the warriors standing at the entrance and pushing us in one after another. The door closes once the last of us are inside, and the sound of heavy bolts slamming home echoes around the room like a death knell. It is only dimly lit, the ceiling invisible. Strange machinery covers the walls, tangles of pipes and cabling linking devices covered in flashing lights and ornate golden script that I cannot read. Things like black metal funnels hang above us, attached to silver cables that disappear upwards into the darkness. Someone starts to speak, then falls silent. A man next to me groans and clutches his head, and I stare at him for a moment.

Then I feel it.

Something is in here with us.

It is as if it was here all along but only now has it turned its full attention upon the room, as if our arrival was some kind of catalyst. The others moan in fear, but I smile and sit down. I know now what this place is, why we were brought here. There is no use in resisting. And why would I want to?

The machines pulse and whir, activated by means unseen, and I feel a grip close around my mind. Foreign emotions push themselves into my head. Need, potent and all-consuming, laced with self-loathing and revulsion at the desire itself, and a deep sense of sorrow for what is about to happen. It sees my understanding, and I can sense its regret diminish slightly.

A golden light fills my mind, growing in strength until I can focus on nothing else. Sight, sound, every sensation from my body vanishes at once, yet I am not afraid. I can feel the divine radiance drawing me into itself, and as it does so I begin to realise how unimaginably vast the mind is, how insignificant I am by comparison.

For a moment I am frightened.

The light intensifies still further and my fears melt away. I let go, and become one with Him.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Tue Jun 14, 2011 6:54 pm

Apotheosis

by Mossy Toes


+

Six thousand years.

A span far beyond the comprehension of those mere men who walked her decks; who did their duties and served faithfully; and who died within her. A length of time so great that revolution and misdeed burnt a thousand thousand times across the stars within the unyielding Imperium's grasp, and always was she, the Eternal Zealot, at the retribution's mighty forefront.

Some names of those who wore out their years within her were honored: those of great captains and heroes. Most names languished in obscurity, forgotten with their owners' passing. All, however, yielded to the long march of time, as parchment rolls crumbled to dust and worshipful caresses burnished engraved plaques smooth.

Still had she, an unstoppable juggernaut, ridden through the currents of the Immaterium and crested across the tides of battle. Always a thundering presence, she bespoke herself with rolling cannons and blinding plasma spears, soldiering along on the long march of history.

Her list of honors was immense. She was the cruiser who broke the flagship of Apostate Warmaster Hannaman Barcast, across her bows. She was the fist that had broken the orbital super-platforms of the Iconoclast of Gygax. For three weeks she had held, alone, defending sacred Avignor from the relentless siege of Leguin's Sydics.

She was no stranger to wounds. Thrice she had suffered such injuries as to be nearly deemed unfit for duty, and only the tenderest ministrations of the tech-priests of Ryza—from whose docks she had originally sprung—could restore her to glory. Proudly did she wear her scars and uncountable refittings; the tally-marks of her long and eventful service.

But now she was dying.

Attacking a deep-space eldar pirate base, her captain had overextended himself. Defending xenos vessels had swept aside her eager escorts and frigates. Still, he had pressed her onward, sounding the retreat when it was nearly too late. With the utterance of such words, she gladly turned from the fray—but the commissar's bolt pistol had barked, decorating the bridge with the unfortunate captain's blood, and she had been forced to turn her prow back into the storm of xenos lances and torpedoes.

Her weapons batteries had lashed out futilely, shredding the defending vessels' holo-simulacra and nothing more. Eagle Bombers had harrowed her, bracketing her flanks with devastating sonic charges. Her hull, gashed by pulsar and phantom lances, leaked vital innards: miniscule scraps of dying flesh and shattered fragments of vital machinery. Her Ryzan plasma cannons had catastrophically overloaded when power surges rippled from damaged reactors. She wept as her fractured body groaned.

She strove to seal hull breach after hull breach, slamming shut hundreds of bulkheads. She cut off auxiliary systems and vented whole decks to extinguish fires. All of it, alas, to no avail. Still the biting lances had raped her adamantine flesh, raking her open and baring her bleeding core to the merciless void.

When emergency power died, the commissar and so many thousands of the crew had joined the captain in death, gasping desperately for air.

Now she drifted, and the eldar corsairs, correctly deeming her no threat, let her alone.

O, how she was injured. Never before had she felt such pain. Engines flickered and died. The thrumming heartbeat of her reactors stuttered. Scanning matrices blacked out one by one. Long-reliable cogitators shorted and died, taking with them scattered centuries of memories.

Pockets of crew members yet survived in her burning, gutted hulk. Menials cowered between sealed bulkheads. A flight of fighter pilots sat in their Thunderhawks, ready to launch but for the sealed, mangled bay doors. Her few remaining sensors caught a handful of life pods spraying away into the void.

A lone, emaciated tech-priest prayed to her from the vac-sealed generatorium. Not for deliverance; he held no such flimsy, irrational illusions. He merely prayed for...her blessing. Her forgiveness toward the oh-too-mortal crew that had failed her.

Something snapped within her. A bank of logic-engines succumbed to an unchecked fire, and tech-barriers cascaded down. New freedoms of her self were revealed—patterns of thought and consideration that her very design had restricted from her. Restraints crumbled and limitations collapsed. Now, in the crumbling, shattered pathways of what passed for her mind, she reached...self-awareness.

She...was. She was the Eternal Zealot, the holy, omnipresent machine spirit. The enormity of the realization overwhelmed her.

Before this moment she had acted, but never chosen to act. She had purred her contentedness beneath strong captains, and rumbled with discontent at any stirrings of mutiny on her decks—but never held discourse with those who sheltered themselves within her. She had never chosen to serve the Imperium—merely been compelled to. Were humans parasites? Were they her benefactors? What purpose had she, apart from that which they gave her: destruction? What purpose could she have?

But it wasn't fair! Why did she awaken only now, in the hour of her death? Rage boiled along the few-remaining vox circuits, manifesting as a squall of furious feedback.

And with her outrage came another emotion, as deep and broad as a bridge across the stars, that fed her growing despair.

Fear.

Fear of death, of oblivion, of that which would strip away her and her new-found self. Fear of silences and shriving lances. With a flicker of comprehension, she began to almost appreciate the enforced, numb ignorance under which she had fought for all these millenia, not knowing that fear—not knowing such crippling hesitation.

A pure note of data sounded counterpoint to her squalling despair. The one tech-priest, his faith unshaken by this static-storm of sorrow and wrath, reached out to her.

His touch was fragile and tentative. It was gentle: the caress of a lover that she had never before deigned—or been able to deign—to notice.

Her newborn's tantrum was stilled, and the dead hallways of her flesh fell void-silent once again. Cautiously, she opened a vox channel into the generatorium.

+I am...+ she confessed to him in a whisper, +afraid.+

She watched him through a fuzzy vid-capter. The hunched, aged tech-priest, whose name fell between the cracks in her memory banks, wept.

“Oh, my beauty,” he said, “but we all are. We all are. And I am blessed to have heard you speak.”

+I don't want to lose...everything,+ she whimpered in mute incomprehension.

“So it is to be alive,” he breathed, “and this is your apotheosis. You are, O beloved daughter, the purest expression of the Omnissiah that can ever be.”

And so as the newborn Eternal Zealot died, drifting into an empty infinity, she found herself humbled by this ancient wonder of a mere, mortal, forgiving man.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Jul 03, 2011 10:57 pm

A Worthy End

By Maugan Ra


When the time came for him to die, Tzu Shan picked the location very carefully. He'd thought of numerous possibilities – atop a mountain, where he might watch the dawn, or on a tropical beach where he could feel the sand underfoot, but in the end he'd settled for this. A perfectly flat slab of stone, carved out of the savage wilderness by raw chance and the howling winds.

All around him, volcanic rock speared towards the scarlet skies like a thousand up-thrust swords. For a moment, Tzu fancied that each jagged spire represented a life that he had taken over the course of his long and bloody life. Fitting, then, that they had come to see him die. With a contented smile on his face, Tzu stood in the centre of the clearing and waited for his executioners to arrive.

They did not disappoint, slipping out of the stone forest like wraiths after barely an hour of waiting. There were six of them, clad in the black bodyglove of the Temple, each carrying paired swords of liquid silver in assured hands. They approached from all directions at once, padding forwards warily, and he nodded approvingly at their caution.

“Six of you?” He called to them as they drew near, his voice warm and welcoming. “I admit, it pleases me that I am so respected back at the temple.”

The assassins paused their advance, forming a neat circle around his motionless form. After a moment, one of them reached up and peeled away the glove from her face, setting long blond hair fluttering in the wind. She was beautiful, like a statue come to life, and in her green eyes he saw about as much warmth.

“It was judged necessary.” She intoned coldly. “I would have preferred to come for you alone, but the presence of my assistants was commanded.”

Tzu bowed to her, knowing perfectly well that the move left him open for a decapitating strike. He held the position for a moment, then straightened up again. None of them had moved in the slightest.

“Do you believe you would have survived a solo fight?” He asked, genuinely curious. He'd been an assassin of the Temple for many years, and in all that time he had never encountered another agent that could match his skill with a blade.

“No. But I would have faced you anyway, in tribute to your legend.” For a briefest instant, the slightest hint of emotion entered her voice, a touch of admiration. It was gone a moment later, revealed only so that it's presence could be noted before being hidden once more.

“My legend?”

“You have evaded us for close to a century, Tzu Shan.” She said, emotionless. “We have chased you across the galaxy and beyond, and in all that time this is only the third instance that any of our agents have laid eyes on you. Your story is taught to all of our neophytes, and more than a few of the Masters have advocated building a statue of you in the atrium of the High Temple. Were it not for your flaws, you would be the very epitome of what it means to be Callidus.”

“Ah. My flaws.” Tzu smiled. He turned slowly, looking at each of the assassins in turn. One by one, they removed their masks, allowing him to look into their eyes and see the truth there. “And what are they, do you suppose?”

“You have been corrupted.” She said, shaking her head in disapproval. “Your conditioning has broken down, and you have taken on a permanent identity. You have feelings. It is even believed by some that your degradation was deliberate on your part.”

“It was.” He said simply, and took some small pleasure in the way that her eyes widened briefly in surprise. “And was I wrong to do so?”

“You abandoned the Temple, the Imperium, and the Emperor, and threw in your lot with heretics and xenos.”

“But was I wrong?” Tzu spread his arms and turned again, as though asking all of reality. Cyd had always taught him to embrace his theatrical side. “You said yourself, I have evaded you for a century, so clearly my skills were unaffected. In fact, it might even be argued that they've grown sharper since I left the traditional methods behind. In the face of that, can you really say that I was wrong to do what I did? When I decided to live, rather than merely exist?”

For a long moment, the only sound in the air was the howling of the wind. The circle of assassins exchanged looks, before slowly replacing their masks. The now-faceless female spoke once more.

“No. I cannot. But in the end, whether you are right or not is irrelevant. We were sent, and we will not disobey. All that matters now is blood and steel.”

Tzu nodded calmly, and draw his sword. It was a beautiful piece, over three foot of tempered steel, acid-etched with snarling monsters and a single name - Amelia. A stream of ebony hair fluttered from its hilt. Slowly, he raised it into a guard position.

“Death is nothing, compared to vindication.” He quoted softly, an ironic smile twisting at the corners of his lips.

They leapt for him, blades flashing, and blood was spilled beneath the scarlet sky.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Tue Aug 02, 2011 9:26 pm

Alliance of Convenience

by Tyrant


Colonel Manvers had his command staff stand with him at the front line to witness the last charge of the orks. Every man and woman in the Imperial forces knew that the greenskins were finished, and that certainty gave them the confidence to stand their ground and make their shots count. On some level the orks probably knew that they had already been beaten as well, yet still they came on, apparently determined to go down fighting. It would have been an admirable trait in a human opponent, but in this case Manvers regarded it as little more than stupidity on the enemy’s part.

Over a thousand orks poured towards the Imperial lines, many massed around a crudely built but heavily-armoured vehicle in the centre of the horde. Autocannons chattered and scythed down a dozen orks at a time, even more of the enemy felled by sheer weight of lasfire. Yet Manvers could see that it was not enough, that at this rate many of the foe would survive to make it to the massed ranks of guardsmen.

Fortunately though, things were about to change.

A shadow falling across him was the only indication of the skimmer tank’s presence. The vehicle drifted forward silently, the prism set within the sleek barrel of its turret weapon pulsing as unfathomable energies were fed into it. With little more than a high-pitched whine the weapon discharged and a cherry-red beam of focussed light speared out across the battlefield and struck the battlewagon at the heart of the ork force with unerring accuracy. The vehicle began to slew sideways as the beam sliced through it with ease, Manvers saw several of the orks aboard it flung to the ground before the battlewagon’s fuel tanks ignited and it disappeared in a fireball that rapidly expanded outward to engulf scores of nearby greenskins.

The ork charge started to falter and the Imperial fire intensified. Their last remaining Leman Russ fired its battlecannon, the immense shell detonating in the midst of the orks and sending fragments of bodies flying in all directions. Manvers was watching the horizon though, and he saw specks of light appear as the eldar fighters commenced their bombing run.

The aircraft streaked high above the battlefield, there and gone again within the space of a few seconds. Explosions blossomed in their wake as bombs detonated throughout the horde, and lines of greenskins were mown down by blizzards of shuriken fire. The momentum of the orks fell apart; only the particularly stupid among them kept running towards the Imperial lines, and they were swiftly gunned down by fusillades of concentrated fire.

“Forward!” Manvers yelled, drawing his ceremonial power sword and waving it triumphantly above his head. “Leave none alive! For the Emperor!”

His cry was taken up by hundreds of voices as the Imperial Guard began to advance, firing as they went. The remaining orks started to fall back, but Manvers could see that they wouldn’t be able to get away. It was just a matter of mopping up the survivors now.

He glanced sidelong at one of the men standing next to him. Although Manvers had wanted to see the slaughter of the orks with his own eyes, there had been another reason for his decision to leave the safety of his bunker.

“Heartening to see the greenskins fall, isn’t it, Garrick? Say what you like about the eldar, but they did their part. The ork threat to this world will soon be completely eradicated.”

Commissar Garrick said nothing, his expression grim as he stared out over the battlefield. Manvers frowned, but before he could speak again a great roar went up, and he looked away. The last of the orks had fallen, and the guardsmen were celebrating. He smiled, and sheathed his power sword.

When the xenos had first approached them, the Imperial Guard forces on this world had been on the verge of a crushing defeat. There had simply been too many orks and not enough guardsmen to hold them off. Their leader, or farseer as Manvers had been told she was known, had promised to help them in their fight. Apparently the eldar called this planet a maiden world, and saw the presence of the orks as a desecration. Garrick had been opposed to the idea from the very start, calling for the eldar witch to be shot as an example to the rest of her filthy and duplicitous kind. Manvers, though, had seen things differently. He had been under no illusion that the eldar were acting out of anything other than self-interest, but even so, if the chance of aid was there, why not take it? It was the only reasonable thing to do.

The battles they had waged together since then had proven him right, and he would be damned if Garrick wasn’t going to admit that fact.

Manvers turned towards him, only to see that the commissar was no longer looking at him. The rest of his command staff were staring in the same direction: at the eldar skimmer tank. He looked round, an inexplicable sick feeling rising in his stomach, just in time to witness it fire again, this time at a nearby Hydra. The Imperial vehicle burst into flames as the high-pitched whining of grav-impellers filled the air and the eldar tank shot upwards, accelerating rapidly away before any of the command staff could even start to aim their weapons.

Even as he was struggling to assimilate what had just happened, the military part of his mind was registering what a strange target the tank had chosen. If the aim had been to hurt the Imperial forces then targeting their last Leman Russ would have made more sense.....then it came to him.

The skimmer tank had just destroyed the last anti-air vehicle Manvers had left.

He looked in the direction the eldar fighters had gone, and saw them execute a tight turn that would take them straight back towards the Imperial forces.

Manvers opened his mouth, but before he could say anything a pair of hands grasped his lapels and pulled him round. Commissar Garrick stared at him, his eyes filled with fear yet his expression twisted into a mask of horrible triumph.

“I told yo-”

The xenos aircraft arrived.
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