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Black Library Submission

Lately, I’ve just not had it in me to write. I know that’s not the right(pun) thing for a writer to say, but sue me. So, I tweaked it a little, but here’s what I had for my Black Library Submission. I was only able to send them a small sample, but this is what I wrote. Hope you guys enjoy.

Children of Havenspire

Prologue

A city is dying, the fires of its death throes painting the firmament red as if with blood. Outside its walls, once golden fields are withered, covered beneath a blanket of ash like a ghastly virgin snow. Inside, stone that was once as white and as magnificent as the lights of Hysh are stained black with soot, and the screams of the innocent sing its requiem.

I know this city.

She knows the young warrior too, and her handful of companions. They gather within the city’s temple for one final stand, the finality of a warrior’s saga come to its long and painful end. They are the sum of all that remains of this once proud city’s noble defenders. The paragons of a good and honorable people.

My people. My city.

She hears the cackle of demons filling broken avenues which once echoed with cheerful laughter and the lively debate of enlightened scholars. The sound of their perverse joy is as demented as their forms, twisting and contorting in a cacophony of limbs and snarling faces that consume one another with reckless abandon. Hordes of beasts with avian heads and the bodies of men, their feathers vibrant with colors that hurt the eye, chant and bray their dark prayers alongside them.

Yet, these are not the monsters that brought my city low.

Warriors that once protected her city march in unison in a mockery of the proud martial tradition of her people, their discipline step and cleanly crafted equipment a sharp contrast to the roiling mass of warp flesh and rabble around them. The curved blades of their polearms glow with azure balefire. Their armor and shields, shining like silvered mirrors, swirl with a kaleidoscope of colors both beautiful and maddening to behold. They chant in raised voices, no longer offering up prayers to the might and wisdom of Sigmar, reciting instead the nine unholy contradictions of Tzeentch.

The temple shakes. The young warrior turns to the statue of Sigmar at its center and offers up one final prayer. Not for her a plea for deliverance or forgiveness for all her wrongs. Instead, she asks only for the strength and courage to die well. She asks that Sigmar see that she did not die with her back turned. She asks only that she live long enough to slay just one more foe before she dies.

The warriors standing beside her do likewise. The last mage priest of her city raises his staff and it blazes with eldritch power, the last light of Hysh, shining pure and proud in the gathering dark. The roof of the temple caves in as a wave of coruscating flame lashes the last stronghold of…of…

I know this city, it’s my city, but why can’t I remember its name?

Thunder roars overhead, but it is not the season of rain.

Sigmar heard our prayers.

The nightmarish horde crashes through the gates of the temple and pour forth.

“For Sigmar!” The young warrior screams. She raises her spear high, its head shining bright, and she charges.

I died here.

The priest slams the butt of his staff to the ground, cracking the white marble like ice and sending bolts of light searing into the gibbering mass. A half dozen demons howl, their bodies burning with holy fire. Then, as they die, they split into smaller, nearly identical forms and they press forward.

The young warrior fells a birdlike beast whose claws shimmer with dark magic, its avian head toppling from its shoulders in a fountain of blood. She moves like a whirlwind, each thrust and swing of her spear a killing stroke and the heavens rumble with approval.

I died well.

The forces of Chaos close in. Pain fills the young warrior’s head and she falls to the blood-stained floor.

“You were always too slow,” says a voice. It is a familiar voice, but it is tortured and warped like white hot steel as it bends and shatters. It nearly shatters her mind along with it.

The young warrior looks up into a pair of dark eyes and a pale face, one she knows as well as her own, a face that belongs to a once proud defender of this city and its allies. The face smiles. The teeth are sharp and bright like a deep-sea predator’s in the murky depths. The smile begins to warp and turn in on itself, causing the familiar face to swirl into a visage neither familiar nor human.

“You were always too slow, little sister!”

She cries out and lifts her spear. The fallen champion swats it aside with contempt and raises his two axes above his head. She reaches into her boot for a dagger, one last act of defiance.

I did not die here. The God-King required me.

Flashes of incandesce illuminate the darkening skies. Lightning splits the heavens like breaking glass before arching down into the temple with a deafening crack. There is a taste of ozone and a feeling of hot, searing pain, and the visage of her dead city turns to blinding light.

She screams, and her people scream too, their voices following her into oblivion, reaching out across a sea of burning stars and infinite blackness. But amidst the discordant symphony of their doom, she hears a battle cry rise above the tumult of despair, and with it comes a name she’s always known.

~

Zara opened her eyes and looked down at the centuries old map. Her hand glided across the page, passing geographical features and cities. Their names, written in gold-leaf lettering, were illumined by the calm, white light cast by the braziers that lined the edges of the stacks. Her finger came to rest beneath a city far to the north-west, well beyond enemy lines and even the eyes of the Stormhost’s scouts. The visions of the burning city flitted through her mind as they had a hundred times before, but this time, she had a name to the city in her dreams. Her city. Her home. “Havenspire.”

Chapter 1: Havenspire

Zara Lightsong looked out over a broad valley that tapered to an almost perfect point at its northern end. Nestled in that crook, its shattered silhouette a grotesque shadow against the backdrop of the pale stone of the mountain sides, were the ruins of the city she had called home in a past life.

The area around the valley was cracked and mostly barren. The charred remains of dead trees dotted the landscape, their gnarled branches like withered fingers reaching up into a sky bruised with ash and smoke as if even the heavens were not safe from the destruction that the Dark Gods had visited on the Mortal Realms.

“So,” Tianus said, as he strode up beside Zara. “This is the city you saw in your dreams.” He waved a gauntleted hand towards the darkened ruins at the other end of the valley. Like Zara, his sigmarite armor was the royal blue of the Tempest Lords, but he was also clad in the white and crimson cloth of the Stormhost’s Sacrosanct Chamber.

“Yes,” she said. “This is Havenspire.” Zara’s crystal-and-sigmarite wings flexed at the sound of the name. She had never been to this city, at least not in this life, and had only just heard the name for the first time twelve days ago. The name “Havenspire” might as well have been as foreign to her as some arcane Aelven word, yet she recognized it the way she understood the lyrics of one of those aloof people’s sad ballads, by the way it caused a pang of regret and sadness to settle into the pit of her stomach.

“Well, I’m sure it’s charming up close.” The Knight-Incantor’s voice was, as usual, cheerful. It usually was, regardless of the mood or situation. Zara had come to accept and even admire Tianus’ annoyingly upbeat attitude. It was something most of the warrior-mages of the Sacrosanct Chambers sorely lacked.

“Hmm,” Tianus intoned, stroking his thin, black beard thoughtfully, looking as if he were pondering a joke. Zara glanced at him and nearly smiled despite herself. “You suppose that there might be survivors?” He tilted his head. “That is why you came, yes?”

Zara removed her silver, high crested helmet, a few locks of her brown hair falling in ringlets to the nape of her neck, said, “I had a fool’s hope.” She closed her eyes briefly and enjoyed the cool air on her face. She had made a habit of wearing her helmet when she was not alone. The thick scars across her left cheek, right jaw and forehead were unsightly, but like most Stormcast, Zara was no slave to vanity. She wore it because, despite all the pain, suffering, and trials of her two reforgings, and despite the loss of memories and that which made her human, what little humanity that did survive shone brightly in her soft, hazel eyes.

Those eyes made her comrades uneasy, but they seemed to have a calming effect upon the mortals with whom she often interacted. As a Knight-Azyros, she was the God-King’s emissary and messenger, bringing light to the darkest corners of the Eight Realms, where even His eyes could not see.

Zara looked down at her helmet’s ivory mask, impassive and resolute, a visage that did not reflect the unfamiliar uncertainty that burned in her gut. She tucked the helmet carefully in the crook of her arm.

“Truth be told, I’m not sure what I came here for. Perhaps I just needed to see for myself that my visions were true. At the very least, a pair of eyes on this region couldn’t hurt.” Zara shrugged. “Such frivolity is unbecoming. I hope you do not think less of me. I’m sorry that you came so far for so little.”

Tianus smiled. He laid an armored hand on her pauldron and said, “No, my friend. I wish that we all had the ruins of our homes to look upon. So many of us forget where we came from. It would help us remember what we’re fighting for.” His smile took on a sharp edge of mischievousness. “You know, my home was in the south. There is nothing left of it, but I’m sure it would be far more magnificent than this wreck.”

Despite herself, Zara laughed. “You are free to head back to Fort Lumarith.”

“Who would watch your back, then? Darek and his retinue?” Tianus looked up into the shrouded sky, though it was for dramatic effect more than any hope of spotting Darek, Marithos or Yahana. “Sigmar help you. Anyway, if what you say is true, Havenspire’s library was the largest repository of knowledge among The Twelve Cities. There could be something useful.”

“Ah, I should have known you would be unencumbered by altruism.”

“Indeed.” Tianus looked off into the distance as he spoke. For a moment, Zara felt he did in fact have an ulterior reason for coming. She dismissed the thought as a byproduct of his sarcastic tone.

A flash illuminated the scorched sky, streaking from one horizon to the next. Trickles of unrestrained power drifted down from the clouds like sparks from the gloom of a smoking forge.

Zara smiled as the lights brought back memories of her past. “For all the hordes of Chaos have done to this world, at least they never snuffed out the light of Hysh.” She nodded to a patch of golden, reed-like grass huddled beneath the eaves of the mountainside. “Sungrass,” she said. “It used to cover the valley floor from end to end. The buds respond to the lights. At least, they did. They would open wide and release their glowing pollen.”

“One day, those lights will fill the clear skies once again,” Tianus promised.

Zara nodded and replaced her helmet. “Let’s get your books.”

“And a scroll or three,” Tianus quipped.”

Zara unhooked the celestial lantern from her belt and pulled her spear from the ground. She unfurled her wings, the crystal blazing with light, and with a single leap she was soaring toward her former city. She glanced back in time to see Tianus summon his Dais Arcanum and take to the skies after her, blue fire trailing the arcane contraption like the contrails on a bronze comet.

Zara banked right and followed the edge of the valley toward the ruins of Havenspire, the jagged rocks of the broken foothills below streaking past. She kept one eye on the horizon above, scanning for threats and for any sign of Darek and his retinue. They had spotted roving bands of Chaos worshipers and warriors in the far distance along their journey. Though they hadn’t been engaged, that could change at any moment.

She reached the city’s shattered walls, stretching from one edge of the narrowed valley to the other and slowed. She circled the city, using the time waiting for Tianus to catch up to observe and commit to memory what remained of her home. She looked for signs of life also. She hadn’t expected to see any, but the disappointment crashed against her like a hurricane, and the sadness she had felt upon seeing the city only deepened.

The layout of Havenspire appeared largely circular and symmetric. The main road leading from the gate towards the city’s heart was one of four wide thoroughfares that blossomed out from the city-center like a starburst. These were bisected at regular intervals by smaller avenues that ringed the city in concentric circles radiating outward from the central plaza which was itself ringed by a single road into which the main highways emptied.

Through centuries of overgrowth and caked soot, the grandeur and beauty of Havenspire was still evident. Patches of white stone glowed in the dinge like pearls in muck. The heads and arms of statues, buffeted clean by strong winds, seemed to beckon from beneath the blanket of dilapidation.

Tianus approached. Over his shoulder, Zara eyed a swirl of cloud at the mouth of the valley as the evening winds picked up.

“We’ll head to the city center,” Zara called out. “If I remember correctly, the library is across from the temple.”

The road that formed the central ring around Havenspire’s central plaza was lined with shattered obelisks, and some of the runes carved into the remains of their facings still glinted with gold filigree. Zara recognized the crumbled remains of the temple of Sigmar on the north side. The library, or what remained of it, lay in pieces on the south. Everything else was unrecognizable. Even the cloud piercing ivory tower that had given the city its name was nothing more than a ruined foundation piled high with broken stones.

“Very creative,” Tianus quipped.

Zara buffeted her wings and came to a halt midair. “What?”

Tianus, mouth bent in a sly smile said, “A big spire at the city’s heart. A haven in the valley. I say, very clever indeed.”

Zara briefly pondered the risk and reward of chucking her spear at Tianus. Instead, she pointed the spear tip down to the library. “Just go and find your books.”

His darks eyes followed her gesture, and his face turned as pale as the city’s stone. “Zara!” he said, pointing.

Zara looked down. “Holy Sigmar,” she breathed. A figure armored in golden scales and wrapped in a yellow cape was standing on the steps of the temple. It was pointing and shouting. She strained to hear the words, but they were drowned out by a rush of wind and a high-pitched scream.

Zara whirled. She didn’t have time to warn Tianus. The flicker of blue and violet hurtled past and struck him off balance, his left pauldron flying off in a tooth trembling screech of broken metal. Tianus tumbled off his dais. Zara didn’t have time to cry out. She could only flinch as he hit the ground with an echoing thud. There was another rush of air and Zara was lucky to dodge the Screamer as it hurtled past, razor-sharp fins and horns passing within a thread’s width of her face. The air blistered and swirled like a vortex in its wake, and faces mocked and cackled at her before disappearing.

A third Screamer came on, but Zara was ready. Waiting until the last possible moment, she tilted into the charge, her spear puncturing the lithe creature from head to tail. It shuddered, whined and fell, trailing bright ichor in its descent.

The first two Screamers turned about and came on for another pass. She dodged the first with ease, but the second struck her a glancing blow before she rammed her spear into its hide, and it joined its comrade as a smear upon the ground below.

She readied herself for the next pass and her eyes widened. A half dozen more Screamers were rushing in and, coming out of the swirling clouds behind them was a flight of eighteen Tzaangors. The half bird, half human beasts rode atop discs of swirling metal, magic and spikes. Half of them wielded bows, the others twirled jagged spears. In their midst, astride a mount more ornate and terrible than its flock, was a sorcerer clad in gaudy fabric and a burnished breastplate. Its four-eyed face howled orders and it pointed with a staff whose gilded head spat multicolored flames. Yet, for all its inhuman visage, there was something strangely familiar about the creature, as if Zara had met it before.

Zara shook the thought from her mind. The Enlightened and Skyfires slowed and hung back with the sorcerer as the flight of Screamers split and began to circle Zara like a school of otherworldly sharks, the air twisting and burning, waiting for the alpha to swoop in and begin the slaughter.

One of their number turned sharply and the others followed. Zara smiled and held up the celestial lantern. “This realm is yours no more! It belongs to the God-King and the noble people that call it home! Begone!” Her voice boomed, causing the Screamers to hesitate.

The lantern opened wide and filled the valley with a brilliant burst of warm, white light. To those that followed The God-King, the light was a beacon of hope and wonder, the full majesty of Sigmar Himself made manifest. To the followers of the Dark Gods and their demonic lackeys, that majesty was as anathema as the warp was to mortals.

The light from the lantern slowly died. Six of the seven Screamers had turned to ash, reality rippling in the aftermath of their unmaking. The final Screamer, scorched and dazed, came on still and Zara impaled it upon her spear. Its momentum pushed her back and the demon flailed against her, its fins scoring her armor with deep gouges. She pulled her spear free and swung downward, cutting it nearly in half.

Zara made ready again. The sorcerer raised its staff in the air and violet fire danced over its fingertips. In response, the Tzaangors squawked and tilted their discs forward into a charge.

“For Sigmar! For Havenspire!” Zara responded in kind and charged to meet them.

The Skyfires let loose with their bows, arrows crackling with warpfire. Zara banked midflight, but the arrows seemed to bend towards her as if the Skyfires had anticipated where she’d go. She dodged several and swiped one from the air, but one struck home and her charge faltered. The haft of the arrow splintered but sent sparks and a jolt of pain through her abdomen.

Zara flipped backward, the ruins of the city and purple sky falling end over end as she fell several yards before righting herself. The Enlightened were upon her. Unwilling to give in or accept death, she flew into a charge again. The thought of forgetting her home again made her heart ache and she burned with a desire to wreak vengeance. She would not be sent back to the anvil to be reforged, not today!

Zara and the first Enlightened struck with titanic force. She shattered its bladed staff and pushed her spear into the beast’s chest, but its disc whirled and one of its blades struck the gap between her thigh and calf. She grunted, feeling blood pool in the bottom of her greave. She tried to pull her spear free, but the wounded Tzaangor gripped the haft and gave a gurgling chortle.

Zara headbutted the thing, sending it backward, but it pulled her with it. Pressing her feet to the disc, she pushed off from its mass and tore her spear from its chest. She hovered down beside the sloped roof of one of the few buildings still largely intact and braced for the next Enlightened, and her inevitable end. Salvation came from on high and a hail of arrows from below.

A pair of Skyfires flew from their discs as they were struck by blasts of energy. The Enlightened that was bearing down on her twitched its head to the left, its crest of feathers rising like the hackles on a startled cat. Marithos, hurtling down like a blue comet, his wings blazing with the light of Hysh. He slammed feet first into the Enlightened, landing on top of its broken body in a cloud of shattered roof tiles and centuries old dust.

Darek and Yahan streaked down, transmuting their paired war hammers into the raw stuff of Azyr and hurling them like ball lightning into the Skyfires. Their weapons reappeared in their hands in a flash of golden light in time for them to set about the enemy in melee.

Zara turned to Marithos as he flew up to her, his two-handed axe resting on his shoulder. “Where have you been this whole time?” She snapped.

The Prosecutor hefted his axe into both hands as if it weighed no more than a bundle of reeds. “On our way to warn you of the danger,” he growled as he jolted forward and swung his axe, Zara folding her wings briefly and dropping beneath the swing. She looked up in time to see Marithos cleave an Enlightened in half as it flew by, splattering her armor with its foul lifeblood.

Marithos looked down, his facemask disguising the smile Zara heard in his voice. “Seems we got here just in the nick of time.” He nodded downward. “So did they.”

Zara glanced to the ruins of the temple. Dozens of men and women armored in golden scales and silver helms took up a battle line at its base. The warriors in front wielded long glaives in one hand and silver shields like mirrors in the other. The warriors behind raised their bows and let loose with another volley on the Enlightened and Skyfires and the followers of Tzeentch began to turn and flee.

Zara smiled and raised her spear, the light of her celestial lantern burning brighter as the thrill of imminent victory and the sight of mortal survivors filled her heart with warmth. “For Sigmar!” she called exultantly, and the other Stormcast took up the call and charged forward.

Yahana broke off and began chasing the fleeing Tzaangors. Darek made for the sorcerer, the hammers in his hands transmuting into sparking spheres of lightning before hurling them. They burst with brilliant flashes, their celestial energy dissipating against an invisible shield that flared like a nimbus around it.

The sorcerer gave voice to a guttural curse and its staff began to glow. It swirled its spiderlike fingers and the air twisted and turned like a whirlpool. There was a loud crack as the veil between the world and unreality split open, and a dull roar like a million voices whispering at once filled the valley from edge to edge.

The sorcerer flicked its hand and from the whirlpool of broken reality flung a plume of pink fire at Darek. The Prosecutor-Prime spun and missed the bulk of the flame, but its tongues lapped out and slashed at him. Twisting sharply, he fell hard atop a roof.

With another flick, green flames lashed out towards Marithos and struck him like a whip. With a grunt, Marithos suddenly turned and swung his axe at Zara’s neck. She lifted her spear in time and the hafts of their weapons rang with the impact, Marithos’ eyes flickering with emerald light.

“Marithos,” Zara barked, shoving him back. “Clear your mind! The Sorcerer’s magic has you.”

Marithos shook his head. With another flick of the sorcerer’s wrist, a wave of blue fire jumped from its hand. Zara prepared for it but came to the horrible realization that it was aimed at the mortals below and not her.

The dazzling blue fire washed over the mortals’ ranks and Zara’s chest tightened. Her heart was gripped by a terrible rage as she waited for the flames to dissipate and reveal a twisting, mewling mass of charred, warped figures. Instead, when it cleared, the mortals appeared unharmed, the white stone around them bubbling and churning as if they too had been protected by an invisible force.

Zara cried out with joy. Amongst the mortals, one palm stretched to the heavens, eyes crackling with cerulean lightning, was Tianus. Raising his staff, he flung a bolt of lightning from his palm straight at the sorcerer. The invisible shield shattered, and the sorcerer roared in pain as the wrath of Azyr struck it head on.

The sorcerer reeled and Zara slammed into it, her spear piercing its chest. With a buffet of her wings, she drove it down onto a roof. It gurgled and coughed and clawed at the spear’s haft.

Zara removed her helmet and lifted her lantern, aiming at the sorcerer. “I am Zara Lightsong, Knight-Azyros of the Tempest Lords, messenger of the God-King. Hear my name and take it with you back to the hell that spawned you. Carry it to those who would threaten the Mortal Realms and tell them I will be waiting.”

The sorcerer turned its four eyes toward her. The two set into its forehead, beady like a spider’s, flickered with crimson light. “Sarniana,” it said. Zara froze. Memories of her past life flashed before her in an instant, and suddenly, she knew the Sorcerer’s name.

“Agathen,” she whispered, now recognizing the face of the mage priest from her memories hidden deep in the sorcerer’s sharp, warped features.

Agathen gave a wet laugh. He waved his hand and a halo of violet flames rose from around his feet. “The Talon will be pleased to see you again, young one. He wishes me to tell you, that you were always too slow.” With a burst of cold air, the violet flames consumed the sorcerer and he disappeared.

Zara hovered in place, staring blankly at the crack in the wall made by her spear as dark blood dripped from its long blade.

“Agathen,” she mouthed. “The Talon.” She repeated the names over and over for a time, the cheers of the mortals below a distant tune in a faraway symphony. “Agathen. The Talon. Sarniana. Havenspire.”

Zara’s eyes fluttered and another round of visions overtook her. This time, she saw new faces and heard new names. There were people gathered around a long table. She saw the corrupted warrior with the two axes, but the taint of Chaos was nowhere in his face or armor. He held a golden helmet in his hands, and his smile was as comforting as a warm breeze on a cold day. He stood next to a woman, beautiful, her skin dark like carved ebony, her robes bright and golden yellow as if spun from the light of Hysh.

There was another woman, taller than the beautiful priest, thin and rugged with brown hair. She leaned on a spear and her brow was furrowed and she was vehement in whatever disagreement she was having. “Sarniana,” the corrupted warrior said.

“Saren,” she said back. “The Talon,” Zara said. Her brother. How had he fallen? What madness had overcome them?

“Enough!” Said another voice. There were two at the head of the long table. A mage, his features veiled in shadow and a tall, aged warrior in dull armor, his hair peppered grey.

Zara blinked. He was blind, eyes covered by a cloth. The blind warrior looked up at her and Zara gasped. The vision was looking at her.

“You were not here,” the aged warrior said, his voice shivering like the sixth string of a Havenspire lute. The cloth over the aged warriors’ eyes burned away into ash and his eyes turned to a painful, searing light. The aged warrior frowned, and his weathered face seemed lined with sorrow. “You are not supposed to be here, Zara, once Sarniana, Knight-Azyros of the Silent God. Begone!”

The glowing eyes burst into a brilliant nova and Zara was flung from the vision. She returned to the world and felt herself falling, the air rushing past and the dark sky speeding away. “Zara!” She heard her name being called before she felt the impact of her descent and the world went dark.

 

Chapter 2: The Talon

Saren ran a finger down the face of his horned, golden helmet, the metal of his gauntlet hissing as he rubbed a way a layer of grime. He sifted through the visions and dreams that had plagued him for the last months. He thought of the young woman in those visions, moving with the speed and strength of the raging river, ever thrust and strike of her spear bringing death. Her bright eyes had been at odds with her stony face, filled with tears, glaring up at him in defiance as he readied the killing blow. He thought of the flash of lightning and how she and the dozens of others around her had disappeared, his moment of final victory and vengeance torn from his grasp.

“Sarniana,” Saren whispered. He sifted through the images he had seen through Agathen’s eyes. There was no mistaking it. “Now Zara, emissary of Sigmar.”

“The Silent God,” Agathen spat, one hand over the bleeding rent in his breastplate. He leaned on his staff, the wychfire haloing the head dimmer than normal, but strong enough to illuminate the dank cave with a haunting pool of indigo light. “Silent when His people needed Him. Now, He sends His Stormcast to protect a broken city? Need we more proof that Tzeentch favors us?”

“She has come on her own. Called by destiny. By fate. The Weaver of Fates has brought her to me. Brought the children of Havenspire together once more.” Saren turned his helmet and paused, his body turning rigid. In the soft light, there was a reflection in the helmet. It was twisted, hideous, but in that faint image there was a face he almost recognized, a face he had seen in those dreams and visions. The features of that face twisted into something altogether more terrible. The third eye in the middle of its forehead vibrated with the staccato beat of Saren’s heart.

Saren aj’Sharenthal, The First Spear of Havenspire. The Warbringer. The Whirlwind. That was what they had called him in a past life. He had all but forgotten it, and these memories and names and titles were unsettling. Disgusting. They were the names and titles of a weaker man, a more naïve man. He had but one name and one title now. He was Saren, The Talon of Belinathros. The remnants of Havenspire were all that remained of those cities, and he wouldn’t let Sigmar or this Zara Lightsong keep him from ending their pitiful existence.

Saren growled. It was an inhuman sound, the grinding of steel teeth on soft gold. He replaced his helmet and turned to Agathen. “Muster my three banners and gather as many warbands as you can. We march for Havenspire tonight before they have a chance to escape us again.”

“No,” answered a voice from the shadows of the cave, the first consonant of each word echoing and reverberating as if repeated by a second, deeper voice. “Your obsession has already cost us valuable time and manpower. If you go, you go alone, Talon.”

Saren turned to the source of the echoing voice, a corner of the cave in which the shadows sat deeper, black within black, a veil of madness set in a sea of starless night. Saren removed one of the axes from his belt and motioned to the darkness. “Come and join us, Chax’ar. Come into the light.”

“You too are in the shadows, Saren,” Chax’ar cooed. “I do so wonder why.” It was a taunt, not a question, and Saren placed a hand on his second axe. “What are you hiding, Talon?” Chax’ar pressed. “Rather, what are you hiding from?” The Magister moved from the shadows into the pool of indigo spilling from Agathen’s staff. His warped, sinuous features were mostly hidden beneath a dark cloak. Only his clawed feet, sticking out beneath the hem of his cloak and his large, single eye betrayed the monster beneath. “Tell me, Talon. What are you hiding from?”

Saren shook with rage, ensorcelled magics wafting from his silver armor like wisps of multicolored steam. “I hide from nothing and no one.”

“Except yourself, it would seem. You have hardly left this cave in months.”

“Belinathros has been idle for months! My lord has stood by as armies of Hedonites and Maggotkin have harassed our forces and marched for the Silverdawn gate. My three banners will be ready to march when he orders us.”

“Not if you are wasting time on this foolish quest of yours. Time and warriors that are not yours.”

“The Hawk does not care about the lives of lesser warriors. He hardly notices they are there.”

Chax’ar’s eye flashed. “Tzeentch hardly notices we are here either. You and I and Agathen,” Chax’ar waved a clawed hand at the other sorcerer whose head was bowed in deference, “we are but rats playing for the amusement of the Great Schemer. Yet, we play our part in the game. Do not mistake The Hawk’s indifference to their lives for indifference to how those lives are spent.

“If you are set upon this quest, this childish desire to hunt down every last survivor of that broken kingdom, then you may do so on your own. If you are brave enough to leave this haven of yours, that is.” In the shadowed eves of his hood, Saren saw the Magister flash a sharp smile.

With a roar, Saren reached out and took Chax’ar by the throat and lifted him from the ground. “You think because my lord tolerates your life that he cares any more for it than he does the legions of Arcanites that grovel at his feet? You led him to the Eyes of Tangra. You led us down this path.” Saren squeezed. “I wonder if he foresees your death as he foresaw the fall of Havenspire.” At the utterance of the name, memories of a forgotten life shimmered like a desert mirage behind his eyes. Memories of desperate battles to save his people. Memories of begging a blind general to come to those people’s aid. Memories of a quest to find an artefact that would stave off extinction; a quest that had led to the damnation of his people.

Chax’ar began to laugh, his body convulsing in Saren’s grip. “Your people?” He asked, as if reading Saren’s mind. “I ask again, what are you hiding from? Why are you so desperate to end the pitiful lives of these creatures, yet so afraid to face them yourself? What drives you on this foolish quest, Talon? Or should I say, Saren aj’Sharenthal?”

From Chax’ar’s eye came a dazzling burst of light. Saren jerked his head away and dropped the Magister, stunned, a feeling of ice burning through his veins.

Chax’ar laughed again. “Go to your city, Saren aj’Sharenthal. Find what solace you seek in the deaths of your people. Return to us as The Talon, Exalted Champion of Tzeentch.”

With a rush of air that shook the cave, Chax’ar vanished, Saren’s axes passing through the shadowy mist left in his wake. Raising his face to the dark ceiling above, Saren roared. Even before the metallic echoes of his voice died, he was marching to the cave entrance, Agathen scurrying at his heels.

He saw a vision of his sister, wounded on the ground before him, her life in his hands, the dead all around. He saw his axe passing through the air where she had been, his ears ringing with the sound of thunder. Saren roared again as their faces taunted him. He would silence them once and for all. He would silence all of them! “Gather my three banners, your sky hunters and whatever covens will join you.”

“Champion, you heard the Voice.”

Saren rounded on the Sorcerer who flinched. “Do it!”

Agathen gave a deep bow. “As you wish, Talon.”

Saren emerged from the cave and squinted, deep shadows giving way to mottled light. He looked to the heavens and called out to the only god that had ever answered him. “Tomorrow, Havenspire will finally fall. I do this for you, Great Schemer! Do you hear me? Havenspire will fall!”

 

Chapter 3: <unnamed, unfinished>

I tried to tell them.

The young warrior pleads her case. “This cannot be the way,” she says vehemently. “This cannot be the only path left open to us.”

The warrior with the golden helmet places his hand upon her shoulder. “Sarniana, we have exhausted all our options. The Eyes of Tangra are our next logical step.”

“They are tainted,” the young warrior protests. “This quest, it is born of desperation. It is offered to us by a man we hardly know!”

I tried to warn them!

“Sarniana, this is ridiculous. We know the risks of Aetherquartz. We have overcome the temptations. We used it too liberally in the past, but these are desperate times!”

Brother please!

            The beautiful priestess with the dark skin waves her hand. “Sarniana, listen to your brother. I know this seems dangerous, but what choice do we have?”

“No, I will not!” The young warrior protests.

“Enough!” Says a deep voice. The young warrior turns to the end of the table.

The blind warrior.

“I have made my choice,” the blind warrior says. He places his hand upon a map rolled out over the table. “We find the Eyes of Tangra.” The blind warrior turns his head to the young warrior. “I trust you, Bringer of Justice, to end my life when we have made safe the Twelve Cities. I trust you to destroy the Eyes of Tangra so that they may never be used again. For good or ill. If they cannot be destroyed, then take them to the farthest corner of Hysh and hide them. This, I trust to you.” He points at her as if he sees her, head tilting forward. “Do you hear and obey?”

I do.

            “I do.”

The blind warrior shakes his head and a figure cloaked in shadow appears behind him. “Not you, Zara Lightsong,” says the blind warrior, the cloth around his eyes burning away. “You were not here!”

~

Zara awoke with a start, hand searching for her spear.

“Whoa,” said a familiar voice. “Relax, you’re alright.”

Zara blinked. Tianus’ oval face came into focus beneath a dusting of stars, sewn like sequins into the shawl of night.

“Thank the Comet, she’s alive.” Darek’s pockmarked face appeared beside Tianus’, twisted in concern, grey glass-splinter eyes shimmering with the fury of a gathering storm. “I thought I had arrived too late.”

“Nearly,” Zara said, sitting up slowly, accepting the hand offered her by Tianus. “Where were you?” Zara asked of Darek, careful not to sound accusatory.

“On our way to warn you of an approaching force of Arcanites. I apologize, we did not see the second group hidden in the dust.”

Zara rolled her shoulder, grunted at the pain, said, “Where is that second group?”

“Dead, mostly,” Yahana replied.

Zara turned, nodded to the tall Prosecutor with the lean face, said, “No fresh scars for you? You gathered your twelve tally, then.”

Yahana sniffed and ran a finger over one of the many scars that marred her cheeks and chin, then through the mop of wheat colored hair that covered the left side of her scalp, the other half shaved smooth. “Fifteen, to be exact, though I feel remiss. Including the group that ambushed you, I got twenty-two.”

Marithos grunted from his perch atop the rampart that encircled the roof. “She wanted to mark herself, said they were two separate fights. She’ll ever be honest about her kill count, grant her that.”

Yahana spat. “Jealous, Marithos? Did your axe not drink its fill of vengeance today?”

Marithos smiled, teeth a shining crescent moon pressed between cracked lips, dark eyes suddenly illuminated as if by its radiance. “Nay, never enough.” He turned to Zara, his smile fading behind a cloud of guilt. “Zara, about what happened…”

“All is forgiven,” Zara said with a clipped wave of her hand. “If anything, you need to practice more. My head should be free of my shoulders.”

“Hah!” Marihos guffawed. “She’s as right as the Comet’s path. First joke she’s cracked since we left for this place.”

This place…? Havenspire! Zara whirled around, regretted it immediately as a wave of vertigo overtook her. “Havenspire,” she said. “The people, the priest—”

“Are alive and well,” Tianus interrupted. “As am I, thanks to that priest.”

Zara looked Tianus over, noting the cracks in his armor, the awkward way he carried his left arm, the rent in his shoulder where his pauldron had been ripped free. He had fallen from a great height. “The priest healed you?”

“Mostly,” Tianus said. “His power is limited. I think it will take some time for his magic to work more, and he only has so much to work with for now. He’ll need to save it for those among his company that were injured.” He nodded, pointed at Zara’s leg, said: “You, too.”

“I’m fine,” Zara said, spreading her wings, the light from the crystals briefly illuminating the rooftop and casting the dark armored Stormcast in shadowed contrast to the white stone around them.

Darek growled, tapped the side of the helmet tucked beneath his arm. “You’d say that were you split in half.”

Zara retrieved her helmet, took her spear and lantern Tianus, turned to Darek and said: “So I would. Of the five of us, I am the least injured.”

“Second least,” Yahana mumbled, combing fingers through her hair again. The Prosecutor took as much pride in her lack of injuries as she took in the scars, she tried to avoid giving herself.

Zara’s narrowed her gaze, checked her irritation, turned to Tianus, said: “Where are they?”

“Waiting for us below,” Marithos replied, motioning over his shoulder. He hopped down from his perch and spread his wings. “They want to meet Sigmar’s daughter from Havenspire.”

Zara nodded, hooked her lantern to her belt but paused before donning her helmet. She gave a heavy sigh, tucked it in the crook her arm, stepped atop the rampart of the roof and along with Tianus, Darek and his retinue, floated to the ground with a feather’s grace, the light of their wings piercing the gloom and illuminating hundreds of warriors who had gathered at the base of the building. They gasped, most wide eyed with wonder, but Zara noted resentment on the faces of some of the oldest among them.

Those old faces were few, though. Most were young. So very young, Zara thought. Young, malnourished and tired. She towered over even a healthy warrior, and none of these save a very elite few were healthy. In the light of Stormcast’s wings, long shadows pulled across their gaunt, haunted features, ghosts in a pale moon light staring with awe at angels sent from on high.

“Sigmar has not abandoned us,” a young woman whispered, stepping forward. Tears were in her eyes and she fell to her knees, glaive and shield clattering to the stone, and she wept openly. “Sigmar be praised!”

“Sigmar be praised!”

“The host of Azyr has come!”

“We are saved!”

A tall figure wrapped in yellow robes stepped forward from the crowd. He was bald but for a single knot of milky white hair atop his head like a bundle of flax reeds that fell to his shoulders. His features were sharper still than the gaunt warriors about him, and his body was lithe. Aelf, Zara realized. One of Tyrion’s folk. Zara did not remember any Aelves that held positions of power in Havenspire, though they were common enough.

The priest in yellow bowed his head, regarded the Stormcast for a time before speaking. “It is an honor to be in the presence of Sigmar’s Stormcast, my lords.” His voice was cozy like a winter fire, hopeful in its tone yet marred in melancholy. “Salvation has indeed, come.”

A murmur rose among the gathered warriors. Tears streaked down faces and Zara felt the way the priest’s voice sounded. Overjoyed to find survivors from her city, yet suddenly afraid to crush their hopes.

“Sigmar!” cried a voice from the crowd, and most took up the exultant call. “Sigmar! Sigmar!”

Tianus moved up beside Zara, glanced sidelong at her and the knot in her gut grew tighter. She was the bringer of hope, not the extinguisher. How could she tell these people that she was not here to save them? She hadn’t even known they were here!

“Sigmar! Sigmar! Sigmar!” The voices echoed across the valley, growing in pitch, magnificent and glorious like a fresh dawn.

________________

This is a work of fiction. All rights, names and characters belong to Games-Workshop Ltd.

Why do I write?

(I questioned if I should make this public or not. In the end, why not? Look, I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just writing what I feel, my thoughts. It just is what it is.)

As I wait for the inevitable rejection email regarding my latest attempt at writing professionally, I find myself even deeper in a rut than I was a month ago. With writing, if not personal or emotional. Though I suppose one can affect the other.

It started some time ago, maybe right around the time I moved in with my friend Ryan and his family in May. For those that don’t know, I spent the last several years caring for my mother who has Alzheimer’s. It’s a miserable disease.

The rut isn’t just normal writer’s block. Writer’s block is like a faulty nozzle. The words sputter out, usually getting everywhere, making a mess of whatever you were working on. But at least you get the words out, right? It’s not even that I’m scared to turn the faucet on. I mean, I am now, since I know every time I do, what comes out is just a toxic mess. It’s that the damn faucet won’t turn on. And what’s worse, I just don’t care. About a lot of things, as it turns out.

Before I turn all selfish and talk about myself and my time caring for my ailing mother, understand that I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m beyond that. I’m just, putting words to paper I guess. (an example of how fucking weird and screwed my mind is and how this sputtering thing works, this next paragraph was originally the first part of the current paragraph.)

Let me just be real. I suck at writing. I’m not good at it. I did it because I loved it, but also because it gave me something to put my mind to.

You see, when I was taking care of my mother, everything seemed hopeless. I was watching my mom, arguably the only person who ever stood by me no matter what, wither away to nothing. Not physically, which makes it worse. She could and can still walk around and get into things. Not well, but she does. It’s like a zombie movie, except the zombie isn’t eating your brain so much as exhausting it. Someone who is sick with Alzheimer’s is a lot like a kid, but unlike a child, they don’t understand consequences or eventually learn to understand them.  You can’t put someone with Alzheimer’s into their room for punishment. They’ll leave the room like nothing happened because, well, nothing did happen in their mind. They don’t remember the incident that lead to them being in their room, or that they ever did anything to warrant being sent there in the first place. They will however want to tell you about that summer where they swam in the Tittabawassee river for the millionth time. It’s the first time for them, they just don’t remember. It’s not their fault. They’re sick.

That doesn’t make it easier to deal with, and that doesn’t mean I didn’t snap at my mom more times than I care to admit. Not only am I a bad writer, I’m a horrible son and person. Granted, my mom snapped at me plenty, but I deserved it. I digress.

I wrote because I needed an outlet that wasn’t gaming. I wrote because I needed this bullshit hope that I could do something I liked and maybe get paid for it one day. I wrote because I needed a glimmer of hope in what I felt was a miserable situation. I did it, because it was my only real source of relief in a thankless, lonely job. The world and the people I created, they were my friends and my home. My escape. My hope for happiness, my dream for a better world.

That’s just it, though. I’m wondering if writing was my alternate escape. That’s what video games were, after all. A way to fill the void. Writing let me do that, but it gave me a sense of accomplishment. “You’re doing something that’s worthwhile,” I’d tell myself. Oops. Turns out, that’s not true. I’m just not good enough.

Just ask most of my friends and family. This current submission that I referenced above is the first time my father has ever read anything I’ve written since college. I’m talking freshman year. I don’t blame him. Not like I reached out to him a ton and gave him everything, but every time he read what I sent, he gave the dad response. “Awful good, son.” I’m paraphrasing, but what I’m getting at is, he was being nice, and that’s what most people are. Just nice.

There are even some people that are critically nice. They give you some criticism (usually in a polite way) but they hold back just enough not to knock you on your ass. The worst part isn’t the criticism though, it’s the nicety. “Oh, well, it’s good though! There’s so much good here! Gosh, I loved this part.” It’s the dad response. You can see it.

I’m not mad at them, though. I know it seems like I’m laying on the bitter thicker than a I lay on the peanut butter in a PB&J (it’s a lot) but I’m really not. I get it. I switch fancies faster than President Trump can put out a tweet (which is also a lot) and this writing is just another fad. Yes, I’ve been writing for years, but not seriously. “Serious” and “writing” haven’t gone together for me more than five years, if that.

So, to try and bring this rant back around to home, this is where the problem is. All of the above? I don’t even care any more. I can’t get my dad to read my stuff. Okay. The people closest to me who I thought/hoped would want to read my stuff don’t want to. Okay. My writing isn’t nearly good enough. Okay. My whole god damned identity going back almost seven years, being the caretaker for my mom is gone. Okay.(Don’t even get me started on the part where I left her with my psycho brother because I just didn’t fucking care any more. I was so desperate to be free of that situation.) I didn’t write today because I didn’t feel like it? Okay.

So, why did I fucking write? How did I write? How is it that I can’t write now? I worked 9-5 each day. (8-430, whatever). After getting home, I took care of my mom. I fed, bathed, clothed, put to bed, comforted, put to bed gain, comforted, then put to bed again, then brushed her teeth because we forgot, fed again because she’s still hungry, put to bed again. During that time, I read fifty-ish paged, and also found time to write. Now?

It’s like I just don’t care. It’s like there’s nothing to write for. I’m a thirty-one year old with no attachment. To anyone or anything. Shouldn’t that make writing easier? I thought I was writing for someone else this whole time, but now I think I was just writing to escape. I know how to write without support. I feel like I did that these last several years. I feel like I had the world on my shoulders and still wrote. Now, with no weight at all, I’m suddenly the rabbit, running slower than the tortoise because, why bother?

I don’t even know. I forgot why I was writing this thing. Maybe that’s just it. I forgot why I was writing at all. If I was even writing for anything at all.

Stephen King once wrote that “…whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot if difference. They don’t have to makes speeches. Just believing is usually enough.” I’ve often wondered who I would dedicate my first novel to if I were ever published. Unlike King, I don’t know. I’m not someone who knows. I had to pick myself up by my own bootstraps, in writing and in life. I had no one that really believed. Except my mom. She believed in me. I suppose I could dedicate it to her, but then, she wouldn’t be able to read it. She wouldn’t even remember who I was.

Serial Blog Post

Trying to return more to this as my other writing founders. Not sure who all reads this, but hope you enjoy.

 

The Herald of Night

Part VII

“Get up!”

Jearin awoke with a start, Seager’s voice piercing his throbbing skull like a las bolt. He groaned, his muscles aching. The sofa. He’d grown used to the hard, cold surfaces of the city streets, and his body was paying the price for a good night’s rest.

“Get up!” Seager repeated.

“Alright, alright,” Jearin said, removing the dry, slightly stiff rag from his face, suddenly grateful for the smog as it veiled the rays of sun that dripped through the skylight above. “What is it?” He looked up at Seager, his irritation at being awoken checked by the turbulent expression on the old man’s face. “What is it?” Jearin repeated, softer this time. A sinking feeling settled into the pit of his growling stomach as he sat up and swung his feet to the floor.

“You know exactly what,” Seager responded, slamming his hand on the table in front of Jearin, causing him to jump. He was impressed that the rickety old thing survived impact.

“No, I really d-” Jearin stopped as Seager pulled his hand back, revealing the black cube. “Oh,” Jearin said, gulping. “That.”

“Yes, that,” the old man growled, pointing a calloused finger at the cube. “It fell out of your jacket when I moved it. What in the Emperor’s holy name is that, boy? What have you brought into my home!” It wasn’t a question so much as a truth that Seager leveled straight at Jearin’s withered heart.

“It’s just…well, it’s a device, see.” Jearin reached for the cube but Seager swatted his hand.

“You won’t be using any foul xenos sorcery in my home, boy.”

“It’s not sorcery, it’s just alien tech. It’s money, as far as you or I are concerned.”

“Emperor help me,” Seager breathed out, clenching his fists. Thunder rolled outside, shaking the home as a storm brewed within. “You were going to sell that thing? You were going to make money off xenos technology? What is the matter with you?”

“Enough with the questions, lord inquisitor!” Jearin shot to his feet, Seager’s size a not so gentle reminder to keep his tone even. “Someone has to make money around here. Good, honest money.”

“Emperor help me, Jearin. There’s nothing honest about smuggling heretical technology!”

“Oh no?”

“No, it’s not!”

Jearin waved a hand around at the cluttered room. “Fine. Then it’s just money, and it’s paid for your protection more than a few times.”

“I don’t need your protection, and I certainly don’t need your filthy money, Jearin. I can handle the gangs if the need arises.”

Jearin shook his head, the motion making him dizzy. He sat, grabbed his boots and started pulling them on. “You really are such a blessed fool. Why do you think they’ve not bothered this place in over a decade, huh? Why is it the gangs seem to avoid your small side business, for all the damned money it makes, when they come around?” Jearin snatched up the cube and his jacket, placing it into one of the pockets. ” It’s because of me, Seager.”

Seager growled. “You think soiling your sell on my behalf will wipe it clean? Emperor help me, b-”

“Well he’s not helping you old man, I am! There’s no god that’s going to come down and rescue you from a band of addicts sent here by Devos, there’s no Emperor that’s going to send his angels down to save you from-”

Seager’s hand reached out and smacked Jearin across the face. He’d been hit harder in his life, just last night in fact, but somehow, it felt like he’d been hit by a magtrain. And he’d know. The force of it may not have been strong enough to knock him down, but it was strong enough to hit his soul. “Just look up at the sky if you want to know what your endevours will get you,” Seager said, his voice barely above a whisper, but strong enough to hit Jearin a second time with its heat. There was a tinge of alcohol to it. “There’s a reminder for you to look at every day you walk outside if you think this will bring you fortune and good favor, boy.”

“Yeah, I see it,” Jearin said, rubbing his face. “I see it every day, looking down at me. A sign of ignorance and stupidity.” Jearin threw on his coat, checking to make sure the auto pistol was still there. “Humans did that. Not your God Emperor.” Jearin stormed past Seager and pulled open the door, a strong gust of wind and the foul smells of a damp, filth ridden city greeting his nose with a harsh sting. “For the record, it was you that taught me to be curious and to learn.”

“Don’t you dare put this heresy on me, boy. I wanted you to be smart, not to deal in forbidden lore. I never asked you to sell your soul to protect me!”

“Yeah? Well I never asked you to take me off the streets. I could always handle myself, too.”

“But I did,” Seager said, stepping toward the door, his arms out, palms up. “I did because it was the right thing to do.”

Jearin let out a barking laugh. “The right thing to do? Don’t act like you did me a public service. There are thousands of lonely, hungry kids on the streets. You picked me because I reminded you of your son. Well, your self righteous grox dung of a speech about doing the right thing can stay in the compost pile.”

The room went silent but for the sound of the coming storm and the bustling of the streets. Jearin’s heart twisted at the look on Seager’s sullen face, his features red with embarrassment and…

“Saving me won’t bring him back, old man,” Jearin said, slamming the door to avoid having to see the look on Seager’s face.

“Stupid old man,” Jearin mumbled as he hopped down the short steps to the street. A passerby glanced his direction. “Mind your business,” Jearin bit off, and the portly man blinked, holding a hand to his chest in insult as he scurried off.

Shoving his hands into his pockets, Jearin set off to the Devos gang’s hideout. The rains began to tumble down in thick drops, not so much washing away the grime as giving it a glossy finish.

As he thought back to the old man, he picked up speed, the specter of Seager’s face sticking in his mind like the soot to the side of passing buildings. He told himself he had slammed the door to avoid hearing the old man’s retort, but the truth was, he felt what he saw on Seager’s face. “Stupid old man,” Jearin repeated. He broke into a sprint, telling himself it was because the rain, but as the guilt slowly caught up, Jearin found he just couldn’t quite run fast enough.

 

 

________________________________________

This is a work of fiction based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe created by Games-Workshop Ltd. I will remove this work upon request.

Serial Blog Post

The Herald of Night

Part VI

Fetros the Eternal Wanderer, Fetros the Ever Curious, Fetros of the Labyrinthine Mind, and occasionally, Fetros the Frivolous, came to a stop before the deactivated Immortal and emitted a sound that could barely be called a sigh.

The name Fetros was his, by virtue of a long ago forgotten birth. The titles had been his, given by his former master, the Phaeron of the now extinct Sethmitar Dyansty. Now, he was just Fetros, former Chief Cryptek. Now, he was Fetros, The Weaver of Shadows, The Dark Binder, servant to a far greater cause than the monumental hubris of a petty lord.

Fetros’s large, single eye flickered with green light in imitation of a biological process called ‘blinking’ as he looked the Immortal over, analyzing the damage. Eye? Is it really an eye? He needed to blink like he needed to eat. Which was to say, he could no longer do either, and he hardly remembered why he had needed to do those things in the first place. Hunger. A warning from weak, flawed, biological machinery that told the host it needed fuel.

Fetros looked up at the face of the deactivated Immortal. The sockets of its ‘eyes’ were dark, lifeless, a large, blackened gouge through its shoulder and torso that extended into its core, a result of The Nemesor’s blade. He reached up with a talon and turned its metal skull from side to side, looking into those ‘eyes’, trying to look past them, trying to see into its soul.

Soul? “Hah!” The laugh was harsh, practiced, devoid of mirth. A Spyder turned gracefully in the air toward him, suspensor systems giving the hulking Canoptek construct an unimaginable grace in defiance of its size, flat head tilting to the side. Its multitude of beady green eyes flashed in a unknowable pattern as if asking a question. Eyes. He was doing it again. “I’m simply talking to myself. Be about your duty.” Fetros waved the thing off. I’m talking to a construct. Foolish thing he was.

He looked back to the Immortal and made an exact copy of the laugh. Again, there was no mirth to it, no joy. What is mirth anyway? A mortal’s emotion, simulating…how did one describe mirth? He couldn’t remember. Even if he could…I have no soul, unbound by mortal trappings. Would I even be able to feel it? No matter. Feeling was for the living, the mortal, the weak. Another biological process that was impure, imperfect.

His metal fingers slid over the damage. He stopped when his hand came to the center of its chest, a shallow groove carved into an elongated hexagonal plate that once held the Ankh of the Triarch. He pulled his hand away as a sensation traveled up his hand and wound its way into his cortex. He turned his hand over, observing the digits as he flexed and bent them. Is this pain? Pain was simulated during the process of being damaged, but was it really pain if he only remembered what the feeling of pain was? No, no this was not pain. Was it regret then? Surely not. The two were different things. Or are they? Could one feel pain in regret? He did not regret his decision to join this cause, yet there was something that gave him… Was it doubt? Doubt. Doubt. What is it…

He touched the artificial scar again. It was imperfect, a product of hubris. He could have simply removed the Ankh without leaving a scar, but his master demanded it. It was a reminder of their past allegiance, of their current cause. Their path. It was born of a mortal emotion; an idiosyncrasy that affected his otherwise impenetrably stoic master. Hatred. Of course, Necrons were no strangers to such things. Many of the great Overlords, Nemesors, and Phaerons were prone to outrageous displays; imperfect copies of imperfect minds, echoes of personalities long ago lost to Biotransference, echoes of arrogant, mortal beings. His master wasn’t as prone to such ‘glitches’, but he did have them.

His master. Fetros’ metallic legs trembled. What was that feeling? An emotion? Curious. Undesirable. It always seemed to happen when he thought of his master. The nameless. The shadow in the dark. The Herald of Night.

A loud pop and a deep thrum shook Fetros from his thoughts. He turned in time to see sparks dancing, little stars igniting and dying in seconds as their ashes fell to the hard floor. An Immortal awoke, emerald ‘eyes’ flaring to ‘life’, bright against the hazy gloom. The Spyder that had been repairing it floated away and the Immortal looked at Fetros. He nodded and gave it new orders. “Legion seven, second phalanx. Go.” The Immortal bowed without word and moved to join its new comrades where it would wait for its next battle, now in service to the Cause.

Hundreds of damaged Immortals stood in perfect stillness, weapons removed, heads dipped, ‘eyes’ dark. They had formerly served a minor dynasty, its Tomb World’s awakening slow and damaged. Their skeletal, metallic forms reflected the flashes of sickly green light that came from the Spyders and their attendant Scarab as they assisted in the repairing of those too damaged for simple reanimation protocols. Each flash rippled across the smooth edges of their metal forms like waves reflecting the light of an emerald sun . Those that were too damaged to stand or missing their legs were heaped in piles at the end of the serried columns. How delightfully morbid, Fetros though. Bodily fluids and lifeblood would be pooling beneath that pile of ‘dead’.

He returned to his duties, strolling down the columns, inspecting each Immortal in turn, interrupting the work of a Spyder here or another there. Repairing didn’t require his presence, though he often oversaw it anyway. It wasn’t proper to leave the Canoptek constructs to their own devices. He had a duty, and he would do it. Properly. Reprogramming though, that was exacting work, at least with Immortals. A basic Warrior was easy enough. He had actually perfected a means to reprogram enemy Warriors, even in the heat of battle, turning their ‘undesirables’ against them.

A lone Scarab flitted down and hovered before Fetros. It was one of his own design. He had attempted to make it feel more biological, but he had failed, if only because the machinery of the Necrons was far superior to any biological in the galaxy. Silvered wings flapped pointlessly in the air, glinting silver and green. It clicked and buzzed, sending a stream of information to Fetros.

“Very well, but this is most inconvenient. Inform the Nemesor I will be there shortly.” The Scarab clicked and hummed and flew off. Fetros took a moment to allow the scarab time to arrive at its destination and announce his arrival. He brushed the metal strips of his cloak, adjusting it pointlessly, checking his vital systems to ensure that he looked proper and regal for his meeting with the commander of the Legions of Night. In truth, there was nothing to adjust. Just another ‘glitch’, another echo.

Fetros moved to the end of the column of Immortals and leapt into the air, the metallic strips of his cloak fluttering behind him as he ascended into the all consuming dark of the maintenance crypt. He looked down upon lines of silver and emerald green zooming past, hundreds of thousands of Immortals, elite soldiers of the Necrons, arrayed in perfect formations. Annihilation Barges floated in between the perfect blocks, cannons bristling with the occasional flash of emerald lightning. Monoliths hovered above each formation, their portals dark, power matrix dormant. Acanthrites and Wraiths danced around them like ghosts, blinking in and out of reality and view, charging at, then passing through one another as if they weren’t there at all. In the darkness above, groups of Destroyers and their blood thirsty lords waited in turbulent silence for the order to kill, the barrels of their cannons glowing with anticipation and barely contained rage. Massive constructs stalked the edges of the formations like leviathans haunting thedepths of a primordial ocean, ‘eyes’ flashing in the dark, their multi-limed forms shaking the ground with their tread.

With an exaggerated flip of a his cloak, Fetros landed gracefully at the far edge of the formations at the base of a dais that was a hundred meters long. At its center, a large circular archway flashed to life with a roar, and then a whisper, jade crystals floating to the side glowing with power. Fetros ascended the two steps leading to the dais and dropped to one knee as Ahmerek, Nemesor of the Legions of Night stepped through the portal, flanked by a hundred Lychguard, their shields blackened and scored. Behind, lines of Immortals marched in perfect unison back towards their staging areas.

Ahmerek was rather subdued for a noble, a single strip of golden runes etched into the left side of his face his only adornment. He was wrapped in a black sash and held in each hand an elegantly curved blade, their edges a mirror sheen. Eyeing Fetros, he strode forward purposefully. “Your device worked, Cryptek,” he said. Their was an unmistakable note of haughty arrogance despite the artificial, metallic tang of his voice. He came to a stop before Fetros and glared down at him. “There was a shard on the Tomb World, but it belonged to a lesser god.”

Fetros looked up at Ahmerek. “Indeed, I thought that might be the case, but it was worth the expedition. Gelmeron is a lesser Tomb World that has yet to awaken. Its Immortals would make a fine addition to our ranks, and its…undesirables, fine test subjects for my newest invention.”

Ahmerek leveled one of his blades at Fetros, the rune on its side glowing a faint green. “You test my patience, Cryptek. My legions are not yours to toy with.”

Fetros nodded and stood. “Indeed, but your ‘patience’ is immaterial, and those legions are not yours any more than they are mine. You are Nemesor, but you are not my lord.” Fetros waved at the ranks of Immortals marching by, some in the burnished bronze and deep crimson of their former masters. “Ten thousand new Immortals to add to those legions, and proof that my device can detect shards accurately. I call this expedition successful, Nemesor.”

Ahmerek tilted his head and made a sound that might have been a grunt. He twirled his blades and latched them at his waist. “The modifications you made to the orb worked as you promised.” Ahmerek produced a resurrection orb from his sash. It was smooth and solid black but for a cloud of liquid, violet smoke that danced along its surface where the Nemesor’s fingers gripped it. “It enhanced the reanimation protocols of the Immortals ten fold and rewired the undesirables, causing them to turn on their masters.”

Undesirables was what Ahmerek called standard Warriors. Warriors, or those they had once been, had been dragged to the soul furnaces. Though they were now obedient, incapable of independent thought, Ahmerek insisted that the Cause required only those that had gone willingly to Biotransference. For his part, The Herald didn’t seem to care who served the Cause, so long as it was served, but he gave the Nemesor a great deal of autonomy in creating and leading his armies.

Fetros nodded again. “I am pleased that it worked to your most exacting and noble standards, Nemesor.”

Ahmerek held up a finger. “However. It was only able to rewire a few dozen before needing an extended period to recharge. And, those it affected suffered some strange…malfunctions.” Ahmerek waved forward a pair of his Lychguard. They came to a stop in perfect unison and tossed an armless and legless Warrior at Fetros’ feet.

The thing writhed and squirmed, its head bouncing back and forth and eliciting a hiss and… Is that a growl? “Curious,” Fetros said, seizing the Warrior’s skull. It moved as if to bite him and he chuckled.

“It acts as if it is infected with the Flayer’s Curse,” Ahmerek said with a spiteful tone. “Such a being is even worse than an undesirable.”

Fetros took hold of the Warrior’s neck and yanked, ripping out the cords that led to its cortex. It spat sparks and died, its convulsions ceasing. “Curious,” Fetros repeated. “I shall have to look over the orb and make some adjustments.”

“No,” Ahmerek said. “The Herald desires you perfect whatever ‘flaw’ caused this. He desires it for his own devices.”

Fetros lifted his chin and felt a strange ‘twinge’ deep within his core. Pride? He held out his hand and Ahmerek placed the orb in his palm. “The Herald has spoken to you? He has been silent for some time.” Fetros turned his gaze back towards the front of Crypt, towards the Herald’s sanctum high and deep in the prow of The Eternal Night.

“The Herald always speaks to me, Cryprek.” Ahmerek’s voice changed slightly as he spoke, the metallic notes replaced briefly with the sound of distant thunder. Fetros turned in time to see Ahmerek’s ‘eyes’ flash a dim, haunting yellow. The curious shaking in his knees returned. “And he sees all that I see. Remember this, the next time you decide to test ‘my’ patience.” Ahmerek strode past Fetros, his Lychguard in tow, leaving Fetros alone with the threat.

Fetros watched him go. He looked down at the orb and turned it over in his hands. “Surely he wouldn’t destroy me,” Fetros said. “Even my mistakes are of worth.” He spoke those words, but did not believe them. With a heavy, artificial sigh, Fetros leapt into the air towards his private sanctum. Despite his best efforts, the shaking in his knees remained for hours.

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This is a work of fiction based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe created by Games-Workshop Ltd. I will remove this work upon request.

Serial Blog Post

The Herald of Night

Part V

The viewing room exploded in a flash of crimson light, acrid smoke, and the dull droning of unharnessed electricity. Sonia balled her left hand into a fist and slammed it into the main terminal, the soft metal giving way beneath the force of her bionic arm, sparks sputtering from the damaged equipment along with fresh smoke. “Damnit!” Electricity flickered along exposed cabling that snaked its way around the room in a haphazard fashion, the feedback from the attempted scan of the device shorting out even the most resilient and blessed cogitators.

“Feedback exceeds optimal parameters,” one of her servitors croaked, its mechanical voice barely registering over the bleating claxons. Ruddy light splashed across its pale face at regular intervals as warning lights blinked in and out of existence.

Sonia sucked in her bottom lip and glared at the thing, its milky white eyes staring lifelessly back. “Thank you for the update,” she growled.

Another servitor shambled forward, its left side blackened and charred, the smell of cooked flesh and burnt oil stinging Sonia’s nostrils. Its voice box had been damaged, making its words even more garbled and mechanical than usual. “Energy levels ten thousand times maximum load. Calculation, in error. Unit damaged. Seventy-seven percent of flesh grafts damaged. Fifty percent reduction in eff-”

“I don’t care,” Sonia snapped, cutting it off with a wave of her augmented hand. “Shut it all down. Restart the generators and prepare diagnostics.” Sonia wiped perspiration from her brow with her un-augmented hand. “And turn off the damned alarms.”

The alarms died seconds latter and the emergency lights came up, revealing the true scale of the destruction the feedback had caused. The cogitators and generators that filled the room were all damaged. Tongues of yellow flame lapped outward from broken terminals and several servitors lay twitching and useless upon the ground. “Damnit,” she mumbled. She counted them. “Another half dozen.” She couldn’t afford to lose many more. Her request for so many was already suspicious enough and replacing them took too long. She turned to the damaged servitor, numbered B-Sigma 449-5. “Get to your repair station immediately.” She turned to the other servitor, mercifully unharmed. “You. Once the generators have cycled down, unplug the cabling that leads to the device. Carefully. I need you functional.”

The servitor bowed slightly, motors whirring as it tried to replicate that simple human motion. Sonia turned and leaned over the broken main terminal, her eyes focusing on the crater she’d made. She jerked her head to the left, a useless tick she had picked up over the decades when activating her internal comms device. “Get the repair and recovery servitors up here. Salvage as many of the others as you can.”

Her ear crackled as the implanted comms unit came to life. “Magos?”

Sonia pulled herself up and breathed out. She closed her eyes and reduced the adrenaline her gland was secreting and accessed her internal sensors to make sure she had suffered no damage. She hadn’t. Her implants would have warned her of even a minor cut. More than anything, it was a form of meditation. “I’m here, Bryo,” Sonia said to the Tech-Priest. She opened her eyes and pulled away the bent panel. The fingers on her bionic hand split into dozens of minor tools and digits and she set about repairing what damage she could to the main terminal. She activated several of her cerebral implants, compartmentalizing her tasks and controlling each of the two dozen digits that now sped about their labors.

“We felt the feedback out here. There was a notable increase in seismic activity as well. Perhaps we are not meant to know the secrets of the xenos.”

“Having doubts already?” Sonia allowed the irritation to drip from her voice. “The Omnissiah looks poorly upon those that fear to tread the dangerous path to knowledge.”

“The Omnissiah also looks poorly upon those that dabble in the corrupted technology of the xenos, Magos.”

Sonia rolled her eyes as the Tech Priest regurgitated the Ninth of the Sixteen Laws. “Understanding is the Truth Path to Comprehension. Comprehension is the key to all things,” Sonia retorted, speaking the sixth and seventh Universal Laws, knowing full well what Bryo’s response would be.

“Which ignores the Ninth Law, and first warning. ‘The alien mechanism is a perversion of the Truth Path’, so says the Omnissiah, praise to His infinite knowledge.” Sonia mouthed the words as Bryo spoke them.

“You are free to leave at any time, Bryo. I seek knowledge, wherever I may find it. And damn the consequences.”

Bryo was quiet for a long moment and Sonia smiled. As mechanical as he was, as close to the Omnissiah as he believed himself to be, he still had a very human sense of honor. And he owed Sonia more than he could ever offer. “I follow you to the end, Magos. Wherever it may lead. But perhaps we should requisition more servitors, or perhaps living assistants? I’m sure our employer can provide either.”

“Negative,” Sonia replied as a liquid film covered her eyes to protect the organic components from the flare of a micro plasma welder. “The employer made it clear that he cannot smuggle any more servitors in without The Inquisition becoming suspicious. And living assistants are out the question. If any of our fellow priests sniffed what we were up to, or word got out…”

“You don’t have to remind me,” Bryo cut in. “As soon as I finish setting up the seismic scanners out here, I will assist in repairing the servitors. Omnissiah bless your work, Magos.”

“Omnissiah bless yours, Priest.” Sonia twitched her neck and shut off the comm. With a sigh, she stood up and looked out through the window of the viewing room. Folding her fingers back into their proper digits, she came to the blast door and pressed her flesh and blood hand to the scanner beside it. It buzzed, beeped, and asked for her code. She gave it and stepped into the ice-cold chamber beyond.

The chamber was, as best as Sonia’s scanners could tell, a mathematically perfect sphere. It was two hundred meters in diameter and lined by a thin walkway. Its surface was smooth, jet black and looked like stone but rang with a metallic note when struck. The onyx material drained what little light spilled from the cogitators and data screens that lined every inch of its length, the green glow of working machinery gobbled up by the void above and below.

But it wasn’t the chamber that interested Sonia or her employer. The machine floated in perfect silence in the darkness, its surface the same jet-black material, made barely visible only by the faint light of emerald energy that traveled along the alien runes carved into its surface. The vaguely pyramidal structure, its sides and edges slightly rounded and bulging near the its center, would have dwarfed a land raider and rivaled a Knight in size and dimensions, but floating in the middle of the chamber, Sonia felt she could almost reach out and take hold of it.

She sighed again, her breath turning to mist in the frigid air. A whisper broke the perfect silence and Sonia snapped around. “Bryo?” Sonia moved back to the door and glanced inside. A single servitor was inside, putting out the last of the little fires that had broken out amongst the work stations. Sonia shook her head. She had heard the rush of the extinguishing material. “You are too comfortable with your own company, Sonia. You’re letting the solitude get to you.”

The servitor glanced up at her, its dead eyes regarding her for a moment, waiting for an order. When none came, it returned to its duty, and Sonia returned to the chamber. “Talking to yourself,” she chided. “Even for you, that’s too human.”

Sonia jumped. Another whisper shattered the silence like a gentle wave upon the shore, traveling along the darkened walls. The room began to feel colder. Sonia shivered, and not altogether because of that cold. Something trickled into her mind, an all too human emotion she had long ago thought to expunge. She remembered it, the memory stark and white hot. She had last felt it when she had her arm replaced with a superior, mechanical one. She had felt it when she had first left her home Forge World. She had felt it when…

The shadows of the chamber felt as if they were closing in, like hands reaching for her soul, fingers seeping into her heart and gripping tight. Another whisper, and Sonia gave into her fear. She rushed from the chamber and slammed the blast door. As she sunk to the floor, unable to control her breathing or the adrenaline that coursed through her veins, the echoes of the last whisper followed her through the door. As it rippled through her mind for hours, a hollow roar that filled her with fresh dread every time it repeated itself, Sonia suddenly came to the realization that the voice was whispering a name.

“Aza’gorod.”

 

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This is a work of fiction based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe created by Games-Workshop Ltd. I will remove this work upon request.