Way back in May I proposed the question that if I were to write something for the Shell Case Shorts Anthology, what would it be. I let my readers decide with a poll. The majority wanted a Warhammer 40,000 story with 25% of the vote. So without further a do I give you…
Orias stood in the lee of a gargantuan dockyard crane, shrouded in shadows, as it went about the arduous task of unloading hundreds of tonnes of raw materials for the never-ceasing manufactorums that covered the surface of Equinox. The onboard systems of the bulk freighter he had stowed aboard had informed him that he was at the South Luminus dockyards, the most South Westerly point of the planet’s capital of Obsidian. At its heart lay the imposing yet ornate palace and the seat of power for the world and the sparsely populated mining colonies established the orbiting moons.
Orias had been on the move for the best part of three years having fled the Goagothan system, hopping one freighter or another, bartering passage or using good old-fashioned intimidation to gain passage. He changed ships at every translation point or layover in an effort to evade the attentions of his pursuers and their allies. For all the times he’d made similar journey’s all over the galaxy, a destination had always presented itself as if through divine intervention. This time was no different.
He had heard rumours surrounding the Forge World of Equinox as he’s travelled through the subsector. It’s prodigious production rates, non-existent crime and string of unremarkable yet efficient planetary governors. There weren’t many worlds outside of Ultramar or the Sol system that could boast those claims. It seemed ripe for his needs and to provide him with enough minds to veil him from the psychic scouring of his enemies.
However, as he travelled every closer to Equinox he heard troubling tales of dark giants and people disappearing in the night. Although a Chaos cult dabbling in low summonings would impact on his plans it wasn’t the first time he had to crush an uprising before inciting his own.
As Orias moved through the alleys of Obsidian, occasionally scaling up buildings and darting across hab block roof tops he realised he would have to move quickly to solidify a base of followers. If law enforcement was as stringent as he suspected, it wouldn’t take long for them to respond and they would crush his insurrection before it began.
Spying a small run down chapel calling the faithful to prayer, Orias carefully crept into the building via a collapsed roof section. He lurked in the shadows as the minister, dressed in a simple grey garment akin to that of a serf, shut the doors and moved to the pulpit at the rear of the shabby, damp smelling building. The chapel was poor, devoid of even the most basic of Imperial iconography. Even the pulpit was a plinth of simple parawood. Orias reached out and locked the door before breaking from the gloom and striding purposefully up the aisle, black robes billowing as he moved.
At first he went unnoticed such was the deadly silence with which he moved. The minister spotted him first and his fear almost out paced his outrage but Orias was on him before he could make a sound. He lifted the priest by the throat, letting the old man dangle, legs flailing as he pulled hopelessly at Orias’ iron hard grip.
‘Brothers and sisters,’ He said to the stunned congregation. ‘You have been living a lie. The Emperor does not love you. He cares not for your woes. He only cares for power and conquest.’ The crowd erupted in to chaos. Orias smiled to himself. Always the same.
‘I know this brothers and sisters,’ His voice easily cut through the noise, ‘Because I have strode alongside him and saw his heart.’ He crushed the throat of the priest and let him fall limply to the floor to emphasise the point. ‘I know the true path. Walk it with me and be granted immortality.’
The congregation bolted at once, all of them rushing for the firmly locked door, the key of which was buried within Orias’ robes. He sighed. He had misjudged their fealty. Even the poorest of sanctuaries can breed devotion. As the first of the citizens reached the locked doors Orias was amongst them, crushing throats and skulls with monstrous hands, shattering sternums and pulping organs with kicks and jabs. All fifty of them were dead in less than three minutes. Orias’ took in the carnage he had wrought, the viscera and matter splattered walls and the blood staining his hands. He breathed in the smell of blood as he felt his metabolism return to normal. As the battle fury subsided he realised the screams would have attracted attention. He had to move.
Orias had travelled to every corner of the city preaching his sermons to the masses. Wherever people congregated he tried to win them to his cause. He’d even tracked down small groups of cultists who were performing their own form of occult worship. Even they rejected him and he was forced to butcher them as he couldn’t risk detection. Only his super human abilities had kept him ahead of the Obsidian authorities but even now he felt like they were closing in on him. It had been three months since arriving on Equinox. Three months with nothing but failure and a string of corpses that followed him like a grizzly trail. If he could not muster some form of support from the masses, at least enough for a distraction so he could seize direct control from the planetary governor, he would have to move on. Too much time had been wasted and to wait any longer would risk detection from his enemies.
He stood in the shadow of a hulking fabricator plant waiting. Heat bled from the plasteel walls and the sky above was a dirty, soot filled, haze chased with the organge of furnaces that never slept and endlessly produced weapons of war. This would be his last endeavour on Equinox. If he could not rally support here in the manufactorum districts, crammed full of exhausted and exploited workers, then he would make all speed back to the docks and jump the first freighter off world.
A klaxon sounded, echoing around the densely packed factories signalling the end of the day shift. Massive ceramite doors, adorned with a heavily stylised badge of the machine cult, ground open and thousands of dirty, grime streaked, workers were released from their bondage for a few short hours of rest and food. Fatigue weary eyes watched blankly as the night shift trudged past them, their overalls clean and pressed, their faces and souls yet to be sullied.
Orias stepped from the shadows into the densest part of the throng and spread his arms wide, using the natural acoustics of the cramped environment to amplify his voice.
‘Workers hear me,’ He cried, ‘Hear me and know that you are not slaves. Hear me and know that you can be free.’ At first no one listened. No heads turned. No one stopped. ‘Brothers and sisters of Equinox rise up with me and break your shackles of bondage. Cast down those that would repress you. Cast down the false God. Be free.’
As the paused he realised that he had drawn a crowd at last but they weren’t listening with intent or curiosity, it was fear. But not for him. Their eyes were skywards, scanning the tops of buildings. Whimpering could be heard amongst the crowd. Orias’ own eyes drifted upwards but he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary; the buildings were like any other in the Imperium. Then he caught the slightest movement. His gene-enhanced vision focussed and he began to pick out details. Familiar details began to resolve and he felt something close to fear grip. He froze as he began to discern more and more shapes. For what felt like an age he stared out in the darkness watching and waiting. Then he ran.
The workers had scattered, screaming with fear but not for him, for the creatures that descended the sides of buildings with agility that far belied their size and bulk. The screams echoed round the buildings and from nowhere monstrous winged creatures took to the sky on trails of flame. They screeched their irritation before descending on the workers, scooping up bodies in jaws and talons.
Arms and legs pistoning, Orias pounded through the streets, cutting through every alley and side passage he could find in an attempt to throw off his attackers but wherever he went he would just catch on of them in his peripheral vision and then they were gone. Long enough to let him know they were closing on him, not long enough to get a clear view. They were toying with him.
He rounded a corner as one of his attackers dropped in front of him. His super human mind took everything in within moments. It was a space marine clad in mkIV power armour painted in dark grey and black with livery he had never seen before. He bore no trophies or other iconography, not even an Imerial Aquila. A cold realisation started to form at the back of his mind but he didn’t have time to process it. He leapt and swung out with his elbow, putting all his mass behind it, and slammed it into the visor of the space marine. The front of the helmet crumpled and the vision lenses cracked. Pain flared in Orias’ arm as he felt his elbow fracture. He was under no illusion, in his unarmoured state he was no match for the space marines, whomever they were, but he was more agile. Spinning past the space marine as it blindly reached out for him he continued his flight towards the docks.
For what felt like hours Orias led the mysterious space marines on a chase through the city. At one point he let himself believe he had lost them only to find three waiting round a corner. As he left the industrial district and found himself on a massive bridge that lead directly to the docks he knew this would be his last chance to make for a freighter and escape Equinox for good. Giving up all subterfuge Orias ran for the docks. All around him the citizens of Obsidian scattered in all directions, screaming in terror. It was only when a shadow briefly passed over him that Orias realised they weren’t afraid of him.
A space marine dropped in front of him with effortless grace, a cloak as black as night billowing around him, casting out the light and casting everything nearby into shadow. His armour was coloured in the same grey and black on his was far more ornate and his helm possessed two horns that speared straight upwards. Orias faltered, transfixed by the pure fury that was held in check by an unbending will.
‘None shall pass.’ Said the warrior just as Orias became aware of two more figures behind him before everything went black.
The prisoner was tossed to the ground like so much meat, skin slapping against marble and reverberating against the dimmed armaplas windows of the throne room. However for all the bruises, welts and cuts that covered his body there was no hiding the imposing, transhuman, form of a space marine. He lay there for a moment breathing heavily before he gradually drew himself up into a kneeling crouch. Dark piercing eyes stared at his captors with the hatred born of a life time of betrayals. Malakai, lord of Equinox and chapter master of the Dark Knights cared not. He had seen similar looks from far greater foes before he’d ended their miserable lives.
He rose from his ornate golden throne, marching across the sparsely populated audience chamber atop the Governor’s palace and came a halt before the prostrate form, two of his personal retinue stood on either side, crude, heavy bladed power axes held in their hands ready to meat out violence at the merest gesture from their lord. Malakai’s own blade, Niktwingh, pulsed in his hand, the creature forged within its blade twitched as it sensed fresh, free-flowing, blood.
‘On your feet.’ Malakai commanded.
The space marine considered resisting. He could see the defiance in him. And something more. Something that suggested that he was far more accustomed to giving orders in a chamber such as this than taking them. The space marine rose on unsteady, bruised, scab covered legs. The wobble was a feint. A ruse to give the impression he was weakened and bowed. Malakai was no fool and the gifts of his Primarch went far beyond the physical. Scions of the Night Haunter hunted with far more than their eyes and ears. To prove the point Malakai’s gauntleted hand shot out and struck the space marine. The warriors training asserted itself, any pretence of frailty gone, as he rolled with the punch that would have otherwise shattered even his gene-enhanced bones. He immediately made for the counter move. The axe haft was pressed around his neck dragging him back to the cold, hard, floor before the space marine could fully form a fist.
Malakai stood in front of the man as he thrashed against the unnatural strength of the warriors that held him.
‘Now we have dispensed with the theatrics,’ He said staring down at him, the warriors image reflected in the cold opalescent lenses of Malakai’s helm, ‘You can explain who you are and what you are doing on my world.’
The space marine relaxed and with an imperceptible nod from Malakai was released. He got to his feet once more, this time with all the strength and confidence befitting a being such as he.
‘My name is Orias and I seek sanctuary.’
Malakai’s laugh was not a pleasant sound. It was as much to do with its cruelty as its rare occurrence.
‘I don’t know what amuses me more,’ Sneered Malakai, ‘The fact that you lie or that you would think me ignorant to who you really are. Dark Angel.’
Orias winced. ‘I am no Dark Angel.’
‘Indeed,’ Said Malakai, ‘I have fought both with and against the sons of the Lion in my long life and never once did they scrape and beg and deceive like a child caught in the pantry. Even when they faced defeat they did so with their back straight and heads held high.’ Malakai’s piercing gave turned away. ‘You possess no such qualities.’
‘You know of what I am?’ Orias couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice.
‘Coward and a traitor to your brothers? Yes, Dark Angel, I know what you are.’
It took all of Orias’ control not launch himself at Malakai. The space marine knew his life would be over in an instant.
‘You speak of treachery yet you threw off your bounds of loyalty to the Emperor and even your traitor-bastard Primarch. You are a traitor of the worst breed.’
Malakai could sense Orais’ desire to goad him, to provoke a confrontation, but he knew better.
‘What would you know of our gene-father?’ Malakai scoffed.
‘I know that only the whelps of the Konrad Curze know of the tortures you inflicted upon me.’
Malakai made no effort to deny it. ‘We remain true to our oathes. Our Primarch betrayed his father for selfish, petty, reasons and broke with his own teachings. We hold true to those words and minister judgement and justice to those that prey on the weak. This Imperium was not the Emperor’s vision and we work to bring about its undoing for His sake and the sake of the people. We do not make war against the Emperor, coward, we make war that grow fat in His name.’
Malakai returned to his throne and gestured for his warriors to leave the room. They dutifully turned on their heels and marched from the chamber, their grey and black armour shimmering in the glow of the luminorbs that lined the room.
‘Yet you consort with the Ruinous powers.’ Orias jabbed an accusing finger at the blade in Malakai’s hand. Malakai nodded slowly.
‘We have been forced, over the centuries, to make certain bargains to ensure our survival. We offer them a tithe in souls and flesh and blood. In return they lend us a measure of their strength so we may make war.’
‘And you believe that is all, I have seen the true-’
‘Face of the warp,’ Malakai waved a dismissive hand. ‘Yes, yes, you are not the first of your kind to come here by accident or foolishly seeking sanctuary.
You think because we are not of the Imperium that we are of Chaos and welcome scum like you with open arms?’ Malakai scoffed. ‘Members of our ranks do consort with the daemonic but that is the price we pay.’ Malakai sighed, momentarily the weight of the galaxy resting briefly on his shoulders, before he straightened and continued. ‘How little you understand of the galaxy. And how easily you think your erstwhile kin give up the hunt for you.’
Orias’ features wrinkled in confusion as a cold knot of something approximating fear settled in his stomach. He had been sure the world’s population would have hidden his psychic spark in the warp. Perhaps the attentions of his captors had caused his tortured soul to burn brighter than ever.
He had endured torture the likes of which he had never known. Only the scions of Night Haunter knew pain like that. They had kept him on the edge of death for two days before they asked him the first question. With dozens of small incisions across his abdomen he had been trussed up, ankles and wrists bound together behind his back. As the flesh of his stomach slowly ripping open, he had been presented with his ancient suit of power armour that had been, Orias thought, perfectly concealed. The question was simple, and was the only one that mattered. His captors knew everything else. ‘What are you doing here?’ He answered as his guts had finally spilled from his stomach in slimy ropes and he’d loss consciousness. Reality had swam back into focus as he was presented to the Lord of what he’d learned to be the Dark Knights.
‘Our scryers detected a large fleet moving through the warp towards the Equinox system as you arrived on my world.’ Malakai had returned to his throne and thumped at the arm rest. ‘The hard edges of the minds aboard could only belong to the sons of the Lion. You have brought unwelcome attention on us, scum. But you are fortunate that the death I would give you would do nothing to deter the fleet that hunts you. They would land here and we would be outed and our work undone.’ The massive chamber doors, carved with rampant chimeras, swung open and Malakai’s retinue returned in force. ‘This I cannot allow, so you will leave this place, we will make good your escape and in exchange for your life you will give us your silence.’
Orias couldn’t react in time. Four of the retinue, hulking brutes with horns sprouting from shoulder pauldrons and helms, pinned him to the ground, effortlessly restraining his un-armoured form. A fifth drew a cruel ceremonial blade and with practised ease sliced Orias’ tongue from his mouth. The scream that shook the room was of pure frustration. Pain was nothing to an astartes. Malakai knew what he was taking from the fallen Angel. His pride, his dignity. And to flaunt the fact that his millennia of cowering and scuttling in shadows had led him to this. Malakai knew the humiliation would be too much for his martial soul to bear.
The Chosen warriors released Orias leaving him to dribble blood into the white marble as his immune system responded and sealed the wound whilst flooding his body with pain killers. He glowered at Malakai unable to give voice to his rage. The chest containing his armour was unceremoniously dumped in front of him, the black paint long scuffed of its sheen.
‘Prepare yourself Orias of the Dark Angels, you have a long way to travel.’
Malakia smiled behind is helm as he left the throne room, black cloak billowing. The silence would make the Angel reflect inwards, Malakai knew. It might even make him repent. But one thing Malakai was certain of; by journey’s end the Angel would wish Malakai given him death.
On board the Dark Angels strike cruiser The Lion’s Pride the master of auspex looked up from his monitor screens.
‘My lord, a fast line freighter has broken orbit from Equinox and is moving at maximum speed for the translation point to the solar East of the planet.’
Knight Master Barachiel smiled to himself and cast a glance the librarian who stood at the view port, eyes firmly closed.
‘Brother Librarian, does our quarry attempt to flee our clutches?’
The Librarian didn’t say anything. Reaching this far into normal space to touch one mind was taxing. Even one as vile as that of a fallen. Barachiel stood at the centre of the cavernous command room, cogitators and terminals chattering all around him straining to here over the din in case the Librarian uttered anything. But all he did was nod, but it was all Barachiel needed. He turned, energised:
‘Master of the Vox, signal the fleet; we are to follow the light liner at all speed, prepare to translate into the Immaterium. He’ll not escape us this time.’