The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Five
Continued from The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Four.
The two Inquisitors and the Supreme Grand Master of the Grey Knights had been in conference with one another for hours, wandering the massive throne room of Terra deep in conversation.
They agreed on little, despite their official ties, Draigo thinking that it would be wiser to confront the Emperor before doing anything drastic, Haldebrandt and Valentine claiming that it would be wiser to leave before the Emperor returned, to present their case to the Inquisition. Finally, after almost eight hours of debate, in which the two were constantly surrounded by working, bickering, bustling techpriests and Custodes, who tried not to look like they were eavesdropping, Valentine called for a decision.
“Brothers, the Emperor has clearly been in concert with a daemon, and whether or not we know for a fact that He’s been possessed, it seems we can at least agree that he was dabbling in a power that he couldn’t fully control. Why else would he use the creature’s form instead of his own?” Valentine asked reasonably.
Haldebrandt nodded. “Master Draigo, your experience with battling beasts of the Warp exceeds my own, but my station as a member of Ordo Malleus affords me some insight into the workings of the warp. Do you not agree that the possibility exists that the Emperor is no longer in control?”
“Of course I do, Inquisitor,” Draigo growled, his patience worn thin. “What of it?”
“Well, then, let us agree.” Valentine leaned forward conspiratorially. “Master, would you be willing to accompany us to our void station so that we may decide what to do next?”
“LET ME SAVE YOU THE TROUBLE,” a psychic voice said. The Custodians in the room took a knee at once, ten thousand gold-clad warriors kneeling as one. The Techpriests followed suit, as Draigo and the Inquisitors looked around, confused.
With a CRACK of displaced air, a purple-shrouded being appeared in the middle of the room, where the Golden Throne was being disassembled. The massive form of the Emperor strode forth. “CUSTODES, MY LOYAL GUARD, STAND DOWN. MAGI, AS YOU WERE.” The gold and red-coated workers scurried back to their tasks, some with sly grins to one another. The Emperor stopped mere meters from the two awestruck Inquisitors, and the incredibly unnerved Draigo.
“GENTLEMEN. WHAT WERE YOU DISCUSSING IN MY THRONE ROOM?”
Valentine was the only one who managed to keep a straight face. “My Lord God, we were discussing Lord Draigo’s errand.” Draigo shot Valentine a stunned look, but said nothing.
“OH? DO TELL, MASTER GREY KNIGHT.” Draigo licked his lips.
“Ah…my Lord God, as I’m sure you’re aware, Malcador the Sigilite enacted something called the Term-”
“THE TERMINUS DECREE. YES. WHICH I’M ALL BUT CERTAIN MALCADOR DIDN’T WANT YOU TO INVOKE UNLESS THE IMPERIUM IS LITERALLY FALLING TO CHAOS AT THAT VERY MOMENT.”
Draigo felt a bead of sweat run down his neck. “That is correct, my Lord God.”
“SO, WHAT BRINGS YOU HERE?” the Emperor asked flatly. The Custodes nearby smirked, but went about their myriad tasks.
“My…my Lord God, I was told by the High Lords that you had absorbed a daemon. I had to avoid risk,” Draigo said, trying to regain his nerves.
The Emperor would have none of it. “YOU AVOIDED RISK BY INVOKING THE TERMINUS DECREE. LET ME LET YOU IN ON A LITTLE SECRET, KALDOR; THE TERMINUS DECREE WOULD HAVE LED YOU TO COME BEFORE ME SO THAT I COULD HAVE USED YOUR NEMESIS PIKE TO KILL MYSELF AND TAKE MY CHANCES WITH BEING REBORN. CAN YOU PERHAPS UNDERSTAND MY DISAPPROVAL THAT YOU TOOK SUCH A STEP WHEN THE IMPERIUM WASN’T IN ANY ACTUAL DANGER OF COLLAPSE?”
Much to Draigo’s relief, Haldebrandt spoke up. “My Lord God, the High Lords are not a particularly truthful bunch, and when they said that you had defeated a daemon that had appeared in the Throne room, it beggared the imagination. How could a daemon appear here, in the most heavily guarded place in the Imperium?”
“BECAUSE I SPECIFICALLY SUMMONED IT, YOU TWIT,” the Emperor roared disdainfully. “AND AN INQUISITOR SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN TO SUBVERT MY WILL.”
Valentine’s jar dropped. “Subvert? My Lord God, what are you talking about?”
“YOU AND THE OTHER RADICALS OF ORDO MALLEUS AND EVEN HERETICUS SUMMON DAEMONS ALL THE TIME, DESPITE MY ORDER AGAINST THE PRACTICE OF SORCERY STILL STANDING. I SUMMONED A DAEMON ONCE IN FIFTY THOUSAND YEARS, YOU, SIEUR VALENTINE, HAVE DONE IT FOUR TIMES IN THE LAST CENTURY. AT WHAT POINT DID YOU DECIDE THAT MY LAWS WERE TO BE SO EASILY CAST ASIDE?”
Valentine was openly sweating now, and unconsciously rubbed his hands together. “Ah…my Lord God, I assure you, all we have done is for the betterment of the Imperium, of mankind.”
“WHAT I DO IS FOR THE BETTERMENT OF MANKIND, AS ITS LEADER. AS ITS SERVANTS, YOUR PLACE IS NOT TO DECIDE THAT THE LAWS I ENACT ARE TO BE DISCARDED WHEN THEY BECOME INCONVENIENT.”
Draigo slowly crossed his arms. “Why was I not informed of this?”
Valentine turned to Draigo, his face beading with sweat. “Lord Draigo, we can discuss that later.”
“THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU BECAUSE YOU WOULD HAVE OBJECTED, LORD DRAIGO.”
Valentine took a desperate step forward. “My Lord God, I beg of you, do not—”
The Emperor turned his attention back to the Grey Knight, who was changing colors at an impressive pace. “DRAIGO, YOUR ACTIONS WERE INAPPROPRIATE, BUT I DO NOT THINK THEY MERIT PUNISHMENT. WHAT VERY WELL MAY, HOWEVER, IS THE STORY LOGAN GRIMNIR TELLS ME ABOUT YOUR AND THE INQUISITION’S ACTIONS ON ARMAGEDDON. STERILIZING THREE PLANETS BECAUSE THEY MIGHT HAVE LEARNED YOU EXIST? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? WE ARE HUMANITY’S GUIDES AND LEADERS, NOT THAT WHICH THEY FIGHT.”
“That policy is abandoned, my Lord God,” Draigo hastened to explain, “and if it was Grimnir telling you, he probably neglected to mention that he’s held a grudge against us ever since then.”
“WHICH HE WAS WELL WITHIN HIS RIGHTS TO DO,” the Emperor roared, angrily, his psychic and auditory voice rising. “YOU KILLED HONEST, UNTAINTED CITIZENS AND SOLDIERS OF MY IMPERIUM BECAUSE YOU THOUGHT PRESERVING YOUR OWN SECRECY WAS MORE IMPORTANT. YOUR ARROGANCE AT ASSUMING THAT THE GREY KNIGHTS SHOULD REMAIN A SECRET AFTER NINE THOUSAND YEARS OF COMBAT ACTIONS IS APPALLING. I CREATED THE INQUISITION TO ACT AS THE PUBLIC FACE OF MY WILL. I CREATED THE GREY KNIGHTS TO ACT AS THE CLOSED FIST OF THE IMPERIUM, TO STAVE OFF CHAOS AND WYRDS.”
“But…my Lord God, were the Knights not to remain a secret?” Draigo asked in mounting horror.
“OF COURSE THEY WERE, DRAIGO, BUT NOT AT THE COST OF OVER ONE HUNDRED BILLION INNOCENT LIVES!” the Emperor roared. “WE SEEK TO PRESERVE HUMANITY WITHOUT COSTING IT ITS SOUL, AND YOUR FOOLISH POLICIES DEFEATED THAT PURPOSE.” He turned to the pair of Inquisitors, who immediately stiffened under his disapproving glare. “YOU TWO SUMMONING DAEMONS, THE KNIGHTS MURDERING BILLIONS…ORDO MALLEUS HAS DISAPPOINTED ME IMMENSELY. I THINK, PERHAPS, THE WORST PART IS THAT BOTH THE INQUISITION AND THE GREY KNIGHTS DID NOT TELL ME THIS, EVEN THOUGH SOMETHING OF SUCH IMPORTANCE SHOULD HAVE BEEN TOLD TO ME LONG AGO. THAT STRONGLY SUGGESTS THAT YOU KNEW I WOULD DISAPPROVE IF I HAD KNOWN. YOU CONCEALED THIS FROM ME.”
Valentine formally took a knee, his stomach churning. “My Lord God, please, forgive us our trespass.”
“NO. RETURN TO YOUR VOID STATION. NOW.” The Emperor turned from them, skewering Draigo with his malevolent stare. “DRAIGO, YOUR ACTIVATION OF THE TERMINUS DECREE IS SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY. RETURN TO TITAN. I WILL VISIT YOU ALL LATER. IN THE INTERIM, ONE OF MY SONS REQUIRES MY ATTENTION.” With a CRACK and a burst of purple mist, He was gone.
On the balcony of the Medical Temple of Craftworld Ulthwe, Roboute Guilliman stood, his hands on the railing, feeling the artificial breeze on his face. The wind stung his still-bruised neck, but he reveled in it. His experience had been bizarre; one moment, he had been sitting on the throne of Macragge, surrounded by worried Ultramarines, the next, he had been tied to a table, his armor removed, and an Eldar Warlock with her hands on his throat. After a few seconds of wacky misunderstandings, a Farseer and a Vindicare Assassin, of all people, had approached him and explained what was going on, and that Emperor Himself had brought him here.
Now, he was alive again, free, his traitorous brother’s poison gone from him, while his father was on the way to see him again. The Vindicare had respectfully taken him aside and informed him of the Emperor’s monstrous appearance, which the Eldar had confirmed. Robute found it difficult to believe that the Emperor he had fought beside so many times would have stooped to such a level, but there was a part of him that loved the idea of His return…even if there would be a few changes.
The Vindicare’s presence had been a shock, but the Eldar had hastened to explain that he was on an extended, informal loan. They were obviously lying, but he was still grateful enough not to press the matter. The Farseer, Taldeer, had told him that the Emperor was coming back to see him in person, and would arrive within an hour. She was off with the other Farseers, in fact, preparing for his arrival.
Naturally enough, the story had rung false to him at first, but the Eldar had been fervent in their claims, and the Assassin, LIIVI—Roboute didn’t even know they had names—had sworn them to be true. They had even shown him, in their own smug way, an intercepted Astropath communiqué from Terra alerting the Imperium to remain calm and, essentially, roll with the punches.
Roboute had been stunned that even the aristocracy seemed to believe that the Emperor was a living God. Hadn’t that been a facet of the Imperial Truth? That there were no gods at all, and the Emperor was simply a very powerful human?
It seemed times had not changed for the better since his laceration from Fulgrim. Fulgrim…the Ultramarine tightened his grip on the bannister. That traitorous son of a bitch had damn near killed him last time they had met. When his strength returned…he would make Fulgrim pay dearly.
Forgefather He’stan of the Salamanders stood at the edge of his chambers, gazing out at the planet below. The Chalice of Fire, which he had made his home once he had been relieved of command of 4th Company, was slowly orbiting Prometheus. The planet was unusually settled, for once. The moon of Nocturne was at its farthest from the earthquake-wracked planet, and the weather was such that vast crops could be planted and harvested quickly in the rich, volcanic soil.
The world had received, naturally, the news of the Emperor’s return. Emotions had ranged from horror to ecstasy, but He’stan knew that only secondhand. He had been off in another ship, trying to track down one of the lost Artefacts of Vulkan when the news hit.
The planet below had been in an uproar when he returned, much like the rest of the galaxy. Chapter Master Tu’Shan had greeted him, urgently requesting that he remove himself to the Chalice of Fire to prepare for the Emperor’s personal arrival. Indeed, it seemed that the Raven Guard, Black Templars, and Dark Angels had already been visited by the Emperor in person, and to a lesser and more perplexing extent, so had the Ultramarines.
If Tu’Shan had been expecting an argument from He’Stan on that point, he was quickly surprised: He’Stan had been thrilled at the chance. His return was not coincidental: he had found an Artefact.
He turned from the viewport and reverently lifted the Song of Entropy from its cradle, slowly turning it in his hands. There was no risk of damaging it, of course, made as it was of adamantium, but even he was overcome a bit by the awe of being the Forgefather who recovered an Artefact.
The Song of Entropy was a fitting name for it. It looked at first to be a normal Power Fist, but it clearly wasn’t. Its impact hand had been removed, leaving only the powered portion of the gauntlet. In the place of the actual hand itself, a pair of tiny sonic disruptors had been placed, much like those mounted on the Titan Killer Ordinatus Mars.
The device was as heavy as a Power First, but could blast apart the hull of a tank with a single shot, though He’Stan suspected that its tight focus would make it useless against groups of infantry in good cover and dispersal.
He had informed the rest of the Chapter, and even in the tumult of the Emperor’s bizarre means of return, they had rejoiced as one, though each and every one was freshly returned from Armageddon. The chapter had taken heinous losses fighting off the Orks, though the planet was still in Imperial hands, and Tu’Shan had told He’Stan quietly that the whole planet held them now in the same regard that they had held Commander Dante in the second War for Armageddon: reverence and awe. The Salamanders were wise enough not to exploit this, of course.
The Chapter Master’s voice spoke from He’Stan’s personal vox. “Forgefather, are you there? There is news.” He’Stan hurriedly placed the Song back in its ceramite cradle and replied.
“Yes, Brother-Captain, I am here. What’s the word?”
“The Telepaths stationed aboard the outermost void platform tell me that a ship approaches at great speed, brother, and they suspect it to be an Eldar Aurora.”
He’Stan paused for a moment before replying. “An Eldar ship? What could they possibly want here?”
“I can not fathom their alien minds, brother, but I strongly recommend that you make ready the Chalice’s defenses. Our own fleet is docked for repairs on Nocturne’s drydocks, and only the Eye of Vulkan, a few escort ships, the SDF, and the Chalice stand guard right now..”
“Acknowledged,” He’Stan said wearily. “I will ready the Chalice for battle. When do the Eldar arrive?”
“Two hours,” Tu’Shan said with quiet relief. “Best of luck. Our teleportoriae stand ready to teleport boarders into their vessel if it gets close enough.”
The fleets of the Salamanders, for their relative lack of Battle Brothers, are impressive. Skilled forgers all, the Salamanders know the importance of proper materiel.
As such, though the three Battle Barges of the Salamanders fleet were all occupied when the Eldar ship arrived, the fleet was not unprepared. Master of the Ships Ir’Shal was quick to mobilize what assets remained in orbit above Prometheus, and array them around the Eye of Vulkan. The Eldar would not find the Salamanders defenseless.
Ir’Shal himself teleported to the flag vessel of the small fleet, the Chalice. Though it was a Forge Ship, and thus unsuitable for actual, ship-to-ship combat, its origins as Vulkan’s own craft were obvious. Its shocking array of lance batteries were sufficient to tear a Great Cruiser in half, though it was no match for a Battle Barge or Battleship.
Ir’Shal strode onto the bridge of the vessel, where he found He’Stan pacing, glancing out over the bulk of the ship occasionally. Gasses from the many manufactoria aboard were vented from the ship occasionally, so it looked like sections of the hull were aflame when the light caught the gas at the right angle. Ir’Shal wondered if the view was prophetic.
“Never have I seen you so excited, Forgefather Vulkan He’Stan,” Ir’Shal said drily at the look on He’Stan’s face. The old Salamander started and glanced at the relatively youthful Ir’Shal with a sheepish grin.
“The moment is not lost on me, friend, but I am still in awe at the recent tide of events.” Ir’Shal nodded knowingly, cutting a path through the serfs and servitors on the bridge to his battle-brother.
“Yes…these are interesting times. The Emperor returns to us as a daemon…I find another of the Artefacts…Lord Corax and Lord Russ return to their chapters, and so does Lord El’Jonson…I have to wonder.”
“Wonder…if Lord Vulkan will return to us?” Ir’Shal finished, shrugging his mechadendrites. Like many Salamanders who served aboard warships, he had received Techmarine training on a Forge World after become a Battle-Brother, and it served him well among the fleet’s Enginseers that he was capable of shouldering his fair share of the grunt work of repairs.
He’Stan nodded slowly. “Lord Russ made it clear that he would return when the needs were most dire, in the End Times. Lord Vulkan said the same…even if I have not yet found the missing three Artefacts, surely the rest of the prophecies in the Book of Fire ring true?”
“I wonder what Lord Commander Dante would say to that,” Ir’Shal asked quietly, joining Vulkan at the armourcris window.
“I imagine he would have his own opinion,” He’Stan said politely. He respected Dante more than any other Marine not of the Salamanders, Black Dragons, or Mentor Legion, but the fact that Dante interpreted an eleven thousand year old prophecy to mean that he was going to be the last Marine to defend the Emperor rankled a bit.
“Surely,” Ir’Shal said in the same voice. He glanced around the bridge to see if any new messages had been posted by the Astropaths.
“Let me save you the trouble, Brother,” He’Stan put in. He tapped a blank wall segment between two panels of armourcris and a hololith of the void station where the Astropathic relay had first detected the ship. “No messages.”
“Nice toy,” Ir’Shal said with no audible sarcasm. He’Stan smirked.
“I like it, yeah.” Before he could twist the knife, a blip appeared next to the icon of the void station in the holofield. He’Stan poked at it with an armored finger, and it expanded into a scrolling block of text. He’Stan looked it over and set his face. “The Eldar will arrive in ten minutes. Is the Eye prepared, Brother?”
“Naturally,” Ir’Shal said, “it’s the focus of our entire defense system.”
The Eldar ship screamed out of the Warp in usual Eldar fashion, as fast as possible. Eldar vessels are quite reasonably designed to spend as little time in the Warp as possible, as it’s far from good for them. The Webway is their preferred means of travel, but even the Eldar recognize the necessity of a means of travel in the Warp. The Adeptus Mechanicus would pay dearly to gain access to a fully operational Eldar Dragon Ship’s warp drive. Rendering the Navis Nobilite obsolete would be in the interests of the Mechanicus, though they would never have admitted it.
The Chalice of Fire maneuvered alongside the Eye of Vulkan, powering up its lance arrays. The Eye’s laser batteries whined inaudibly as they sought out targets in the inky void of space.
Finally, the Eldar vessel streamed out of the Warp, holding fast just beyond the range of the defenses mustered by the Salamanders. He’Stan snorted derisively.
“Fine. It’s one ship. We’ll just draw it back and hit it.” Ir’Shal, however, narrowed his eyes speculatively.
“A moment, Brother…that ship is not powering weapons, and its disguising device is inactive.” After a moment, he turned to the communications officer, a fellow Techmarine. “Brother Far’turath, see if they’re trying to hail us.”
“They are, Master,” the Techmarine said in a completely unsurprised voice. “They demand to speak to…the Hero of Armageddon?”
Ir’Shal stared. “The…is the dialogous translator operational?”
“Naturally, sir, it is,” the Techmarine replied coolly. “They are repeating their request.”
He’Stan shrugged, an oddly surreal feeling washing over him. “Might as well. Put the Chapter Master on.”
Ir’Shal spun to face him. “Brother?”
“They want to speak to Tu’Shan, Brother,” He’Stan pointed out. “We may as well let them. At that range they could escape if we refuse and move to attack.”
After a moment of unspoken dialogue between the Forgefather and Master of the Ships, Ir’Shal relented. “Very well, Brother He’Stan. Far’turath, relay the message to the Monastery.”
“Yes, sir,” the Techmarine said, tapping a few buttons on his console and muttering the Litany of Communication. A few seconds later, the console beeped, and Tu’Shan’s face, glinting red from his eyes, appeared.
“Brothers, what is this about? Are we under attack or not?” he asked tersely.
“No, Brother Commander,” He’Stan said quickly. “The Eldar vessel is hailing you. Specifically.”
“Consorting with xenos forces is heresy, Brother,” Tu’Shan said stiffly.
“Yet they are here, and will simply leave if we do—” He’Stan started to say, before a shockingly real hologram appeared in the space between the Eye and the Eldar Aurora. A huge symbol of the Ultramarines appeared. Ir’Shal gaped.
“What in the living hell am I looking at? Is there an Ultramarine aboard?”
After several seconds confused murmuring in the background of Tu’Shan’s holopict, which seemed to distract him, the Chapter Master turned his gaze back to the pict caster. “I have no idea, but it seems that they truly do wish to parley.”
Ir’Shal nodded, and gestured to the Comm officer. He tapped the appropriate rune, and the image of an Eldar in the colors of Ulthwe appeared.
“Do I address Tu’Shan?” the helmetless woman said without preamble, in the melodious voice of the Eldar. Oddly, her Low Gothic was flawless, with none of the high inflections that usually accompanied Eldar speech.
“I would know to whom I speak, alien,” Tu’Shan said flatly. The Eldar cocked her head a few degrees to the side, expressionless.
“I take that as a yes, then,” she said. “I am Eagle Pilot En’kris, of Ulthwe. I bear an urgent message for the one known to the Imperium of Man as the Hero of Armageddon. I assume that to be you?”
“Well, the Marines Malevolent wouldn’t agree,” Tu’Shan said with the ghost of a grin, “but yes. I am. What do you want?”
“To tell you that Roboute Guilliman has awoken, and that your master, the one named Vulkan,” she said, ignoring the sudden consternation her remark had created, “will return to you very soon. Your Emperor himself has told us this, as he does not want the information to be spread via your…crude astropathy. Vulkan’s position is…precarious.”
Tu’Shan, to his credit, only let his jaw hang open for a moment. “You…you are certain of this? Why are you telling us?”
“I’m telling you because Ulthwe owed your Emperor a debt, and because two…what are they called? Primarches?”
“Primarchs,” Ir’Shal corrected, his mind reeling.
“Yeah, Primarchs. Two of them together would ward off the armies of Chaos well, and Ulthwe will do anything to damage the ancient foe.”
She nodded with sardonic respect. “Also, I know it because your Emperor himself told us. Personally. He has visited Ulthwe twice in the last several days.”
The noise on the bridge of the Chalice couldn’t have been louder if someone were setting off fireworks. Several Marines were openly arguing with each other at the proclamation. He’Stan turned to glare at the offending parties until the talking quieted down. As the noise died, he turned back to the now openly smirking Eldar.
“And why has he come to you?” he asked with a voice that could have frozen the lava on the planet below.
En’kris seemed not to care. “Tight discipline. He visited us because each needed the other. We needed him to rescue one of our Farseers from She Who Thirsts, he needed us to resurrect Guilliman. I guess he thought you couldn’t do it?” she asked, lording it up.
Tu’Shan nodded slowly. “Good call,” he said calmly, refusing to let his satisfaction at the surprised look on her face show. “We haven’t the facilities to heal someone in stasis.”
“Well, Guilliman’s awake now,” the alien woman said, trying to regain the verbal advantage. “He is recuperating from his ordeal, and wanted to let you know that Vulkan has been found by your Emperor. He just can’t get to him yet, or something. Who knows?”
Ir’Shal seemed on the brink of ordering the Eye to fire on the Eldar ship despite its being out of range when Tu’Shan spoke. “Thank you for informing us. Now you may leave us.”
The Eldar pilot seemed about to say something else when He’Stan cut the channel. The ship hovered in space for a few more seconds before finally disappearing, its Warp drive sucking it back into the Immaterium. He’Stan turned to the hologram of the Chapter Master, his mind racing. “Lord Vulkan…he returns. It seems my hunch was right.”
“Indeed,” Ir’Shal said, his voice contemplative. He slowly rubbed his finger across his chin, lost in thought. “I wonder what obstacle could slow even our reborn Emperor from aiding Lord Vulkan?”
“I’d rather know where exactly Lord Vulkan is, frankly,” He’Stan said, apparently arriving at the same point as Tu’Shan. “If he is lost to the Warp, such that the Emperor can not even tell us, his children, his location, he must be on a daemon world, or something similar.”
Deep in the twisting fathoms of the Warp, the realms of Chaos fade and blur. There are regions of the immaterium that even the principle Ruinous Gods don’t claim, areas where the daemons and lost souls of Chaos Undivided and the lesser Gods, like Malal, make their homes. Sprites and cackling gargoyles swoop about in the raw stuff of Chaos itself, snatching up souls that don’t enter the material of the Warp fast enough and devouring them.
Only on the rarest of occasions are these realms of the Warp taken into the materium, usually because an entity in the realm of the living opened a rift in the name of Chaos Undivided. These daemon worlds are cracked and barren, the pride and arrogance of Chaos Undivided’s daemons and sprites fiercely driving off all transgressors, usually including the hapless inhabitants of the planets themselves.
It was on one of these worlds where Vulkan, Primarch of the Salamanders, found himself trapped. Even he wasn’t sure how he had wound up here, for he remembered piloting his shuttle into the Eye of Terror. When the suffuse red haze over the sky receded enough, he could see nothing beyond it but empty space.
Time was funny here, he could feel himself growing older, then younger, then older again at the whim of the daemons whose realms he invaded, endlessly fighting. He had abandoned what little armor he had brought with him as useless, rent to pieces by grasping claws. He hadn’t survived the month after arrival, in fact, but every time he fell in battle, he was reawakened, his wounds mended, his youth restored.
The endless fighting that so characterized the world was not that of the mindless bloodlust of Khorne, but something more insidious: spite. The daemons who ruled this planet battled each other as much as him, and they would at times use him as a prize, allowing him to fight his way through their realms, other times yet allowing him to act as a free agent, and simply observing him with glee.
Vulkan had long since stopped trying to do anything other than escape. When he arrived, his soul was full of conviction, sure that he would find absolution for his failure at Isstvan V here, battling until the end of days. Shortly thereafter, however, to his horror, he had realized that anything he slew here rose again shortly thereafter, including himself.
Now, he desperately struggled to find a way off of the cursed planet, to return to his own realm. He had been trapped for near to nine thousand years, and the endless monotony of the world had worn at him the entire time.
“Didn’t I kill you yesterday?” he muttered, the old joke failing to elicit a grin as it once did. He swiped the chunk of rock he had lifted at a screeching gargoyle, who crumpled to the ground, twitching feebly. Vulkan dropped a heel on the writhing monster, then walked away, ignoring it.
“What’s funny is,” he thought aloud, “if Orks ever came here, they’d love it. The bastards love a good pointless fight.” He drove the iron chisel he had made into the rockface beind him and slowly climbed up. When he reached the top, he stared out over the view and shook his head.
A rocky plain stretched out before him, as far as the eye could see. Dark clouds, like bruises in the red sky, drifted around in impossible directions, and choking swarms of tiny insects buzzed around the rotting carcasses of daemons, scattered across the plain.
Vulkan sighed and hauled himself all the way up the short cliff, then sat heavily on a rock atop the hill. He ran his tongue across parched lips. “Wonder if I’ve been here yet…” he said faintly, before deciding it didn’t really matter. He just had to keep going, despite its seeming meaninglessness.
A bolt of lightning struck the ground at the base of the hill, startling Vulkan to his feet. He hefted the iron chisel that had become his companion, as two more struck the exact same spot. Disregarding the danger of holding a chunk of iron during a lightning strike, he stared upward, his eyes narrowing. He found what he was looking for immediately.
A bloated bag of flesh hanging from tattered wing was descending towards him, casually tossing lightning around like it was going out of style. Vulkan sneered and drew back his chisel, bracing his foot on the rock he had just vacated.
The bag of flesh, a daemon of Chaos Undivided from the look of it, shrieked and dove towards him, wobbling in the air. Vulkan narrowed his eyes, timing his throw…and hurled the block of iron with all his strength. The block of iron shot through the air like a dart, slamming into the daemon with the impact of a rifle shot. It screamed, its control lost, spiraling down towards him. Vulkan drew back his hands, waiting for the creature to come in close enough.
When the thing was nearly close enough to hit the ground, it spread its wings, the chisel still stuck in its bloated chest, swooping towards the Primarch. Vulkan waited until just the right moment…then struck. “DIE!” he roared, thrusting his palms together so fast they seemed to blur, landing the blow squarely on the metal chisel lodged in the daemon’s body. The impact struck like a cannonball, and the being seemed to explode in mid-air, splattering the ground at Vulkan’s feet with viscera.
Vulkan looked at the splattered daemon with unconcealed satisfaction, then let himself slump back down on the rocky hillside, pausing to retrieve the gory chisel, which he cleaned reverently. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” he muttered to it, then sat back on the rock, staring out over the endless plain.
“ARE YOU TALKING TO ME OR THE CHISEL, KIDDO?” a vast psychic voice roared. Vulkan launched to his feet, his heart suddenly pounding. He clenched his hands and spun around, his eyes searching wildly for the source of the voice.
“Show yourself!” he demanded. A bright purple light flashed in the great distance, a huge blast of purple smoke roiling out from the site as something materialized in the middle of a cloud of flame demons, who were crushed or blasted aside.
“WHOA, FUCK, I WASN’T EXPECTING THAT” the voice roared, surprised. “FUCK, I KNEW THIS WOULD BE A DIFFICULT INSERTION.”
Vulkan gaped, astonished. A Khornate daemon, here, in the realm of Chaos Undivided? “Who the hell are you?” he demanded of thin air. To his complete lack of surprise, the voice answered in his head, a loud animal roar echoing across the plain from the daemon’s position.
“REALLY? YOU DON’T KNOW YOUR OWN FATHER? WELL, I GUESS WE ARE KIND OF FAR APART RIGHT NOW. HEY, GET SOME COVER, I’M GOING TO CUT LOOSE.” The creature leapt up, landing several feet away, and galloped straight for Vulkan’s position. Vulkan gasped in shock, as much at the creature’s words as his actions, and stared at the sight.
“SERIOUSLY, VULKAN, GET BEHIND SOMETHING STURDY, THIS IS GOING TO GET LOUD,” the creature said, its psychic voice maddeningly familiar. Vulkan snapped from his stupor, and deciding that it was best to do as he was told before things started making sense again, dropped down behind the rock he had been using as a seat, poking his head out to watch. The gigantic daemon was running forward at a shocking pace for something so large, though it was slower than its huge legs suggested it could run. All around it, a purple haze spread, and as the hordes of insects and tiny daemons crossed into it, they died, dropping in its wake like rocks.
A huge winged daemon swooped down at the lumbering leviathan, its claws extended. The massive daemon didn’t even change course, just glancing up at it. A moment later, a blast of light slammed into the diving daemon, sending it tumbling from the sky as if a Hydra had hit it.
The huge orange beast didn’t slow, charging forward through the rocky plain. It stared up at the rock Vulkan was hiding behind, dumbfounded. “HEY, VULKAN, YOU MIGHT WANT TO GET BEHIND SOMETHING STURDIER. REALLY. ACTUALLY, ON SECOND THOUGHT, THAT MIGHT BE ENOUGH. HANG ON.”
Vulkan’s jaw dropped when he saw the enormous orange monster suddenly flicker, seeming to disappear for an instant, before glowing contrails appeared behind its legs and clawed forelimbs. Its speed nearly doubled, racing forward like a Jetbike, nearly to the base of the hill, outpacing the daemons that were chasing it. When it was almost even with Vulkan’s position, it suddenly jumped, turning in midair, skidding to a halt abreast with the hill Vulkan was on, shooting up a cloud of dust.
He felt the air crackle with energy, and the beast’s eyes started glowing a blinding purple light. “COVER YOUR EARS, VULKAN, RIGHT NOW,” the daemon said, opening its mouth. Vulkan clamped his hands over his ears, mashing his thumbs into his ear canals to protect his eardrums. The creature reared back on two legs, its mouth hanging open.
“BE GONE!” it roared aloud, its psychic voice no louder than it had been, but its actual voice so loud that Vulkan’s ears rang. A wave of blinding purple arcs of electricity shot out from the thing’s eyes and mouth, rolling over the plain like a tsunami.
Daemons and sprites shrieked, their bodies charred and incinerated, their souls torn from their withering corpses and rent asunder by the sheer power of the blast. Cracks appeared in the ground where the beam had passed, black smoke pouring from bruised rocks. A path of boulders glowed red where the arcs of lightning had struck.
Vulkan’s eyes were dazzled by the flash of light, and he squeezed his eyes shut, ducking back behind the rock. After several seconds, he gingerly stood, opening his eyes and pulling his hands away from his ears. There wasn’t much left in the path of the beam.
The ancient Primarch dropped to his knees, awe, terror, and shock flooding through him, competing for his attention. The huge beast turned his gaze on the few remaining daemons, and they flew off with indecent haste. It glanced over at the dark-skinned Salamander and seemed to grow smug.
“YEAH, I HAVEN’T LOST IT. YOU OK?” it asked, concern coloring its psychic voice. Vulkan slowly turned to face the daemon, nearly at eye level.
“…Father? Is it…really you? Here? Alive?” he asked, his voice and movements slow and jerky.
“YEP, IT’S ME. I’M GLAD YOU’RE OK. WE NEED TO GET YOU OUT OF HERE,” the Emperor said, turning his gaze back to the smoldering ruin of the plain. “I WONDER IF THAT WILL BE VISIBLE FROM SPACE,” he said offhandedly.
“Father,” Vulkan said, his voice breaking. He fell to his knees, tears welling up in his glowing red eyes.
“WHOA, HEY, VULKAN, IT’LL BE ALL RIGHT, LET’S JUST GET YOU OUT OF HERE. YOU NEED TO GET AROUND A WEEK’S WORTH OF SLEEP,” the huge Emperor said in concern. A diffuse purple haze surrounded the two of them, and streaks of deep red light surrounded them.
Vulkan squeezed his eyes shut, an agonized whimper escaping his lips. He was being dragged through the Warp by the Emperor!
“YOU CAN OPEN YOUR EYES, VULKAN, I’M KEEPING US SAFE,” the Emperor’s voice said, perhaps somewhat distractedly. Vulkan slowly opened his eyes, finding the light and movement confusing, frightening, but not threatening. Streaks of red, blue, yellow, green, flashes of horrible carnage, boiling lakes of pus floating in vacuum, rivulets of liquids pouring over flesh cups, tornadoes of infinite size twisting past empty lands…he saw it all.
“Father, I think I’d prefer to keep my eyes closed,” Vulkan said guardedly, screwing his eyes shut again.
“YOUR CALL.” The Emperor was seemingly immobile, hurtling through the Immaterium as if across the surface of a lake, but not moving at all. Vulkan experimentally moved his left hand, but found it like trying to push through tar. His movements were so slow that it seemed worthless.
“I…I shouldn’t have broken down like that, Father, but-”
“OH, SHUT UP,” the Emperor said distantly. “BELIEVE ME, AFTER WHAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH MOST PEOPLE WOULD HAVE GONE DAEMONIC.”
“But where were you?” Vulkan finished, his voice cracking with anger and disappointment.
“WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” the Emperor said in surprise.
“If you could have rescued me like that sooner, why didn’t you?” Vulkan said, his voice seething.
“LOOK AT ME. I’VE MERGED WITH A KHORNATE DAEMON BECAUSE I LITERALLY HAD NO CHOICE,” the Emperor roared, clearly trying to keep his tone level. “THIS ONLY HAPPENED A FEW DAYS AGO; IF I COULD HAVE RESCUED YOU SOONER, BELIEVE ME I WOULD HAVE.”
Vulkan sighed heavily, the rage leaving him as fast as it had swelled up. “Yes, Father. I’m sorry…fuck, I’m just…very tired. The only chance I had to rest when I was on that cursed rock was when I was literally dead.”
“YEAH. WELL, WE’RE HEADED TO THE NEAREST IMPERIAL WORLD FOR A BRIEF STOP BEFORE I TAKE YOU BACK TO PROMETHEUS,” the Emperor roared, his own anger fading. The poor guy had been through a lot. “We are? Why?” Vulkan asked, weariness tugging at his eyes.
“IT’S A PARADISE GARDEN WORLD CALLED SEDRIS’S FORTUNE, AND THERE’S A CARDINAL PALACE ON ONE OF ITS MOONS. YOU’RE GOING TO RECUPERATE THERE FOR A DAY OR SO BEFORE I TAKE YOU BACK TO NOCTURNE, BECAUSE NO OFFENSE, KID, BUT YOU LOOK LIKE SOMETHING THE DOG DRAGGED IN. YOU’D NEVER SURVIVE A TRIP THROUGH THE WARP FROM HERE TO YOUR FORTRESS. WE’RE ACTUALLY OUTSIDE THE GALAXY RIGHT NOW.”
“Oh? That would explain…things,” Vulkan said, the starless sky finally making sense. “I…thought I flew into the Eye of Terror…”
“YOU DID, SPACE IS A FUNNY THING IN THE WARP. YOU GOT SUCKED INTO THE WAKE OF ONE OF THE DAEMONBIRTHS, YOU KNOW, WHEN LORGAR OR WHOEVER PROMOTES SOMEONE TO DAEMONHOOD. THE SHOCKWAVE LAUNCHED YOU OUT OF THE DARK GODS’ REALMS, INTO THE REGIONS NOBODY CLAIMED. IT’S COMPLICATED. DON’T WORRY,” the Emperor explained.
“Yeah…all right…” Vulkan said, before exhaustion finally overtook him. He slid into a shallow, unpleasant sleep, his dreams haunted by the visions of Chaos that flickered beyond the tiny bubble of normalcy the Emperor was projecting. The Emperor turned his attention to his own telepathic powers.
Far away, in orbit above the Cardinal Moon of Averus Lona, an astropathic relay station was abuzz. The telepaths had heard of the return of the Emperor, just like nearly every single other human in the galaxy, but this was rather more urgent. The Master Telepath sat in his central position in the main temple, bowing his head nearly to the floor. “My Lord God, the Cardinal shall be informed at once.”
“GOOD MAN,” a distant psychic voice said. “I EXPECT THIS TO BE DISCREET. THE CARDINAL MEANS WELL, BUT MY SON IS…NOT IN ANY SHAPE TO BE SITTING THROUGH POMP AND CEREMONY.”
“You honor me, My Lord God,” the Astropath said, giddy. “I will inform the Cardinal that the arrival will be a secret. He will make sure that Lord Vulkan’s arrival will be quiet.”
“GREAT. I ARRIVE IN…MAYBE FIFTEEN MINUTES.”
The Telepaths looked at each other uncertainly with their empty eye sockets. “Ah…that’s…very short notice, my Lord God,” the Master Telepath said carefully.
“TOO SHORT? TOO BAD. VULKAN WON’T SURVIVE A LONGER TRIP SANE. IT NEARLY KILLED CORAX.”
The Master Telepath bowed so low he nearly touched his forehead to the floor. “As you say, my Lord God. They will be ready.”
Continued in The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Six.