The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Three
Continued from The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Two.
“WAAAAAAAAUUUUGH!” roared Warboss Vogurk Hedbreakuh, Warboss of Zargh 3, as he charged forward.
“WAAAAAAAAAAUGH!” answered his mob, as they chased after him. There were humies to stomp!
Several hundred meters away, Jaghatai Khan grinned wickedly. These greenskins hadn’t gained bigger brains in the nine thousand years since he had fought them last, it seemed. Still, there were an awful lot of them. He had been trapped on this vile ball of offal for nearly two days now, and his luck had returned to him. He had found a vast series of craters, where it seemed two Warbosses had met in ancient times, killing each other over control of their hordes. A new Warboss had risen in the interim and conquered both, and now ruled the planet with an iron Power Fist.
Still, he was not without advantages. He had had two whole days to plan. For a Primarch, that was more than enough. His gaze drifted over the vehicles at the back of the convoy of orks that were streaming away from him, towards the firecracker and human-shaped dummy he had built on the far side of the ravine. Finding nothing of interest, he kept searching, his eyes turning to the ramshackle buildings the Warboss had vacated. Then, he saw it. A Gargant! Perfect for him…but too big. He would need a crew. Forcing a sudden rush of dejection down, he searched the camp for something more appropriate…and found it. He gaped for a moment, then stifled a most un-Primarch giggle. This…this would be suitable.
“Adrach, Ishana, heliawée…” the Warlock droned, hands splayed over the stasis-locked body of Robute Guilliman. Taldeer didn’t even spare a glance, her own eyes locked on her father, tied to the surgical table. Macha was slowly rubbing the back of his hand, looking for a sign of life.
Another Warlock ambled up to them, gazing down at the resting Farseer. “He will recover, Lady Macha, Lady Taldeer. His mind was clouded by the taint of She Who Thirsts, but the…I don’t even know what to call him, the Human Emperor managed to purge his mind of the ravishing of She Who Thirsts. Also, it seems that he managed to keep Lord Eldrad’s mind clean of the dark Craving that so infests our brethren of Commorragh.”
Macha tried to smile, and couldn’t quite do it. “I…know that, Warlock. I can feel his mind intact. But why does he still slumber?”
“Your father was dropped into the Pit of Lust, Lady Macha. He’s lucky he still has a soul at all." Taldeer shuddered at the terse, clinical pronouncement.
“When shall he awaken?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of her father’s face.
“A day, perhaps more, Lady. The damage to his eyes and ears was reparable, though it will be months before his sight returns fully. Optic nerves are delicate things.”
“Avaang, Tolettima…” the Warlock administering the warp-guided healing to the still stasis-locked Guilliman stopped abruptly. The other Warlock glanced over.
“Is something wrong, Sister?”
The first Warlock was silent for a long moment before looking up reverently. “No…Sister, there is nothing wrong. The mon…human is almost healed! I just started!”
“Perhaps there was some truth to the rumor that he could heal himself in stasis,” LIIVI mused. Both Warlocks jumped. He had been sitting in a chair by the wall the entire time, and neither had noticed. One spoke up quickly to cover his embarrassment.
“What? Heal naturally in stasis? That is impossible.”
“’Many things are impossible, for those who choose not to try’,” LIIVI quoted. “He’s a Primarch. What can’t he do?”
Eldrad emitted a tiny whimper at that point, saving the Warlock further inconvenience. Macha’s head snapped back to her father. “Father? Can you hear me?”
His motions stilled, and his hands slackened. Macha looked up at the Warlock in silent disappointment. The Warlock shrugged. “At least a day, Lady Macha. Perhaps you should rest.”
She stared at the masked Warlock for a second longer before turning back to Eldrad. “Yes…I’m no good bone-weary.”
Farthest of the realms of the Imperium from Holy Terra is the Eastern Fringe. These regions of space are technically beyond the Choir of the Holy Astronomican, so only the greatest and most potent Navigators can even tell where they are. These are the realms that caused the armies of Macharius to shy away, that no fewer than three chapters of Astartes were founded to warden, and that not even Rogue Traders could safely explore. Grand Master Helbrecht, of the Black Templars, was one of VERY few men daring enough to try. He and Lord Commissar Yarrick had pursued a fleeing Ork Warboss here after said Warboss’s abandonment of the WAAAGH he had led on Armageddon, his second. Now, he and the redoubtable Commissar, joined by fully five hundred Black Templars, eight Grey Knights (including a Dreadknight), and three full-strength regiments of Imperial Guard chased the Ork to here, the very edge of space.
What a picture they must have made, Helbrecht reflected, he in his Mark Seven Artificer Armor, and a five foot ten inch, two hundred year old cyborg Commissar, standing aside one another on the bridge of the Eternal Crusader, his flagship.
“Look, Master Helbrecht,” Yarrick said casually, “the edge of the world.” Helbrecht’s perennial frown smoothed out a few degrees.
“Indeed. Thraka can’t run much farther than this.” He turned to Yarrick and tilted his head back. “I must say, I am impressed with you, Commissar. After your opposition to my refusal to ignore Thraka’s roks in the second war for Armageddon, I didn’t think you’d accompany me here.”
Yarrick was silent for nearly thirty seconds. When he spoke, it was with tightly controlled inflections. “Your refusal to help the civilians I was guarding grated, Master Helbrecht. But I would give the hand Thraka DIDN’T steal to kill him here.”
Helbrecht returned his gaze to the front viewport. “Well put, Lord Commissar.”
The vox-speaker in Helbrecht’s neckpiece chimed. “Master Helbrecht and Lord Commissar Yarrick, please report to the Titan bay IMMEDIATELY.”
Helbrecht sighed and tapped the vox. “What is the meaning of this? We are nearing orbit above the target world, we—”
“Lord Commissar Yarrick and Master Helbrecht to the Titan bay NOW.”
Helbrecht set his teeth, cutting the vox channel. “There will be hell to pay for summoning me like this…”
“I’m curious and annoyed,” Yarrick said drily, “but more curious than annoyed. Shall we?”
The two made their way down through the innumerable chambers and hallways of the Undying Crusade to the Titan bay, where the single Warhound assigned to the Templar detachment that hadn’t stayed to finish cleaning off Armageddon was repaired, and where Helbrecht had politely allowed Yarrick to park the Fortress of Arrogance. Helbrecht marshaled his thoughts before passing through the ceramite hatch. Before he could proclaim his displeasure with the one who had so rudely summoned him, he froze at a halt, mere inches into the room. Yarrick barely managed to avoid slamming into the back of him.
“Helbrecht? What’s the matter? Why did you…” he trailed off as he craned his head back to take in the view before him.
A monstrous beast, easily fifteen meters tall, loomed over the small cluster of prostrate Techmarines and Enginseers that were always scuttling around the bay. Upon sighting the pair of warriors, it raised one colossal claw in what looked like a wave.
“OH, THERE YOU BOTH ARE.”
Helbrecht found his voice. “Foul entity of the Warp! How did you get through the Gellar Field?”
“GELLAR FIELDS KEEP OUT WARP EMANATIONS AND APPARITIONS, HELBRECHT, NOT THAT WHICH IS DIVINE.” The creature glanced over its scaly shoulder. “ALSO, SORRY FOR KNOCKING OVER YOUR TITAN.” Indeed, the Warhound was clearly splayed against one bulkhead, leaking something viscous.
“I’ll hear no blasphemy, monster! I shall take off your head!” Yarrick charged forward, across the nearly one hundred meters of bare steel between the hatch and the monster, brandishing his Killy Klaw.
“OH, KNOCK IT OFF, COMMISSAR,” the thing said disdainfully, his voice echoing both from his massive maw and Yarrick’s mind. The elderly Commissar skidded to a halt before even making a few meters in.
“W…what? I don’t—”
“MEANWHILE,” the monster continued, “YOU LADS CAN GET UP NOW. REALLY. THIS IS A LITTLE EMBARRASSING.”
“We are completely unworthy of your presence, my Lord God,” the most heavily modified Techmarine intoned.
“COME NOW, IF I THOUGHT THAT I’D HAVE COME IN THROUGH THE DOOR AND VENTED YOU ALL,” the huge thing said wearily, pointing one colossal leg at the exterior drop shuttle door. “I CAME IN THROUGH THE HARD WAY BECAUSE I DIDN’T THINK YOU NEEDED TO DIE. NOW GET UP WHEN TOLD.”
“As you will, blessed Omnissiah,” one of the enginseers said, scrambling to his augmetic feet and dusting his white and red robe off.
“OKAY. NOW, HELBRECHT, YARRICK, I CALLED YOU HERE BECAUSE I NEED YOUR HELP AND AUTHORITY TO CONVINCE THE ASTARTES AND COMMISSARIAT THAT I…WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
Helbrecht had taken a few shaky steps forward, his hands visibly shaking through his power armor, his face glowing red as a dying star. “Hear this, foul demon,” he managed to snarl, “I will send you back to your masters MYSELF!” He lifted his Storm Bolter and charged forward, firing wildly.
“HOW DARE YOU?!” the beast roared, so loud that the assembled Techmarines and Enginseers toppled over, clasping their ears, if they still had them. Some didn’t, and threw themselves in the path of the bolts. They needn’t have bothered. Without even moving, the bolts seemed to freeze in mid-air, and both Yarrick and Helbrecht found themselves hanging in midair, dangling as if from invisible puppet strings. The beast let the bolts drop to the floor, where they harmlessly detonated. It took four bounding leaps forward, until its beady purple eyes were level with the two old warriors, only a few feet away, hanging in midair, completely immobile.
The creature went totally silent, save its psychic voice, echoing in their minds, greater and more terrifying for the volume it lacked.
“HEAR ME, WARRIORS OF MY IMPERIUM: THOUGH I AM NOT IN THE FORM WITH WHICH I LAST ADDRESSED THE WORLD, I AM YOUR EMPEROR.”
Yarrick tried to fire his laser eye, only to find that he couldn’t, it was as frozen as the rest of him. The monster’s eyes met his and he gasped in horror. “YOUR ZEAL DOES YOU CREDIT, UNTIL YOU FORGET YOUR PLACE. DO NOT FORGET YOUR PLACE.”
Yarrick snarled and tried to move his Killy Klaw, but was as frozen as before. Helbrecht was staring at the creature with an ashen face.
“My…my Lord God? You…it’s really you?”
“FINALLY FIGURED IT OUT, DID YOU?”
“Why…why are you in the form of a daemon, my Lord God?”
“LONG STORY.” The monster…Emperor…thing turned back to Yarrick. “YOU LOOK UNCONVINCED, SEBASTIAN.”
Yarrick gritted his teeth. “I have no reason to believe you.”
“OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD…FINE. WATCH.” With a loud CLANG, the doors to the void flew open. The Techpriests and enginseers gasped and tried to flee, but the air in the bay did not stir, as the void shield the Emperor projected kept it in place. “THERE’S SOME KIND OF ORK WARBOSS DOWN THERE, RIGHT? ONE YOU TWO MORONS HATE?”
“More than anything in the galaxy,” Yarrick ground out. What of it?”
“BEHOLD.” No sooner had the word entered Yarrick’s mind than the atmosphere of the world below seemed to twist and fly apart. Stormclouds huge enough to dwarf a continent appeared, and the polar ice caps vanished. Water tore across the surface of the world, so quickly that chunks of the crust were lifted in their wake. In a matter of two minutes, the world drowned.
“SEE NOW, THE DIVINE POWER I WIELD? YOUR LACK OF FAITH IS IRRESPONSIBLE, LORD COMMISSAR.”
Yarrick stared at the violently twisting blue orb far below with unconcealed terror. The gates slammed shut again, and the Techpriests and Marines muttered amongst themselves in awe. When finally Yarrick managed words again, they were almost impossible to hear.
“F…ffffor….forgive me, my Lord God…forgive me my weakness…”
“NATURALLY,” the Emperor replied tiredly, lowering both black-clad men to their feet. Helbrecht immediately doubled over, trying not to be sick, while Yarrick sank to his knees.
“I can only plead your mercy, most Divine…Please…”
“QUIT YOUR BELLYACHING, SEBASTIAN, I’M ANGRIER AT HELBRECHT FOR TRYING TO SHOOT ME THAN I AM AT YOU BEING A SKEPTIC.” Helbrecht shot upright with alarm. “KIDDING, KIDDING. ANYWAY, I NEED YOU TWO CRAZY KIDS TO GO TELL THE ASTARTES AND COMMISSARIAL FORCES BACK ON ARMAGEDDON TO FINISH OFF THOSE ORKS AND GANGERS SO WE CAN GO GET SOME WORK DONE. I HAVE TO GO SEE TO ONE OF MY PRODIGAL PROGENY BEFORE I CAN TAKE MY PLACE AT THE HEAD OF THE ARMAGEDDON ARMY, THOUGH. SO, GET TO IT.” With a CRACK and a burst of purple haze, the Emperor was gone.
Void Station Delta Sigma Octavius, orbit above Charon, Office of Inquisitorial Dispatch.
Inquisitors are not trusting people. From an outsider perspective, this may make the decision of Malleus Radicals to use daemons as living weapons rather odd. If they do not even trust each other, why do they trust daemons? The answer is thus: they believe (however inaccurately) that demons are simple beasts, with predispositions that make them easy to control and manipulate. For that reason, it was perhaps those very Radicals who had the easiest time accepting the fact the Emperor had merged with a Warp Beast.
At the front of a spartan conference room, a holo pict-cast of an astropath droned on, relaying the message of the High Lords. A pair of inquisitors sat in at the opposite end of the table, watching in silence. The High Lords’ message was well-crafted, no doubt, carefully avoiding the possibility that the Emperor Himself was a demon. Finally, the elder Inquisitor cut the transmission off with a snort and a wave of his hand.
“Pure rubbish,” he said.
The younger man stirred uncomfortably. His mentor, Averus Valentine, was perhaps the loudest voice of the Radicals, the man who was most open with his desire to use the weapons of the Warp against their foes.
There was some merit there, Jonash Haldebrandt admitted to himself, since daemons could harm one another. After all, Khorne had supposedly maimed Slaanesh in such a way that he would never heal, once. But was the Emperor of such a midset?
“Why do you say that, sir?” he asked, diplomatically.
Averus grimaced. “The Emperor is the most powerful being in this dimension. Why in the world would He need to summon a Warp beast, and then use Himself as a daemonhost?”
Jonash shifted uneasily. “Ah, it sounds more to me like the Emperor consumed the demon, rather than the other way around.”
“Is that why the High Lords are all but declaring outright that the Emperor is now a fifty foot tall, seventy foot long, two hundred sixty thousand pound beast?’ Averus retorted drily. “No, my young friend, this is a possession and no mistake. I can practically smell the High Lords lying.”
“But who’s doing the possessing?” Jonash said doggedly. “He is a living god, as you yourself said. Who’s to say that he isn’t in control? Even the Grey Knights can reject daemonic possession when tempted, and they’re mere mortals.”
Averus was silent for a long moment. “You’re not wrong, but it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that the Emperor is no longer fully in control of his faculties. Certainly the Grey Knights don’t.”
Jonash winced. “Ugh. I suppose. But do we really need to stoop to that level?”
“Of course not,” Averus replied evenly. “If I know Supreme Grand Master Draigo, he’s probably way ahead of us.”
Titan, Base of the Grey Knights.
Lord Kaldor Draigo stared at the tiny brass key in his armored palm. The air in the Tomb of the Sigillite was damp, stagnant, and dark. The responsibility entrusted to the Grey Knights ensured that their sacrifices would probably never be known to the public at large, and even the Inquisition itself viewed the Knights with a measure of quiet respect. Among their victories were the scouring of entire star systems clean of demonic filth, spearheading exploratory fleets to areas where Chaos-worshipping xenos dwelled, and even shepherding Librarians of penitent Chapters of the Space Marines, such as the Lamenters.
But those were things of the past. Those were achievements they used to be proud of, services they could admire. Those times were over.
Now, the Emperor had merged with a daemon. And there was one final task to be done.
Draigo sighed and closed his hand around the key, then took the last few steps forward to the back of the statue of Malcador, founder of the Grey Knights. After staring at the lifeless, stone eyes of the statue, he walked past it and placed the key in the unnoticeable hole beyond it. A section of the wall creaked forward, revealing a small, iron table set into the wall. On the table was a box with a strange seal set into the lid, one that Draigo had never seen before in person. The box was set with a tiny clasp, which Draigo lifted, his heart pounding. He reached to lift the lid, then froze. What if he was wrong? What if the High Lords were truthful?
But…no. The High Lords had to have been lying. There was no way that even the Emperor could have consumed a Greater Khornate Daemon and emerged unscathed. Even noble Sanguinius had merely slain Ka’Bhanda, rather than trying to consume his power. This had to be done.
With a final breath of resentment at the universe for going so completely wrong, Draigo lifted the lid of the Terminus Decree and gazed inside.
The box was empty.
For several seconds, Draigo just stared, feeling his jaw slowly drop. How could this be? Not since Malcador the Sigillite had ordered the box be placed there immediately before ascending the Golden Throne had the room been opened! What foul trickery was this?
Kaldor felt his astonishment turn to rage. His hands shook, even through his Terminator armor. He replaced the lid of the box, his eyes clouding with anger. Whomever was responsible for this would burn in hell.
Just as he spun to the exit, where his retinue waited, however, a rattling noise caught his ears. He turned back to the box on its iron table, and saw that the lid had been replaced backwards. He turned to fix it, and the seal of the Golden Throne popped off of the lid. Draigo started, and saw to his astonishment that the seal was not inlaid in the wood, but detachable, a small plug connected it to the thin layer of wood of the lid itself. A tiny piece of paper popped out of the plug, and fell down into the box itself.
His anger sated, Draigo picked up the paper, and unfurled it gingerly. In High Gothic, twelve words were printed.
“Await the Emperor before the Throne. He knows you are coming. Malcador.”
Beneath the box, a beacon blinked once, unseen.
The mists and tendrils of the Eye of Terror reach far beyond the abandoned Eldar crone worlds at their core. The twists and clouds of nebular gas and pure Warp energy conceal entire stars, rifts in the Warp you could lose a battleship in, and daemon worlds in the dozens.
Corax, of the Raven Guard, fled here to erase his shame after he unleashed mutagens on his own Marines, in an attempt to rebuild his numbers. He traveled to the Eye find his absolution in death, but what he found instead, was Fulgrim.
The horribly mutated Greater Daemon that had possessed his former brother was a sadistic monstrosity, who had turned the mind of the once-great Primarch into a terrified observer in his own twisted body. Corax had set his ship down on Fulgrim’s world. Much to his immediate horror, however, Fulgrim denied him an honorable death, instead tossing his ship around like a toy in tumultuous winds, killing everyone aboard except the Primarch himself.
Even as Corax’s Navigator died, Corax rammed the ship into one of the temples Fulgrim’s parasitic Daemon Prince had had built in his honor. Enraged, Fulgrim ripped Corax from his ship and tossed him into a pocket of the Warp, denying him eternally the pleasures of his Slaaneshi Daemon World. Every few thousand years or so, Fulgrim spared Corax a thought, lost as he was in maze of Fulgrim’s creation.
A maze of corridors, each a different color, as labyrinthine as anything Slaanesh had ever made, with no exit, the massive complex was nothing less than a daemon itself, and it took endless delight from Corax’s stumblings. When the mighty warrior wasn’t looking, the daemon would seal passages off behind him, or re-open old ones, until Corax dropped from exhaustion. When he awoke, revitalized against his will by the energies of the Warp, he could do nothing but set off again, in the nonexistent hope that somehow, he would find a way out.
As time is meaningless in the Warp, Corax couldn’t even tell himself how long he had been there. With every step, he moved nowhere. His mind made numb by the passage of time, the black-haired Primarch wandered around the endless labyrinth, praying endlessly to his father for release.
“Father-Emperor, guide mercy release absolve…” he managed in his shattered mind. “find place understand help…”
Far-off, Fulgrim smirked to himself, wrapping his four arms around the pile of quivering courtesans who held his viewing crystal aloft. They shrieked joyously and expired, their souls drained from their bodies. Fulgrim’s hideously empty pink eye sockets drank in the sights the crystal showed him. On Blekrun’s World, a Noise Marine desecrated a temple of the Omnissiah and laughed. In the depths of Terra, a Sister of Battle was overrun and sliced to ribbons by a rampaging mob. On the ruined plains of Tartarus, a Khornate daemon was drowned alive in a pool of blood by a Keeper of Secrets.
And in the depths of the Living Labyrinth, Corax the Raven was plodding forth, his mind long since gone.
Fulgrim sighed. How reassuring! Sometimes he wanted to make an alteration to the maze, but these little viewings always helped to remind him the sometimes, the most exquisite pleasures were drawn from delayed enjoyment.
Corax kept reciting his remorseful litany in his mind. “Need out…desperate repent Father leave…”
“WHAT ARE YOU EVEN ON ABOUT, CORAX?” For several seconds, the scarred Primarch continued limping forward, his eyes blank and downcast, before bumping into a wall of solid orange armor scale. His empty eyes glanced up, but he couldn’t even tell what he was seeing. The animal before him was like nothing else he’d seen in the labyrinth. It was the size of three Land Raider Spartans stacked together, with a massive, fanged jaw, and beady purple eyes. His befuddled mind couldn’t even process the possibility of someone else in the Living Labyrinth with him.
“HEY, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER. WE’RE GETTING THE HELL OUT OF HERE.” Corax’s empty eyes blinked, until he finally processed what he was seeing. His eyes rolled up and he fell to his knees, sobbing brokenly.
“SURE. WE’RE OFF.” And with a brilliant flash of purple light, the Living Labyrinth was no more.
A blob of purple mist appeared in the vehicle bay of the Ravenspire. The assembled Raven Guard, what few remained, knelt reverently. The enormous form of the Emperor appeared with a burst of displaced air, and Corax collapsed on the ceramite floor, sound asleep. The chapter Chief Librarian bent his head. “My Lord God, thank you for returning our progenitor to us. I feel his mind is exhausted, though no worse for wear after a trip through the Warp here with you.”
“I ‘AM’ A GELLAR FIELD, WHEN I CHOOSE TO BE,” the Emperor said loftily. “SEE TO HIS WELLBEING, LIBRARIAN, WHILE I TEND TO ANOTHER. HIS LIFE IS IN YOUR HANDS.”
“It shall be as you say,” the Librarian intoned. The Emperor continued. “I CONFESS SOME SURPRISE. HOW DID YOU KNOW I WAS COMING?”
“The Dark Angels called ahead via astropath, my Lord God, and Lord El’Jonson himself informed us you would be visiting soon, with Lord Corax accompanying you. We shall tend to him until his mind recovers.”
“GREAT! WOW, THAT WAS RELATIVELY PAINLESS.” The colossal Emperor glanced down at the rigid body of Corax. “UH, FOR ME. UM. ANYWAY, I SHALL RETURN WHEN I HAVE FINISHED. GOOD LUCK.”
Continued in The Tales of the Emperasque: Part Four.