Every month, the Bolthole’s “Read in a Rush” competition serves up flash fan fiction. 1,000 word tales usually set in either of the Warhammer universes, but sometimes in original settings. The winners will be posted on the blog.
By Corrigan Phoenix
Beads of sweat covered his naked body in a glistening coat, giving the hardened musculature there a carved, statuesque look that would have been pleasing in different circumstances. The crude iron bands and toughened leather cuffs held even his gene-enhanced body in place on the slab, holding him at bay for his tormentors. Blisters erupted across his calves, thighs and back as heat surged up through the stone. Pain swiftly followed, quickly gaining strength and building to gather in his brain. The temperature continued to soar, oxygen deprivation constricting-
his lungs as he ran along the alley. The brooding towers of the hive loomed above him, crowding into every angle, ever-present, as if watching his progress through its roots. Mist clung to the streets, stifling and sentient, like it wanted to misdirect him and entrap him within its damp coils. Against his thigh the holstered laspistol slapped repeatedly, heavy and annoyingly innocuous; a constant reminder that it was empty. A twinge somewhere in his chest made him glance down a side-street as he flashed by it, catching a glimpse of scaffolding off to his right. With a barely-audible growl of exertion, he changed course, footsteps echoing-
off the chamber walls as some piece of machinery started up. Vivid blue light flickered somewhere behind him, illuminating the grubby tiles for an instant before the electricity reached his shackles. Painful spasms shot throughout his body as every muscle contracted simultaneously, current-induced rigor sealing his mouth shut and cutting off his agonising roar. Something cracked-
as he pulled himself higher; a wooden strut snapping under his grip. A moment’s weightlessness caught him before he reacted, a hand shooting out to grab a metal beam above his head. He dangled there for a few seconds before collecting his strength and continuing the climb. The alley he had emerged from was already just a thin line by now, a crack amongst thousands in a spider’s web that made up the lower depths of the hive roots. His greatcoat billowed behind him in the wind, flapping incessantly like the wings of a giant bat, though he didn’t mind. It was a constant reminder of the strength of the gusting force, and the ease at which he could be plucked from the face of the hive. Fatigue built in his limbs as he climbed; the leaden feeling slowly-
creeping into his arms, legs and finally chest. The acolyte could clearly see the servitor’s pale, bland features as it smoothly slid each blade into his flesh. Emotionless and methodical, the many spidery limbs of the lobotomised servant crossed and danced about each other with mechanical choreography, ensuring no area of his body was free from the reach of the cold steel. Long cuts, deep borings, savage gouges and stuttering grazes were all delivered with the same identical motion. Each administration was perfect, attuned to the shape and layout of his inner workings to flay but not sever his nerves in order to deliver the maximum pain without diminishing feeling. Once again his threshold was approached, reached, and swiftly bypassed, and darkness enfolded-
his body as he slipped from the ventilation duct. The winding tubes of metal had been horribly claustrophobic, and seemingly unending. Luckily the slight mutation of his genes that granted him a few rudimentary psychic powers gave him a preternatural sense of direction and the varying ability to blend into the shadows. It was this potential that he utilised now, walking in the spaces between light as he delved deeper into the network of halls, tunnels and rooms within the hive. His agonising climb had brought him to the hive tower proper now, and the silence in absence of the howling wind was deafening.
The acolyte passed across junctions and circled around heavily guarded doors, following the directional twinges that his unconsciousness provided. Armed men crossed his path occasionally, yet he waited. He would know when the time came for violence. Time ceased to have meaning as he negotiated the pathways, countless men entering and leaving his awareness until a single moment that he had been awaiting. Something surged within his mind, like-
a brand searing into his brain, raw and hot with its power. The energy writhed inside his head, so incandescent that he could see the green flickering of it behind his eyes. A bass voice intoned within his mind, the words so potent and laden with power that the meaning escaped him. He felt its intellect wrap about his mind, tendrils of intent squirming for purchase in his psychic defences. The acolyte fortified himself, conjuring up images of steel vaults and locked doors in an attempt to keep his captor from his mind. Almost as an afterthought, he flicked a tendril of ethereal energy out in retaliation, hoping it would distract his opponent long enough for him to gather-
himself before flying out of the shadows at his target. His quarterstaff was already out of its holster and in his hand before he registered it, the butt descending in a blur towards the man’s head. Sparks flew as the metal casing on the end was met by the edge of a wickedly curved sword. Their arms blurred as they twisted and danced about one another, each searching for an opening in the other’s stance as strike after strike was met by equal force from the other. After a particularly complex flourish from his opponent, the acolyte thrust forward with the length of his weapon, catching his target full in the stomach and breaking the skin. The man went down hard onto the metal-plated floor, gasping for breath and a sharp pain blossomed in the back of the acolyte’s head.
Darkness lifted slowly, and he sat up. It took a few minutes of staring at his own body before he realised his skin was entirely unblemished, and a while longer for him to notice the lack of restraints. The acolyte stood gingerly, unsure of his own body.
“Be you pure of spirit and heart?” He flinched at the volume of the voice, though stood his ground.
“I am.” His own voice was quiet, and raspy from his ordeal.
“Be you loyal to Him, the highest above us all?”
“I am the God-Emperor’s own – as I have always been.” There was a pause before the reply came.
“And what of your traitorous words earlier?”
“There were none – for I would never break His holy trust.”
A golden hammer slammed head-down onto the stone floor before him, a giant of a man stepping before him, resplendent in royal blue robes and black power armour.
“Then grasp His divine hammer, say the oath before us, and be reborn anew as his vessel”
He knelt, and as he spoke the oath a weight seemed to settle upon him – the weight of his divine duty and the future of mankind.
An acolyte knelt; an Inquisitor rose.