RiaR Ordeal: “The Acolyte” by Corrigan Phoenix

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.

The Acolyte
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.

RiaR Succession: “Memento Mori” by YeOldeGrandma

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. 

This month however, there were two winners for the “Succession” themed contest. Today’s posting is of the second winner.

Memento Mori
by YeOldeGrandma

It was inbetween cycles and whole divisions of scribes and adepts were shifted, thousands of men and women trading places at their work stations. Valentinia heard little of it though. She had elected the Walk of Chastisement, and this far off the cavernous chambers swallowed all noise, save for a distant, ghostly echo. Light pored down amidst the arches from windows high above, illuminating all in a sharp glare. Motes of dust danced in the air around her as she walked on, alone.

Valentinia Kontondus, Prefector Secundus of the Estate Imperium, sub-division XXXI -XL, on the world of Arcon II, had as precious little time as any adept, if more of a choice in how to spend it. The parts of the Complex Administratus where she currently walked were seldom used, but now she felt the need. And according to her calculations she had enough time before her rest cycle started, as long as she didn’t dally.

The Walk stretched into the impossibly far distance, lost in a haze of light. Occasionally, a weak groan would call out for her, seeking her attention. She kept her gaze fixed forward and strode on.

Leading the way before her was the jangling form of her Proclaimer. It had served her faithfully for decades, though she knew it too would have to be replaced now. In the Administratum there was a given, divine order to everything, and the whirring servo-man before her was only fit to serve prefectors of the Secundus strata.

Yes, change was coming. The holy institutions of the Imperium seldom altered, but when they did, even the tiniest shift was monumental, establishing beyond doubt the purity, and thus finality, off the Emperor’s rulings. Valentinia knew that, to a stranger, the workings of the adepts seemed incomprehensive; certainly she suspected that even some adepts housed such thoughts. But they did not see. Somehow, a simple, fundamental fact had eluded them; divinity begets complexity. The more intricate the design, the holier its nature.

After the removal of Argon Cicilian as Prefector Seniorati, ancient data had once more been drawn upon to recall wisdom from ages past. Steeped in tradition was the code of succession used to conjure forth a replacement, its every wording carefully interpreted so that no misunderstanding of mortals be allowed to tarnish the message it held. An arduous task, reserved only for those most holy and senior of rank, the result finally pointed to… her.

“Prefector” the Proclaimer whirred, snapping her out of the memory, “your rest cycle is scheduled to begin in fifteen time-sub-units.

“I am aware”, she replied, looking ahead. Light and dust, only light and dust as far as she could see; light stabbing at her retinas, dust settling in her eyes, making them water. She squinted. An arm grasped for her robes and she angrily rapped it aside with her sigil cane.

“Please, mistress… I must provide for my family…”

She stopped and turned towards the noise. Before her was one of the wretches, and for the first time she was looking directly at him.

He was little more than skin and bones where he hung, chained like so many others to the wall. Unkempt hair sprouted where it had been allowed to grow wild; parched lips bled, cracks of bright red amidst ashen skin. He stank.

The Proclaimer was at her side, swinging its censer wildly as it blared: “Thou shalt be glad of thy master’s punishment, for it is deserved and it improves thee!”

Valentinia sneered in disgust as she realized that even the servo-puppet held more dignity than the man. Without sparing him a second glance she walked off, with smart strides, onwards down the Walk of Chastisement. Her eyes never wandered to the sides again, but she saw them all the same – the failures, the trouble-makers; all those who’d proven to be unworthy of further service without first being rectified.

Many, like the man, were lowly clerks and menials, and would never be released; their bones would remain until they crumbled to dust. But the Walk was there for all who failed; even the mightiest adept could be chained to its walls.

Never Valentinia though. Never.

A shift in the light up ahead signaled her destination; an arched entrance in the wall to her right. No gates barred it, and beyond, in stark contrast to the glare of the Walk, lay only shadow. She stepped through as her Proclaimer blared out her arrival, filling the gloom with echoes: “Enter Prefector Secundus Valentinia Kontondus, of the Estate Imperium, sub-division XXXI –XL!”

Silence greeted them. Blinded at first by the darkness, Valentinia found her eyes adjusting, seeing the outlines of a chamber, larger than she’d first expected. Hulking machinery towered at the walls, and between them stood smaller, man-sized objects. She knew what they were even before she saw the first pair of eyes stare at her, blankly.

She snapped her head around as a figure detached itself from amidst the things and shuffled towards her.

“Adept”, the tech-priest droned, “welcome”.

Valentinia bowed, hands at her chest in a formal greeting of the Aquila. “My thanks, Artisan. I have come to inspect my new Proclaimer.”

The tech-priest’s lenses stared at her. “It is not yet finished. By your coronation, I shall have it done.”

“No matter”, she replied. “I wish to see it now, whatever its state.”

“This way then.”

He led her amidst the servitors, standing in various states of completion. Pieces of flesh and metal lay on the floor or hung from harnesses. Open eyes stared without following them.

She stopped at the severed body indicated by the tech-priest. Tubes and coils of wire connected the pallid flesh to various forms of machinery. Fresh scars indicated the work already done; in the shadows burnished metal appendages lay, waiting.

Valentinia could feel the priest’s stare in her back as she knelt before the body. As Prefector Secundus, her assigned Proclaimer had been nothing special; one servitor among thousands. She had no idea whose flesh it contained.

As Prefector Seniorati though…

It was said that Argon Cicilian had screamed day and night, the echoes of his wails resonating up and down the Walk of Chastisement. Now his features were blank, his open eyes distant. Valentinia looked deep into them, seeking to understand, seeking whatever flaw that had brought his service to such a shameful end. The logical part of her railed against her behavior; had she not been appointed her new position by divine and immaculate right? Had she not been proven pure enough for the task?

Yet she kept looking.

RiaR Succession: “Acolyte” by Liliedhe

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. 

This month however, there were two winners for the “Succession” themed contest. The second winner will be posted tomorrow.

Acolyte
by Liliedhe

The moment I step off the ship, I feel out of place. I have never been on a Starfort. I did not know there was a Starfort in the Euphrates Sector. The hangar is bigger than all of Alphaeus Hive. The echo of my boot heels on rockcrete comes back from a great distance. The SDF boat that brought me here looks like a quail egg in a rockh’s nest.

I look around the semi-darkness for a reception committee, but there is none. Everything seems empty and abandoned; only a line of ground lights marks a path without doing anything to dispel the gloom around me. Once more I check that my uniform and my utility belt are in place, and then I follow the invitation and stride into the unknown.

Ten minutes later I finally reach open blast doors and leave the empty space behind. During my walk, I heard the ship start its engines and lift off again. It tells me there is no way back. Whatever happens when I reach my destination, if it does not work out, I will likely go nowhere. Or rather, I will meet the Emperor a lot earlier than I hoped.

While I did not expect to reach a great age, to be honest, as Arbites rarely die in bed I had still dreamed of a distinguished career. I did not think it would end so quickly.

Around me, the corridors of the Starfort are as empty as the hangar. Once more, my way is lit, leading me past junctures and doorways and up staircases. Ever upwards, and all of it on foot. When I hear the screams, I realise I am being tested. My stamina, in climbing millions of stairs. My ability to follow orders by lighting the way and throwing distractions at me, the kind I would have to answer as an Arbites.

Cries for help, gunfire. But the path is always leading in a different direction. At first, I hesitate. Engrained reflexes are strong, so is my desire not to fail. Maybe the test wants me to show initiative? Then I remember. Five years ago, I was part of a squad sent to aid an Inquisitor. We helped him cleanse a cult from the underhive. It is pretty much a blurr, I think we were mindwiped afterwards, but there is one thing that stands out clearly in my recollection: A voice like mummified parchment, telling us to look ahead, to go forward, and forward only.

“Look where I tell you, go where I tell you, stay obedient, and live.”

Whatever happened back then, it must have made an impression. It got me this invitation here, a transfer to serve the Emperor’s most holy Inquisition to replace a lost Acolyte, and now, whoever wanted me is trying to find out if he chose wrong. So I climb, and climb, and climb. I take my rosary from my belt and begin to tell the beads, one after the other, following all the prayers for the day, then the week and eventually the month.

I have finished the fifth weekly cycle, when I reach the tower. For the first time, there are windows, and I can see the void. There are no stars, only darkness. I shiver.

My journey is at an end now, because in front of me on the landing is another open door, and behind it, in a dimly lit office, sits the Inquisitor I met back then. He looks no different, bent and unbelievably ancient, wispy grey hair around a wrinkled face. A black cloak with a high collar gives his face a disembodied quality, like a servo skull floating in the dark. Around him, there is a mess.

There is no other way to describe the overstuffed bookcases, sideboards, low tables and decaying, mouldy chairs, all piled with scrolls, books, bones, plates, techno junk and rotting things. I stop in my tracks, stunned.

I hesitate to step into this cesspool. I have seen shops in the underhive that were cleaner and more ordered. Then I notice there is no stink. All I smell is the musty note of old books, mouse droppings and old mould. No decay. No unwashed body. Is this some trick?

I cannot fathom it, but I have no choice. I see mockery in the Inquisitor’s dark eyes as he watches me hover on the threshold, and finally I step over it, and into the final part of the test. I guess.

“The Emperor is watching you, Candidate.”

I blush, fiercely. Did I fail? I step closer and he does not stop me. I can see his desk is piled with papers, too, but there is a place, directly in front of him, that is empty and clean, polished even. In the shine of two oil lamps with tall glass cylinders I see a bolt pistol lying before him. It is not ornate like the models I saw in the hands of the Ecclesiarchy’s warriors, but it is a build I have never seen before with a longer barrel and a slender grip. A scope lies beside it, and a dozen bolts with the hardened tips of Kraken rounds.

As the Inquisitor notices my gaze, he turns the weapon around, so I can see the stylised I of the holy ordos carved into the stock. His hands are as supple as the weapon, not gnarled with age or spotted. He loads the weapon, ignoring me. I hold my tongue. Is this still a test? Or is he assembling the weapon to shoot me?

I do still wear my armour, but it will not withstand a hit like this at such a short distance. I swallow and become still. If this is my fate, I will accept it. I did not understand a thing of what happened here since I stepped off the ship. I hide my smile, as that was the first lesson I had to learn when I joined the Adeptus Arbites: Do not expect to understand the Emperor’s Will. Just follow it to your best ability.

I face the Inquisitor’s empty dark eyes. If this is the Emperor’s Will, I will not fight it. The weapon ready, he gets up and looks at me. He is as short as me. The weapon is steady in his hands as he sights at me down the scope. The corners of his mouth twitch. A drop of sweat runs down my temple. I am still as a statue. I will not run. I will die, if I have to, but I will not shame myself.

He turns the weapon around and hands it to me, grip first. I take it, stunned. Now he gives in and allows the smile to form. “The Emperor has found you adequate” – he pauses for a moment, before finishing: “Acolyte.”