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.
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.