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.
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.”