RiaR: Winners' Thread

The Bolthole's monthly 1,000 word story competition.

Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sat Sep 03, 2011 9:18 pm

Sleep Deprivation


Once more we muster and I experience, for a brief moment, the elation of the call as my fingers curl around the familiar ribbed handle of the sword. The clatter of armour, shields and weapons are a comforting sound and I am at peace with the world as we prepare for battle. I have always been a soldier and know no other skill. I know what is required of me and while I answer each call I now feel the weight of age slow me down. My tiredness leeches away the enthusiasm and I wish for death to take me … again.

I am – was – a soldier of the Empire and proud to have served. The fluttering banners stirred our blood; drums fuelled every marched step; a hero’s voice strengthened our resolve, but now? I glance at my hand, which grips the sword and I flinch at the sight of the bleached white bones. My flesh has long since rotted away yet my weary bones remain convinced that invisible muscles still bind them.

Around me, the skeletal unit forms ranks, a subconscious act drilled into these warriors. Our gait is hobbled and we shuffle along, like the old men we are, robbed of our pride … and our eternal rest. In life we would remain stoical but pressed back into service, we moan and sigh.

I wonder how many of us are aware of our former existence. I do not know my own name but this evil magic, which imbues our bones, also traps memories. I moan with the rest, unable to weep, for the foul deeds we have done and are to repeat. I remember: thrusting blades through babies and into wailing mothers, killing young men with wide, fear-filled eyes and the older men who wore the grim mask, as I remember myself donning, to rally the youngsters, yet equally afraid deep down.

Were those faces of my first or last victims? I sound like a murderer. No soldier of the Empire would slaughter like we do. Commanded, against our will, to take life so that they may rise and join our plague of un-life. I moan again but it is lost amongst the wind of agony that blows through our terrible host. A creeping doom acts as our vanguard and my lament only fuels its incursion.

Banners! Rippling in the wind. There are some who stand against us.

I grip my sword tighter, almost eager for combat. I can’t help myself. It’s the soldier in me, and my desire to fight for a cause. The energies that weave around us play with our trapped memories and the enemy’s banners shred and tear, to reveal vile and grotesque versions hidden beneath.

Tricked! I believed that we faced my former kin but instead, the trickery of Chaos is unmasked. Anger wells up as we close with an enemy unit. I no longer wish for death, keen to be amongst the vile spawn and to slay them.
Now I cackle with laughter. I am already dead, but strike me down and I will be raised again. I relish these thoughts, invigorated and suddenly invincible. We shamble forward.

Units clash.

Swords clunk off shields, spears shatter, grunts of exertion, screams of the dying, they are all familiar sounds and I am at one with it, a soldier fighting for his cause. I strike left and right, as do the men around me. We fight and some of us fall but are up again. I laugh at the petty defence that this enemy has thrown together.

I find myself at the front. The air in front of me ripples, like a heat haze and am toe-to-toe with … no, it can’t be! A young man, petrified stands before me and I can only watch as my own sword slashes his throat open. He collapses, eyes of glass, white as a sheet. He was no follower of Chaos; his tabard seems familiar somehow.
The man moves and I raise my sword to strike again but I see he is one of us now. He unfolds as he rises, turns his back to me and swings for a former comrade. I moan again, realising I was duped and suspect this wasn’t the first time.

I wish for death again.

A rumble answers.

A cavalry unit, like a wave of shining metal and foaming bright pendants, smashes into us. A lance punches through my shield and rips my arm away, yet I feel no pain. The momentum turns me and a moment later a horse slams me to the ground. Horses scream, metal rings, bones crunch but the rumbling continues. Two more waves of cavalry charge through and over us. Dust hangs in the air.

I can feel the necrotic energies slide from my bones, like sodden clothing removed, and the weariness of sleep weighs me down. It feels like I’m sinking into a warm bed, and I welcome its embrace.

Pain! Invisible barbs hook into flesh I do not have, yet experience it, as the evil magic, more urgent and cruel, commands us again.

The warmth evaporates and I am dragged from my slumber.

No! Let me sleep. Tired. So tired.

I rise again but some do not and I envy them.

I take ownership of an unbroken spear as we reform and shamble along the crude road of bone, splintered shields and crumpled armour. We follow in the wake of the cavalry but are unable to heed the desperate summons any quicker.

I experience a flicker of hope as a tiny flame ignites within my dark existence. Our subjugator is under threat. We experience brief visions, through its eyes, as magic whirls around the battlefield like a tempest, revealing the defenders are on the offensive and dangerously close.

The waves of cavalry are relentless, closing in on the undead conduit.

There is a brief flash in the sky. Our evil master is aware but the cavalry decoy was sufficient. The last image we see is the open beak of a griffon.

As one, we sigh, released from our bonds and collapse to the ground. There is no sound and I am at peace. The soil is warm and I feel myself slip beneath its covers. Tired. Heavy. Slumbering.

I wake and shiver, still exhausted.

Let me rest, for pity’s sake!

Snow is all around and sodden clothes cling to me. I ache and struggle to rise, only able to use one arm. Is my other arm frozen?

I see the bleached bones of my hand and I remember. There is no pity.

I moan, and the host moans with me.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Oct 03, 2011 9:20 pm


By Gaius Marius

I am representative and chosen of God.

The Order told me this when they took me in as an orphan, after my flesh-parents were sent into His embrace during a bread riot started by starving mut-genes. My new fathers told me I was to be an example, one who’s purity would wash away the sins of man for the paradise to come. With the eagerness of a child I believed them, studying the Holy Books of the Cruxians day and night.

As the warfare of Old Night echoed outside the void-shielded walls of the monastery, I learned that it was through the sin of Genetic Impurity that mankind had fallen from the utopia of old. I resolved to make mankind a new, to return his bent and twisted form to that of his creator. Meteorically I rose through the ranks of the Order of Jesu and when I was declared Cardinal of the Yndonesic Bloc I knew it was time.

I spoke to the endless crowds of Jkarta Hive, whipping them into a frenzy against the monsters that had befouled their genetic code. For thirty five days the pogrom against the mutant and the unclean raged, filling the gutters with blood and fixing thousands of heads on my Cathedral’s spiked walls. When the Ethnarch’s enforcers tried to halt my preaching, I turned the crowd upon them. Soon the Ethnarch’s crown rested on my head and I sat upon the Peacock Throne of Yndonesia.

With the power of both Church and State at my command, I could truly begin my work in earnest. Vast camps did my faithful build out in the rad-wastes, intricate prison complexes where the impure could be held as they were processed and eliminated. Purge after purge was conducted by my Holy Militias and soon the eighty million degenerates that clustered about the cisterns and sewers of the Block were no more.

But there were always more of their kind coming into the world, spawn of impure couplings and decrepit combinations of normal chromosomes. Thus I did command the best and brightest of Yndonesia’s scientists to begin a program of eugenic breeding, matching the nation’s men and women to produce the best possible children. But it was a work of men and thus highly imperfect, many were the stillborn and monstrously twisted so the camps in the rad-wastes still ran and the pyres still burned.

My diplomats and spies tell me stories of foreign nations living across the dusty seabeds that surround our island paradise-to-be, vast realms where mutation runs rampant and heresy rises its ugly head. Now I preach the crusade external to my people, rallying them to another endeavor to cleanse all of the earth, not just Yndonesia. Conscription and castigation fill out the ranks of the Army of God, a full five hundred million of the nation’s best fighting men. They set out in tracked battleships and vast, winged flyers from the Dark Age of Technology, when mankind worshipped his own achievement and was thus cast down for arrogance.

News comes of battles in the north against Indie and Archaemenid, great victories for the army of God as the works of the godless are brought down and destroyed. In the wake of conquest I send my Inquisitors and Gene-Priests to burn clean the souls and helixes of the newly liberated. Many, many, many die as their lives become the brick and mortar of a new utopia.

Vox-communication fails across the entire Block as the devices built by man malfunction, one by one. Astrologer’s in their towers report columns of smoke and fire to the north and the sand tide brings home bleeding soldiers in burning ships. They tell impossible stories of fire falling from the heavens, of warriors of impossible skill and terrifying stature and of a man with golden eyes. My paladin-generals tell me that our armies are defeated in the field and we must prepare for siege.

I preach of the coming darkness that seeks to smother mankinds salvation, my words alerting my people of the terror that comes to them. Volunteer work gangs raise gigantic bastions about the Block’s hives, towering walls of stone and faith that will shield us from the storm. Enslaved Tech-Heretics who have traded their souls for steel erect Void-shields above us, a miracle of faith and evidence of our eminent victory. My battered armies rebuild themselves; press ganging millions into their shredded ranks. I am representative and Chosen of God, I cannot fail.

Storm clouds gather to the north and south, dust raised by hundreds of millions of marching soldiers and armored vehicles. Steel vultures filled with heretic parachutists and high explosives fill the sky, raining both of their cargoes upon us. Atomic fire turns night into day as my cities are cracked open one by one.

I am the representative of God and the Chosen of God.

I cannot fail.

His war machines, vast behemoths of steel shatter the walls of Jkarta after a month of siege. A tide of Thunder Warriors, their armor bearing His profane lightning bolt surge inside. My supporters are gunned down, the Army of God is routed. Those whose children were killed point out my lieutenants and underlings, while I am dragged from my Cathedral in chains.

In my city’s central square, thousands of soldiers and millions of my former flock watch as I am hauled to the butcher’s block. Pict casters broadcast my image around the world, showing humanity that I have failed. The Man with the Golden Eyes looks down upon me, a sword in his hands.

I am the Representative of God and the Chosen of God.

And I am very much afraid.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sat Dec 03, 2011 11:25 pm

An Unhealthy Compulsion

by Pipitan

“Take the gun, Trooper.”

“Take it. Take the gun.”

“Trooper, take the gun.”

The girl looked scared. They always looked scared.

“Take it, trooper. Take the gun.”

The Sergeant was smiling. Smiling as he walked towards her, speaking the same order, over and over again.

“Take the gun, Trooper.”

We stood around, the rest of Squad 11THX. We stood around, shin deep in the river, the cold dawn mist swirling about us, and watched.

We always watched.

“Take the gun. Just… take the gun.”

He reached her, and held out the las-rifle. It was standard issue with a gunmetal finish. It was always standard issue with a gunmetal finish.

The details were very important, to the Sergeant.

She began to reach out a hand. I didn’t want to look her in the eye. Her auburn hair was slick against her skin. She was shaking.

She took the gun.

We watched.

The Sergeant stepped back, still smiling. He picked at his teeth with his fingernails. He was shaking too, but not out of fear.

“Shoot me, Trooper, shoot me.”

She stood, frozen.

“What are you waiting for, Trooper, shoot me, shoot me now, in the chest, pull the trigger.”

She was still frozen. Her eyes darted around to each of us, wildly, desperately. We all looked down at the water.

“Come on, Trooper, shoot me. Think of all the times I’ve picked on you, think of all the times I’ve insulted you and ordered you about, treated you like a slave and abused my authority over you. Think of all those times and pull the trigger. Shoot me. Shoot me now.”

I looked back up at her. She was still frozen, her mind trying to process what was being asked of her. She didn’t understand it. They never did. That was the beauty of it.

The Sergeant flexed his shoulders. Cricked his neck.

She stood there, facing him, the gun raised and pointing at his chest.

We watched.

“Shoot me, trooper. Pull the trigger. End my petty, worthless life. Shoot me.”

Still nothing. She was lasting longer than most.

“Come on, Trooper, I’m giving you a direct order here, Trooper, you’re not disobeying a direct order, are you, Trooper? You know what the consequences of disobeying a direct order are, don’t you, Trooper, you’re not a complete idiot, are you, Trooper?”

She was gulping, hard, sweating, shaking. She was breaking, too. I could see it in her eyes.

He was really enjoying this. He always did. For the Sergeant, it was all about the anticipation. The ritual. The details.

“Trooper, I’m going to repeat the order one more time, and then I’m going to take you straight to the Commissar’s office. Shoot. Me.”

We watched. We couldn’t help ourselves.

It always happened in a few short seconds.

She gritted her teeth. They always did something that gave away their intention, that gave him time to act. She gritted her teeth, tightened her hold on the gun, and pull-

The Sergeant was a blur, stepping in, ripping the gun out of her hands, throwing it aside, kneeing her in the groin, punching her in the face, bursting her nose.

They went down, into the water, thrashing.

He liked it when they fought back.

After a few minutes the water foamed red, and the thrashing ended.

I would like to say that we didn’t watch, after they went down into the water, that we couldn’t, that we stared grim-faced up at the dawn sky. I would like to say that we didn’t watch.

But we did.

We couldn’t help ourselves.

When the thrashing ended, the Sergeant rose from the crimson water, and shook himself off like a dog. His eyes glittered. Someone would towel him off, always a crisp white towel, and then we would leave.

We would leave the river, and return to our barracks, in time for the dawn roll call.

And her body would float on down the river, until it reached the abandoned factory disposal sluices, three miles down, where it would be subsumed into the morass of industrial waste.

And we would report the incident, in which our newest squad member lashed out at her superior officer and was unfortunately killed as we tried to restrain her.

And the Colonel would laugh, shake his head, and give the Sergeant a wink.

And a short time later, we would receive a new recruit.

And thanks to the packages of sweetmeats that the Sergeant sent to the Deployment Official every fortnight, the new recruit would always be young, and female.

And she would join our squad.

And a while later – perhaps a few weeks, perhaps a month – we would tell her about the dawn exercises we liked to do as a squad down by the river, out of sight of the complex, and we would tell her how, now that she was a fully integrated member of Squad 11THX that we would be honoured if she would join us the next morning, for our dawn exercises.

And she would join us.

And we would watch.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sat Dec 03, 2011 11:34 pm


J D Dunsany

I was there at the storming of Forscheim Ridge… Alright, alright. Laugh if you want, but I was. The breaking of the Gnashfire Clan. The charge of the glorious Seventh. I was there.

And if you buy me a drink, I’ll tell you all about it…

This is the place. Holy Sigmar, this is the place. All around me, my fellow penitents mutter and murmur – prayers, mostly. Some are lost in trances, holy visions of death and glory enveloping their minds like blood-dipped shrouds. Old Joachim is chanting, his lined, weathered face spotted with spittle.

But I just stand, remembering. Seeing.

I am not seeing the orcs encamped on the ridge. I do not see their blasphemous banners rippling and snapping in the wind. I do not hear their guttural, rhythmic chanting. I do not feel the subtle tremors beneath my feet.

What I am remembering is the event that set me on the path of penitence seven long years ago. It is what has tortured my soul far more than any self-inflicted pain ever could. It is what has led me here. Again.

Tears begin to prick my eyes. I think they are of gratitude. Truly, the Lord Sigmar is merciful.

The Gnashfire Clan was big and nasty. Nastier than any orc warhost I’ve fought before or since. They’d sacked Kusseldorf and Schwanzig and were marching on Averheim with murder in whatever shrivelled hunks of flesh that passed for their hearts. General von Deitz had been commissioned with the task of delaying the main body of the host on the fields to the east of the city, while the elector and his council prepared for a long siege. Now, I know Deitz ain’t popular round these parts, but I’ll say this for him. He’s no fool. He knew he’d been handed a suicide job. So, he did what any good soldier would do – what he knew was right.

He took the Seventh Averland Infantry and marched them to meet the enemy as quickly as he damned well could.

A few days later, we encountered orcish scouts at the fords at Fiedler’s Ditch and, half a day afterwards, Meier’s Green. Heheh. They were surprised to see us. I can tell you that.

It was at Meier’s Green that we picked up a group of flagellants – freaks and madmen who had left their old lives to pursue a ‘higher calling’. Bunch of weirdos, if you ask me.

But, they could fight. Oh, yes, they could fight alright…

My body aches. My left arm throbs incessantly, where the rusted blade of an orcish berserker broke the skin. I don’t care.

The pain of this mortal body is nothing compared to the anguish I feel whenever I think of…


Her face turns to me, smiling. Her eyes are bright with life and laughter. We had come to the ridge to talk and well… be together. She had promised herself to me the night before, walking the battlements of my father’s castle – a castle whose empty broken shell is now an eternal reproach to me. And a just one.

She turns to me, smiling. And I look past her – to the stunted copse of trees and the hunched, grotesque figures stalking towards us from their shadows.

I call out a strangled warning and she turns back in surprise. I reach for a sword that does not hang at my belt. It was love, not battle, that preoccupied my thoughts when I dressed this morning.

They are upon her, dirty blades glinting dully in the weak morning light. Red blooms upon her dress and she screams.

And I…

I run.

Well, the orcs had camped on the ridge, hadn’t they? Even Deitz wouldn’t order an attack up that slope. It would be suicide.

In the end, the decision was taken out of his hands.

I run, charging towards the orc lines. It has been a long time since I held a sword. A simple wooden post, studded with long, rusted nails, is my weapon now.

That, and my anger. And my shame.

They are enough.

Well, we just stood there gaping. There must have been a couple of hundred of those zealots charging towards the orc lines, all following their leader. You should have heard the noise. Prayers. Singing. Screaming. Yelling.

I think the greenskins were as astonished as we were. But it didn’t take them long to recover. Soon, black arrows were falling on the flagellant mob and desperate men with only sackcloth and their faith to protect them were dying in droves.

And then Dietz scrambled up on his charger and drew his sword.

“The faithful of Sigmar have shown us the way,” he said. “To honour and glory!”

Yeah, right. I could see the look in his eyes from where I was standing. He didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on either.

But we followed him anyway.

I run and the chains of despair that have wrapped themselves around me ever since that day fall away from my limbs.

I feel… strong. Certain.

There is vengeance here, if I want it.

Vengeance and much much more.


We charged. Dear Lord, we were a rabble. No sense of shape to us whatsoever.

I was far enough back to see those flagellants hit the orc lines. They should have been wiped out – and some of them did go down, it’s true. But their leader…

I’ve never seen courage like it.

I vault over the haphazardly planted line of stakes, my makeshift morningstar crashing into an orc’s shoulder. It grunts in pain, but I keep on running. At the centre of their lines is the orcish warchief, his face twisting into a mask of bloodlust and fury.

“Sigmar!” I cry, as I race towards him. “Sigmar!”

There are tears in my eyes.


I saw what he did, that strange young man in tattered robes and dirty bandages. The orc chief towered over him, bellowing its hatred, a monstrous cleaver gripped in its paw. Twice the flagellant was struck. After the second blow, his left arm was hanging off at the shoulder, but he didn’t falter. He just kept swinging that bloody morningstar. Time and time and time again.

That fight should have been over in seconds. It lasted a minute and a half. Long enough for Dietz and his vanguard to fight their way through to the orcish leader and finish him off. Long enough for the Seventh to win the day.

But, I often wonder about that raving madman who led the charge at Forscheim Ridge. What made him do it? What kind of… force drove him on?

Life leaks from my body in streams of red.

The din of battle fades to a muffled roar.

In my mind, I see her…

…so beautiful…

…turning to me…

…she smiles…

… and, finally…



… too…
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:19 pm

Tender Mercy

by Raziel4707

Twisting columns of smoke poured into the darkening sky, tainting the gathering clouds with their ashen touch and turning the gathering rains into a foul, acidic mist. Below them stretched a thousand miles of verdant forest pock-marked with jutting habitation needles; the spires of a vast subterranean hive that sat like a slumbering leviathan beneath the ground. Each spire stood like an ancient monument to some long forgotten deity, their surfaces etched with words in High Gothic and spotted with alcoves and sconces containing sombrely glowing orbs and anthracite statues of noble heroes, long fallen to mankind’s many enemies. The tops of many were cracked open where the falling rain of superheated debris had struck, leaving the hollow towers like broken bones devoid of marrow, clawing silently at the furious sky. All around them the forest steamed as it burned, the fires having raged now for over a month, far beyond anyone’s ability to extinguish them.

As a single flyer bravely flew through the gathering storm the flames appeared minute, held back by the sodden jungle and incredibly dense plant life. The auspex, and the instincts of the pilot, knew better. What looked from on high like a twisting burst of flame teased up by the winds was, in fact, a churning maelstrom of fire taller than a Warhound Titan and at least as deadly, hungrily consuming all in its path and leaving a broad trail of ash wherever it touched the ground. The bursts of steam that erupted from the undergrowth looked innocuous but actually represented buried seed pods from the towering Rosten trees, each puff of white laced with sap as hot as the muzzleflare from an Astartes’ plasma rifle. The closer the pilot became the more dangerous the terrain appeared, leaving her to wonder how it could be that the entire forest had not succumbed to the clawing advance of the conflagration and the hive with it. How could it be that such devastation was so relatively contained when there was nothing but fuel with which to contain it? The answers had eluded the brightest minds of Mondus Hive and had infuriated its Lord Governor, whose council meetings had been reduced from matters of business and prosperity to endless running battles between lesser politicians, terrified that their finances were at risk from the bizarre conditions on the surface.

Alana Charr cared little for their wheedling voices and had laughed at them over the vox as she hailed them from her ship in orbit, had mocked their terror as she gave them the truth. How brave they had sounded when she revealed that there was a mortal reason behind it, and how simpering and pathetic once she told them what it was.

'I assume you won’t be accompanying me then, gentlemen?’ she had sneered, before revealing her price for solving their problems. Little had they known that her presence was ordained by the Inquisition and was already to be financially bountiful for her, but then her masters had never cared about any extras she had made on the side.

A perfect circle of scorched earth opened beneath her ship as she came in to land, the fires disappearing and shrinking away as though scolded by her very presence, leaving only thin wisps of smoke creeping from the grass to tell of their previous fury. As she swung a spike-heeled boot over the side of the cockpit and vaulted to the floor even these ebbed away and were no more, and the blackened ground seemed somehow less scorched than it had, as though the blackness were somehow superficial and unnatural.

‘You feel me,’ she whispered as the flyer’s canopy automatically slammed shut and re-pressurised. ‘Then you must know what I am. You cannot hear me I know, but which way, hmm? Perhaps…’

The flames shrunk as she strode forward, repelled by her unnatural aura of psionic blankness, but still she was not satisfied. She changed direction several times with the same result until she suddenly doubled back, and a feral grin of perfect white teeth opened across her face. The flames did not merely move away from her this time, shifting the perfect circle of calm that surrounded her. This time, they recoiled.

‘And now I have you,’ she sneered.

The top-knot on her otherwise bald head flowed behind her as she ran, ducking and dodging as the panicked psyker in the distance hurled rocks and tree limbs at her as it tried to scramble away. The creature was more than strong enough to bring the forest crashing down on top of her, but her soulless heart was her greatest weapon and it had been honed to razor sharpness. Many born with the pariah gene were killed for the sense of disgust and panic they engendered in others and were themselves doomed to pitiful self-loathing at best, but the blunter woman who had rescued her and taken her in had taught her that the only way to survive the hatred of her entire species was simply to learn to thrive upon it.

She had intentionally set down near the epicentre and so did not have far to run before the creature’s attacks became haphazard and chaotic, very few of them striking even vaguely in her direction. The closer she came the more erratic they were until finally they ceased altogether and, with a wicked cackle of victory, she knew that the prize was hers. With a cold gust of air like the entire forest taking once enormous breath the fires shrank and went out in all directions, save where they still sprang from the wreckage of the Imperial transport that was to have taken this and many other rogue psykers to the waiting Black Ship of Inquisitor Shalduhn. After a few more metres Alana heard a pathetic whimpering coming from behind a low outcrop of stones and stepped smartly around them, not bothering to draw a weapon as she knew very well that her quarry was no threat to her at all by now.

‘There you are,’ she hissed, viciously kicking the withered creature with her boot. ‘Look at the mess you have made here, psyker. Do you not see why you are so loathed?’

The psyker rolled onto its back and held up its singed hands, begging for mercy from a woman to whom none had ever been shown. ‘Please,’ it simpered, it’s voice thin and reedy. ‘You must… understand… Have you no empathy?’

The boy recoiled at the touch of her hand, then winced and fell slack as a needler implanted in the back of her palm stabbed forwards and ended the creature’s life with a burst of potent neurotox.

‘No,’ she said as she reached behind her back and drew a long blade, severing the youth’s head as proof and holding it in front of her by its hair.

‘None at all.’
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Wed Feb 01, 2012 10:20 pm


By Ballistichimp

The silence of the forest was broken by a ululating howl that scattered wildlife in all directions. The cry was echoed by a dozen voices, the unmistakable hunting call of the Hjul. Teku did not hesitate, did not bother to warn his companions or even think to draw a weapon, he simply ran. He knew from experience that stealth and guile would not save him, that the hunters had his scent and that his life now depended on speed. Thick loam, moss and dead wood flew beneath his feet as he fled and vast, flat leaves slapped at his bare flesh. The jungle could kill the careless just as surely as any spear or arrow, but it was one enemy Teku had grown accustomed to.

Ambla ran beside him, his bone necklaces rattling. He had a club clasped in his hand and a look of fierce determination etched on his tattooed features. If the animals took him they would get a bloody nose before their feast. The first of the screams rent the air as one of their companions fell to the Hjul, the awful sound trailing away into a bubbling cough. His muscles were already beginning to burn from the sudden exertion, but Teku forced himself to push on, leaping a small, clear stream and narrowly avoiding the entangling roots on the opposite bank.

He saw shafts of sunlight ahead, golden crepuscular rays that penetrated the canopy and warmed the forest floor. Hundreds of insects thrummed lazily in the humid air, attracted by the light. Teku glanced at Ambla and gave him a feral grin. The thinning of the trees could only mean they were approaching the border of the jungle and the certainty of escape. He turned just in time to see his companion fall.

A bone spear thrown by an unseen hand punctured Ambla's back just beneath the shoulder, its barbed tip splitting his ribs and pinning him to the ground. He managed to get a whisper of a scream out before choking on his own blood. Teku turned away, his expression twisted with rage, and abandoned his friend to his fate.

He managed three more strides before an arrow caught him in the back of the knee.

Teku fell, smashing his face on a rotting log, and tumbled into one of the pools of sunlight. The pain was excruciating and he looked down to see the shaft jutting from his leg with horror. The whoops and howls of the Hjul emerged from the forest around him as the hunters closed in on their fallen prey. Teku reached for his wounded knee with blood-slick fingers and tried to snap the impaling shaft, but a wave of nausea gripped him and the world lost focus for a few precious seconds.

A face filled his vision, a terrible visage of ritual scarification and bone piercings. The Hjul smiled, revealing a mouthful of black teeth that had been filed to points, and pulling his scars into a lattice of curious patterns. He said something in his ugly, guttural tongue and dipped a finger into the blood streaming from Teku's shattered nose.

There was the sickening sound of ripping flesh from nearby as the Hjul began their butchery of Ambla. From the choking, retching noises it was evident that their victim was far from dead as they went about their grisly work. Teku tried not to listen, tried not to hear the audible crack of bone and wet slap of organs as they tumbled from an open body, but he knew this was what awaited him. The hunter standing over him pulled a serrated dagger into view and lifted it above his head.

The killing stroke did not fall however.

The earth began to tremble and the forest shook with the snort of some unknown beast. The Hjul began shouting at each other, the urgency of their words obvious to Teku even though their meaning escaped him. Whatever the vast creature was, it was drawing closer. The ground shook and the sound of splintering wood filled the air along with an acrid stink that reminded the tribesmen of the pools of sticky mud in the hills. The Hjul lifted his blade again, obviously intent on finishing his work before the monster arrived and for the second time Teku waited for the hot bloom of agony.

A beam of red light struck the hunter in the face and the top half of his head vanished in a plume of pink mist. The knife tumbled harmlessly to the ground and the twitching corpse of the Hjul toppled over. Teku manage to roll himself onto his side and gaped in incomprehension at the smoking ruin that remained of the tribesman's skull. There was no blood, just a fused mass of burned meat and bone. He had never seen anything like it.

The rest of the Hjul were rising from their kills and attempting to flee, but more of the deadly rays sliced through the woods and cut them down. Teku saw one struck three times, his body jerking and twitching as puffs of vaporised flesh burst from his back. The slaughter was swift, ruthless and efficient and in a matter of moments not a single hunter remained alive. Teku saw figures moving through the foliage, men clad in strange clothing and bearing weapons that spewed the deadly light. They moved ahead of a line of beasts that crushed the forest beneath their titanic treads. The monsters huffed and snorted and their dirty breath filled the air with the reek of hill mud.

One of the strangers stopped beside him and spoke as if addressing the air.

'The village is three clicks to the south, your orders are to sweep and clear and then advance to way-point primus. The cogs want the hill site ready for first stage development before the second rotation and I don't intend to disappoint them. Jheffron out.'

The outlander gave Teku a dispassionate glance and pointed a small device at him. The tribesman found himself staring down the hollow tube that projected from the body of the object. The darkness inside winked red.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Wed Feb 01, 2012 10:28 pm


By J D Dunsany

They arrived at the house as the dying day spilled rays of golden light across their path. Schafer looked up at the crumbling brickwork and rotted timbers.

“We won't have long,” he said. “I don't want to be anywhere near here when night falls.”

Von Griesberg turned to him, incomprehension clear on his hard sharp face.

“We can stay in the house, surely? It doesn't look all that unsound. I don't mind roughing it in a ground floor room.”

“No,” said Wessel hurriedly. The older man had fared less well than his companions on their journey from the city, but determination was nevertheless etched into his flushed features. “Me neither. I mean...” He glanced back at the house and his voice grew reverent. “We're here.”

Schafer scowled and adjusted the sword at his belt in a very unnecessary, but very obvious motion. “I understand that, gentlemen, but we will be leaving before sundown in any case. We can always come back tomorrow.” He smiled sourly. “It's not as if it's going anywhere.”

The scholar from Altdorf harrumphed non-committally, while Dietrich von Griesberg, Averheim's most celebrated theatrical critic, shrugged his shoulders, as if the concerns of a mere Imperial scout were of no importance to him. Schafer watched them enter the house through the gaping iron-bound doors and shook his head. 'A simple job,' Major Dahlqvist had told him. He should have known better. He really should.

* * * * *

“This is amazing!”

Wessel was staring around him, his bushy eyebrows raised in a curious mixture of child-like wonder and intellectual avarice.

“To think that Leopold Verzweiflung wrote his great works in this very room...”

Behind him, von Griesberg picked his way across the rubbish-strewn floor.

“Some of the later tragedies, perhaps,” he murmured, “but it's well-documented that the lyric poems and the truly great historical and tragic works were written in a garret off the Eisenerzstrasse. Averheim was his inspiration, not this godsforsaken place.”

Von Griesberg continued to make his way across the room, careful not to trip on the stray clumps of plaster and bits of broken furniture that littered this first floor study. Too late, Wessel realised what the critic was heading for – a stout dust-coated writing desk in the far corner – and tried to head him off, but the effort was futile. Casting an arch look of triumph in the scholar's direction, von Griesberg tried to open the drawer in the ancient piece of furniture. It was locked.

Wessel chuckled drily. “The great man liked to keep his secrets.”

Von Griesberg sighed. “How many times? Verzweiflung was... good. Occasionally.” He turned from the desk, pleased to vent his frustration at being unable to open it. “The Rites of Spring and Jealousy's Fool are impressive works, I grant you, but... great? If he was great – of the sort of stature that you and your foolish colleagues in the University of Altdorf claim – then would he really have written the sort of ham-fisted melodramatic drivel exemplified by The Clock Speaks At Midnight or the incoherent nonsense of The Lord of All Our Sorrows? By the time he'd 'retired' to this place, he'd lost whatever talent he'd possessed and become...” Von Griesberg drew himself up to his full height and fixed the scholar with a piercing stare.

“Don't,” warned Wessel, his face stony.

Von Griesberg ignored him. “A hack!” he proclaimed. “A bona fide, genuine, unquestionable hack!”

This was a familiar argument and Wessel raised a bony finger as a prelude to his long, impassioned reply.

He never got to deliver it.

The scream saw to that.

* * * * *

“Is he...?”

Von Griesberg straightened and glared up at Wessel.

“What do you think?”

Schafer's body was sprawled at the bottom of the steep narrow staircase. It wasn't moving. Wessel wiped his mouth with a shaky hand.

“This is... this is...” He paused as a sudden thought struck him. “Oh, Sigmar! The Clock Speaks At Midnight! The penultimate scene. The count's man's murder! It's... the same...”

Von Griesberg was looking at him strangely, but the old scholar didn't notice. Around him, the shadows were lengthening and the ruined house sighed and moaned, its aged timbers shifting minutely as night stalked towards it from beyond the horizon.


Wessel started. “Did you say something?”

“No.” Von Griesberg stared at Schafer's corpse, its splayed limbs, the slack lifeless face. “We need to get out of here.”

“No,” Wessel heard himself say. “We're not finished here.”

* * * * *

The desk drawer was open. On the desk's surface a sheaf of papers fanned out. Wessel froze. The sound of a quill on parchment scratched at his mind.


Dimly aware of von Griesberg entering the study behind him, he lurched across the room to the desk, clutching at the papers. He scanned them quickly.

“It's a new work!” he said breathlessly. “It's... it's very dark.”

Von Griesberg stood in the doorway, blinking at him.

“What are you doing, you fool? Night's falling, Schafer's dead. We need to get out of here!”

“I don't...”

All around him, the shadows grew. The wooden-panelled walls seemed to lean in towards him and the papers in his arthritic hands suddenly seemed cold and heavy.


“Wessel, come on!”

He looked into the open drawer and reached for the long-bladed knife within it.


* * * * *

Night had fallen and Wessel sat in a mould-spotted armchair, his right hand throbbing unpleasantly. Across the study from him, the body of Dietrich von Griesberg cooled slowly, the critic's dark red blood running down the shadow-draped walls, although, some small part of him noted, not a drop of it had yet reached the floor.

It was this small part of him that cowered in fear at what he had witnessed. At what he had done. No, not him. He would never have done... that.

Snivelling wretch!

The voice again, stronger this time. Gerhart Wessel wanted to scream, to shout, to run gibbering from this place of horror. But he did none of those things. Instead, he sat in the dark, listening to the house timbers shift and settle, thinking thoughts as black as the ink on the papers at his feet, thoughts that were not his own.

So long I waited, the voice murmured. And then you came. They promised me my genius would live on. All I had to do was what they wanted.

Wessel wanted to cry, but his eyes remained dry. His right hand pulsed with the echoes of violence.

Others will come.

Night rested heavily on his tired limbs.

And we will be waiting for them.

Fear twisted coldly inside him.

Won't we?
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Apr 01, 2012 9:24 pm

Critical Juncture

By LordLucan

It was an unsettlingly swift task, destroying the work of thousands of years. Pulling up coloured tiles and slashing decorative fetishes and tapestries with blades was the work of a barbarian, but it was necessary. The air rang with the din of desecration; the mutilation of something glorious.

The high priest directed his minions with carefully controlled gestures. They attacked their precious works with a practised brutality; they had to make their actions believable. But Adervei Kal could mask his disgust no longer. The robed monk had already burned his fine gilded vestments in a huge pyre across town. He could not be expected to destroy all that their culture had produced.

Swiftly, dancing his way through crowds of his fellow co-religionists as they threw tar upon stained glass, he made his way directly to the High priest, who stood apart from his followers. Glorious robes were gone. Now he bore a drab cloak. He looked as if the lifeblood had been drained from him.

“Father, please! The heathens go too far! Is it not enough that we allow them to rule us? Must they trample the Creed into the dirt too?”

The Priest turned to Kal, his face weary. “It is His will.”

“He is kin. Surely you can lodge a complaint? The people will not stand for this! We could summon a riot; flood the street with the loyal. Let them know what they have awoken!” Kal pleaded, grasping the High priest’s robe. The man stared at Kal’s hand for a moment. The monk instantly let go.

Eventually, the Patriarch responded, as he stared through the last stained glass window. “His mind is set. We are to see the ‘light’. Your gestures would ring hollow, bringing nothing but a thousand dead protesters. The conquerors are powerful. They come here under the banner of friendship, but I have heard of what they do. I know men on worlds close by, who have seen them bring fire and destruction to their foes. They not only defeat them; they eradicate them. They purge them utterly...”

“It sounds almost as if you admire them,” Kal whispered, the seditious words stinging his song like a misplaced psalm.

The Priest was quiet for a moment, as he watched the vast statue of the Horned Prince being toppled by distant bulldozers. “I admire their purity of purpose I suppose. The Oppressor’s warriors are weapons, no more moral or immoral than a spear. But the tide is turning. We cannot fight this.”

“But we must!” Kal insisted.

“Enough! You once again over step your bounds. I shall see you in my chambers at sun down!” The High priest growled, turning his stare upon Kal. Kal felt as if his soul was flayed bare by the eyes of the Keeper of the faith. He was not one of the god-blessed seers, but his presence was irresistible as the tide. Kal swallowed, nodding mutely.


Kal returned as requested. His hood was pulled over his head as he silently made his way towards the chambers of his master. In the distance, the landing lights of the Oppressors’ vast ships were a constant ruddy glow on the horizon; and eternal dusk-light. Oh how he loathed them.

The High Priest’s estate was grand, but the great Monastery he occupied was spartana nd utilitarian, where before it was palatial. Scaffolding surrounded the bland towers now like skeletal coral, waiting to attach grand golden eagles to the structure. Would his Holiness truly abandon his flock? He was head of the Cult of Eight winds, the Horned Prince, and countless other denominations of the Old Faith; he could not be apostate. It was unthinkable.

Kal passed through security easily. Within minutes of walking, he stood before the central chamber, and pushed the old timber frame inwards gently. Inside, the High Lord of the Mysteries, the Great priest-King himself, sat amidst a veritable mountain of books, scriptures and vellum scrolls bound with red ink and razor wire. The wondrous musty stench of ancient knowledge filled his lungs like a fine spiced wine. Kal felt his knees go weak at the collected histories of his faith.

“This is...” he fumbled.

The old man before him smiled warmly. “Yes, child. I understand.”

“But you were burning the temple? I thought you would have burned these too.”

The Priest-King’s smile faded, as if it had never been there at all. “You thought I would destroy my religion? My own religion? Do you lack so little faith in me?”

“But father, the temples, I-“

“Baubles and symbols! They are ephemeral adornments, sacrificed as a Galom snake sacrifices its skin when a predator tries to catch it. It was a necessity. Those who come from terra may change our dress and our manners, but our spirit endures. The Gods cannot be so easily uprooted and destroyed. Ours is an old faith; perhaps the oldest. They are mankind’s basic impulses; elemental and eternal. No regime, not matter how powerful, can destroy rage, lust, power and the will to dominate! But you would have seen us throw ourselves upon the blades of the Oppressors! For what gain? Hmm?”

Kal involuntarily flinched. “I... I did not know. Forgive me father,” he began to weep, falling to his knees. His master bid him to rise, proffering his ring for Kal to kiss.

“Go forth and convert to this ‘Imperial Truth’. But know always that order is not the natural way of things. Soon, it will decay, for that is what order is want to do. Entropy demands it. Be patient, be vigilant. Our time will come.”

Kal was openly sobbing with joy now. “As you wish, my Lord Kor Phaeron.”


Kor Phaeron was alone. His face, so full of righteousness before his minions, was cold and dispassionate now. He withdrew a velvet sheet from across a jewel, which swirled with colour and moaned in deafening silence, undulating like a being of living fire.

“I know you have forsaken me,” he said calmly, his boundlessly evil eyes widening fractionally. “I am no psyker or daemon. I am but a man.”

He paused for a moment. “But I am a man poised at a vital juncture of destiny. I do not need you, oh Great Annihilator; I am a man at the height of his power. I am the adopted father of a demi-god in a new galactic order. If I choose I could, through mere inaction, doom you. I could turn Lorgar into the Emperor’s favourite son. I could watch the Imperial truth castrate you. In this singular moment in all of history, you need me more than you have ever needed anyone.”

The artefact rumbled, screaming and moaning and rippling with argue. It was a language of infinite complexity, yet Kor Phaeron could understand it perfectly.

“What do you desire?” it hissed and bellowed with the voice of countless billions.

“What does anyone who has everything desire?” he whispered. “I wish for more!”
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Apr 01, 2012 9:25 pm

Last Refuge of Failure

By Squiggle

‘Do you remember Olympia, burning.’ Lochus said. It was more a statement than question, and the Iron Warrior didn’t even raise his head as he spoke. Instead, his great tusked helm remained fixed on the wide head of his battered chain axe. The weapon was older than he was, had been an ancient heirloom, an artifact of the Unification Wars.

Kratero followed his gaze, finding brief amusement in the bright yellow and black warning chevrons that decorated the head of the weapon. Given the number of lives he had personally witnessed Lochus end with it, those warning markers struck him as being viciously ironic, a weary sign of the bitterness that had engulfed them ever since Olympia.

‘Of course.’ Kratero replied. He had removed his own helm - he still could - and his ruddy flesh was marked with a pattern of pale, raised scarlines. A legacy of ten thousand years of fighting.

‘That was the beginning of the end for us.’ Lochus continued. He had produced a ratchet and began to disassemble his weapon. He had done this a thousand times before, replacing sheared off teeth, worn gears and broken belts. Just watching Lochus work reminded Kratero of the fighting on Bors. In the bloody carnage of the final assault, the head of Lochus’s chainaxe had snapped clean off, embedded in the torso of an Ultramarine. Afterwards, with infinite patience and skill, Lochus had rebuilt it. Krateros doubted that even a single component remained of the original weapon. Yet Lochus honoured it just the same.

‘We are not defeated,’ Krateros replied, flexing the fingers of his power claw. ‘We fight on.’

‘And for what?’ Lochus snarled, his vox doing little to disguise the acidic bitterness of his tone. For the first time he looked up from his weapon, stared at Krateros through the fathomless black of the vision slit in his helm. ‘What have we achieved in ten thousand years but gradual decay? A pitiful decline into the annals of history. Even Morsi, itinerant wordsmith that he is, has found little to write about in these latter years.’

‘Which is why Warsmith Erostratus has brought us here.’ Krateros said. Around them, the constant background rumble of the rhino APC had come to a halt.

‘Hah,’ Lochus spat, tightening the final bolt on his chainaxe and thumbing the weapon into momentary life. It roared for a moment, teeth clawing at the air, as if tasting it. Krateros had already got to his feet, and Lochus joined him as the rear disembarkation ramp whined open on stiff hydraulics. Dusty air swept in, carrying with it the acrid stink of war.

Ahead of them, across lines of trenches, beyond clouds of dust and smoke and batteries of heavy artillery, the squat fortress, Cronach, was a blur of black iron battlements, impregnable walls and rising towers.

‘Remind me of why we came here?’ Lochus said as they walked down the ramp, their grey ceramite boots clanking against the plasteel.

Krateros grinned without humour before reaching down for his helm. He placed it over his head, gave momentary pause as the HUD display flickered into life before his eyes. His helmet was unadorned, save for a ragged plume of blue feathers, an ancient, primitive symbol of rank and seniority.

‘You spoke of our descent into anonymity, Lochus.’ Krateros said, voice now twisted with a mechanical vox-rasp. ‘Erostratus designed and built Cronach, ten thousand years ago, when we fought under different colours. We abandoned it, on the orders of our father, Perturabo. And for ten thousand years it has stood defiantly against us, a bitter reminder of what we used to be and a bastion of the loyalists pathetic hope in their broken Emperor.’

‘And now?’ Lochus said.

They had dropped down into the rearmost supply trenches. It was rank here; the long months of the siege had taken their toll and mud and other filth lingered in the base of the each trench. Thick clods of it stuck to their boots, and splatters of dirt coated their shin and thigh guards as they strode through the muck.

‘Erostratus is making a play, Lochus.’ Krateros said. ‘He wishes to rise above our current station. He wishes to become memorable.’

‘Erostratus does nothing that is not for his own fame and fortune,’ Lochus sneered. He gave a few practice swings of his chainaxe.

They were nearing the frontlines now. Shells burst above them, shattered against the fortifications, showering the Iron Warriors with gravel and shrapnel. It bounced off their ceramite armour like so much rain against a window. Around them their battle-brothers were gathering, squad by squad, company by company. They each had their orders, their own set objectives. Erostratus was an egotistical maniac who grew more unbalanced with each passing day. But beneath the outbursts, the… odd behaviours, he remained an Iron Warrior. He had planned and won a thousand sieges. This one would be no different. The Imperials were still weeks, maybe months from support. Cronach would fall. And it would fall today. Krateros merely hoped that he wasn’t about to die to sate his liege’s desperate ambition.

Around another kink in the trench, war now thunderous around them, and they came across their squad - Krateros’s squad. He had long since cared less who they were. It was enough that they fought under his command. Enough that they didn’t fail. With the exceptions of Morsi and the ever present Lochus, they were but numbers to him.

He squatted in the muck and briefed them anyway.

Afterwards, Lochus and Morsi beside him, Krateros ran through the final pre-battle rites on his armour and weapons. The combi-melta hummed and vented scalding air as he powered it up. Lochus opened a vox channel to him. Krateros acknowledged it.

‘Morsi wishes to hear the rest of your tedious lecture, brother.’

‘There is little more to tell,’ Krateros said. ‘Erostratus wishes to gain fame for himself. He wishes to show his ability, he wishes to attract attention.’

‘But why?’ Lochus asked.

‘Ask him yourself,’ Krateros said. ‘I do not know the man’s mind. But it can be nothing sane.’

'Ambition is the last refuge of failure,’ Morsi said, levelly.

Krateros glared down the line at him, scowling beneath his helm. Morsi’s impassive ceramite faceplate gave nothing but a blank stare in response.

Final orders crackled across the vox. Krateros raised a fist and together, squad one three seven of the Iron Warriors fourteenth grand company surged out of their trenches and towards the destruction of the fortress they had once laboured so hard to create.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Jul 01, 2012 9:12 pm

By Eremite

Work. Another twelve-hour shift of data-entry and checking. I don’t even know what I’m typing anymore. Endless bloody numbers from the cogheads and adepts. Manufactorum inputs and outputs. Projected harvest yields. It’s been getting into my dreams. Now my sleeping moments, more than half of the limited time I have to myself, are spent in the same mind-eating tedium I live half of my day. It’s like a second damned shift, only without caffeine or pay. I hate my job. I hate my job. Throne, I hate my life.

The psychic-shielding all-but nullifies my powers. Mercifully, the thoughts of the crowd are nothing more than a whispered susurrus, but the inhibitor will not protect me from a telepath as powerful as the Thief.

I need to get close enough to strike without being detected. Of course, so does the Thief.

Think herd thoughts.

The commute is torture enough. I’m caught in the great, stinking meat-grinder of humanity, other Administratum clerks and scribes pressed between factory workers in stained overalls. The occasional merchant-prince and pisshead noble float above us on their hover-litters, the anti-grav jets pressing those below them into the asphalt. Bastards.

The Thief. Never have I known anything so terrifying, so powerful. It was human once. A psyker. Psychic powers usually manifest in adolescence, occasionally later in life. It’s not often they come out earlier. The Thief had been a child. Perhaps even still gestating.

It should have been a toy for the creatures of the warp, but the fates had something else planned for this child. It was mad, of course, reading minds when it had no sense of self, hearing thoughts before it had even learned to think...

It began to take away the minds of those around it out of fear and ignorance, fear of being alone, fear of being weak, fear of not understanding. Absorbing entire lifetimes of experience without context... Somehow it avoided possession and began to leap from body to body, taking shelter in the empty husks it created.

The Thief grew more intelligent, more skilled, more powerful and more insane with every soul, mind and face it stole, and beneath it all was a terrified child.

Not one of the bosses care. They’ve never so much as looked at me like I’m a Throne-damned human being. My supervisor, he’s burned out from years of boredom and strain, and his boss, Adept Tertius Alorei, literally can’t give a damn. Bloody coghead went and had her emotions removed. Smart thing to do, in the Administratum.

Had I known what it was I hunted before I would have withdrawn, I would have contacted the Ordo Sicarius and begged them to unleash a Culexus assassin, to match this abomination with something unholier still. But I did not. I thought it was just another witch.

It sensed me from the other side of the city. I must be an irresistible prize. A psychic brain, a fine mind and all a body that would give it enough rank to leave this world, to make the entire Imperium its hunting ground. My rosette would give it the power to indulge almost any desire, no matter how debased or insane.

The Thief needs to get close to tear my mind from my body. It has been hunting me since I made planetfall and I didn’t realise until it came close enough for the stinging, acidic presence of its mind to deafen my psychic senses.

I had fled, activated my psychic shielding without any faith that it would protect me. Where could I run? Where could I hide?

The klaxons had blared. Shift-change.

I have always been ochlophobic, a side-effect of my telepathy. It is too easy to become lost in a crowd, to feel one’s very thoughts drowned out by those of countless others. Here was my hiding place. Here, it would struggle to find me. I just had to blend in.

I hardly even chat with my co-workers. The man next to me, Moran, hates me and I don’t even know why. He won’t speak to me, never did, so I can’t imagine what I did to deserve the filthy looks he gives me. If it wasn’t for Annabelle I think I’d have chosen to quit and starve years ago.

I could run. I could escape this place, this city, this world, contact the Sicarius... But it might escape. It is only a matter of time before it leaves this world, and it has tasted my mind, read my thoughts from afar, its laughter echoing inside my skull. If I run, it will not be foolish enough to stay here and wait for destruction.

To hunt it is madness. If it finds me...

It is closer now. I can feel it through the shielding, an itching, a burning moving up my spine as it hunts for me. A surge of frustration. It can’t pinpoint my shielded mind among this great mass of humanity. But it’s getting closer. It can’t be far away now...

There. A powerfully built man, his face handsome but nondescript. Perfect for the Thief. He’s too well-dressed to be caught in the shift change. His eyes are darting all around him, looking for someone. They flicker over my face.

Annabelle. Thinking of her makes me smile, at least. I sometimes wonder if they put her there just to be a ray of hope. The drab, grey robes of the Administratum aren’t exactly flattering on anyone, but a body like hers doesn’t need flattering. I remember the day the air-cycler failed, beads of sweat running down from her neck to her cleavage... And then she saw me and the disdain in her eyes made Moran look positively friendly. I. Hate. My. Life.

He smirks. His gaze moves elsewhere. Still not safe. Don’t think about it.

I reach into my jacket for my handkerchief.

My hand closes on a hard, round shape. I press the activation stud as the man turns to face me. There is the tiniest moment of fear in his eyes before the psyk-out grenade detonates.

An explosion behind my eyes. I hit the floor, gasping in pain, retching and dry-heaving. I taste blood. I am blinded, deafened, my very mind stinging and sore. Through tinnitus, I can hear him screaming. Through spots I see him convulsing.

I can feel myself slipping into unconsciousness. My limbs are heavy. My sight is fading. I need to rest...

No. Stay. Awake. Finish it.

“In...Inquisition,” I croak, unheard, unheeded. My fingers claw for my pistol and the crowd recoils, one or two people letting out involuntary cries, as I pull it free.

Through collapsing tunnel-vision all I can see are his eyes, wide and terrified as I squeeze the trigger, once, twice, three times, emptying my pistol into his body as everything fades into blackness.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Jul 01, 2012 9:14 pm

Not Like This
By LordLucan

“I can’t die here. Not like this.”

Lord Vaco Sensa’s plaintive voice sounded flat inside the confines of the aegis shuttle. He stood with his arm pressed against the shuttle’s rear ramp, ignoring the coarse sand which occasionally blew in through the half-opened access hatch. He stared out across an endless ocean of sand, the undulating dunes broken only by the sporadic black spaces of abandoned hive spires, clinging to the desert like dead spiders.

The last of the shuttles had gone long ago. All save for this one.

“Yeah, it isn’t looking good. For the record; not my fault. The machine spirit must be angry or something. If we had an enginseer we could have-“ the only other living being within a hundred thousand miles replied. His voice had a stoic resignation to it, as he sat back in his seat, clinging tarot cards at the shuttle’s viewscreen.

“Silence Sergeant! If these are my dying laments, I won’t have your sardonic commentary fouling them all up!” Sansa roared suddenly, jabbing a finger in the direction of the slovenly figure, who just shrugged in response.

Sansa continued. “I could have been governor one day! I was groomed for leadership from birth; passing through academies and ascending the social ladder through charm and wit and genius! And now; I am to die in the rad wastes, with only a damned PDF lackey to witness my final words!” he groaned, banging his head from the hard metal of the shuttle’s flank in frustration.

The PDF sergeant stood up for a moment, before using his combat knife to lever open one of the ration drawers that slotted under his seat. “If you were so important, why didn’t any of the other shuttles come back to get you? I mean, our beacon is on and everything,” the sergeant mumbled bluntly between mouthfuls, gesturing to the comm. Array with a limp-looking faux-meat sausage.

Sansa blinked for a moment. “They were too desperate. Yes, this world is going to die, there was bound to be panic and confusion in the wake of certain annihilation. By the time they realised, it would be too late,” he explainly archly.

“Yeah, but the hive fleet wasn’t due planet fall until days after the-“

“I’ve told you about ruining my last moments!” Sansa wailed. The PDF man raised his hands to indicate he got the message. Quietly, he peered through one of the port holes in the side of the ship.

On the distant horrison, clouds were gathering, churning with internal flashes of light. The clouds were red, and they flowed close across the land, like an onrushing tide. They were too far to discern individual creatures within the mass; there was a snaking carpet of countless black shapes against the bright orange sand. The swarm did not move forwards as a single mass, but spread out in tendrils, like fracture lines across a pane of glass pierced with a spear. As the sergeant watched, the clouds engulfed the furthest hive, as the swarms moved in from the ground floor like ants invading a termites’ nest.

Sansa saw this too, and his eyes welled up with tears, his lip quivering on the verge of bawling. Bonelessly, he tumbled onto his backside, and drew his knees up to his chest.

“Oh Emperor...” he mumbled, rocking back and forth.

“That’s why they call them bugs...” the Sergeant noted, as if confirming a personal theory.


The Sergeant turned back for a moment. “People always call them bugs. That never made sense to me, as you see on the holo-films these things are like... lizards. Long faces, scaly, you know? But when you see them like this... swarming, properly swarming... yeah, I can understand them being bugs...”

Sansa looked up at his companion with barely disguised disgust as the sergeant turned back to watch the swarm. “I can’t help feeling you are not appreciating the solemnity of the situation we find ourselves in sergeant...”

The PDF man didn’t turn back. “I think I’m acting entirely appropriately sir. We’re dead anyway. I have no interest in cowering and whimpering in awe at those who are about to utterly fug us. Screw them; I’m going to eat all these rations, I don’t even care,” the sergeant continued, grabbing armfuls of ration packs form the supply coffers.

Sansa bowed his head, tears dripping on the grated floor of the vessel. He considered the sergeant’s words for a few moments of awkward silence, before shaking his head uncertainly.

“I must show... decorum,” he swallowed. “It would shame my House if I gave into crassness, at the hour of my appointed doom,” he decided, trying to convince himself as much as the sergeant.

“Why? Your House fugged you over and left you here...”

Sansa paused, his brow creasing into a frown. “Wait they did didn’t they? Right, screw decorum, I’m going...” he declared, jumping up.

The noble born rushed to the jammed shuttle door, hopelessly pushing at it. The PDF man watched him for a few minutes, keeping a eye on the approaching storm. “It isn’t going to budge you know?”

“Yes I know!” Sansa snapped, panting with effort. His fine robes dripped with sweat. Slowly, he gave up, sinking back to his knees. “It’s not fair! Why do I have to die?” he sobbed bitterly.

“Everyone dies sir, just most people die sleeping, not dissolved by a screeching nightmare beast of the void,” the sergeant explained bluntly.

“Thank you for that; truly you have a way with words...” Sansa replied with the last ounce of caustic venom he could muster. The soldier seemed immune to it, or simply ignored the tone.

Sansa gave up. There was nothing left now. Nothing but pain and the endless chittering. Already he could hear the swarm; its toneless, manic screeching rose in volume like an approaching jet.

I cannot die like that, Sansa decided.

“Shoot me,” Sansa said in a level tone.

The sergeant turned. “Sir?”

“I can see your sidearm. Shoot me; I don’t want to die by their claws. Shoot me and be done with it.

He Sergeant nodded, drew his pistol and fired, all within the space of a few seconds. Sansa screamed pathetically as the las bolt turned his foot into pink mist instantly.

Sansa screamed again, writhing on the floor of the shuttle as blood squirted from the horrific wound. “Throne! Why did you do that?” Sansa squealed, desperately grasping at the stump of his ankle.

“You said to shoot you!” the soldier replied, yelling over his master’s screaming.

“In the head! In the head you fugging moron!” he whimpered.

“Well, you didn’t say that!”

“It was implied! God-Emperor, what did I do to deserve being trapped with... argh... such an odious, dim-witted-“ Sansa began, before a second shot passed through his head and turned his brains to ash.

The sergeant threw his pistol away in disgust, before turning back towards the window, to watch his death in peace at last.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Jul 01, 2012 9:16 pm

By Liliedhe

„You must attend!“

Eino didn’t yell, yet Ilmari flinched from his uncle’s anger and crawled back even further into the corner of the lean-to shelter. He trembled involuntarily and had to fight down the urge to bring up his hands protectively. The old warrior was not going to beat him, the boy knew that. It was just that he had never been able to stand up to someone so used to making others obey.

In his youth, Eino had led the tribe to battle and that still showed in his manner and his way of issuing every suggestion as an order. Ilmari, timid and shy, was thoroughly intimidated by that.

“You must attend!”

With that, and a sigh that sounded very much like disgust, the older man turned and left the boy behind.

Around him, the rest of the tribe were busy erecting the shelters among the roots of the godtrees and raising the larger tents of bone and hides where the mothers and small children slept. Ilmari knew he should have gone and helped, like all the half grown boys. His duty was to fetch and carry whatever was needed and hold the hides to be lashed to the frames. Or, if the chieftain was annoyed enough, be sent to help dig the large pits used to trap prey when a new hunt was called.

Instead, he just cowered in a corner, shivered despite the warm weather, and wished to be invisible. Sometimes, one of the adults looked at him with disgust or pity, and the smaller children laughed. His uncle kept his eyes off him and seemed to forget he existed. Nobody spoke to him or made him come out, while he watched the camp grow in the circle of the three siblings, as the godtrees here were known. The place was special, because it was the one where Ilmari’s tribe was visited by the Arboreal Angels, and where they held the trials to pick the youths chosen to join them and maybe become one of them.

This happened every ten years, and it was going to happen again tomorrow. All boys no longer little but not yet close to being grown ups could go there and try to prove their prowess in the eyes of the Angels. This time, Ilmari was of the right age, and his uncle insisted that he was to go – privately, it seemed to the boy that Eino was disappointed he had never gotten the chance to make the attempt himself and now wanted his sister’s son to make up for this.

Except, Ilmari was afraid. Not afraid to die in the dangerous trials, because life in the tribes was hard anyway and anybody could die at any time. He was afraid of the Angels, who he had seen a few times, when they visited other tribes or hunted beasts in the forest. They were even more intimidating than Eino or the Chieftain, and three times as big. Their voices were as loud as the braying of the great Roaring Beasts.

His grandmother was fond of telling a story where an Angel had saved her from one, wrestling the monster unarmed, and breaking its neck. How could he even breathe in the presence of them, never mind be daring enough to ask to be chosen? The thought of their piercing eyes looking at him made his insides feel like rotten leaves. Ilmari knew he was a coward. He also knew he was a failure, and while he did all right in the wrestling matches and hunting contests of the boys, he froze when somebody yelled at him, and would rather face a sabretoothed cat or even a larger animal unarmed instead of disagreeing openly with Eino. After all, beasts would only kill him.

Finally, the camp was finished. The central firepit had been dug, and precious wood was piled in for the feast to celebrate the beginning of the trials. The three other boys who would attend sat in the place of honour, closest to the pit, and they would be fed the best parts of whatever the hunters had killed this day, still sizzling hot from the fire and seasoned with the best spices. They had been shaved bald and their faces painted with the skullfaces of the Angels’ helmets. Instead of normal clothing they now wore short skirts made from living leaves sewn onto hides.

In the corner of Ilmari’s shelter lay another skirt, and a stone knife for shaving. A pot of dried clay contained the paint for his face. But he did not touch those items. He just hoped he would be forgotten and this seemed to be the case.

The tribe celebrated and feasted, and the chosen boys were raised on the shoulders of their uncles and carried around, to touch weapons and little children, for luck, and for blessing, as if they were already Angels. He watched, a little envious. They could be honoured, but he would never be, even if he went to the trials in the next morning, dragged on his ear by his uncle. Eino was definitely capable of this, and Ilmari was not sure what the Angels would do if that happened. Would they send him away immediately? Or kill him for disrespect?

He almost hoped it would be the latter, because then at least he would be spared to return to the tribe in disgrace. That meant his family would disown him, he would never lie with a woman or care for his sisters’ children. He would be an outcast in the tribe, one of those who dug the latrines, handled the dead or buried the garbage. In the past there had been rumours that boys who failed the trials had killed themselves to be spared this fate...

Suddenly, Ilmari’s eyes fell on the knife, waiting in the corner. It was small, but very sharp. Quite sufficient. Every boy in the tribe was taught to hunt, and to kill. He ran his hand over his throat, finding the big blood vessels beneath the skin. Just one cut there, and it would all be over. Yes, it was the coward’s way, and it was a sin against gods-beween-earth-and-sky, who taught to endure. But everyone had already seen he was a coward. Everyone already knew.

Despite Eino’s fierce insistence that he attend the trials, he had been left alone. They had already given up on him, of course. He had not been prepared, he had not been feasted. And he had been left with the knife. Wasn’t that a message that he remove himself from the running? That he end it before he embarrassed them before the Angels?

The boy trembled as he reached for the knife. “You must attend.”

No. Ilmari couldn’t say ‘no’ to his uncle, not with words. But some actions spoke louder than words ever could.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sat Oct 06, 2012 8:02 am


A slightly different competition this month (inspired by a song rather than a word or phrase), so it's fitting we have a slightly different form of winner:

Brides for the Emperor

by Liliedhe

Music: Saul Deacon
Lyrics: Jean Weaver

The following is an excerpt from the musical “Brides for the Emperor”, a dramatisation of the events that led to the end of the Age of Apostasy and the death of Goge Vandire.

Act 3, Scene 12:

The BOWELS OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE. The place is dark, the walls are made of bricks and overgrown with lichen that glistens with moisture. The only light – other than ambient lighting – are two torches carried by MINA and KATHERINE. The BRIDES are clustered before a large gate wrought of gold, but tarnished and overgrown with webs and minerals. A small portal inside the gate is clean, and obviously still in use. They are pale and nervous, looking around in the darkness and speaking in hushed voices. Occasionally, one of them starts and shines the torch into a corner, where somehing with too many legs can be seen scuttling away. The sound of artillery can be heard faint and far away in the distance.

KATHERINE (nervous): I am not sure it was a good idea to come here. It might be Heresy to question the Emperor’s Will.
ARABELLA (reassuring): We are not questioning his will. We are trying to find out if we were lied to.
MINA (hesitant): I almost hope so.
KATHERINE: Why? Do you question the Emperor, who reigns eternal?
MINA: No. Of course not, I never would. But... His Chosen... What he demands of us... My heart feels sick at it. We are his... Brides, but not his torturers.
SILVANA: Or his harlots.

All of them shoot her a murderous glance.

KATHERINE: His will is his will, whether we like it or not.

At this point, the small portal opens and ALICIA DOMINICA comes out. Her hair has turned white and she seems striken and shocked. Her armour is subtly changed, looking much more martial than alluring now. The CENTURION follows after her, helmeted as always, and locks the door, as the BRIDES cluster around ALICIA and proceed to question her.

ALICIA shakes her head and points towards the stair that is suddenly visible.

ALICIA (determined, but still stunned): Follow me. We have work to do.

The BRIDES fall into step behind her and begin to climb. The CENTURION follows at the edge of the stage. During the following song, images begin to play over the stage, echoing both the song and the stages of the battle outside.

SONG: Judgement (Burn it all away)

ALICIA (begins to sing): The inequity of fate
The pains of love and hate

We see a young ALICIA hiding behind her mother as she is shot, crying over the dead mother, being carried away by an OLDER BRIDE, training hard, firing her weapon, sparring with LUCIA, being shouted at by the same OLDER BRIDE.

LUCIA joins the song: The heart-sick memories
That brought us to our knees

LUCIA and ALICIA are embracing in a dark corner, comforting each other. Both are much younger than now, and wear simply nightshirts, blood flecked over their backs. Perspective changes, and we see VANDIRE watching them, with a leer on his face. He starts to move towards them.

On the stage, ALICIA stumbles, overcome by the memory, and LUCIA embraces her.

ALICIA and LUCIA continue to sing:
And the times when we were young
When life seemed so long
Day after day
You burned it all away

We see the Imperial Palace under fire, Space Marines and Techguard storming the defences manned by the BRIDES. Intercut with this are scenes of the young brides training together, and rare moments of play. At the final line, we see Vandire sending them to massacre a group of peaceful protesters, who are cut down as tears run over ALICIA’s face.

ALICIA gets up again, and turns to the other BRIDES. As there is a lull in the music, she addresses them.

ALICIA (spoken, forceful): Vandire lied to us. We were never doing the Emperor’s Will. He used us, and we were fools to follow him. He taught us to hate the mutant, and the heretic, but no heretic is worse than him. He is the worst of all. And he shall feel this hatred and fury he taught us, as JUSTICE comes for him! The Emperor Wills it!

LUCIA, KATHERINE, MINA, ARABELLA and SYLVANA cheer, their faces ferocious. They turn around and march on, now singing together:

ALL: All the hate that feeds your needs
All the sickness you conceive
All the horror you create
Will bring you to your knees

The images show the battle, intercut with executions of heretics, massacres pepetrated by the BRIDES and VANDIRE ranting over his map of the galaxy, as well as in public speeches. He looks deranged, spittle flying from his mouth, gesturing wildly.

The BRIDES reach the end of the stairs and as the music picks up, they draw their weapons and begin to run over the stage, which turns dark. Instead of random images, we now see them fighting their way through the FRATERIS TEMPLARS inside the Imperial Palace. They pass through the corridors, and as they run, more and more BRIDES join them, all of them getting angrier and angrier, as the choir keeps repeating.

CHOIR: Burn it all away.

During the Fight Sequence, we zoom in on each of the MAIN CHARACTERS, showing her as a girl, in tears, and morphing into her adult form, in full Battle Fury. Their cry “For the Emperor” is picked up, and then they reach the ANTECHAMBER to Vandire's Inner Sanctum, where the CUSTODES wait.

ALICIA: Cleanse this place! Burn it all away.

KATHERINE and SILVANA look at each other, confused, and then MINA grabs a tapestry showing Vandire, and rips it to the ground. Immediately, the other BRIDES join her. Some of them take flamers to the torn down statues. The CENTURION finally catches up and goes to his CUSTODIANS, who are given back their weapons.

End of Song.

CENTURION: I trust you know what you have to do, Bride.
ALICIA: I do. But do not call me Bride. We are, and ever will be, the Emperor’s DAUGHTERS, as he wills it.

The BRIDES cheer.

End of Scene.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sat Oct 06, 2012 8:04 am

Shining in white

by YeOldeGrandma

He kneeled at the shore, once more submerging the cloth. Dragging it out of the water. Beating it against the rocks. It had been white when he’d first gotten it; white as snow. He wanted that colour back.

The mud stains had vanished easily enough. A few good soaks, some scrubbing, nothing more. And he had to admit it made a world of difference. His uniform had started to shine white again; white as a winter star.

He worked the fabric against the stones with cold fingers. His trousers still retained a tinge of grass green in places, as did the left sleeve of his jacket. He could have picked it up anywhere. Grass grew everywhere. It grew in the forest, where they’d made camp between the daylong marches. It grew on the meadows and fields of the countryside they’d been patrolling now for a few days. It grew behind the village inn, next to the outhouse, the one that had buzzed with flies; right next to it, a patch of rich, green grass...

It would take some more scrubbing. He needed to be white, shining white, again. Soldiers of Reikland always were. Pure. White as marble. Pillars of marble on which the Empire rested.

His fingers had gone numb and he felt nothing as he shoved his trousers back into the stream. The fabric protested as he lifted it out again, clinging to the water, pulling against his clumsy grip. He wrung it out, then pounded at it with a rock.The mud was completely gone now.

He was unsure as of how long he’d been down by the river. His back ached though, so he allowed himself to rise, stretching to his full height. As he looked around he realised that he was alone. When he’d come down here for washing duty, it’d been with the rest of his regiment. It must have been long ago.

He returned to his labour, knees popping as he lowered himself down again; that wasn’t right. His body was young and able. He was no older than seventeen winters.

Winter snow; white. Winter stars; white, pure. The grass stains were still visible, though less prominent. The worst of it was on the left knee, and he began to grind that very spot hard against the rocks. It helped. Or was that only because the light had grown dimmer?

One more soak. One more scrub. He’d just lifted his trousers out of the water when something caught his eye. It was small and dark, situated high up on one of the legs. A tear that he’d missed as he’d mended them? No.


His fingers traced the stain, probing it with thick, uneven motions. Vaguely, he realised that they had been drained of most of their colour, but he didn’t care. For several minutes he just stared at his trousers.

There was no doubt that it was her blood, and part of him wished that he’d known her name so that he could keep her in his prayers. Another part of him wanted to fling the trousers into the middle of the river to send them floating away, out of his life. Trousers, white as snow, carried off by the black water.

White as snow. White as marble pillars, honourable champions of men on which the Empire rested. Had he really been that vicious? Had he really hurt her that much, on the patch of grass behind the inn, when no one could hear?

“Who’s out there?” The words snapped him out of his thoughts. Behind him, a large, white shape materialised from the shadows; a Reikland veteran, a sergeant, but not from his own regiment.

The man drew closer. “What are you still doing down here?” he demanded.

In response, he pulled weakly at the wet uniform in his grip. “I’m sorry, sergeant”, he said. “I can’t seem to get it clean.”

The other leaned down for a closer look. His brow wrinkled, and he stared at him for a few moments, his face unreadable. “How old are you, lad?” he asked finally.

“Seventeen winters”, he replied. He’d pulled his fingers out of the stream and was now rubbing them furiously together. “I joined the State Troops last week.” A weak smile was attempted, and abandoned.

“And how are you finding your new life as a champion of the Empire?” The sergeant’s voice was warmer now.

His own response caught in his throat though. “I am grateful, of course, to have been selected to serve. I am shining in white, pure... a marble... pillar on which the Empire rests.”
It must have been obvious; his hesitation, the lack of sincerity in his words. A look of wary concern crept into the sergeant’s features. “Who is your commanding officer, lad?”

“Sergeant Horst.”

At this, the man’s eyes fell. “And you’ve been with him and his regiment since you joined?”

“Yes, sergeant. In the rearguard on the march, then patrolling the western hills by the village of Schwarzhof, where we’ve also been quartered.”

The old man sighed as his eyes met the sodden uniform in the creek bed, the blood stain still very visible against the white. “Schwarzhof...” he muttered.

The other regarded the veteran soldier and the weary look his face had taken. When no more questions came, he turned to submerge his uniform once more. A hand on his arm stopped him.

“Your uniform is clean enough, lad.”

“It is still stained.”

“And it will be, no matter how much you wash it. That is the way with the white; it’s impossible to keep completely clean.”

The young man stared at his uniform, billowing gently in the water. In the evening dusk it seemed to shine with a light of its own; a ghost in the dark river. “I just thought, sergeant... When I joined, and it was given to me, I thought I’d be able to keep it... pure.”

“No man can do that. But it doesn’t matter, for when people see you, they will se the full white richness of your uniform, not the petty little stains that soil it. They will see you as a soldier of Reikland, the finest and most honourable warrior there is. And so, despite what you yourself feel or know, to them you will always be the marble pillar upon which the Empire rests.”

The young man sat in silence for a few moments. Then, with fingers that shivered with cold, he scooped up his clothes from out of the stream. A hand was offered and he took it, dragging himself to his feet. Face to face now with the older man, he saw that the uniform he wore, though seemingly unblemished at first, was dotted with small stains.

A smile was attempted, and this time it stayed.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:26 pm

Iocounu Station

By Mossy Toes


The world turned.

Axial rotation, angular momentum. Iocounu Station was a small world, all things considered. It was a carefully designed, delicately balanced world: a tiny ring of steel spinning through the night sky. It turned ceaselessly, pirouetting through its stately orbit of Iocounu below and held to that ellipse by constant, careful adjustment in the form of the half-kilometer plasma flares of its six stabilization jets.

The world turned by slow degrees, and within it, Lhyme fled for his life. He was sobbing uncontrollably as he ran, and his. The air reeked of piss and bile. The corridor’s walls pressed in on him with the weight of the darkest possible theological revelation.


Lhyme had never been a religious man--for all that he, as a foreman, had enjoyed putting the fear of the Emperor into his charges--so it absolutely shattered him to be forced into belief in this way. And what the things had done to his workers: splashing through their organs, playing nonsense games with shattered limbs, and gleefully torturing survivors… he shuddered at the recollection. He been the only one to make the lift in time.

It was that damned Chalroes; he was sure of it. That sickly new arrival had been bending ears around the station for weeks now, poking his nose where it didn’t belong. It had to be Chalroes who had brought these horrors into the station.

Finally, he reached the barracks. He came to a horrified halt. Not here. Not here too.

The corpses of Iocounu Station’s guardsmen were interwoven with each other in a mangled heap. As he watched, flayed flesh twitched and exposed bones snapped. The writhing corpses of a handful of guardsmen reared up, crumpled into the misshapen lobe of what was unmistakably a head. The lips of each of the amalgamation’s constituent bodies twitched into a score of gurgling giggles.

“We’re coming for you, Mister Man,” the hulking abomination simpered as it undulated slowly forward. “We know you. We surround you. We’re all throughout this spinning playground. We can always find you, Mister Man.”

The lighting died and red emergency lights came on, casting a hellish glow on the abomination’s writhing fleshscape. Lhyme let out an animal whimper and fled. Delighted laughter followed him, hounded him, and bored like a drill into his brain.

He tried to imagine a place where he might be safe, but the thing’s words rang altogether too true, and there was no telling when he might run into more of its horrific ilk. The station was too small--a bare handful of kilometers in circumference. He thrust away such concerns in favor of flight.

Things followed; things that crawled and skittered, that clattered behind air vents and leered from the shadows. Insubstantial wraiths mouthed obscenities and plucked at his clothes. A group of tall, eyeless creatures straightened from their meal of human corpses and turned their heads to follow his passage. Their snakelike tongues licked their bloodstained lips.

Lhyme drifted as he ran, for a time, floating on a cushion of shocked disbelief. His dislocation was punctured by the corpse of a daemon, which dragged him to a halt. So they could die, after all. So somebody up here was killing them.

He crept timorously to the distended corpse. Lasbolts had pierced its hide, and the slayer’s bootprints in the black ichor headed spinward along the station’s ring. Lhyme followed them.

More bodies, both human and daemon. Some of the daemons had died by lasbolt, and some by blade. Once he lost the trail of bodies and had to backtrack. Once he was forced to hide from a macabre stampede of pustule-ridden imps. The trail ascended into the innerworks: the tightest circle of passages in the ring.

At long last, nearly too late, Lhyme found the daemon hunter. The corpses of six pale, chitinous androgynes lay dead around him. Slumped against the wall, bleeding through rents in his carapace armor, was Chalroes. He was whiter now than ever, paler even than the daemon corpses around him, and a shattered sword was clutched in his hand.

“Lhyme,” Chalroes croaked as the foreman approached.

“It was--you? You killed them? Emperor, I’d thought--you had brought them.”

“The rot was already here,” said Chalroes, every word an ordeal. His free hand flopped to his belt pouch. “Couldn’t stop it. But no time. Dying. You have to…” he broke off coughing. Lhyme knelt beside Chalroes and fished the object out of his pouch--hissing, recoiling and nearly dropping the rosette when he saw it.

Chalroes’s lips twitched in a humorless smile. “Have to get outside. Station can’t be allowed to survive. Redirect stabilization jets… hub cables.” Lhyme flinched at the thought, but… what was there left, here in the station? Ruin, desecration, atrocity. He nodded tremulously.

“Get to airlock. Foreman’s authority… should suffice. I’d give you my laspistol, but… empty.” Chalroes laughed at that for some reason, painfully letting out a low, hitched chuckle. Then Inquisitor Chalroes fell still, lifeblood leaking from his lips.

Lhyme stood hesitantly, then balled his fists. He had a job to do.


It took him hours--evading daemons, using a plasma cutter to cut his way out the powered-down airlock, clunking across the interior of the ring in a vac-suit, then turning the plasma cutter carefully, oh so carefully, to the support struts and fastenings on the nearest stabilization jet--but he did it.

He watched with grim satisfaction as the jet pivoted, twisting against its remaining struts beneath its own thrust. The vast jet of superheated plasma swept inward, cutting across and severing nine of the dozens of cables that fastened the station to its hub; that balanced the massive, incredible stresses of the station’s rotation against each other. The jet continued its sweeping path to score the inside of the ring, cutting through layers of decking which vented atmosphere in great gouts.

Adamantium and steel groaned. The station shuddered violently, increasingly violently, as the rotary tension was distributed unevenly and yet more cables snapped. An hour passed, and the station ring began to warp into an oval. The hub writhed, a spider with a web whose threads were being snipped one by one.

Metal clashed with inertia, and metal lost. The station cracked and broke apart, chunks of the ring snapping off and spinning into decaying orbits in Iocounu’s gravity well. Lhyme, thrown away from the station in its dying convulsions, watched his home die with tears in his eyes.

He’d done his best, and succeeded in destroying the daemons. That’s all he could tell the Emperor, when he met Him--and he was sure, now, that he would meet Him. If there were daemons, it stood to reason that the Emperor opposed them.

His vac-suit began to heat up as he accelerated on his shallow arc toward Iocounu. He would burn up in reentry, but that didn’t matter.

He’d done his best.
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J D Dunsany
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Feb 24, 2013 10:22 pm

By The Sweetness of Her Lips And The Heat Of Her Breath I Am Undone

By J D Dunsany

“I hope you have a good reason for calling this meeting.”

The voice that had uttered those words was calm and even. Nonetheless, they were, thought Bernus, a quite audacious challenge to the authority of the man whose image flickered on the dais before them. Wherever Lord Inquisitor Sandro was it was certainly not in the grand tactical hall of the 9th Argarian Crusade. Judging by the signs of interference in the Inquisitor's holographic image, he may not have been in the Schoenhauer system at all.

Bernus glanced around as he waited for Sandro's reply. One or two of the assembled commanders and generals were studying the marble floor in embarrassed silence. A handful more wore expressions that suggested they too wanted answers.

The holographic Sandro smiled. His voice hissed with static.

“Blunt as ever, Captain Diomedes. Your directness is, as always, appreciated.” The Inquisitor leant forward and, by some quirk of the ancient holo-tech embedded in the grand hall's architecture, his visage became pin sharp. The smile became positively wolfish, as he regarded the grey-armoured figure who stood a good five metres ahead of the Guard officers behind him. “Ready your battle brothers, Captain. The long siege of Schoenhauer IX is almost over. The void shields around Hives Primaris, Secundus, Quintus and Octavius are about to fall.”



Gianna de Costa Merendel-Vayne felt the body of her lover shift under the covers, even as she heard the plaintive enquiry in her voice. She stifled a sigh and stretched an arm towards the bedside cabinet.

“Please tell me you're not leaving so soon.”

Gianna paused, listening for a moment to the muffled thunder of artillery rounds exploding against Hive Primaris' void shields. Even this high up in the spiretip, the noise was noticeable. She tried to let it distract her, but failed. Her slim fingers brushed against a tiny glass bottle and then closed around it.

“It's been ages since we've been able to... be together like this.”

The voice was delicate and cultured, but without the haughty nasality that most of Schoenhauer's nobility had affected. Gianna turned to look at the young woman with whom she had spent much of the last six weeks.

Rochelle Arnerius was the second child of Governor Pieter Arnerius, lord of Schoenhauer IX and chief architect of its secession from the Imperium of Man. When she had first met Rochelle, Gianna had expected a spoiled indulged brat, but Rochelle had surprised her. As she took in the firmness of her jaw and the brightness in her eyes and the subtly self-deprecating upward turn of her mouth, she was reminded again that Rochelle was a heady, intoxicating mix of high court manners and shrewd strategic thinking. It was one of the reasons her father had put her in charge of the Ministry of Information.

Gianna brought the little bottle up to her neck and squirted out its contents in a puff of sweet-smelling vapour.

Rochelle's eyes widened. “What's that? It smells... lovely. Are you staying then? Are you...?”

The governor's daughter was unable to finish her sentence, as Gianna leaned forward and kissed her.


A murmur of shock and consternation rippled through the assembled commanders. Bernus kept quiet, his focus locked on the image of the Inquisitor and the Space Marine who stood before him.

Diomedes raised an eyebrow. “That,” said the battle captain quietly, “is quite a claim, Lord Inquisitor. For four weeks, the Fourth and Fifth Companies of the Scarlet Storm, along with the combined might of the august regiments represented by my comrades here –" At this, most of the generals quietened and preened themselves. Bernus smirked. “ - have flung their might against these so-called bastion hives. Do you expect us to believe that you have succeeded where we have failed?”

Standing on the dais, the holographic Inquisitor spread his arms in a theatrical gesture. “The Schoenhauer IX rebellion was always going to be quashed by guile as much as by brute strength, Captain. It is like a tapestry, each of its component parts interwoven and interdependent on one another. And, like a tapestry, just one stray thread can, with some coaxing and some careful manipulation, unravel the whole.”


Reluctantly, Gianna broke the kiss. Rochelle was smiling at her, a dreamy, slightly unfocussed smile.

“What... what is this, Gianna? It's lovely. Why haven't you worn it before?”

Gianna blinked. “It's expensive.”


“And new.”

She leaned in again. This time her eyes were hard.

“Rochelle, listen to me.” With some effort, the other girl focussed her attention on her. “This is very important.” Gianna licked her lips. There was a coldness in her gut now and a heaviness on her limbs. “What are the key codes for the linked automatic defence protocols for the remaining Hives?”

Rochelle giggled. “What kind of question is that for someone you want to... want to...” Her voice trailed off. When she spoke again, it was in cold, emotionless tones, as the highly unusual drug masked and delivered by the perfume did its work. “Seven... zero... eight... eight...nine... five...dash... seven.”

Gianna committed the numbers to memory and then pulled the young woman towards her.


A junior officer burst into the tactica hall.

“M...my lords,” he stammered. “Th...the shields. Th...they're down!”

Sandro smiled at Diomedes graciously. “I trust your faith in me has been... restored, Captain.” He didn't wait for the battle captain's reply, instead turning to Bernus. “Once the Scarlet Storm and the 33rd Vilknian secure the governor's palace, I want the cull to start. Immediately. This world will stand as an example to all those who would dare to think of leaving the Emperor's light.”

Bernus inclined his head. “The death squads are already organized and in position, Lord Inquisitor.”


Gianna left Rochelle's body in the bed. It had been the work of a moment to break her neck. It had taken slightly longer to turn the command lectern in the governor's daughter's bedroom into a remote terminal with which she could access the void shield controls.

As the shields flickered out all across the hive, the thunder of the Earthshaker rounds became much much louder. She should, she knew, be making her way to the pre-arranged rendezvous where Cullinan and Shyke would be waiting for her, but she found herself unable to go.

Heavily, she sat on the bed next to her dead lover. With her eyes closed, and her head supported by a satin pillow, Rochelle appeared to be sleeping. Only the strange stillness of her body told the real story.

Gently, Gianna stroked the dead girl's face and waited for the shells to fall.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Feb 24, 2013 10:29 pm

The Seventh Proctor
By VictorK

The Seventh Proctor of Pestilence stood outside the ruined gates of a castle overcome by time. He was perhaps the last person who remembered its name. The daemon dared not speak it. The tumbled stones were covered by a fresh sheet of snow; it snuffed out all sound. Even the bare forests were silent.

Not that the monster San Amalaric, the chosen boogeyman of mothers across Bretonnia, couldn’t hear. Even when the world slumbered in frost, the forces of his master were at work. Amalaric passed beneath a precarious archway where he could hear ice expanding in the cracks washed clear by the spring rains. Water was rock’s disease. Other forces awaited the thaw. There was no escape from the decay inevitable.

The daemon stopped in the courtyard. He did not appear to be a large man, though that was mostly due to his hunched stature. From behind he looked like a knight clad in rusted armor and a dingy cloak. Perhaps it was dyed green; perhaps it was a mantle of mold. Amalaric regarded the headless statue of the Lady of the Lake from behind his bone-white mask. His face, if he retained one, was hidden behind the skull of a large draft beast. One of the four horns that erupted from his brow was broken.

The statue had welcomed him home before, when he was Sir Amalaric, a weary knight returned from distant wars. He had knelt and kissed her foot while his wife, child, and the whole household looked on. The boy, a lad of four, gripped his mother’s skirts. The knight rose and beheld his courtly love. Years of worry and a hard pregnancy had worn lines in her face; Amalaric discovered that his ardor had died on an Arabyan shore. The daemon leaned on his rusted halberd. He had stood still for so long that snow accumulated on his shoulders and in his eye sockets.

The old north tower had tumbled down and become overgrown. Amalaric circled it, his armored boots lightly crunching into the snow. He had stood upon the balcony of the tower and watched the pyres blazing in the village below. His gates were shut tight. His wife was calling to him, but he paid her no heed. He loathed her bed. She knew that what love had passed between them was no more. And yet, duty was the stronger bond.

They called him San Amalaric because even mortals could perceive a monster of higher standing. To them he was an inverse saint; an exemplar of doom. He left the tower and approached the hall. The timbers holding the roof had crumbled to sawdust and opened up the hall to the sky. Beneath it the expensive carpets moldered away. The daemon could hear the fungus working amid the frost, waiting to grow again.

He couldn’t remember his son’s name. That had been taken from him because procreation was the one force his master despised. Still, even a newborn was merely grist for the mill. He remembered the sores that had crowded his son’s face more than his smile. Had he ever seen the boy smile? Conceived before the crusade, Sir Amalaric had known him only a few weeks. Now he struggled for breath. There was something wet crowding his lungs. To the daemon it was a sweet music.

The first night Amalaric had prayed to the Lady. He had icons placed over his son’s bed and forced himself to sing the songs that had quickly fallen silent on the campaign trail. Why did he beg and plead for the life of the child he barely knew? They had the same silky blonde hair, and Amalaric recognized his eyes. That was enough.

The second night he prayed to all the old gods called on by men when they crowded together by ancient fires in the shadow of the unknown. Good gods with exotic names who loved men and took pity on them. They competed with the Lady in their silence. The fever worsened. The smoke from the pyres was choking out the sun.

On the third night, deprived of sleep, Sir Amalaric ordered every icon broken. Maids wept and men counseled against blasphemy. The head of the statue in the courtyard came off as easy as an Arabyan’s, the knight thought. He screamed and cursed the gods. He cursed the Shallyan priestess who shared his bed under foreign stars. His wife could hear him as she gasped out her last breath down a lonely hall. Amalaric didn’t care. He collapsed at the foot of his son’s bed and was visited by a dream.

He was back in the crusade. Copher’s sandstone walls loomed overhead while banners in a thousand colors wafted from the tall masts of ships crowding the shore. Knights waded through the bloody bay towards the shattered gate and the besieged city beyond. They cut down what warriors remained and laughed at their prayers for mercy. Their one god was silent. Steel spoke. When they finally entered the city, revenge justified everything. Strange words, strange women, and the sins of the men Amalaric called brothers made it easy to forego even a single moment’s reflection for his acts.

In the dream, he saw piles of corpses covered in filth. He witnessed the divine alchemy by which living tissue was transmuted to sludge and nothing. He saw the insects feasting and laying their eggs once they had gorged themselves. He saw a new generation of lice emerge from the pile and leap onto his blanket. Tired of blood, Sir Amalaric boarded a ship home. The louse took a leap of faith from his blanket to a black rat, bred in the ports of his homeland. He witnessed a black miracle, the joining of two worlds by the reach of man. At last he saw his son marveling over the chess pieces that the stableboy was making. He complained of a rat bite.

When Amalaric woke in the morning he placed heavy stones in his son’s shroud. He laid the boy over his horse and left his castle. He climbed the mountains until pestilence took his steed. Then he carried his son further, the shroud stained with his rot. Amalaric cast his son’s body into the clear spring and gave him a watery grave. He sat on a stone and watched the corruption flow, the miracle complete.

Sir Amalaric drew his knife. His hand shivered with fever. He drew a ragged red scar across his neck and followed his son. When the knight opened his eyes he saw through sockets of bone. He beheld the Grandfather of Plagues and heard the laughter of his court.

The daemon rested in the chair he had occupied as a man. It would collapse as soon as he rose, but for now it supported him. The Seventh Proctor listened to the cacophony bundled in the winter silence.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Feb 24, 2013 10:34 pm

The shield, half submerged.
By LordLucan

The field was quiet now. It rose fractionally to the west, leaving the whole region slightly sloped. Brown grasses and other desert brush covered the lowest side, but as it rose towards the hillock, the boulder field began.

Boulders lay scattered there, like toys discarded by boisterous child gods. Though there were many hundreds of boulders composed of volcanic rock, not all the debris was metamorphic residue. Towards the apex of the sloping plain, stone ruins stood, stooping and falling upon themselves like weary old men. Each building was rendered anonymous by the eroding wind. Metal, of sorts, lay scattered at their feet. Age had softened their edges, and wind had stripped them of all colours; each broken spur of metal was in various stages of decay. The lesser metals that once lay beside these pieces had long been devoured by the weather, leaving nothing but oxide smears on the landscape, forming reddish stripes across the soil.

The skies above were blue and marbled with wispy white clouds that moved lazily across the heavens. The skies were pristine as the field below was worn and faded. The skies had seen countless eons pass, and remained, for the most part, utterly unchanged. But as the hours went on, the middle-aged star in the sky sank below the eastern horizon, bathing the field in crimson.

Slowly, the quiet of the field was broken by the building sound of an engine, growling and snorting as it came. The small half-track approached from the east, and stopped just beyond the field. Its two hatch-like doors swung open and two figures clad in dust capes, with scarves and goggles about their heads, hopped out.

The larger one of the two carried an auspex, while the other carried a lamp.

“We should fan out. Check every pile. This quadrant hasn’t been picked over yet. Ossu’s boys haven’t got the expert knowledge I have,” the man with the auspex explained. “When you find a pile, search through it for precious metals. This stuff is old, but it’s sturdy.”

The woman scanned the field with her lamp, barely covering a fraction of the half-mile patch of sundered earth they were there to search. “Who were they?” she asked.

The man shrugged as he rummaged through his satchel. “My sources say local folks called them the ‘Golami’; Astartes to you and me.”

“Not guard, like the last haul?” she asked with a tremor of awe.

“No. That’s what’ll make this haul special. My guys say these marines have reactors in their armour that can run for centuries if not in constant use. Let Ossu and his vulture-men have their lasgun cells and power sword batteries. You know how many Thrones we’d make from flogging micro-fusion plants?”

The two began to spread out, combing the battlefield like hounds picking over a carcass for bones to gnaw. The woman stepped over a helmet, dusting away the layers of dust and peering into the single intact lens in its left socket. Amidst the armour, there were bones; at first, she thought them animal bones, but they were from no animal she knew.

The man, every so often, stooped down with his knife, to pry away some jewel or liberate a gold or platinum trim from its adamantine moorings. Age had weakened the material enough that a simple guard-issue knife was sufficient to remove them.

“Ordinarily, the marines would have taken the body armour with them, but not here. Keep contact with me via the vox from now on.” he said, his voice crackling through the grille pinned to her cape like a badge.

“Got it,” she replied. “Won’t the marines be mad if they found out we were harvesting their gear?”

The man laughed. “I shouldn’t think so Lysa. These guys were Obsidian Hounds. They’re an extinct chapter. They all died on this world; mutual destruction.”

“They saved this world...?”

“Probably. It wasn’t worth it. Now get looking, we’ve only got an hour at this before Ossu’ll get word of this location.”

Lysa said nothing, but continued her search, reaching the western slope quickly. She found one of the largest buildings was still intact. After a few minutes of passing her lamp pack over the ruin, she found an opening hatch near the base. It opened after a few hard yanks, coming off the hinge in a storm of swirling dust.

There were stairs, winding down into a small basement. Warily, she clambered down the basement. She needn’t have bothered, she realised as she looked up to see the floor above had collapsed, leaving the basement open to the evening sky.

It was then that she found it. It was a shield, half-submerged in the flagstones of the floor itself. It was huge, even two-thirds of the visible shield was taller than Lysa. It was beautiful; covered in gold and obsidian, etched and sculpted into a great golden eagle rearing skywards, and an obsidian wolfhound prowling on the stylised planet hidden beneath the surface. The hound seemed to be protecting tiny humans, who cowered behind it as it savaged the throat of some gem-eyed daemon. The shield was perfectly preserved and warm to the touch; its storm generator had not long failed. This would be an amazing find for even the most ambitious scavenger, but Lysa didn’t feel joy. Standing upright, the shield seemed like a tombstone to her, the only shrine remembering the fallen.

But why had it been planted there? This question answered itself moments later, when she looked to the floor, where the shield had cracked stone. There lay a severed head. It was a desiccated, hideous thing, filled with teeth almost too large for its bulbous skull, three holes in each temple. This was an alien monster, and the shield had slain it; beheaded it like the horror deserved. Lysa walked behind the shield and found two more bodies. One was the headless, twisted corpse of the alien, its multi-jointed limbs coiled strangely in death. The other was too big to be a human, and yet the Obsidian suit of armour was once human. Not just human, the pinnacle of physical humanity. Unlike the alien, this body seemed dignified; it sat propped up against a wall, as if he were some gargantuan feudal king at court. His armour was peeled open in some places, and blackness dried there.

The sight of the giant brought a lump to her throat. Here lay a superhuman warrior, who had lain down his life for a world no one else likely cared about. He would have never asked for thanks or recognition for this act, and no one beyond this blackpowder world would have cared. He was selflessness personified.

“Lysa, time’s up. Have you found anything?” the man asked bluntly down the vox.

“No. They must have taken everything,” she replied, tears welling in her eyes.
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Sun Feb 24, 2013 10:35 pm

The Knight, The Girl, and the Dragon
By VictorK

Tydas crouched and looked the little girl in the face. “Tie this around your head.” He offered her a strip of cloth. “It will shield your eyes.”

As Marcilia’s world went black her other senses came into greater relief. She wiggled her bare toes against familiar floorboards and inhaled the faint fragrances left over from when her mother hung fresh flowers on the lintel. The smell made her stomach twist because it conjured a memory of her mother’s embrace. She was gone now. Marcilia didn’t quite know what that meant; the feeling made her clutch her soft doll closer.

“Take hold of my cloak, and we’ll go.”

Marcilia followed Tydas over the threshold and onto the dirt path leading from her home to the rest of the village. It was soft and the mud squelched between her toes. She tried to find the smell of the spring flowers that blossomed after the rains. Something more acrid stung her nostrils and filled her lungs with a clawing heat. She coughed.

“I will not lie to you.” Tydas told her in that voice adults used when they were about to lie. “Something horrible has happened here. We have to go. That’s dragon smoke you’re breathing.”

“Dragon smoke?” Marcilia asked.

“The very same. A dragon came here last night.”

“I didn’t see it.” She slowed so Tydas would feel a slight tug. She didn’t quite drag her feet. But, it was enough that he might register her disapproval.

“Of course not. You were stashed in the cellar like I told you. Surely you heard the roar?”

Marcilia wobbled on the uneven cobblestones in the town square. “Oh.” Was a roar all that she had heard? At the time she had huddled against the cool soil walls of the cellar and tried to shut out the sounds. Perhaps, when all the horrors outside blended together what resulted was a roar. “What happened to it?”

“A fair knight ran it off.”


Tydas laughed. “No; I hid in a different cellar. The knight and dragon are likely down to Bretonnia by now.”

Marcilia almost slipped on something warm. It stuck to her foot and she tracked it over larger stones until it was caked and dry on her skin. “Can I see?”

Tydas clucked his tongue. Her father made the same noise when she or her brothers said something that disappointed him. “Dragon smoke makes little girls go blind.”

She wanted to ask more, about her family, but the knot in her stomach tied her tongue. Silence was worse. With her eyes covered and no words passing between them other sounds began to infiltrate her mind and paint pictures that she had previously known only in nightmares. Sounds that she didn’t have words to describe. “Do you know the knight?” She barely knew Tydas. Her father had thrust her into his arms and then she had gone into the dark.

“I do. He’s a strange one. Never in one place too long. They say he chases glory, or gold, or dances to some god’s tune. They’re all wrong.” He stopped, and Marcilia nearly ran into him but the heavy weight of a gloved hand on the top of her head stopped her. The wind shifted, and blew the smoke away. Something sickly followed in its wake. They turned down a different lane. “It’s a woman he’s running from.”

The wind came in intermittent bursts as they passed among a cluster of buildings. Marcilia felt heat on her face with each gust; she could hear a fire crackling in the distance, but couldn’t place where. Her home was a different place when her eyes were closed. She tried to picture the village as it had looked two days ago. She imagined the villagers throwing open their doors and ushering out the winter’s dust into the new spring. It made her nose itch. The image shattered when Marcilia’s bare foot bumped against something soft and warm, but cooling. Tydas pulled her along.

They had not gone two more steps before a scream cut the air, only to be silenced by the muffled collapse of burning timber. The fire roared and swallowed up whatever remained. “I will not lie to you, little Marcy.” Tydas said. “A dragon has many evil followers. A monstrous man always looks for a greater monster to call master. Most monsters know fear, and cry when they die. But dragons know only greed. What you hear are his discarded men, left behind for the fire and the knight.”

“Why is he running from a girl?” Marcilia didn’t think of herself as all that frightening.

“Why else? She gave him her heart and when she needed it most he couldn’t give it back, no matter how hard he tried.” The cobblestones gave way to the same soft soil that had greeted Marcilia when she had stepped from her door. The village was almost behind her. It took Tydas another moment to reply. “Remember that, Marcy. As much as we might love someone…love may not be enough to keep them with us. They go away.”

“Is she…” The next word caught in Marcilia’s throat, it threatened to bring too much clarity to the darkness that surrounded her. “…Dead?”

“No. Just cold.”

Marcilia felt a sharp tug on her doll but she gripped it harder. She was afraid to lose it, and clung to the worn patches that her grandmother had sewn together. The sound of stitches giving way tore through the quiet on the far side of the village. It was answered immediately by a close and personal thunder. Tydas turned so violently that he almost knocked her to the ground. Marcilia became twisted in his cloak and shut her eyes tight. She felt the weight fall from her torn doll. A new kind of smoke filled her nostrils.

They stood silently together for a long moment. The lie was stretched almost too far and it threatened to snap. “The doll will walk again.” Tydas finally said. “Still a few threads.” He pulled Marcilia closer and together they walked out of the village. Fear was finally creeping in.

Tydas didn’t let her remove the blindfold until the smell of smoke was all gone and the only sounds that Marcy could hear belonged to the awakening world. When he did remove it, Marcilia’s back was still to her home. She stood at a crossroads atop a low hill. Another Reikland village sprawled out beneath her but she didn’t know its name. She realized she did not know from which direction and by which road she had been taken. Tydas gave her a slight push.

“Thank you.” Marcilia said, though she wasn’t certain why.

“Whatever they say, don’t look over your shoulder. Tell them dragon smoke blinds little girls.” Behind her he was already turning to go by another road. “And live a long, quiet life.”
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Re: RiaR: Winners' Thread

Postby J D Dunsany » Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:27 pm

Angels of Innocence
by Gundi da Grot

We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro' the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.

—William Blake


“Everything will be alright,” I whispered softly.

She looked up at me with those doleful eyes. She had no concept of what was to come. She couldn’t grasp the immensity of the terror that had come to our world.

“Will the Emperor’s Angels come to save us,” she asked. Her voice held out hope. She had the faith of her seven summers, absolute in its sincerity, untempered by doubt and uncertainty.

“Yes, love,” I said. “He will send His Angels to protect us.”

She smiled and took my hand. Every child knew the tales of the Emperor’s Angels. They had heard the stories of the Angels descending from heaven to free Sorghum from the tyranny of the Apostate thousands of years before they were born. They could recite by heart the story of how a mere hundred Angels stopped a rampaging horde of Greenskins from destroying the capital six hundred years ago.

“Where is mommy,” she asked.

“I told you, love, she went to the market in town,” I replied, trying to choke back the tears. That much was true. She had gone into Rourke’s Hollow that morning, barely an hour before the first spores fell from the sky. It was now mid-afternoon, and a strange twilight had fallen across the countryside. The crack of lasfire and the occasional boom of an explosion had echoed up the valley from the town, but these had fallen silent, replaced by a grave hush unbroken even by birdsong.

“When will she be home?”

“Soon, love,” I said. “Mommy will be home soon.”

“Will she be mad about the bug-monster in the yard,” she asked.

I glanced out the window at xenos corpse laying in the dirt twenty metres away and gripped my lasgun tighter. The disgusting creature was the size of a large dog, covered in black chitin and bristling with teeth and talons. It had taken more than a dozen blasts from my old M-35 to bring the thing down, nearly draining the battery pack. Even then, it still lived, and I’d been forced to beat its twitching form to death with a shovel.

Yet for all that, I knew the monstrous thing was no more than a scout, one of countless millions. I had seen an image of one many years before during training, when I first enlisted in the armies of the God-Emperor. I had seen firsthand what these fiends could do to a world—strip it bare of life and leave nothing but a dead rock. Ten thousand of the Emperor’s Angels of Death could not stop the doom that had come to Sorghum. It was only a matter of time before the end came.

“No,” I said, realising that she was waiting for an answer. “She won’t be angry.”

“Will she be home before the Angels get here?”

“I don’t know, love.”

“They might scare her,” she said earnestly. “The Angels are frightening. They are bigger even than you, daddy, and they always look angry in the story books.”

I smiled at her. Even now, her innocence melted my heart and chased away the daemons. “Surely, they are less frightening than the bug-monsters,” I said.

She seemed to think about that a moment before shaking her head. “The bug-monsters are scary, but I think even they’re scared of the Angels. So the Angels must be really scary.”

“Yes, they must be,” I agreed.

“Did you ever meet the Angels when you were in the Imperial Guard, daddy?”

“No, love,” I said, shaking my head. “I never met any of the Emperor’s Angels.”

I looked back out the window. It seemed darker now, and I thought I saw something moving among the rows of wheat, disturbing the tall, slender stalks. I glanced down at my lasgun. I had carried it through twenty years of service; I never thought I would need it again. The battery pack barely had a charge—it might be good for two or three shots before dying.

“I’m not scared of meeting them,” she said, flopping down on the floor and picking up her doll. “The Angels are friendly. They’ll protect us from the bug-monsters.”

I nodded, keeping my eyes on the fields of wheat, which waved and shuddered as unseen things passed through a golden harvest that would never be reaped.

“Will they be here soon,” she asked. “I want to see the Angels.”

“Yes, love, they’ll be here soon,” I said. “I think I can seem them now, coming down from the sky in arcs of fire.”

“Can I see, daddy?” She jumped up in excitement, hopping up and down in anticipation. “I want to see them fly down from heaven!”

“Not yet, love,” I said, interposing my body between her and the window. “When they are here, you will see them.”

“But I want to see them now,” she insisted.

“You will see them soon,” I said. “But they would be very cross with me if I didn't keep you safe from the bug-monsters until they got here.”

She frowned and wrinkled her nose, frustrated that she would miss the fiery descent of the Emperor’s Angels. I glanced back out the window. It was now as dark as night, the sun blotted out by spores that choked the very air. The ground seemed to writhe and move as things scampered and crawled across the earth, and larger forms scythed through the wheat fields.

Let the lie last a little longer, I thought. Sometimes the truth is too terrible.

“Don’t worry, love,” I said, my voice barely trembling. “We will be with mommy and the Angels soon.”

She smiled, believing the lie until the very end.
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