Useful Adversaries (A Xaphan submission completed)

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

Useful Adversaries (A Xaphan submission completed)

Postby Bod the inquisitor » Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:43 am

This particular piece has taken some time to complete. Other work, original fiction stuff, got in the way. Thankfully I’ve managed to get back to it as I liked the ideas in this piece. As far as I’m concerned this is perhaps some of my best 40K yet and I’m rather proud of it.

However, obviously there is something not quite right about it as this was rejected by the BL gods, yes it was my entry for the Xaphan mini window. Oh yes I’ve put the entire piece in one post but it’s handily broken up into several easily handled sections, which are clearly marked and numbered so you can dip into and out as your schedules dictate.

Hope you enjoy.


Useful Adversaries

*1*

The cultist force was an army no more; bloodlust had robbed them of any sense of order and discipline. They were now nothing more than a howling mob of crazed lunatics'; bent on spilling blood and taking skulls, all in the name of their god. Their rampage had taken them in amongst their enemy; allowed them to ignore the tremendous casualties the imperial guns had caused as they had charged. Armoured vehicles were torn apart by multiple explosions: grenades were shoved through shattered viewing ports, up exhausts, passed hatches wrenched from their hinges by berserker fury. The infantry fared little better; whole platoons were over run and hacked into bloody pieces, screaming to the Emperor for protection. Small islands of sanity momentarily sprang up, as heavy weapons teams banded together, providing security and life to desperate men.

It was a fight the imperial forces knew they were going to lose. Yet they fought on; what other choice did they have, for to yield would doom their eternal souls to damnation and torment. That and the indomitable will of the regimental commissars', men and women who stood firm no matter what, carrying with them the threat of an ignoble death in the eyes of the god Emperor.

As the battle raged the sky bled tears of fire that hurtled towards the ground. A few men in the imperial force noticed the sky weeping fire and saw the Emperor's hand. Half remembered tales told to them on cold dark nights by fathers and grandfathers came to mind. The Emperor had heard their prayers, and sent his angels of death to their aid. The Adeptus Astartes had come to Bol Sani. It was a tale that spread quickly through the imperial troops, strengthening their resolve, hardening their determination not to be beaten. Rallying they pushed back at their attackers. They would not be seen shirking their duties to the Emperor in the eyes of his Space Marines.

*2*

As the first drop pod smashed into the ground a small explosion of displaced air announced the arrival of Xaphan the Faceless, and his four body guards. Opening the grills on his helmet Xaphan drew his customary deep breath, tasting the planets air, judging the planets qualities, seeing if it was ripe for the taking. This planet had a taint to it he knew and detested: the taint of the self-righteous. Yet beneath that was the sweet necrotic taste of the true power in the galaxy, the power of Chaos. It was filled with the harsh acrid hint of rage and hatred, mixed in with the distinctive sharp metallic smell of blood.
Looking out over the enraged horde it was obvious to Xaphan what the source of that taint was. This ravenous mob was dedicated to the Chaos god of war and murder, Khorne. It was not only the near incoherent screams of rage that added to the tumultuous roar of battle, but also the profusion of skulls that adorned various cultist body parts or hung from the banners of champions, their trophies of their most memorable kills.
The smells, sights and sounds assaulting Xaphan's senses would have disorientated a normal man. All they did for him was to confirm what he and Lord Amadeus Volkstein had suspected. Khorne was in ascendance on this planet, dominating the power of the warp, the one true power in the galaxy.
True to form the blood maddened cultists had become fixated upon the enemy before them, their only thought, their only desire, to wreak bloody murder upon their enemy. The sudden appearance of Xaphan and his men had been completely missed, despite its thunderous announcement, of impending death.
Like all his men, Xaphan wasted no time dealing out that death. Explosive tipped bolts, energy beams of all types and missiles poured into the mindless cultists. It took several volleys of the murderous fire, for the idea to penetrate the cultists blood rage filled minds that they were under attack from behind.
The Chaos Marine had no love for Khorne's followers; he found them one dimensional, only concerned with spilling blood and taking skulls, with little interest in understanding the galaxy's secrets. Despite this he found no joy in their slaughter. It was not that he killed fellow worshipers of the true gods that robbed the moment of pleasure; it was that in doing so, he was actually helping the old hated enemy. Those fool’s who rejected the only truth in this diverse and cruel galaxy, the gods of Chaos; in favour of worshiping the lie that was, the corpse god emperor. It was that very short sightedness that had driven him from his home all those years ago.
Spying a cultist, one of the more lucid members of the rabble, turning at the bloodily explosive demise of a comrade, Xaphan snapped off a quick shot. The mass reactive shells decapitated the man, sending a fountain of blood high into the air and the head tumbling to the ground. It was an irony not lost on Xaphan, blood for the blood god and a skull for his throne. There would be all too few such offerings to the god of war and murder now. Instead, his loyal cultists would be offered up as sacrificial offerings to the Prince of Change. Such was the fickle twists and turns endured by Chaos worshipers.
He hefted his halberd, blade high in the air.
“For Tzeentch,” he shouted before charging into the rear of the Khorne army, storm bolter blazing, the power weapon crackling with killer energies.
Two cultists fell to the saw toothed blade of his halberd. It crackled and hissed as it cut through their paltry flesh, filling the air with that distinctive smell of burnt meat and bone. Another cultist died as the chain blade bayonet on his storm bolter burst from the man's chest. Thick arterial blood splattered across Xaphan's armour as he yanked the churning blade from the limp, lifeless body. All around him his men piled into the luckless cultists who died in their hundreds beneath the blades and guns of the Chaos Marines.
Xaphan the Faceless pushed deeper and deeper into the packed cultist ranks, quickly losing count of the number of Khorne worshipers that fell before him. Any other force would have quickly succumbed to fear and panic, scattering in a desperate attempt to get away from the relentless killers storming through their ranks. But these were Khorne cultists, driven mad by their desire to spill blood and take skulls, all in the name of their ever thirsty god. The Chaos Marine leader knew this was going to be a long and tiring fight, but it was one he had to undertake if his plan was to be successful.

*3*

The strain from the change and maintaining that change for his bodyguard, pulled at the edges of Xaphan's mind weakening his ability to maintain control over it. It was never quite as stable when he had to change others, particularly the further away from him they moved. He considered ordering a tighter formation but quickly dismissed the idea, that extra bit of space could prove invaluable. Past events had worked to erode the Chaos Marines ability to trust others.

The lingering pain of the change also ate away at the edges of his mind, as it always did. No matter how many times he underwent the changing, it still hurt like the first time. Xaphan was certain the change was a gift from Tzeentch himself, the pain was meant as a constant reminder that change can be brutal. The change allowed him to assume the guise of anyone he had seen or touched. All accept one face. Try as he might he had never been able to assume his original face, the one burned from his head so long ago. Though that was an irony not lost upon Xaphan, if only his enemies knew how truly adapt the name they had given him, Xaphan the Faceless, was. That the man who never wore the same face twice, had no true face of his own.

One thing that did please the Chaos Marine, as he strode purposefully up to the large command tent at the centre of the imperial camp, was the look of confusion, edged with panic etched into the faces of the guards. Xaphan had not looked at himself, he did not want to see what the guardsmen saw. It could all too easily undo his self control, allowing his hatred for the aspect he wore, to destroy his hard work. This mission required him to don the aspect of the most hated enemy and if he failed to carry it off, he could end any hope of a successful conclusion to the mission. Besides, there was the matter of his own pride; he had proposed the plan so it had to work, flawlessly.

The two guardsmen, standing either side of the large closed tent flap flinched visibly as the Chaos Marines approached. Las gun muzzles wavered as the two men fought the urge to level their weapons at the five imposing giants striding towards them; despite the obvious suicidal nature of such an action. Xaphan knew it must be a truly epic battle the two guardsmen fought with themselves. The confusion over what they saw before them; warred with animal instincts that screamed, something was wrong. They saw the hulking visage of five terminator armoured Space Marines from the Eagle Warriors loyalist chapter. Their armour painted half blue, half white with a blue eagles wing on the right shoulder pad and a golden winged skull emblazoned across the chest of each warrior. That sigil bothered Xaphan the most, it felt to him like it was burning his very flesh, biting deep into the rock hard muscle of his chest, like a white hot branding iron. He knew it was not so, but could not quite shake the thought.

Once, a long time ago, he had proudly borne that sigil, believed in the lies it presented as the truth. A lot had changed since then, the galaxies truths had been revealed to him, unlike these fools before him. To Xaphan the war going on inside their minds at this very moment, was a perfect example of their deluded state of mind. To the perceptive, those that knew the true face of the galaxy, it would be obvious that there was indeed something wrong with the picture they saw before them. They would know that what your eyes saw, could and often did, hide the truth. He might wear the aspect of a Space Marine, one of the corpse god emperor's lackeys, but his true nature could not be hidden quite so easily. It oozed from him, leaving a thick heavy trail wherever he went, the aroma of the true power. Not even the power of the change could stop that distinctive scent extruding from his very soul, it was a clear sign of his true allegiances, for those that knew what to look for.

In Xaphan's experience the only followers of that rotting corpse on terra who had any sense of the true power and its distinctive aromas, were the hated imperium's pet psykers. Who in Xaphan's mind were the worst of the lot, for they had turned a blind eye to the power that could and, rightly was, theirs. The Chaos Marine knew that part of his soul secretly hoped one of those deluded pets was present in the commander's tent. It would be the perfect excuse to slaughter these pathetic idiots, even if it meant failure for the mission. It was his own private little war raging in his soul, to kill or not to kill. He knew that to succeed, to gain that which he sort he had to rein in his more destructive side, if only for a while.

Reaching the tent he ignored the two guards and thrust through the entrance, brushing aside the thin flaps of fabric acting as doors, leaving his body guard behind. A spark of disappointment briefly flared inside him; there were no pet psykers present. Involuntarily his fists balled and he had to deliberately command them to open. He would have to keep control of his violent impulses and wear this hateful aspect a while longer. At least this meant his plan moved one step closer to completion, to regaining that which had been stolen from its true owner. This pleased his more sentient, rational side at least.

The space inside the tent was large, well lit though sparsely furnished. A heavy ornate wooden desk with a dark polished finish dominated the far end. In the centre sat a huge map table covered in maps and counters depicting troop dispositions and enemy locations both known and suspected. Xaphan barely glanced at the map; it did not really concern him. He had no interest in knowing the current disposition of the two opposing forces; just as long as they followed his lead from now on, it really did not matter where they currently resided.

There were three imperial lackeys in the tent and the Chaos Marine easily picked out the Lord Commander. He was not flashily dressed but the prominent medals and citation awards gave it away. The profusion of medals and citations suggested the man was a competent commander, Xaphan was not impressed. Short, middle aged and a re-echelon commander he was a perfect example of a man past his prime. A paunch, from too much good living and too little exercise, was beginning to stretch the fabric of his neatly pressed dress uniform.

The Chaos Marine thought this was typical of the imperium and a perfect example of its inherent weakness. This man would never have survived in a Chaos force, where any weakness would result in instant destruction and none but the strong ever gained command of others. The weak were mere slaves to the strong, it was the way of Chaos and the only way it should be.

Yet, despite his obvious weakness Xaphan had to admire the imperial lackey, who looked up at the Chaos terminators sudden appearance with a look of annoyance edged with anger. It was instantly replaced with a convincingly sincere smile. Though, how the man could ignore the sweet intoxicating smell of Chaos that oozed from Xaphan's every pore was beyond the Chaos Marine.

“My Lord Astartes,” he said with a slight bow. “If only you had voxed ahead I would have come out to greet you. My name is Lord Commander Strus Hessmun; I'm honoured to meet you Lord.” He moved around the table his movements stiff, hesitant. Every fibre of his being must have been screaming at him to run, not move closer to this mysterious armoured behemoth. Yet all the time that smile stayed chiselled on the man's face, though strangely it never lost its warmth. Despite himself, Xaphan was impressed.

“If you or your men require anything, any assistance I . . .”

“I'm not interested in comforts and needs Lord Commander," interrupted Xaphan. "I'm only interested in winning this paltry little war so I can move onto more important matters,” snapped Xaphan as he reached up and unclasped his helm before tearing it from his head. “My scouts have located another mobile force of cultists, which my men are moving to deal with as we speak. So I'm sure you understand I have other matters I'd prefer to be at.” With some considerable effort he was even able to soften the sneer that filled his face. “We have also located the enemy's main base. I've come to see what you propose to do about that base, now that you know about its existence.”

The Chaos Marine stepped forward so he could place his helm upon the table, using the pause to suppress the budding storm of anger and hatred eating at his mind. The mission would only work if he could gain this imperial puppets confidence, the plan required loyalty and trust, not fear, to work. “The cult here on Bol Sani seems to be a lot larger than first reports would have suggested. You would never be able to crush it with the forces available to you. Alone even my Marines would have been sorely tested, but now combined we will be able to crush these Khornite upstarts with relative ease.” Xaphan leant forward, placing one hand on the map table, despite its solid looking construction it creaked alarmingly. He stabbed one armoured finger at a spot on the map in the mountains to the east of the imperial camp. “The base is here Lord Commander. My men can deal with the mobile force we have found but only if you can prevent reinforcements reaching them,” he said surprising himself at the level tone he injected into his voice. There was no hint of the turmoil that raged within him. No hint of what he really wanted to do, rip and tear these imperial fools into bloody rags. He knew if he gave into that urge it would waste all his hard work, rendering the need for him to wear this hateful aspect useless and a wasted effort.

The Lord Commander leant forward and stared intently at the map for a moment.

“Well yes Lord Astartes as you said together we can put this nasty little cult to the sword. Let's see how we can help each other do just that then shall we,” he said calmly.

It took everything Xaphan had, to stop himself from reaching out and snapping the impudent little mans neck, but it was no lie when he said he really did need the fools help to ultimately achieve his goals.


*4*

Gruna awoke to a world filled with pain, so much pain filled his head he thought it was about to burst. Slick, sticky blood coated one side of his face and his lips were cracked and dry. Yet he could not resist the temptation to lick his own lips. He was rewarded with the sweet invigorating taste of blood exploding across his taste buds as he gave into the temptation; it filled him with renewed strength and vitality, despite it being his own. Scrambling to his feet he whispered a prayer of thanks to the Blood God for his survival and the bountiful gift of fresh blood. Not that the cultist was sure he was actually still alive, the pain and the scene of utter devastation surrounding him suggested otherwise. Broken and torn bodies lay everywhere, the ground around him seemed to be particularly thick with the detritus of war.

A single question reverberated around his mind as he stared at the unbelievable carnage. What had gone wrong? They had been winning the war, the blood was flowing freely and there was a profusion of skulls for the Blood God's throne, it had been perfect. Then the red monsters had struck like the vengeful fury of Khorne himself, they had ripped through the ranks of the cult of eternal blood.

The armoured giants had worn the aspect of Space Marines. Some had even looked like those few images he had seen back in his dark days, those days before his great enlightenment, before he had found the true path, the way of blood. Yet these visions of hell had felt like followers of the true way, servants of the only real power in this galaxy, Chaos. They had positively reeked of the warp. Gruna knew this because he had fought one of the monsters himself. A shudder of half remembered fear rippled down his body at the thought and he stumbled forward, just catching himself before he fell to his knees. Not that he had lasted long and was surprised to now find himself actually alive. In a blink of an eye he had narrowly managed to avoid having his guts spilled from his belly. Then, he had stumbled at the last minute and the blow that should have ended his life, had instead merely knocked him unconscious slicing off a long wide strip of his scalp in the process. The wound still hurt and wept a thin trickle of blood in several places. Not that he was frightened by the pain; he was a true follower of Khorne after all. Druna just did not take any pleasure in it; unlike those weak minded fools who fell for the lies of the Prince of Pleasure.

Thinking about his lucky trip brought a half remembered image to the fore of the cultists mind. He looked down and scanned the ground around him, his head darting from side to side. The rapid frenetic movements caused insistent demanding flares of pain to erupt from his head wound. Yet, the cultist ignored it and continued with his frantic search, though unsure why he should bother, it had been a stone that had snagged his foot surely.

There, half a metre to his right partially covered in dust and gravel, he found what he sought. Gruna stumbled over to the object and fell to his knees beside it. Slowly he reached out and began to gently brush the dust off the strange object, unveiling a large heavy book with thick covers, unmistakably made of human skin.

The cultist fell back on his haunches a half imagined electrical tingling in the very tips of his fingers, the short hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention. At the same instant a gentle, almost pleasant pressure began to tickle the edges of his mind. It carried a promise of great power if only he surrendered completely to it. Gruna had experienced this before and was no fool. He knew the true nature of that power, of the dangers of falling for its seductive whispers and promises. He was a devout follower of Khorne and heeded his god's teachings. This was a book of power and the monster that had nearly taken his life had dropped it during the fight, the butt of the red beasts axe had knocked the book from its waist as it had struck out at him.

Khorne's teachings on such matters were clear, this sort of power was an abomination, to be shunned or better yet destroyed. After all, only the weak used such things. Yet Gruna knew his master kept a number of pet psykers chained, imprisoned in dark damp cells where they were regularly tortured. It seemed that even Khorne found a use for such powers.

Grabbing the book and lifting it out of the dirt he knew what he had to do with it. He would take it to his master who knew more about such things; perhaps his master would even give him some reward for bringing it back.

Slowly the cultist got to his feet and gave the battle field one last glance before setting off on the long walk back to his master, with dreams of great power and prestige filling his mind.


*5*

As the cultist departed the battlefield, some way behind him, two gnarly looking roots, sitting innocuously on top of an otherwise unremarkable long wide mound of earth, shifted position, kicking up a small fine mist of dust. Slowly at first, they changed colour from a dusty yellow to a reddish pink and their surfaces reformed into a smooth even coat. Once these changes had finished a single golden eye with a black oblong iris blinked into existence on the tip of each stalk. Pausing for a moment, the stalks then reared up into the air.

No doubt caused by some unseen movement beneath the surface of the mound, small runnels of dust and grit began to cascade down the humps sides; just before the entire pile of earth exploded outwards and a massive hulking armoured monster emerged. The warp spawned stalks and their two eyes slithered back into the giants head, fitting perfectly into its eyes sockets, leaving no hint of their unusual abilities.

Wad Endran gently brushed dust and small stones from the collar of his battle plate, glad to finally be free of the cloying earth. Not for the first time he cursed the gift his Lord Tzeentch had given him. Though not very loudly, he had seen what happened to those that displeased the Lord of Change and had no desire to share such an inglorious fate. It was an irony not lost on Endran and one he had often pondered, that the Lord of Change chose to demonstrate his unfettered capacity for change, on those least worthy of it. The experience turned them into mindless hulks of mutated ravenous flesh. Though for Endran it was a question of whether the pain of the change, which was surly beyond endurance, if the screaming that accompanied it was any way of judging such a thing, or whether it was actually part of the change, that robbed the poor fools of their minds.

Shaking his head the Chaos Marine turned his mind back to the task at hand. He had been starting to wonder whether his blow had been too hard for the Khornate fool. It was just so difficult to properly judge such a thing. The unenhanced human form was so frail, easily damaged beyond its feeble abilities to repair, unlike his own; more superior physique. Not that he would admit it to anyone, but he had been quite relieved when the frail little cultist had finally gotten to his feet, found the book and set off.

Endran just hoped the pathetic Khornate cultist realised what a treasure he had and did not destroy it, as so often his misguide kind did. Shrugging Endran realised there was little he could do about that now. He had done what was asked of him and seen to it that, The Cult of Blood, gained possession of the book. If they failed to make use of it in the intended way he was not to blame. With one final shake of his massive armoured frame the Chaos Marine set off to find Lord Xaphan and report his work done.


*6*

A triumphant smile split Xaphan's ruined lips, a smile that failed to reach his eyes. So far every aspect of his carefully worked plan was bearing fruit. Each different part was beginning to mesh together, exactly as he had foreseen. If things continued in this fashion, he would win a magnificent triumph, one that would gain him much prestige from his Lord Volkaliest and through him, Tzeentch himself.

The corpse god's dupes were playing their part perfectly, even taking the very mountain pass he had hoped they would. Despite their overwhelming numbers and fire power, they would be slaughtered. Not one would escape the carefully laid trap set to embrace them. They had shown typically sloppy work ethic by allowing their scouts to go through the pass several hours before their main force. A mistake Xaphan had anticipated and made much use of. It had allowed his men to get into place selecting the perfect positions for both cover and for unobstructed fields of fire. There was no part of the mountain pass below that was not covered, no refuges from the deadly storm that would fill the pass.

Saliva filled Xaphan's mouth at the thought of the massacre to come as he watched the lead imperial tank, a Ryza pattern Leman Russ. He did not recognise the regiment the metal beast belong too, not that he cared. It would be dead soon, its crew cooked alive by the very vital juices that normally kept their machine functional. It was a delicious irony of war the Chaos Marine enjoyed and one he had often contemplated. Thinking about it now caused his desire to kill to grow stronger, to build towards an irresistible urge to destroy; it seemed to boil the very blood in his veins.

He opened a vox channel to his men.

“No one fires until I say so” he barked; he knew there would be others fighting the same battle and he did not want impatience and lack of discipline to ruin his perfect plan.

Like a hawk staring at its prey from on high he watched as the Leman Russ approached the mark. When it did the entire imperial column would be under the guns of his men. Unconsciously, he lifted one hand up into the air; only for it to fall the instant the lead tank crossed that invisible line of death.

“Now,” he yelled into his helm, spittle flecking the inside surface.

The roar of a multitude of different weapons filled the canyon with a lethal orchestra of thunderous noise. The lead and rear tanks exploded, flames and thick dirty smoke belched into the air marking their fiery demise, their burning ruins creating two road blocks, trapping the imperials in Xaphan's carefully prepared killing ground.

Las beams, plasma streams and rockets filled the canyon and seemed to set the very air alight. Demonstrating consummate skill each shot killed another imperial tank, striking the weaker top armour, every vehicle hit was turned into a burning metallic heap that coughed a column of smoke and flame high into the air. Trapped by the canyon walls they began to form a heavy black oppressive ceiling. The deepening gloom that filled the canyon sapped the moral from the trapped imperial troops just as effectively as the mounting casualties did, just as Xaphan had planned it would.

The Chaos Marine leader leapt on top of the rock he had been standing behind and fired his storm bolter even before he had landed. The bolts from his snap shot decapitated a Chrimera Commander before the man had even had a chance to react to the slaughter around him. Xaphan smiled; a vicious predatory thing. He had not expected to get a kill quite this early in the fight. It would take the imperial infantry a while to realise their vehicles had become little more than tracked cookers of human flesh.

As if to demonstrate the point a las beam stabbed down from the rocks close to Xaphan and struck the Chrimera of the commander he had just killed. It sliced through the vehicles roof with ease and must have struck something volatile as barely a second later its hatches were violently torn from their hinges. The rear doors slammed into the glacier plate of the Chrimera behind with such force they pushed the vehicle onto its rear sprockets, causing its nose to rear up into the air for a moment, before crashing back down.

Living torches stumbled out of the flaming wreck of the first Chrimera, they were the less fortunate troopers; the ones who had survived the explosive fury of their armoured vehicle, only to be set alight. Not one of Xaphan's men wasted a shot on the burning men, why would they, the troopers were already dead; it was just that their minds had not quite caught up with reality.

Showing a surprisingly quick grasp of the tactical situation the imperial troops soon began to pour out of their vehicles, seeking the illusionary safety of the rocky crevices on either side of the canyon, unaware of the superior foe they faced. They soon found out their error as bolter fire racked every hole and crack in the rock, filling the tight spaces with deadly concussive force and razor sharp fragments of metal and rock.

Xaphan lifted his helmeted face to the sky and bellowed. A wave of euphoria filled his entire being at the sight of so much bloodshed and death. It felt so good to be killing the deluded imperial fools once more, reeking revenge for their arrogance. They had rejected so much of what was now sacred to Xaphan that he could hardly believe he had once been like them, blindly following the corpse god emperor.

The Chaos Marine spotted one brave platoon leader, kicking and screaming at his men, trying to get them to put up some kind of organised resistance. It would not prevent their inevitable deaths, just delay them a little. In reality it only served to draw attention to their little group. Xaphan fired a short burst from his Stormbolter revealing in its powerful kick. The combined explosive power of the bolts all but vaporised the lieutenant's chest kicking out a fine red mist laced with chunks of gore and bone. Some of the troopers closest to the commander were hit by the wet sticky chunks of flesh that used to belong to their officer; others were speared by razor sharp fragments of bone in exposed arms and legs, causing more blood to flow.

The sight of so much blood sent a jolt of excitement like an electric shock through Xaphan's body. It was not a welcome feeling for the follower of Tzeentch. He saw it as a sign Khorne was trying to tempt him away from the one true, dominant power of the warp. The Chaos Marine leader's mood darkened at that thought, of all the Chaos powers Khorne was the one Xaphan loathed. Khorne seemed to hate those that sort knowledge and mastery over the power of the warp. It was like Khorne sort to keep all that power to himself, jealously guarding the knowledge that gave mastery over the warp. He had forbidden his followers the very things that were at the core of every follower of Tzeentch. Besides, Xaphan had seen the wrath of his Lord Tzeentch towards those that betrayed or displeased him and he wanted no part of that fate. Not that he had any desire to betray the Prince of Change. Long ago he had sworn that his loyalty to Tzeentch would be the one true constant in his life. A life, that at times, seemed to be littered with one betrayal after another.

A fire ball leapt into the air marking the fiery demise of the last imperial vehicle. The billowing sheets of flame that washed out from its death throes also engulfed the last group of guardsmen who had been trying to put up an organised resistance. Only a few scattered terrified survivors were left now. Their nerve broken they cowered in whatever pathetic cover they could find, praying to a god that clearly did not care about their existence. This fight was over, all but for the mopping up. Though, that realisation both pleased and displeased Xaphan. It meant he would once again have to assume that hateful guise of an imperial lackey. That was the one part of the plan he had never liked, taking on that guise always left him feeling soiled and drained.


*7*

Every fibre of Xaphan's being strained with the desire to tear Lord Commander Hessmun limb from limb, yet he resisted. It was not just the commander's reluctance to follow the Chaos Lord's advice, but also the tremendous pain of the transformation that still lingered in the marine's body, gnawing at the edges of his mind. Together they filled him with the desire to kill, a desire that was growing harder for him to resist. A resistance that was further eroded by each and every muscle and bone in his body fighting against the shape he had forced upon it. Even his armour seemed to want to rebel against its current form. It was taking a considerable amount of his mental power to resist it all and maintain his guise.

Little had he realised, when formulating his masterful plan that this moment, would prove to be the most difficult. That trying to convince Hessmun to call for much needed reinforcements, which ideally would be the inquisition, would prove to be such a frustrating task. The man seemed determined to refuse to see the very evidence before his eyes. It begged the question, what did the man know, that Xaphan did not, or was it that he knew the Chaos Marine was not all he appeared to be. They were troubling thoughts and ones the Chaos Lord preferred to push to one side and ignore; least they caused him to lose control of the change. He was well aware that he only had four men with him; facing them were nearly three thousand lackeys of the corpse God Emperor, along with the armoured forces that ringed the camp. They would be hard pressed extracting themselves if things soured. It was a truly precarious position, particularly as Xaphan was not sure if he could totally trust the loyalty of his own men. The Chaos Lord was well aware that some members of the Oracles of Change were jealous of his position within the war-band. But then jealously and betrayal by those he had thought of as friends was not new to him. It had already driven him from one brotherhood.

Taking a deep breath he worked to calm his mind. Looking up from the map the Chaos Marine looked Hessmun directly in the eyes. A flash of admiration flared briefly when the man refused to be cowed and stared right back at the Chaos Lord.

“Lord Commander Hessmun, though it is well within my powers to do so I will not command you to call reinforcements,” said Xaphan. “But this insurrection is much more powerful and entrenched than both of us realise.” He indicated the World Eater corpse his men had deposited on the tent floor. “I know this is but one body and the only one we found but please rest assured, where you find one you will find others. The local cult could never have so effectively ambushed your column with the assistance of only one World Eater.”

“But surely your presence negates these heretics my Lord,” said Hessmun, emphasising the word lord, that ever present smile plastered across his face.

“You do me and my men great honour Lord Commander Hessmun,” replied Xaphan, determined to play the imperial lackey at his own game. “I will be sure to pass on that compliment. But it is not just the World Eaters we should be wary of, for where they go more terrible forces, daemonic forces are sure to follow, I have seen it many times Lord Commander Hessmun.”

The wily imperial commander's face paled at the mention of the denizens of the warp, just as the Chaos Marine knew it would. When it came to the warp, imperial dogma had much to say, though little of it had any real truth behind it. Ceasing the small advantage he had finally bought himself he moved on.

“The death of my astropath aboard ship is another clear indicator that something terrible is coming. I am convinced that our combined forces will not be enough to stop this cult. I would ask that you inform the authorities, help is needed,” Xaphan lowered his head. “Tis a hard thing, to ask for help I know,” he said quietly, giving his all to the performance.

Xaphan never got to find out whether this gambit had worked. Screams full of utter horror burst into the tent. They were followed by howls of such rage and hatred the like of with Xaphan had heard many times before and knew the source of well. He snatched up his helm before storming out of the tent, leaving a stunned, silent Hessmun behind.

Outside he found exactly what he had expected; a pack of slavering Bloodletter's was storming the imperial camp. This was a most unwelcome turn of events and was not part of the plan. He corrected himself; it was not part of this stage of the plan. The cult leaders should not have been able to decipher the text of the book of summoning for some days yet. By which time Xaphan and his men were meant to be safely back aboard ship in orbit. He was certainly not meant to be in the middle of the imperial camp with only a four man bodyguard.

As usual the Daemonic foot soldiers of Khorne were living up to their name and imperial blood was flowing freely as they rampaged through the camp. It was more butchery than a fight, limbs were hacked from bodies and bellies sliced open to spill steaming innards upon the earth. Even the men inside the imperial armoured vehicles were not spared as the daemon swords, enchanted to a sharpness beyond the skill of mere men, easily parted armoured plates like they were little more than paper. Some crewmen died in their seats sliced in two, along with their vehicles, others were dragged kicking and screaming from the bellies of their machines and cut to ribbons.

It was an impressive display of raw daemonic power. Yet, it was not a sight that impressed Xaphan or his men; they had seen such sights many times before. Not that they did not recognise a serious threat to their continued existence, they were no fools. They all knew the Bloodletter's could be deadly foes indeed, but they had fought and won against such entities many times. Though, there was still a slim chance they may not have to fight them.

Then, that chance was lost as a much greater threat let its presence be known. A thunderous roar that vibrated his very bones, slammed into Xaphan as a Bloodthirster fell from the sky and crashed into the ground, sending out ripples of dust and earth tremors that knocked a few unwary guardsmen to the ground. Its eyes, burning pits of fathomless hatred and rage, locked immediately upon Xaphan's and it roared in fury; the Chaos Lord flinched, despite himself.

The daemon lifted its massive flaming sword and pointed straight at the five Chaos marine terminators. There was no chance that such a powerful entity of the warp would be fooled by the guise Xaphan and his men wore. It would not be fooled by its eyes and would easily see the Chaos Marines for what they really were, worshipers of a true power. A phalanx of daemonic flesh peeled off from the host of Bloodletter's, heading straight for Xaphan and his four men, baying for blood. There was a multitude of armoured vehicles and knots of men in their path, nothing survived their fury, yet still, in no time at all they were upon the five Chaos Marines.

The terminators stood their ground, refusing to yield a single step to the onrushing horde, presenting a wall of unyielding cremate, steel and flesh. They greeted the daemons like they would any foe foolish enough to charge them, with fire and then blade. In the mere seconds it took the slavering daemon horde to reach the line of marines, nearly half their number had fallen to mass reactive bolts. Storm bolters had a tremendous rate of fire and even daemons could only take so much damage before they fell. Piles of steaming black flesh marked the demise of many a daemon as they were reduced to unrecognisable hunks of tattered daemonic flesh. Yet this tremendous slaughter was only a prelude to the real fight. The surviving daemons slammed into the line of hulking marines and the fight became close and personal.

Xaphan shot one of the slavering daemons as it raised its sword to strike. A flick of his wrist sliced the tip of another daemons whip as it tried to ensnare his storm bolter. It charged, enraged at the implied insult, striking out with its sword, it attempted to skewer the Chaos Marine through the chest. He stepped to one side and the daemonic blade merely scored a deep gash in his right shoulder guard. The daemon however, failed to dodge Xaphan's counter stroke and became impaled on the roaring chain bayonet slung under the Marines storm bolter. It roared in frustration and despite the churning blade macerating its innards, it pushed forward, lifting its sword to strike the Chaos Lord down. Xaphan fired his storm bolter at point blank range. The concussive force of repetitive hits at such close range sent the daemon flying even as the warheads berried themselves in its tough flesh where they exploded, tearing the foul beast apart.

Xaphan was not given the chance to admire the spectacular kill, another daemon rushed him. This one limped, a chunk of flesh had been blown out of its leg by a bolt round, the wound was beginning to knit and seal its self in a sickening parody of Xaphan's own enhanced flesh. Angered at the thought Xaphan stepped in to meet the beasts limping charge and battered its blade aside with the flat of his own. Another strike with his chain bayonet saw one of the daemons arms fall to the ground. Pulling back his halberd he struck out slicing the warp entities head from its shoulders.

Spinning around he found empty space around him, all the Bloodletter's were dead. Spying an armoured form lying on the ground, a massive pool of thick almost black blood spreading out beneath it, the Chaos Lord knew he had lost one of his own to win this small victory. Though, a thunderous roar reminded him that there was still an even deadlier foe yet to face. Xaphan did not need to look up to know what caused the sudden shaking of the ground beneath his feet. The Bloodthirster was coming for revenge.

“Form a line, hold it back while I prepare, sell your own lives if you have to, I must have time or this foe will be the end of everything we have worked for,” he barked into the vox. Opening his mind he began to summon the power of the warp, it was their only chance, he just hoped his men saw that too and followed his command.


*8*


Xaphan stormed through the door before it had completely opened, his armoured bulk scrapping the door jam and door, leaving scratches in both. It was followed by the heavy uneven impact of his boots as he limped across the room heading for his command throne. The bridge crew flinched with every impact, bounded daemons, Astartes and human slaves alike. The noise was not loud or particularly sinister; it was more what it signified, even without looking, which none dared to do, that Xaphan the Faceless had entered the bridge. They all feared, and rightly so, their lord’s rage; a rage which had flooded the entire ship, sparking off an undercurrent of fear and foreboding, for the past eight weeks, every since Xaphan’s return from Bol Sani.

Battered and bloody the Chaos Lord had emerged from his Stormraven, fresh from his encounter with the Bloodthirster, and immediately killed two human slaves. More had died bloody, painful deaths their screams reverberating down the corridors, their only transgression, was being in their lords path to his quarters. Even a bounded daemon had not escaped his rage. Its screams of agony and whimpered pleas for mercy could still be heard reverberating around the quieter parts of the ship.

What was worse was that the savage bloodletting had singularly failed to quench the Chaos Lord’s anger. His rage had stayed hot, boiling his very blood within his veins. Those Khornate scum had nearly ruined his plan, his most perfect plan and what’s more they had nearly cost him his life.

Sequestering himself in his quarters he had brooded on the matter. His dark mood had only deepened and intensified with each report he had received about the progress of the war on Bol Sani. The daemon horde, led by the very Bloodthirster that had driven him from the planet, had grown from strength to strength. It had crawled across the planet’s surface slaughtering and butchering imperial citizens in massed orgies of violence and unfettered savagery. Those few pitiful imperial forces left on the planet, seemed powerless to prevent the killing. Yet despite increasingly frenetic calls for help, that seemed to ripple out from Bol Sani constantly, no outside imperial assistance had come.

As the days stretched into weeks and the weeks piled upon one another Xaphan began to fear that no help would come. That his carefully planned and enacted enterprise was doomed to fail. Increasingly he thought he would never gain the prize, that his dreams of power and glory in the eyes of Tzeentch had been crushed beyond all recovery. He knew if he failed in this enterprise his enemies, both inside the Oracles of Change and without, would crush him instantly.

“My Lord, your just in time they are about to break warp, long range scrying suggests it is a sizable force,” said Wynid Sisscu Xaphan’s hated second in command, a man foisted upon him by Lord Volkstein himself. He had been the only one safe from Xaphan’s rage, though even he had not pushed that immunity too far, after all, his protector and patron was far away. He pointed to the massive view screen that dominated one wall of the bridge. “There, they should appear any moment now.”

Suddenly multiple tears in real space appeared, each revealing the awful majesty of the warp, for any brave enough to look. Ships shot out of each hole as more of the tears appeared and more ships began to translate from the madness of warp space into the mundane reality of normal space. A sizable armada of ships was appearing at the edges of the system.

“Focus in now,” roared Xaphan not quite willing to believe what he saw.

The scene changed blurring for a moment as the daemon that controlled long range auspex and scrying adjusted the controls. The sight washed away Xaphan’s dark rage in an instant as he recognised the heraldry several of the ships at the centre of the armada sported. Sleek black warships marked with a stylised I, the hated inquisitorial had come. There were three of them surround by four of the fat bellied Black ships psyker’s across the galaxy feared to see. They in turn were surrounded by transports and various warships. The whole force was led by two Grey knight strike cruisers that gleamed in the sunlight reflected from the star at the centre of the system.

The darkness that had only moments before been slowly consuming Xaphan’s soul disappeared. His mood changed as the realisation of his plans powered its way into the system, on their mission of mercy. The imperium had come to reclaim their planet, just as he had predicted, just as he had planned for. A mirthless smile split the Chaos lord’s face, a smile that would have put a cold sweat upon the brow of any sane person that saw it.

“It is going to be a truly epic fight on Bol Sani. Do you not think Sisscu?” he said turning that vicious smile upon his second in command. “Just as I predicted, is it not Sisscu, right down to the very make up of the relief force.”

A flash of anger and hatred swept across Sisscu’s face at the unspoken jib, he had argued against the plan, claiming that it could never receive the blessings of Tzeentch.

“Yes my Lord but there is still the chance the imperial lackey’s may not prove up to the task you have set them, or perhaps be too good at that task. Either way it would leave us with a difficult task, my lord,” there was real spite in the honorific term Sisscu used.

Xaphan saw it, but refused to rise to the cheap dig, refused to allow anything to spoil this moment of triumph. All the portents had said his plan would work and despite the obvious strength of the imperial relief force it would nearly destroy its self against the Khorne daemon horde that now infested Bol Sani. Xaphan had no doubt of that. Then he could move, the imperial lackey’s would open the way for the Oracles of Change, through Xaphan, to reclaim the artefact; to bring back into the fold one of Tzeentch’s greatest works. His gratitude would be incalculable, of that Xaphan had no doubt.
Last edited by Bod the inquisitor on Wed Jun 06, 2012 8:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Enter my children,
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Enter and leave the light,
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Re: Useful Adversaries (A Xaphan submission completed)

Postby kurisawa » Wed Jun 06, 2012 5:21 am

Hey Bod, and bad luck. :(

As this is a finished project I'm not sure if you were looking for critical feedback, but thought I'd chance it. I have heard it said that a proficient editor can conclude pretty quickly whether or not a piece of writing is going to work or not, like an art collector glancing at a painting, or an A&R man listening to a song - just the first few minutes (or paragraphs, in this case) can reveal a lot. So, I put on my amateur-editor hat and thought I'd try to figure out what went wrong this time for you.

Bod the inquisitor wrote:*1*

The cultist force was an army no more; bloodlust had robbed them of any sense of order and discipline. They were now nothing more than a howling mob of crazed lunatic’s, bent on spilling blood and taking skulls, all in the name of their god, Khorne. Their rampage had taking them in amongst their enemy, allowed them to ignore the tremendous casualties the imperial guns had caused as they had charged. Armoured vehicles were torn apart by multiple explosions as grenades were shoved though viewing ports, up exhausts, past hatches wrenched from their hinges by berserker fury. The infantry fared little better; whole platoons were over run and hacked into bloody pieces, screaming to the emperor for protection. Small islands of sanity momentarily sprang up as heavy weapons teams banded together, providing security and life to desperate men.

It was a fight the imperial forces knew they were going to loss. Yet they fought on; what other choice did they have, for to yield would doom their eternal souls to damnation and torment. That and the indomitable will of the regimental commissar’s, men and women who stood firm no matter what, carrying with them the threat of an ignoble death in the eyes of the god Emperor.

Then as the battle raged the sky bleed tears of fire that hurtled towards the ground. A few men in the imperial force noticed the sky weeping fire and saw the Emperor’s hand. Half remembered tales told to them on cold dark nights by fathers and Grandfathers came to mind. The Emperor had heard their prayers, and sent his angles of death to their aid. The Adeptus Astartes had come to Bol Sani. It was a tale that spread quickly through the imperial troops, strengthening their resolve, hardening their determination not to be beaten. Rallying they pushed back at their attackers. They would not to be seen shirking their duties to the Emperor in the eyes of his space marines.


My initial impression is that this first section was unnecessary. You would have been better starting from part 2 and Xaphan's explosive arrival. Though I'm not against infodumping per se, if done well, these details seem better bled into the narrative as the story goes on.

More importantly, you have typos and grammar errors which betray a lack of proofreading and care for your product. The very second sentence has an incorrect apostrophe at the end of "lunatic's". The next sentence should have "taken" rather than "taking". Only slightly later on, overrun is one word and Emperor is not capitalised.

I don't really like pointing out pedantics like this (it's more fun to talk about how I feel about the story), but they are very off-putting.

The next paragraph, too, has an error in the first sentence ("loss" instead of "lose"). And then a question without a question mark, and then another incorrectly applied apostrophe in "commissar's", then the next paragraph starts with "bleed" instead of "bled". And so it goes on.

This lack of care is reflected perhaps in your wordcraft, too: I thought the opening sentence a little passive (have the mob actually transforming actively, rather than something "robbing" them of their discipline) and maybe "crazed lunatics" should be "frenzied lunatics" as lunatics by definition are crazy, and you want to play up what kind of lunacy grips them. "Their rampage had taken them in amongst the enemy" could perhaps be better without the rather dull descriptive verb "take in" (They rampaged through the enemy like furious ambulls!), and "allowed them to ignore the tremendous casualties" seems, to me at least, a not very good way of saying, "insane, they ignored the horrendous casualties scoured through their ranks by..." (should casualties be referred to as "tremendous"? I don't know).

I'm sorry to give purely negative feedback here. I think it picked up at the start of part 2, but if I were an editor I feel the damage had already been done by here.

Good luck in the future, and don't let my pedantic criticism put you off trying with a better story next time! :)


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Re: Useful Adversaries (A Xaphan submission completed)

Postby Bod the inquisitor » Wed Jun 06, 2012 9:01 am

Hi Kurisawa,

Thank you so much for the comments, they are by no means pedantic and you have actually picked up on a major problem my end. You see this story was finished several months after the submission period last year. I somehow managed to put a rough draft for those two first sections into the draft I posted here. I’m very, very embarrassed and angry with myself, plus confused about how this happened :oops: .

Most of the points you raised were picked up and sorted in the editing and beta reading process and I’m glad to say did not make it into the submission document. That is except the lunatic’s and commissar’s apostrophe things. I’m currently in discussion with my beta reader about her poor performance and renegotiating the contract :lol: .

Anyway I’ve made the adjustments as you are quite correct. Mistakes like these do rather detract from the story and they are bad form.

The crazed lunatics’ thing is an interesting point. I wanted to highlight the fact these people had lost all reason. Not all lunatics run around waving their arms in the air, some sit about muttering and rocking. However, perhaps frenzied has a better resonance to it to get the point across! Some food for thought there for me I think. The tremendous thing might be another of these situations.

Anyway thanks for the comments, oh and I don’t think any of them are negative. It’s interesting and part of the process of growing as a writer to see how others view your work and the things they see that need changing.
Ordos: Lectorformator

Enter my children,
Enter and join the betrayed,
Enter and leave the light,
Enter and forever join the ranks of the damned.

My latest effort: Useful Adversaries and Heart’s desire

Stories from my past
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Re: Useful Adversaries (A Xaphan submission completed)

Postby kurisawa » Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:56 am

Ah, thanks Bod. I'm so glad you took those comments the way they were intended - as a help.

Don't be too hard on your beta-reader :D . It's important that she feel able to say when she thinks something is not working for you without recrimination. The most helpful editors / beta-readers are those unafraid to let rip and disregard the writer's feelings. My dad and brother constantly tell me stuff I write is unputdownable and so on, but I don't trust them. ;)

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Re: Useful Adversaries (A Xaphan submission completed)

Postby Bod the inquisitor » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:04 pm

Yes that is a problem with providing comments; even here I’ve noticed people getting a little hot under the collar regarding comments. Me, personally, I agree with the point raised in nearly all of the writing advice books and blogs I’ve read. That if you want to be a writer, but are unable to accept critical comments about your work, particularly when, as in this case, it is meant in a helpful and constructive way, then you’re in the wrong business.

Anyway I will return the favour very soon if you don’t mind.
Ordos: Lectorformator

Enter my children,
Enter and join the betrayed,
Enter and leave the light,
Enter and forever join the ranks of the damned.

My latest effort: Useful Adversaries and Heart’s desire

Stories from my past
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Re: Useful Adversaries (A Xaphan submission completed)

Postby Rain Vox » Sat Jun 09, 2012 7:17 am

he he cool story, even tho i despise chaos as much as a rteal guardsmen would an insigt into their working is of vital tactical importance for future refrence ^^
Peace is as it should be. Gentle, yet unstoppable...

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