Baptism

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

Baptism

Postby VictorK » Fri Aug 09, 2013 4:22 am

A failed RiaR. You can probably tell the moment I realized this story was not going to fit in 1150 words (it tops out at 2500, so not a long read!) and then settled into a more normal storytelling mode. Not sure if I like the piece, it's a gimmick in search of a story and it's clear I struggled to justify the thing I thought would be 'cool', but what the hey. It's written, it might as well be submitted for other eyeballs.

This little story follows my Hospitaller character, Luria Rashal. She has previously appeared in a story that had the distinction of being both long and boring, here. Fortunately, that story is not at all necessary to understand what's going on! If you're willing to invest 1000 more words of your time, Luria's other RiaR entry could be very helpful.

What this really means, though, is that I have to write another RiaR entry this month. Dammit.

Baptism

The people of the desert world-or the intelligence hiding behind them-remembered Luria’s kind smile and skilled healer’s hands and spared her. Every other Imperial servant on the desert world had been killed. Part of Luria desperately wanted to feel guilty for that, but her Progena’s training told her to see the hand of the Emperor in all things.

Luria had been imprisoned in the great tree-hive while the bodies of her comrades were fed to the hungry, churning sands below. She did not resist. No more than three of the planet’s long days and nights passed before the silent puppets, dancing on the end of some malicious master’s string, came for her. Luria was taken far into the desert, away from the monolithic hive laid down by ancient creators to mark the dominion of the man the locals once called their Shahanshah.

When they arrived at the appointed place the Hospitaller was removed from the speeder-craft and placed on an outcropping of brown rock worn smooth by millennia of patient sand. To Luria’s eye it appeared to be a spinal ridge, cresting here and there among the shifting dunes. She stood on one such stone vertebrae and watched the speeder depart. She was marooned, abandoned to the judgment of some alien god.

The Sororitas remains still on her island of rock amidst a sea of dust until the craft disappeared over the horizon. She then checked her gauntlets and considered flooding her veins with enough opiates to shut down her nervous system. Luria briefly considered something more painful, but then recalled that her life was not her own; it belonged to Him on Terra, and he had not yet called her home. Luria craned her neck upwards, towards the sun. A seventy-two hour day, followed by a seventy-two hour night. If she survived the heat she would live to freeze.

Perhaps the people of the desert world believed that they were being merciful. Luria resolved to die in contemplation and seated herself on the edge of her island, nothing but the endless sand before her until the horizon. She opened the Life of Saint Jacquelen, a tome she had carried since she had been orphaned on her homeworld of Voltumnar, and began to read the familiar words. Luria could pick up the story anywhere, and be carried away.

The Hospitaller had always enjoyed reading the story of Jacquelen’s night spent reciting the Emperor’s glory to the children of Allaras V while traitor artillery exploded overhead. Luria could hear the shells crashing all around her and focused on the Saint’s soothing voice…until the thunder leapt off the page and roiled the sand around her. Luria slammed the book shut and rose to her feet. Above her, an Imperial battleship had broken the sound barrier on its doomed descent. It was left over from the orbital battle that had heralded the fall of Imperial forces to infighting and strife. But that it would fall here, now? No coincidences. The hand of the Emperor, or the alien. One or the other.

Luria ran along the spine of rock, knowing that she had precious little time. Fire engulfed the ship’s hull and it screamed on the way down. Luria turned to see it impact somewhere beyond the horizon, though the ship was so large that half of its length remained visible. The Hospitaller watched the aft section split apart, its bulkheads collapsing, until…a second sun bloomed from within the ship, its heart torn open to bleed the fire that had carried it across the stars.

The light burned Luria’s eyes. Briefly lost in the darkness, she stumbled on a rock and fell. The Hospitaller’s armored fingers scrambled for purchase and as her sight began to filter back she looked for any place to hide. A wall of sand and glass a mile high was rushing towards her. Armor or no, the Sororitas would be flayed to ribbons.

Luria spotted a hole in the rock at the last moment and crawled towards it. She gripped the edge and swung into its mouth until her boots found a hold below. Only then did she look down, and saw nothing but darkness. Luria had to go deeper. There was no time for caution, and just as the sun was being shrouded by the oncoming manmade storm, a shelf of rock broke under the weight of the Sororitas’ armor. Luria fell.

The Hospitaller awoke to the faint song of wind coursing over some distant opening. She lay on her belly, had she fallen on her back her neck would have snapped against the armor that secured the rest of her body. Luria was half-submerged in a pile of sand and tiny glass crystals forged in the dying warship’s heat. There was still no light from overhead, not even a distant pinprick. It was the light of something beneath the surface that transformed the glass shards into an indigo starscape.

Luria slowly extracted herself, careful to test for broken bones or any sign of internal damage. The Hospitaller found none. She slid down the sand pile, which had been accumulating long before Luria had ever set foot upon the desert world. She knew she had reached the bottom when her boots touched hard stone. Cool air brushed against her burned cheeks and filtered through her long black hair. Luria followed it back to its source.

The Hospitaller stopped when her toe splashed into an unseen pool of water. Pinpricks of indigo light sprang to life as the ripples from her intrusion disturbed the pool’s surface. Light rose up from the depths as far as Luria could see. For a moment, she was taken by its beauty; an inverted field of stars that held none of the horrors she associated with the infinite void above. Or so she hoped. She stood here for a reason, after all, guided by forces she could neither see nor protest against. The lights below the surface began to move, and ascend. They were coming towards her.

The surprise of the encroaching light was eclipsed when the shape of a man emerged from the water, bearing within him an indigo heart. He waited out in the distance, watching. More joined him, men and women and children by the hundreds. They all held Luria in their gaze, intimating a silent judgment. The Hospitaller knew their faces, many of them. The Guardsman who had bled out on the branch of the hive only a few days before stood particularly close. His brothers made up the majority of the specters standing before her. Some were missing limbs, others held their entrails while still others, ex-sanguinated, regarded her with haunted, sunken eyes.

The last, of course, was Margarith, the novice Luria had euthanized during the war on Paliren. Though the young Sororitas looked complete on the outside, the Hospitaller knew that within her organs had turned to mush. Luria could not recount the hours she had spent studying Margarith’s bones.

“Do you have something to say to us?” The Margarith-specter asked.

“Only that you are not real.” Luria replied. “But if you are, and so are the others, I will say only that I know you, and that I wish you peace.”

“You murdered me.”

“I failed to save you. All of you.” Luria said. “There is a difference. I am not the Emperor on Terra.”

“Do you think He is the one sent you this vision?”

“I cannot say.” Luria shrugged. “I am but a Hospitaller. Perhaps I speak to the intelligence who undid this world. If I speak to something sacred?” She looked from face to face, as many as she could manage in the few seconds of silence between her words. Something inside of her was going weak, a bit of the helplessness left over from each failure finding its way back to her. “…then I can only say that the judgments of the Emperor are true and righteous altogether.”

“Come, Sister Rashal.” Margarith said. “Enter the water. The time has come for you to join us.” She extended her spectral arms.

“I will sink, I will starve, I will fall, or I will burn.” Luria replied. “I may as well take the water.” She reached for the clasps on her hip, and undid the chain that held the binding of the Life of Saint Jacquelen. “I have long drawn strength from this book. I will leave it for another to find, if the delay is acceptable to you.” There was no reply. The Hospitaller set the book on the rocky shore and carefully wound the chain around it. Its binding was sealed lacquer, its pages etched metal. It would last forever. When Luria rose, she already missed its weight.

The specters said nothing.

Luria stepped forward, and slowly entered the water. The indigo emanations of all the lives that had slipped through her fingers raised their arms in greeting. Luria only looked forward. She didn’t trust them; it was her faith that the will of the Emperor, however faint, was in all things.

The Sororitas could not feel the water through her armor, but nevertheless a sense of coolness spread throughout her body. The incline was gradual, and the specters made way as she came towards them. What had led her to this ritual she could not say, but Luria felt some peace as she approached Margarith. When the water had crested over her chest the Hospitaller looked up towards her fellow novice. “Will I be at peace?” She asked.

“Do you see peace in our faces?”

Luria did not. She saw what remained of the fear that overtook her patients when they realized that they would not die in the ways that had comforted them when they contemplated oblivion. The Hospitaller had not imagined that she would meet her end here, either, but having been present for the fall of three worlds it was perhaps best that she disappear. Luria took another step, and found that there was no more rock. The steep drop came, and before she could gasp in surprise the water engulfed her.

The indigo spirits went dark, one by one, until the cavern was once again empty and silent save for the whistling of the wind.

Luria fell, dragged down inexorably by the weight of her armor. She fell so far that she no longer knew whether she was right side up or upside down; she knew only the burning in her lungs that harkened the hypoxia that would kill her. The Hospitaller could feel a growing acceleration, but in her last few flickering conscious moments Luria attributed this sensation to her soul’s departure, eager to tear from her mortal frame and join the luminous Emperor for all eternity.

Instead, when Luria broke the surface of the water, the glow from innumerable thousand-year candles greeted her. She caught a glimpse of her Sisters kneeling in supplication in the Great Chapel of the Order of Serenity, welcoming another Sororitas to Ophelia VII. Before Luria could do more than gasp for breath a bony hand gripped her face and thrust her back beneath the water carefully drawn below the altar. She tried to scream, but could do no more than thrash beneath the strong grip of a Canoness whose days on the battlefield were long done. There was no mercy in the elder Sororitas’ expression, even as Luria silently pleaded for her life. Feeling the darkness encroaching, Luria made one last push to escape.

Another light greeted Luria when she broke the surface of the water. The arcology-hive that had been her home on Voltumnar was burning on each of its tiers, wreathing the entire structure in flame. This time she could almost catch her breath, but her child’s legs struggled to keep Luria afloat in the vast Carinac Sea. Debris floated around her, and she could hear the report of distant lasfire as the madman who had doomed her world fought desperately, the native beasts closing on his last stronghold at Point Castle. There were bodies amidst the debris, either fallen from the sky or slipped free of the shattered vessels cut down as they tried to ferry civilians to safety. An old panic returned, and Luria turned her head to find familiar faces. Before she could, some beast’s claws wrapped around her ankle and pulled her under.

Though she had been screaming when the beast pulled her under, Luria was silent when she was pulled out of the canal where she would have surely drowned. A silver tentacle tightened around her midsection, squeezing ribs that had already been shattered. Her black armor was in tatters, plates of ceramite dangling from its conductive weave. Still, when Luria looked into the pitiless eyes of the alien machine she had no regrets. Paliren may have fallen, her novice might have died at her own hand, but she had halted the harvest. This thing would pass away. There was a bolt pistol in her hand, but she had managed to hold onto it following the fall from the tower only because her gauntlet was frozen and inoperable. Luria silently dared the xeno thing to kill her, and for a moment it seemed as it would oblige. Before it could, a red lance of lasfire tore through it. Its tentacle went slack, and Luria fell back into the canal.

Luria crawled out of the pool on the desert world. The cavern was empty, all of the specters had fled. Her chest heaved as she tried to draw breath, and only when she had expelled the water that filled her stomach and threatened to drown her anew could she breathe easily. The Hospitaller collapsed half-in and half-out of the vast pool, and simply enjoyed the free air. Eventually she pushed herself up, coughed out more water, and rose to her feet.

The Hospitaller stumbled to where she had left the Life of Saint Jacquelen. Whatever trick this world had played on her, it had not taken that away. Luria knelt down, and her brows knit. The chain had become corroded, and a film had formed on the lacquer, dulling it shine. She reached towards it and scraped at the dank growth, which came off easily against her armor. A question settled in a pit in her gut, but Luria dared not answer it. She took the book and refastened it to her hip. Then, she began to climb.

The sun was rising when Luria pulled herself out of the hole. She stood on the spine of rock where she had been marooned and looked towards the horizon. The pillars of the fallen battleship still stuck up from the desert sands, but the glass lake it had created with its fall was broken and nearly submerged by the relentless assault of the desert sand. Luria paced back to where she had been left stranded, and tried to imagine the line that the speeder had taken to bring her here.

When the line was fixed in her mind, Luria stepped off the rock to the sand and began walking.
"The gods are not all powerful, they cannot erase the past." -Agathon
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VictorK
 
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Re: Baptism

Postby fallen inquistor » Sat Aug 10, 2013 11:54 am

Well overall I found this story to be very interesting and well written. It sure raises a lot of questions. What were the pool and the tentacled alien? Was that mean to be something we'd recognize? Cause if so, it went over my head. Did the Sister travel forward in time at the end? Cause that was the impression I got. I 'd kind of like to see this continued at some point, it has a likable main character and seems like it could go lots of interesting places.

A minor correction, at the beginning of paragraph 4 "remains" should be "remained".

BTW, if you get the chance, you should let me know what you think of the story I'm working on right now, "A Man and His Warp Presence". I still haven't gotten any feedback. :(

Anyway, this was a good story, and if your next RiaR is just is good, I'm sure you'll do well!
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Re: Baptism

Postby VictorK » Fri Aug 30, 2013 10:03 pm

Thanks for the critique.

The Sister did travel forward in time, but I'm not sure to what purpose, yet. Nor was the alien supposed to be identifiable; that's an artifact from Lady of Mercy that never got completed.
"The gods are not all powerful, they cannot erase the past." -Agathon
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Re: Baptism

Postby Anne Marie » Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:46 pm

A very interesting story and if you continue to develop this, I will enjoy seeing what happens next. The description of the cavern and the indigo spirits also brings to mind one question: is the cavern somehow touched by the Warp or is there some sort of psychic emanation from it?
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