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Bride of Kharn

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

Bride of Kharn

Postby schaferwhat‽ » Wed May 04, 2011 11:23 am

Bride of Kharn wasn't good enough for publication which wasn't completely unsurprising so here you have it to read if you're still interested.

SKULL TITHE


The wind screamed through the crags of Racine’s northern mountains. The pained note rang through the Strife-Sovereign’s ears and a contorted look of whimsy distorted his brutal features. It seemed to the hulking daemon prince that Racine was crying out in pain, as though the war he brought to its surface was inflicting pain and injuring the planet itself. Laughter exploded from his three fanged mouths in cruel staccato barks, as the notion he was making the world scream took hold. Stretching out his large wings, covered with glistening feathers in a dozen metallic hues, the Strife-Sovereign looked down upon his champions gathered for his war council. With little effort he bounded into the sky from the mountain top and descended into the valley, the fanged mouths of his chest still sniggering.

His three champions, leaders of the Sons of Strife, stood waiting for their master. Even as the Strife-Sovereign descended, Sxoalt, leader of the Raptors, approached and dumped a mutilated corpse at the Daemon Prince’s feet as they landed upon the hard grey ground. Before the Strife-Sovereign could react, the high pitched whine of Sxoalt’s jump pack came to life and the champion retreated weightlessly back a respectful distance from the terrible splendour of his lord.
‘What is this you lay before me?’ the Strife-Sovereign hissed from. His tail swept forward and prodded the body.
‘A gift, my Sovereign,’ Sxoalt said, his smile revealing bloodstained metal canines ‘You wished to have the body of the leader of the Western forces, so that you may make an example of him.’ The Strife-Sovereign’s gaze lingered on Sxoalt, their eyes met for a moment before the Raptor Champion averted his gaze and looked to the floor. The two mouths of the daemon prince’s large chest growled, whilst the idea of dismembering Sxoalt for his insolent manner flashed across his mind. The desire abated quickly and he moved on.

‘How goes the war in the West?’
‘The West is crushed, the enemy have scattered to the sea, seeking salvation in the Southern Islands. The world will be ours within the month my Sovereign,’ Hentax barked in his brisk manner. The former Iron Warrior clenched his powerfist after he spoke causing the air to sizzle around it. The Strife-Sovereign smiled at his champion’s tic, all the mortals displayed their thoughts so openly. He wondered if he had once been plagued by doubts and concerns and if he had been so weak as to show it to others. He soon dismissed the idea he had ever been as weak as the pitiful things that waged his war. This was why he had ascended beyond them, why he was Sovereign of Strife.

‘Something concerns you Hentax?’ The Champion’s weight shifted unceasingly under his master’s scrutiny.
‘Khârn, my Sovereign. He weighs heavily on my mind.’ Hentax spoke at last, words that sang with notes of embarrassment and dread to the Strife-Sovereign’s daemonic ears. The carnivorous orifices on his chest twisted into malicious fanged grins as discomfort and wariness radiated from his champions.
‘Has there been a set back in the east?’ the Strife-Sovereign asked his words laced with menace.
‘No, my Sovereign. All goes well. The world will be yours in its entirety within a week,’ Aethnal responded eagerly, raising his arms and bowing submissively to placate his master. His eyes filled with impotent rage at his debasement, met the Strife-Sovereign’s own for a brief moment, before turning away to glare wrathfully at Hentax.
‘Indeed, my Sovereign.’ Hentax joined in, subconsciously looking away from Aethnal. ‘It is Khârn’s reputation that concerns me, since Skalathrax-‘
‘The Iron Warrior is scared of the betrayer’s axe,’ Sxoalt interrupted joyously. His delight at highlighting Hentax’s cowardice being misread by jump pack’s mind impulse unit, causing him to lift from the floor, as bitter laughter flowed through the Raptor Champion’s razor canines.
‘I’m sure you’ll find time to make a bunker in the mountains somewhere. It is what your legion loves to do after all,’ he continued exuberantly, loving the opportunity to increase his standing at the expense of his rival.
‘Hentax has a point though Sxoalt,’ Aethnal intervened authoritatively, his desperation provoking an elated hiss from the Strife-Sovereign.
‘Even you call Khârn the betrayer. When the war is won we should expect him to turn on us.’
‘He’d be foolish to turn on the Strife-Sovereign!’ Sxoalt exclaimed, gesturing at the foreboding form of the daemon prince with the three scythe-like talons of his lightning claw.
‘Khorne’s followers aren’t renowned for their tactical acumen and good sense,’ Aethnal responded dismissively with a shake of his head.
‘Khârn will betray us, and it could undermine our victory here.’

A foul growl erupted from the hellish depths of the Strife-Sovereign’s colossal chest through its monstrous pectoral mouths, halting the discourse between the champions. Boredom had come upon the Daemon Prince and swiftly soured into anger. The three Astartes all took a step backwards, dropped to one knee and bowed their heads. All had seen other champions fail to take heed of their lord’s changing moods with fatal consequence; none dared even to breathe out of turn before the glowering form of their newly enraged master. The Strife-Sovereign had been amused by his champions’ pitiful natures, their insecurities and fears. The way they struggled to belittle each other and increase their own standing was thrilling drama, the war of egos, all of which where pathetically submissive to his own, was ordinarily captivating but his patience had now waned.

‘You think yourselves worthy of being my champions?’ the Daemon Prince spat from his three mouths in unison, amplifying his words into a thunderous roar.
‘Think yourselves Astartes, warriors of any description or worth at all?’ he punctuated his rant with violent cracks of his reptilian tail that crushed the bones and pulped the flesh of the corpse laid out before him.
‘If there is an identified threat to my war effort, any threat at all,’ the words underscored by threat laden snarls from his chest.
‘Eliminate it. Understand?’
‘But Khârn my Sovereign,’ Hentax rasped, shame stealing the strength of his voice.
‘Khârn is of limited value now the war is as good as won. Betray the betrayer; it has a poetic quality that I doubt a son of Perturabo would appreciate.’ The daemon prince cut off any objections Hentax might have with a barbed comment at his origins.
‘The three of you, go to the east and eliminate this problem. Prove that you are still of use to me for today’s display has left me with doubts.’ The Strife-Sovereign ordered returning to the thunderous chorus of his three mouths in unison before turning his back on his champions. Sunlight glinted off his metallic feathers, assailing the eyes of his champions with its harsh glare and they were dismissed.

Dust billowed upwards across the entire horizon, climbing into the sky to form a massive wall of dirty brown cloud; it was as if the ground itself had joined the rout, trying to escape. The plains had always been a dust bowl; the ground between the mountains that held Racine’s mineral wealth and the fertile coastal regions that fed the world was arid and eroded by the harsh winds blowing from the mountains. It was no wind that caused the sky to fill with dust this day. The numbers of Imperials fleeing the Sons of Strife numbered in their millions, countless souls heading for the coastal settlements hoping to find fortifications that could withstand the invaders. The exodus tore the land apart. There were too many people and vehicles to be contained by the few roads that existed; tracks, wheels and feet shuffled continuously across ground ill-prepared for such traffic and it crumbled into dust beneath the masses. The fact that the dust was a testament to the fear and dread that his forces inspired in their foes did little to improve the taste of it in Aethnal’s mouth.

‘They say the ore the dust is made from is toxic in large quantities to humans,’ Smokcum said in reaction to the look on Aethnal’s face.
‘I wear my helm mostly because I can’t bear the taste though,’ the sergeant continued conversationally to the gathered champions and their accompanying squads as they walked away from the already departing stormhawks.
‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ Aethnal said noticing several of his squad already putting on their helmets to take advantage of the air filtration systems of their armour.
‘Is this dust why you’ve been delayed Smokcum? The war in the west is all but won. The Strife-Sovereign is concerned at your progress here.’
‘Sir, we have kept a constant pace since we left the mountains,’ Smokcum replied, the distortion of his armour’s vox failing to disguise his panicked tone.
‘A constant slow pace,’ Aethnal chastised the sergeant, moving a step closer to increase the scrutinising.
‘Sir the Imperial rearguard has been-’ Smokcum began but Aethnal had heard enough.
He drew his power sword, thumbing the sword’s ignition as he did so, allowing the blade to slip through Smokcum’s armoured abdomen as the sword’s powerfield melted ceramite, bone and flesh with equal ease. Smokcum staggered backwards a step his hands cupping the liquefied remnants of his gastrointestinal tract as they seeped from the smoking gouge in his armour, an unintelligible sound burst from his armour’s vox and he fell to the ground.

‘Where is Khârn?’ Aethnal asked pointing his bloodied blade at the nearest of Smokcum’s squad.
‘Khârn and his warband are running ahead of the main force, we’ll catch up with them when they next hit an Imperial rearguard deployment sir.’
‘We will increase our pace and run alongside Khârn from now on. Spread the word.’ Aethnal commanded causing those gathered to disperse amidst a flurry of vox traffic detailing the new orders. Aethnal then reached for his helmet, eager to get the sour taste of the air out of his mouth.
‘Was that necessary?’ Hentax voxed over a private channel as soon as Athenal’s helm went live.
‘I have now taken command of the Eastern theatre in a manner that won’t arouse Khârn’s suspicions. Assassination often requires some subterfuge.’ Aethnal responded curtly as he strode off towards the horizon.

The Hounds of Khorne, they called themselves, the coterie of killers mustered under Khârn’s banner. Five of them had turned and attacked the Sons of Strife as the marching Astartes approached the Khornate warband unable to determine friend from foe in the grips of their bloodlust. A burst of bolter fire took them down, explosive rounds tearing bloody rents into their armour.
‘No wonder Smokcum kept his distance,’ Sxoalt jeered, provoking sadistic laughter from his Raptor. He studied the Hounds, searching for Khârn amongst the throng of bloodstained berserkers. There was no obvious sign of the Champion of Khorne amongst those nearby. The rest of the berserkers ignored the Sons even as they marched alongside each other. Khârn staying true to form on his arrival, when he spoke only to the Strife-Sovereign and acknowledged no other, had not made himself known to any of the Sons.
Aethnal’s show of taking command was wasted on this audience though Sxoalt still enjoyed the display’s artistic merits. Khârn was obviously not nearby, the Raptor champion had decided, the whine of his jump pack starting as the mind impulse unit giving him control of the device picked up on his restlessness. Bounding into the air to look at another group of berserkers with his raptors following him, Sxoalt continued to seek out the betrayer.

‘I’m awfully sorry sir,’ pleaded the trooper before him, rising from his retching position, fear plastering his boyish face as he stared into the eyepieces of Commissar’s rebreather. Commissar Enrik Bryher considered the brown sludge pooled at his feet. The dust gave the vomit a slurry-like consistency. The boy wasn’t well.
‘Just get back to your position soldier,’ Bryher yelled, his voice competing both with the muffling effect of his rebreather and the howling dust filled winds. The yelling gave his words a more menacing inflection than he’d have liked judging by the boy’s face and brisk movements back to the line. He couldn’t have been much more than seventeen and he was dying from the dust, as most of his men were. Three thousand of them lay in wait for the enemy, taking advantage of the duststorm’s auspex jamming properties to ambush their pursuers. Over three quarters of that number were volunteers from Racine’s population and not equipped with the rebreather gear to withstand the toxic effects of prolonged exposure to the dust. Bryher hoped that the Space Marines would reach the ambush soon; otherwise the death rate amongst his men would undermine the attritional aspirations of the operation.

Gunfire erupted across the line and Bryher could make out over a dozen indistinct cries from his men. The enemy were here. The battle had begun. It was now or never. He turned, staring at the faint dust obscured outline of the ‘Iron Punition’ to his left, a prayer to the Emperor spilling from his lips. The battle tank was a Leman Russ of the Punisher design, its long imposing gatling cannon ominously silent. The crew had insisted that it was only the drive that had failed and the guns would work just fine. It had taken half a dozen Ogryns three hours to turn the tank around so it could partake in the ambush and now it just stood there unmoving. Despair swelled within Bryher as he reached down for the vox caster at his feet. He checked that it was set to the predetermined channel and gave word of the contact to Captain Pierah. The tank may not be working but if Pierah’s plan worked they could still sell their lives achieving something, Brhyer thought, steeling himself for his fate as he drew his bolt pistol and chainsword. Even as the Commissar rushed towards the line an explosive cacophony erupted to his left. The ‘Iron Punition’ had awoken.

‘Now that is a tank.’ Amiri squealed gleefully down the vox as the thunder of the gatling cannon reverberated over the plains. Hentax scowled within his helmet. Amiri was only happy shooting at tanks, proving his skill by slaying them with his autocannon.
‘Let’s go kill it’ Amiri continued, already heading towards the sound of the tank’s main weapon.
‘Wait’ Hentax hissed, gazing forwards. The wind was dying down; the dust clouds were thinning and the battle being joined downhill of the Havocs was visible at last.
‘But the tank,’ Amiri began to plead before Hentax’s vicious snarl barked down the vox and silenced the heavy weapons trooper.

Khârn was there. Easily visible to Hentax, Khârn seemed to stand a head taller than his gore covered Hounds, the violence seemingly exalting him above his comrades. The air of menace he carried with him when he first arrived on Racine to meet the Strife-Sovereign was tangible to Hentax even now, three hundred metres away. A red haze was literally descendeding upon the Khornate berserkers. Scarlet geysers erupted from guardsmen, as the savage teeth of chainswords and axes tore into the flesh of the humans, spitting out blood as they bit deeper. The spraying blood soaked into the swirling dust, giving the air a crimson hue even as explosive rounds fired from bolt pistols reduced chunks of man into a bloody mist. Hentax licked his lips. The carnage was impressive but the opportunity now afforded him was greater still. He pointed at the Hounds with the exaggerated finger of his powerfist.
‘Fire.’ Hentax commanded with relish.
‘But sir, the Hounds of Khorne… they’ll be caught in the fire,’ Amiri dissented, though Hentax was certain the dissent was due to his preference for tank hunting rather than concern for his allies.
‘There’ll still be skulls for their skull god,’ Hentax mocked, provoking laughter down the vox from his other havocs as they raised their autocannons and missile launchers. In an instant all six of the heavy weapon troopers opened fire, unleashing the havoc behind the squads designation.

The air fizzed as Hentax’s powerfist activated, its destructive energies masking the nervous energy the champion felt within his armoured shell. Well out of range of his storm bolter, Hentax could only watch the battle before him with anxious eyes. Plumes of dust burst up as frag missiles struck home, only to disperse and reveal the bloody ruination of the guardsmen below. High velocity shells rained upon the mêlée, tearing through the air and men alike at subsonic speeds. Hentax saw one burst through the torso of a guardsman, a crimson trail painting its path into the knee of a running berserker. Kneecapped the berserker dropped like a felled tree only for one of the guardsmen before him to jump at the sprawling space marine, thrusting his bayonet into the weak mailed join between armour and helmet. The guardsman staggered back from a crimson splatter, a smouldering hole freshly added to his helmet as he fell to the ground. The lasgun stood proud, bayonet firmly rooted in the berserker’s throat.

Hentax bit his bottom lip as he gazed despairingly at Khârn walking through the scene unscathed. An ominous green glow tainting the air as his plasma pistol incinerated everything before it. Khârn’s chainaxe, the legendary Gorechild, struck at everyone within his reach, its mica-dragon teeth chewing deep through bone and flesh before violently spitting the mutilated corpses away from the axe head. So this is Khârn, the man who shattered a legion, Hentax thought as an Imperial figure, some sort of officer judging by his decorated black coat and cap, charged at Khârn with a swinging chainsword. The officers own boltpistol, a smaller calibre imitation of the weapons the Astartes used chipping at the crimson armour of the hulking champion of Khorne. A spark, a scarlet smear and the officer’s gasmasked head fell to the ground beside the shattered remnants of his chainsword, neither the attempted parry nor neck providing any more resistance to Gorechild than the air. The other berserkers were monstrous, killing with immense savagery and rapidity yet they were still recognisably comparable to any Astartes warrior. Khârn was greater than that though, for each dismembering strike one of the Hounds of Khorne, Khârn made three of his own with a chainaxe that should be cumbersome for one without a Primarch’s stature to wield. He moved with an accelerated barbarism, every movement, reflex, action was enacted at the uppermost limits of Astartes biology, and every one resulted in a fatality. Hentax knew that his squad were purposefully avoiding Khârn, not wanting to give the World Eater an excuse to turn on them. Hentax couldn’t blame them.

The metallic tang of blood blazed upon his tongue as his teeth ruptured the lip he was now gnawing.
‘Finally some tanks!’ Amiri exclaimed with the exuberance of a small child, raising his autocannon so that the barrel faced the eight Chimera pattern tanks that were rushing out of the retreating dust storm towards the fighting. Amiri squeezed the trigger, delighting as his shot struck against the track of a central tank causing it to veer sideways before skidding to a stop a hundred yards from the combat. Out lumbered the hulking forms of Ogryns.
‘Abhumans!’ Damu spat disdainfully across the vox to his fellow havocs as he witnessed the giant creatures emerge from the crippled Chimera the smallest still a head taller than an Astartes and almost twice as wide. The other Chimeras stopped and out came more squads of Ogryns as well as three units of guardsmen. Amongst them Hentax could identify two meltaguns and a plasma gun, as well as a leader whose shimmering blade could only signify a power weapon.
‘A well armed and thought out counterattack for us to snuff out,’ Amiri said as the havocs adjusted their aims to target the newcomers, instinctively calculating the risk the newcomers posed and prioritising their fire.
‘Wait!’ Hentax snapped, his order too slow to stop Junda from placing an autocannon shell between the eyes of an Ogryn.
‘That first tank is still firing. Our fellow Sons of Strife aren’t coping with it as well as I’d hoped. We kill it first.’ The Havocs looked at each other uneasily. They were veterans and many had served with him for decades if not centuries by now. He knew they thought he was being erratic with his target priorities; it was unlike him and ran against the instincts they had honed over millennia at war. Flexing his powerfist so that the air crackled with energy, Hentax let his growl transmit over the vox to force his point and the squad followed his order and moved off.

Hentax smiled as he saw a berserker fall backwards from the new guardsmen, the air bubbles solidifying in his ceramite armour as it rapidly cooled from the melta blast that killed the berserker. Khârn would boil alive as well as anyone in front of a meltagun. There was still hope.

Sxoalt breathed in deeply, embracing the smell of burning flesh and promethium as it took the edge off the taste of Racine’s dusty air. He closed his left fist and the under-slung flamer attached to his arm cut out leaving only its pilot light ablaze. A lasblast glanced the back of Sxoalt’s head. The wound cauterised instantly but it was enough to gain his attention and the Raptor Champion turned to see an onrushing guardsman shakily pointing a laspistol at him, his back and left leg already alight. The next three shots all missed as Sxoalt’s face twisted into a carnivorous smile, his shiny metal teeth gleaming. He stepped forward and swatted the laspistol away with his right hand, catching the weapon with the tips of his three scythe-like lightning claws. A twist of his wrist tore through the laspistol and the guardsman’s hand, charred, bloodied pieces falling to the ground. The guardsman recoiled staring at the stub were his hand had been, but Sxoalt wasn’t done. A thought brought his jump pack to life and, raising his knee, he rushed forward propelled by his personal jet engine. Bones cracked audibly as the knee struck the guardsman in his ribs. The man collapsed, blood sputtering from his pained lips as he coughed feebly. Sxoalt’s tongue skimmed across the points of his teeth as he savoured the despairing look in the eyes of the hapless human as it lay crumpled, broken and dying at his feet when he felt something moving at his periphery. Turning sharply he pumped his fist twice sending a quick flash of fire that caught a charging bayonet wielding guardsman in the face. The would-be assailant staggered away blinded before lurching violently to the right as a bolt round shattered his tibia.

‘They scream so tunefully’ Soi-Disantra said, laughing at his own observation keeping his bolt pistol trained at the guardsman he had just shot.
‘Khârn is amongst this group and there are fresh Imperials including abhumans,’ he continued. A look of pure joy formed on his face and he let loose a further shot into the guardsman’s left leg exploding the kneecap with enough force to sever the limb to Soi-Disantra’s relish.
‘For a moment I feared this distraction would be over before we could slake our curiosity and see what makes Khârn so specia,’ Sxoalt said, beaming at his fellow Raptor.
‘Let’s get a closer look.’

‘Death to the False Emperor’ Lexstc bellowed as his jump pack cut out and hit the ground at pace, his momentum driving his chainsword through a guardsman before cleaving the human apart.
‘Watch out you idiot’ Soi-Disantra shouted from his left seeing the plasma gunner taking aim. The jet of plasma burned Sxoalt’s eyes as he witnessed its luminous path glance past Lexstc’s abdomen, causing his armour to smoke as his bowels boiled. It continued at speed towards Soi-Disantra who was already taking to the air to avoid the stream of superheated gas. His reactions where too slow and the plasma caught his left boot, incinerating the lower part of his leg.
‘I won’t stand for this!’ Soi-Disantra spat as he raised his bolt pistol and put a bolt round between the plasma gunner’s eyes, the back of the guardsman’s skull shattered explosively, his head to a bloody pyrotechnic for the Raptors amusement.

Sxoalt led his Raptor into the warring masses with relish, eager to work his way to Khârn and finish the job and claim the glory. The Imperial forces at this end of the battlefield seemed much tougher than those around the noisy tank, Sxoalt mused, as an Ogryn struggled to get its axe out from the helmeted skull of a berserker. Coming up behind it Sxoalt reached forwards with his right hand, his lightning claw reaching for the creature’s lung. The Ogryn’s flesh sizzled like cooking fat as the lightning claw tore through to his target. He could smell the organ cook upon his talons as he ripped it free. The Ogryn’s breath became laboured as it continued its struggle to free the axe for several more moments before death finally overcame it.

The raptors were laughing at Soi-Disantra hopping through the combat with some difficulty when Sxoalt’s nose caught the ozone smell of a power weapon. Sure enough there was an Imperial officer running through a berserker with a power sword. Sxoalt smiled predatorily and strode towards the officer.

The officer was undaunted by the Raptor champion, heady at defeating two of the Astartes already. He swung his sword manfully, trusting in its lethal power when Sxoalt caught the blade between his talons bringing forth the panic and terror Sxoalt was used to seeing in the faces of his foes. A whispered chuckle passed Sxoalt’s steely teeth as the static in the air from the conflicting power fields caused the officer’s hair to stand on end. A jerk yanked the officer sideways. Sprawling midair before the Raptor champion his shoulder now dislocated. Sxoalt dived head first at the officer, joy welling in his core as he bit into the officers throat. Bloodied spittle danced in the air as a liturgy of Khornate prayer flowed from Sxoalt and he opened his eyes to see Khârn before him facing off against the towering masses of two Ogryns the smallest of which still towered over a foot taller than the World Eater.

Khârn moved swiftly, Gorechild aimed at the nearest and smallest Ogryn, Sxoalt could tell the perfect trajectory for a disembowelling stroke with a suitable uplift to lead into a parry for the gigantean chainaxe the larger Ogryn was already raising above its head. It was poetry in motion, violent and beautiful, effortlessly effective. Suddenly the smaller Ogryn lurched sideways, dropping the primitive gun that it had been using to dent Khârn’s armour and reaching for Gorechild. Khârn’s blow struck the creature, crimson spraying outward but it was too late. Even as its mica-dragon teeth tore bloody rends into the beast the Ogryn’s weight pulled Gorechild out of Khârn’s grip. The chain that linked the axe to the World Eater came taut as the dying Ogryn pulled the chainaxe deeper into its embrace.

Before Khârn could retrieve his fabled weapon, the second larger Ogryn was upon him, its chainaxe hurling down towards the betrayer from almost twice the Astartes’ height. Sxoalt smiled, ignoring the combat around him, enthralled at what was unfolding before him. Khârn dropped his plasma pistol and grabbed the chainaxe’s hilt, the strength of the blow forcing him to one knee as he held the whirling teeth of the Ogryn’s weapon at arms length.

Sxoalt swiped blindly at some movement towards him with his lightning claw, the familiar sizzling noise as flesh cooked upon the talons crackled in his ear as he focussed on what he was now certain would be Khârn’s final moments. The Ogryn was immense, almost half as tall again as Khârn, its bulging arms dwarfing the crouching World Eater as they powered the chainaxe closer to Khârn’s neck strained inch at a time. Anticipation caused Sxoalt’s jump pack to raise him from the ground even as Khârn edged lower towards it. The axe sat half an inch from Khârn’s neck, his arm bent back on itself. The Ogryn towered over him when, to Sxoalt’s amazement, he thrust forward, propelling the chainaxe into the Ogryn with immense strength. The axe haft shattered the carapace armour the abhuman wore and continued through its chest like a blunt javelin. Sxoalt dropped to the ground, realising that Khârn had skewered the Ogryn’s heart with the haft.

Khârn rose swiftly toppling the dead Ogryn backward whilst pulling Gorechild’s chain bringing the weapon back to hand. The World Eater turned, looking straight at Sxoalt, keeping his eyes on the Raptor champion as he reached down for his plasma pistol. Sxoalt glanced away, feeling self conscious; he picked out an Ogryn in the distance fending off a berserker and headed towards it to busy himself.

‘Pathetic,’ Aethnal spat following Sxoalt’s path away from Khârn.
‘What was that sir?’ Caerth enquired, shattering the jaw of a guardsman with the butt of his bolter, toppling him to the ground unconscious.
‘The humans. They’re pathetic,’ Aethnal said disdainfully, putting a bolt round into the skull of the fallen guardsman. Caerth nodded and turned away leaving Aethnal to muse on the situation.

‘I’m surprised to see you so disdainful of their rituals,’ Hentax’s dry voice came from behind Sxoalt, the Raptor champion surveying the post battle rituals of the Hounds of Khorne.
‘And why should I be appreciative of this?’ Sxoalt sneered, gesturing to the chanting Astartes as they flayed the skin off the skulls of the fallen guardsmen before adding them to the growing pile of skulls they were creating.
‘I left the Word Bearers to escape such baseless rituals. One should worship the Chaos Powers in the moment. When I rip out a throat with my teeth, I always say a prayer,’ Sxoalt said pointedly his passions roused by the discussion.
‘This, this is snivelling. This is cowardly. Why should Khorne care for their chanting? What worth do such acts hold for a god? It’s disgusting that Astartes would consider debasing themselves like this. Humans I can understand but our kind?’ He spat on the ground and gazed hatefully at the Berserkers.
‘You aren’t a theologian, Hentax,’ the Raptor champion teased when it became apparent Hentax would add no more to the discussion.
‘We are our father’s sons,’ Hentax replied quietly his suit’s vox rasping the whispered words.
‘Did you lose anyone today?’ Hentax continued changing the topic to one he was suited for.
‘Two. Lexstc and Nyxus,’ Sxoalt replied.
‘Soi-Disantra is somewhere fashioning a peg leg for himself. He’ll be wanting a bionic when we ship this world’s ore to Kovana.’ He added knowing the Iron Warrior would take the lead in acquiring provisions for the warband when they made it to the fallen Forge World to trade the wealth they stole from Racine.
‘This war is a costly one. Casualties are approaching twenty per cent’ Hentax mused aloud.
‘At Kovana we will recruit new members. You know the Strife-Sovereign’s plans. Sacrifices today will be replaced upon our victory,’ Aethnal chastised as he approached his fellow champions.
‘Well that was an unsurprisingly pitiful display from you both today,’ he added cheerily, shifting to a friendlier tone as he fingered the pommel of his powersword.
Lightning sparked in Sxoalt’s hand as his lightning claw activated the finger scythes rubbing against each other for dramatic effect.
‘What do you mean by that?’ Sxoalt hissed over the sound of his jump pack activating, his face twisting into a menacing visage.
‘Khârn, he had you both running scared,’ Aethnal laughed, delighting in the provocation of his fellows. A faint growl emerged from the Raptor champion who was quivering as if trapped a heartbeat away from pouncing. Hentax activated his powerfist causing the air around him to throb with violent intent.
‘Tell us your great plan already, oh mighty Aethnal,’ Hentax said tiring of Aethnal’s ego boosting games.
‘My scouts have found an armoured column moving at an angle to intersect our path tomorrow,’ he said unaware of the festering contempt with which Hentax viewed him, as the swordsman claimed personal authority over the marines here.
‘We will push Khârn and his remaining hounds into this force and then we’ll sweep in and deal with whatever remains of Khârn and his forces together in a unified attack.’
‘Destroy all the Hounds of Khorne? Don’t we require Astartes for our continuing wars?’ Sxoalt asked extravagantly, desperate for a hole to pick in his rival’s plan.
‘Barely sixty of the three hundred Khârn came with live still. The Hounds’ combat efficiency is all but squandered. They will have no value to the Sons by the end of this campaign,’ Hentax chimed in to dismiss the Raptor champion’s objections. The raptor smiled at his fellows his anger quelled.
‘Tomorrow then. Khârn dies tomorrow.’

The shell blurred through the air striking the Hellhound like a hammer blow from some ancient human god. Tearing through the iron membrane of the Hellhound’s fuel tanks, the shell was lost to fire; a massive conflagration exploded outward engulfing three nearby berserkers.
‘They’ve taken out most of the tanks already,’ Amiri lamented bitterly eyes fixed on the two Astartes emerging from the conflagration that was once an imperial tank.
‘We’re here to slay the Hounds, not the Imperials,’ Hentax hissed, gesturing at the bloodstained Astartes swarming around the wrecked vehicles. The havocs were silent and Hentax realised that they needed further persuading.
‘They are led by Khârn the Betrayer. You’ve all heard of Skalathrax, Mesoameric, Tlatoni V. Khârn’s reputation is awash with the blood of those who were his allies,’ he spoke, conjuring up the most emotive and brutal betrayals of Khârn’s history to hammer home his point.
‘Now get to work,’ he growled, leaving his Havocs to join Aethnal and Sxoalt in confronting Khârn, the sounds of his squad’s heavy weapons ringing in his ears as they started their task.

Sxoalt stuck his tongue out to catch the crimson droplets that filled the air as he ripped his lightning claw out of the torso in which it had been plunged. The metallic tang of the blood enthused his senses invigorating his soul.
‘Skulls for the skull throne,’ Soi-Disantra cried sarcastically as his chainsword chewed its way through the neck of the berserker before him provoking laughter from his fellow raptor. Startling green luminosity burst through Soi-Disantra’s back, plasma hissing in the air. The laughter stopped abruptly as the raptor fell to reveal Khârn forebodingly striding forwards from a smoking tank wreck.

‘The Betrayer. Charge!’ Sxoalt bellowed, his jump pack roaring into life alongside those of his squad.
‘That’s crazy!’ Lotaz spat veering away from the squad and the World Eater. Sxoalt turned a torrent of threats and insults swelling in his throat, ready to aim at the coward, when a Krak missile tore into Lotaz’s jump pack. The blast shredding the raptor’s back dropping him unmoving onto the dusty ground. That left three of them to face Khârn. Sxoalt hoped they’d be enough to keep the betrayer occupied until Aethnal and Hentax turned up to sway the odds back in his favour.

Flame washed over Khârn as Sxoalt rushed towards him. Maclir and Thark, his fellow raptors, jetted around to flank the target. Gorechild tore through the flame giving Sxoalt ample time to shift his jump pack and slide past Khârn’s blind attack. The raptors’ bolt pistols fired as they circled the World Eater each shot forming a crater in his armour. He dropped to his knee and Sxoalt flashed his metal teeth. A shot had got lucky and wounded his foe. Thark rushed at his fallen adversary when Khârn burst into action. Gorechild was a blur as Khârn sprung from his crouched position tearing through Thark’s armoured abdomen. The raptor jerked backwards, jump pack roaring in panic, a trail of intestine and blood following the raptor as it hurtled backwards into the sky.

Maclir was next. Thark’s body hadn’t landed and Khârn was upright and beside the raptor, unleashing an angry flurry of blows upon the raptor, forcing him back a step with each sparked parry between the warring chainblades. Sxoalt saw his opening and activated his jump pack and jetted towards the World Eater lightning claw first. Distracted, Khârn couldn’t hope to counter such a swift attack, Sxoalt thought jubilantly, aiming his claws at his foes back.

Maclir’s skull shattered in his helmet as Gorechild struck home after shearing through his chainsword. Khârn turned rapidly throwing his plasma pistol at the glowing talons speeding towards him. Sxoalt’s eyes widened in terror as his claw ruptured the pistol’s fuel cells, a rapidly expanding ball of plasma bursting from his scythed fingertips.

Watching Khârn deftly sidestep the hurtling mass of Sxoalt’s smouldering corpse Hentax’s mouth became devoid of moisture. His eyes transfixed on the raptor champion’s teeth, glowing red with heat as the molten face dripped from Sxoalt’s skull. Smoke streamed from the cavity that was once his torso, as the remaining half of his jump pack propelled him into the steel hull of a wrecked tank with a clang that rang over the battle field. For a moment Hentax thought the raptors would win the day, they moved so swiftly with their jump packs it seemed that Khârn was not so supernaturally quick after all. But the World Eater seemed to go up yet another gear, his accelerated fury pushing him further beyond the physical capabilities of an Astartes. He moved quicker than a jump pack; he swung Gorechild faster still and with force that dwarfed even what Hentax’s powerfist produced.

The Iron Warrior glanced at Aethnal who was thrusting the point of his power sword into the eye of the berserker before him, seemingly unmoved by Sxoalt’s death. That was typical of Aethnal, who boasted of sparring with Lucius before the heresy, and who swore that, were he to leave as many survivors as the likes of Lucius or Khârn his would be a name that held equal acclaim amongst the true Astartes. Hentax had long considered the swordsman a deluded egotist. With Sxoalt dead his hopes of victory and survival depended on this valuation being a mistake.

‘Stupid fool. All he had to do was occupy Khârn for a few moments,’ Aethnal sneered over the vox as he strode purposefully towards the target holding his sword before him with both hands.
‘Hurry up Hentax, I’ll need you to provide an advantage. The Betrayer and I are too evenly matched to be sure of victory otherwise’ he continued his voice confident, assured. Not for the first time Hentax wished he knew the vox channel for Aethnal’s squad. The swordsman had scattered them to see to the berserkers in a display of confidence that seemed increasingly foolhardy.

A roar burst from Khârn as he charged at the duo like some demented raging nightmare from the depths of the warp.
‘Finally!’ Aethnal cried exuberantly bringing fresh horror to Hentax as it dawned on him that the swordsman was actually enjoying the prospect of fighting the World Eater.

Sword met axe, sparks splitting the air. Once, twice, thrice they struck against each other before Aethnal made a backwards step. Four more explosive contacts in half as many seconds and the swordsman backed away again. The pattern repeated once more only for Aethnal to thrust his sword point forwards immediately. The World Eater stepped out of the strike barely, the powersword’s field of destructive energy blackening his crimson armour. Gorechild flew at the swordsman and Aethnal took three consecutive steps backwards, each accompanied with a shower of sparks as Gorechild’s teeth scratched into the powerfield.
‘Hentax, if you’d be so kind,.’ Aethnal wheezed as he parried four more strikes. Hentax awoke from his stupor and pointed his Storm Bolter at the World Eater. Pressing the trigger a tirade of bolt rounds spat from the twin barrels of the gun. Successive explosions tore into Khârn’s shoulder plating, buckling the ceramite out of shape. Aethnal lashed out as Khârn shifted his weight against the bolter rounds, winning first blood, an inch long gash in the World Eater’s forearm dripped blood onto the ground below.

Emboldened by this victory, Aethnal went on the offensive. Hentax watched in amazement as the swordsman unleashed over twenty strikes on the World Eater, forcing Khârn to parry a blow with Gorechild’s Adamantium hilt on three occasions. Yet the World Eater gave no ground and seemed to match the speed of the swordsman’s attacks with ease regardless of his wound. Sword met axe explosively once more with the sword shattering before the axe. Pain lanced Aethnal’s face as a shard of his sword still carrying residual charge sliced into his cheekbone the dissipating energies cooking his face. Gorechild hit home, shattering the Imperial Eagle ornamenting the swordsman’s chest, spitting out a scarlet spray as the mica-dragon teeth chewed through his fused ribcage.

Hentax charged, breaking into a run knowing the added momentum would be amplified as destructive force by the power fist he raised level to his head ready to strike. Khârn waited until Hentax committed to the swing of his gigantean fist to tear Gorechild free from Aethnal’s chest, using the flat of the axe head to swat the powerfist aside.

Agony shot up Hentax’s arm, his chest tightening as he staggered clumsily away, his momentum redirected by the nonchalant swat. Warning lights flashed within his helmet as he fell to his knees breathlessly. His powerfist hung at his side, a third of its original size, blood pouring through tears in the crumpled device. The powerfield that amplified all kinetic force put within it had been turned inward causing the fist to implode. When the device could compact no further the field continued inward, reducing his flesh to a pulp and his bones to dust utterly destroying most of his arm. He gasped for breath again, realising that the trauma had caused one of his hearts to arrest, halving the cardiac output his superhuman anatomy relied upon. His chest felt heavy and his vision was being stripped of colour as the sus-an membrane in his brain started to cut out brain function, inducing a state of suspended animation to allow him to heal. Everything was going numb too fast for Hentax. It was impossible to focus whilst he struggled for breath, his legs lifeless beneath him. He couldn’t override the membrane. With effort he raised his head just in time to see blurring mica-dragon teeth fly towards him in monochrome.

The Strife-Sovereign circled overhead, his wings glistening in the sun light waiting for Khârn to finish with Hentax before descending.
‘Is it done?’ The daemon prince asked as it landed, protective growls emerging from its pectoral mouths as Khârn turned his attention to the daemon. A dark unsettling feeling crept under the daemon’s iron skin whenever in the presence of Khârn. The feeling was an affront to the Strife-Sovereign’s majesty yet the daemon prince seemed powerless to stop it.
‘You called for Khorne’s help to win this world?’ Khârn asked each word carried a threatening undertone at odds with their meaning.
‘I did,’ the Strife-Sovereign replied with an agitated whip of its tail.
‘You understand that Khorne requires payment for his assistance. A tithe of skulls must be paid. Skulls which hold a specific value.’ Khârn continued channelling the skills of his former life as an equerry.
‘I do,’
‘These three were your greatest champions?’
‘They were,’ the daemon prince responded impatience increasing the anger of his chests underlying growls as his tail whipped once more.
‘The Skull Tithe is paid,’ Khârn spoke softly before he jerked into action, sprinting towards the nearest marine Gorechild held high leaving the Strife-Sovereign alone with his victory.
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Re: Bride of Kharn

Postby Phalanx » Wed May 04, 2011 11:40 am

Well, I can't speak for anyone else (obviously), but I really enjoyed that!

Double-betrayal. The combat sequences. The only part I found tough-going was the meeting at the start. But overall, thoroughly enjoyable. There were a couple of typos in there too, but otherwise very good :)
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Re: Bride of Kharn

Postby Xisor » Wed May 04, 2011 12:13 pm

Only nipped through the first few paragraphs (as, allegedly, I'm ostensibly "very busy"), but very endearing prose and enjoyable dialogue; I look forward to pouring over this later. (Or rather: later pouring this over me noggin')
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Re: Bride of Kharn

Postby schaferwhat‽ » Wed May 04, 2011 12:23 pm

thanks for the words, sorry to hear you didn't like the opening passage, the first 500 words were my sample, and whilst the meeting progresses further (and admitedly maybe too long) I think it sort of lays out the personalities.

I'm interesting to see what is endearing about my prose, and also if it maintains such qualities throughout for you Xisor.
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Re: Bride of Kharn

Postby Tyrant » Wed May 04, 2011 2:16 pm

Having read it I can see why Christian didn't pick it up. It was sometimes hard to work out what was going on, and Kharn didn't really have enough "face-time" for my liking. The segment from the Imperial POV was odd because I was expecting more from that side of things, but there wasn't, which made me wonder why it was there at all.

It was an enjoyable read and the quality of the writing was quite good though. I would have quite liked to see this in Treacheries (after A Curse Eternal of course), but hey. C'est la vie, or something else in a language I can barely speak.
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Re: Bride of Kharn

Postby schaferwhat‽ » Wed May 04, 2011 2:27 pm

Kharn was always going to be more of a plot device than a major character, that's kinda what I pitched (although maybe my synopsis didn't make that clear enough). My inital thought was "You're fighting alongside Kharn the Betrayer, you know he'll betray you, what do you do then?" and with it being "Treacheries of the Space Marines" I decided more betrayal was required.

The Imperial PoV did have more to it, but then word limits denied that as the story was following the three Champions of the Strife-Soverign on their merry adventure to be sacrifices to the blood god and the Imperial PoV wasn't actually important to the plot. I was tempted to remove it altogether but couldn't find a decent way to establish the Imperial rearguard action/ambush without it. It definately wasn't without it's faults and the Imperial PoV hash up was one of them. Sorry to hear it was hard to figure out what was going on at times, I'll reread it myself now I've forgotten most of it and see if I can pick out the tricky passages and muse on how to fix them. I am reading yours at the moment (stopped to get food, now about to continue).
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Re: Bride of Kharn

Postby schaferwhat‽ » Wed May 04, 2011 2:32 pm

For the BIGGER picture to work out the percise nature of my failure behold the submission most treacherous.


Sample Text.
The wind screamed as it flowed through the crags of Racine’s northern mountains. The pained note rang through the Strife-Sovereign’s ears and a contorted look of whimsy fell upon his brutal features. It seemed to the hulking daemon prince that Racine itself was crying out in pain, as though the war he brought to its surface was causing injury and discomfort to the planet. Laughter exploded from the Strife-Sovereign in cruel staccato barks, broken between his three mouths, at the notion that he was making the world scream took hold. Stretching out his large wings, covered with glistening feathers of a dozen metallic hues, the Strife-Sovereign looked down upon his champions gathered for his war council. With little effort he bounded into the sky from the mountain top he stood upon and descended into the valley, the fanged mouths of his chest still sniggering.

His three champions stood waiting for their master to come to them. Even as the Strife-Sovereign descended, Sxoalt, leader of the Raptors, approached and dumped a mutilated corpse onto the ground before the the Daemon Prince’s feet even as they touched down. Before the Strife-Sovereign could react, the high pitched whine of Sxoalt’s jump pack came to life and the champion retreated weightlessly back a respectful distance from the terrible splendour of his lord.
‘What is this you lay before me?’ the Strife-Sovereign hissed from his facial mouth as his tail swept forward prodding at the body.
‘A gift my Sovereign’ Sxoalt said, his smile revealing the bloodstained metal canines in his mouth ‘You wished to have the body of the leader of the Western forces, so that you may make an example of him.’ The Strife-Sovereign gaze lingered on Sxoalt, their gazes met for a moment before the Raptor Champion averted his gaze and looked to the floor. The two mouths of the daemon prince’s large chest growled, whilst the idea of dismembering Sxoalt for his insolent manner flashed across his mind before he moved on and spoke once more.

‘How goes the war in the West?’
‘The West is crushed, the enemy have scattered to the sea, seeking salvation in the Southern Islands. The world will be ours within the month my Sovereign’ barked Hentax in his brisk manner. The former Iron Warrior clenched his powerfist after he spoke causing the air to sizzle around it. The Strife-Sovereign smiled at his champions tic, all the mortals displayed their thoughts so openly. He wondered if he had once been plagued by doubts and concerns and if so had he been so weak as to show it to others but dismissed the idea. He had never been as weak as the pitiful things that waged his war, this was why he had ascended beyond them, why he was Sovereign of Strife.

‘Something concerns you Hentax?’ the Champion’s weight shifted unceasingly under his master’s scrutiny.
‘Khârn, my Sovereign. He weighs heavily on my mind.’ Hentax spoke at last, words that sang with notes of embarrassment and dread to the Strife-Sovereign’s daemonic ears.





Synopsis:

The Strife-Sovereign: A daemon prince of chaos leads his armies on the world of Racine in order to plunder its mineral wealth to fuel his future conquests. When the war effort falters the Strife-Sovereign turns to the chaos gods to deliver him victory. Khorne answers his prayers and sends his champion Khârn and his fellows, but not for nothing does the Blood God send his greatest champion. A price must be paid, the Blood God demands a Skull Tithe for his Skull Throne that the Strife-Sovereign must pay.

Characters:
The Strife-Sovereign: A daemon prince of chaos who delights in the pain, misery and chaos his actions and wars cause. Intends to lead his warband ‘the sons of Strife’ on a campaign that’ll make Terra itself quake in fear. Doesn’t think much of his mortal followers viewing them as a resource to be spent for his own goals.

Sxoalt: The leader of the Strife-Sovereign’s raptors. A cruel sadistic killer with an inflated sense of pride and self-worth who is forever striving acknowledgement from others on how terrible and brilliant he is.

Hentax: A former Iron Warrior who is logistically minded and tackles the organisation of the Strife-Sovereign’s war. Focused more on getting the task at hand done, and destroying the Imperium than achieving glory for himself.

Aethnal: The longest serving member of ‘The Sons of Strife’, having followed the Strife-Sovereign from the depths of the Eye of Terror for many centuries. Views himself as the second in command and outside of the Strife-Sovereign’s earshot holds the belief that much of the glory achieved is his.

Khârn the betrayer: Chosen champion of Khorne. Blood for the Blood God, Skulls for the Skull Throne is his mantra and like his god he cares not from where the blood comes. Has a reputation for betrayal when he gets carried away with the killing.

Plot Outline:
Opens with the Strife-Sovereign holding a meeting of his favoured champions with regards to how the war in his name is progressing on Racine. Hentax expresses concerns that as the war is nearing its end that the presence of Khârn on the world poses a risk to the Sons of Strife. The others echo this sentiment but the Strife-Sovereign isn’t concerned as dead man cannot betray anyone. He thus sends Sxoalt, Hentax and Aethnal to join Khârn on the Eastern front with their forces with instructions to kill the World Eater when the time is right.

The three champions join Khârn, his current warband and the other forces of the Sons of Strife on the Eastern front. Chasing the already retreating imperial forces that are in disarray each Champion in turn manages to negotiate their forces alongside Khârn’s own, only to be dismayed by his prowess and realising that they have no chance of killing him.

The three thus conspire to attack Khârn together, Hentax’s havocs mowing down his berzerker entourage whilst Sxoalt’s raptors and Aethnal’s marines get up close and personal.

The following day as an Imperial Armoured column is laid to waste the conspirators launch their plan. One by one the three champions are bested by Khârn. Gorechild is used to terrifying effect and manages to cause the powerfield of Hentax’s powerfist to implode in the climactic final battle.

Just then lofted upon his unnatural wings the Strife-Sovereign arrives before Khârn and they eye each other cautiously. It is then revealed that in calling for Khorne’s aid in claiming the planet which was answered with Khârn’s arrival the Strife-Sovereign had to pay the Skull Tithe and sacrifice some of his greatest champions. This payment now paid Khârn walks away from the Strife-Sovereign, his part in this war done and other wars to find to do his master’s bidding.
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