Fast Fiction

Awake

Awake

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by S. S. Jahani
Reading Time: 5 minutes

His stare is unintentional. How fruitlessly he tries to watch the sunlight fall upon the kitchen floor, and the steam rises from the browning nylons. Yet everything in that worldly, stagnant moment leads him back to her. The locks of faded hair across her neck and the hum caught between her lips draw sighs from his soul like no other thing could.

And a sadness. And a shame.

Twenty-eight years had passed and so, too, had his feelings for his former fiancé, but when this gentle ghost stepped through his office doors, a forgotten kernel of longing behind his heart made itself known. Through her, his thoughts drew heavy of a long-forsaken dream. 

She had aged while he, though scarred, barely seemed to anymore. Nonetheless, like temple ruins, grace still defined her. Everything hers, in fact, retained a charm — even those large, dark eyes, which sagged from life and puffed red from the tears she tried to hide from the world.

His brow knits at the memory of the woman’s hopeful pleadings. How valiantly she maintained her poise within his office while glittering, scornful eyes judged from the corridors. The coup had claimed her husband. The Illumination had taken her son and his wife. Now, her vie for mercy for her grandson and her life churns his mind. 

At the behest of a soft, puttering sound, the man redirects his attention to a small boy, still beset with tufts of infant downey hair. Oblivious to what had and what will come, the toddler busies himself with trains upon the living room floor. With a grimace, the man realises that he had forgotten her grandson’s name. Such involuntary omissions were happening more frequently now, though quietly, selectively.

‘Do you still like your meals with nurimeg?’

Frayed relief tugs his conscience. ‘You remember…’ he answers, turning back to her with a flattered lift in his tone. But there is a shrug, a wince and a smile, and the man curses himself for thinking there was anything more behind her memory. Unease, not unlike the clacking of plates and utensils, crackles through the air, and both adults take pause within it. 

‘Yes,’ he finally concludes. ‘Thank you.’

But she shakes her head, and sets down the tray.

His brow raises at her approach, yet his lungs do not sneak another sigh. Instead, his breath all but stops when she stands before him, and leans upwards to press a kiss upon his cheek. 

‘No.’ She settles. ‘Thank you. For him. For me.’

Air finally storms into him. He shakes his head. His skin drains white. ‘Do not thank me,’ he rasps with a voice short of a wheeze. ‘I can — …I cannot hide you —.’

She silences him with a nod, and flutters her eyes downwards. His hands reach for her own before they could form those useless, clasped wings. ‘Yes. I know,’ she chokes, withheld from her automatic prayer, ‘but anything is better than what they will do.’

She speaks as though he is not one of them. 

He knows she knows better than that.

Cold hands travel upwards and around trembling shoulders; he pulls her to him. Against her warmth, that distant dream rushes forward a million miles and twenty-eight years, and screams against the reality he had wrought.

+++

After dinner, he plays with the boy – makes him laugh so hard his little lungs and flushing cheeks need time to recover. He falls back while they bathe and redress, and vehemently ignores their dead god’s grating prayer. 

Then, when they can wait no longer, she gathers her strength, and one after another, they swallow the drink he had measured for them to share. 

In silence, he watches her place a cheek upon the child’s heavy head, and her eyes finally let loose her torrent of tears. He wilts. Too slowly does she descend into that dark sleep on that too small bed.

+++

The screams, cries and pops begin an hour later, but the man has not moved from his vigil. He remains a shadow at the edge of the bed as his legions surge through the district — hunting the Throne’s devout for Illumination. 

He hears them at the front door. Glass shatters, floorboards shudder, and chairs overturn. Their silhouettes crowd the room. Lost, he does not turn to face them until one stutters his newfound title.

He finds his comrades dressed in a purposeful mockery of the Corpse’s chattel: aquilla printed robes stained, torn and frail. Their faces are cowled, but the sickly fluorescent orbs they hold between sticks of incense pull their features into light. He sees that they are confused — even angry — at his unannounced presence.

He returns their stare with daring intensity; avoids answering their questions. He waits for them to figure it out; lets them think for themselves. 

They had been robbed of their vengeance. There would be no pleading or screaming to echo those their oppressors once wrought. Nonetheless, the conniving ones reassured the others there was still some sport. Though woman and child were trapped within a silent, drug-induced coma, their bodies would still pop and curdle after the orbs superheated their internals with brilliant, beautiful light.

Until now, the man had never noticed how eagerly they moved: how gleefully they crow as they pry open jaws and push in those luminescent spheres. His features twist towards loathing when he overhears them betting on what colour the Illuminated would glow, though he had numerously placed such before. Furious, he pushes through to leave, not wanting to realise any more.

A lethargic groan bars his retreat.

In horror he turns and sees her eyes, open, staring and wide. Like the boy, she should have been dead asleep…

He had mismeasured. The realisation kills him, like it kills her, inside. How desperately he then tries to watch the shadows dancing across the floor, and the smoke rising from the burning incense. Yet everything in that terrible, sporadic moment drags him back to her.

About the Author

S. S. Jahani is a casual Warhammer fan who plays with shapes and colours for a living and with words for fun.