Short Fiction

Pain is Only Fair

Pain is Only Fair

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Enzo G. Noseda
Reading Time: 28 minutes
I

The rain fell upside down in the orange sunset as I looked at the corpse of my partner. The anti-grav engines of the hover tank above me parted the veil of the sky’s heavy tears leaving my own tears exposed. My outstretched hand, singed after a glancing shot of plasma, was suspended like the vehicle, uncertain as if to reach for my friend’s body or to fall and rest, as he would forever. I instead was still alive, and I thought I was the lucky one. I had no idea how wrong I was.

II

A sky overloaded with smoke and steam, combined with miles of machine-battered lands, where humans hoped stubbornly to grow some nourishment: such was the landscape that framed the Hive City, with its ascending floors of plasteel covered in factories, housing quarters and all those other things that a million souls encapsulated in its titanic walls needed to survive. A complex of barracks stained by sweat and blood crouched at the foot of the city walls, where dwelled the members of the Astra Militarum, the army of men sent to fight among the stars.

The day it all started I was away from the training areas, but I was still complaining. ‘I love the God Emperor as much as anyone else, but I would be more motivated in my duty if we had these, instead of the usual, tasteless starch rations.’ 

Above his grease-soaked moustache, Briggs’s porcine eyes looked up at me. ‘You are a true friend,’ he smiled, showing me bits of meat stuck between his teeth. ‘The Commissar will grant me a promotion when I report that blasphemy of yours!’ 

Rewarding him with a glare, I threw away the remains of the hive rat skewer that my partner had persuaded the vendor to offer us “in exchange for the security we give to citizens like you”. Not a saintly deed, but he hadn’t lied, given the patrols. Few would have cared about the recent disappearances of a handful of people in this district, but the governor had unexpectedly asked the Guard to check instead of managing it with the usual summary executions to avoid too much unrest among the population. Whether it was a kindness, or a desire to spite the Colonel, here we were in the middle of the city, inside alleys that resembled bowels and smelled even worse. The days were all the same there, despite Briggs’s companionship; at least, that was until I noticed her silhouette.

That day, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a door being slammed hastily as we passed. My companion and I exchanged a glance, and charged with a mixture of boredom and alertness. He placed himself so as to cover me, as I went to the door and ordered: ‘Open, in the name of the Emperor!’ The seconds stretched while we waited. I aimed the lasgun at the lock, exchanged a nod with Briggs, and then the door opened. I barely held back the pressure of the trigger while a face with a white complexion appeared in the crack, with high cheekbones that seemed to highlight a pair of large, dark eyes that expressed at the same time fear and determination. 

‘I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s appropriate to invite you into my house, gentlemen.’ Her voice was fresh and low, delicate. My frown turned into an uncertain smile. When after a moment she returned, my soul underwent the first of many changes.

III

The sergeant eyed him, firm but not antagonistic. ‘Yer buzzing more and more around here, boy.’ It wasn’t a question, but after a hesitant moment, the young man nodded, shaking his mud-coloured hair, half-stuck to his skin pale from lack of sun, typical of those who lived in the lower part of a Hive City. ‘I hope you don’t have bad ideas in that head of yours.’ The veteran watched him stiffen under his studious gaze, then cut the tension with a sigh, ‘Ye know, life at the Astra ain’t as great as them posters. If yer not drafted soon, ye’ll have time to think ‘bout it. At yer age, it’s natural to think ‘bout changing worlds, not many think ‘bout what it means.’ 

The boy seemed to deflate, lowered his head compliantly and released his grip on the blade hidden in his pocket. ‘Yes Sir,’ he whispered. 

Carlson nodded, still hopeful that sometimes a word would solve more problems than a bullet. Further lectures remained on his tongue, to unload on the figure that arrived breathless from the alleyways. ‘Brennan, ye lucky bastard.’ 

The soldier looked up abruptly, intimidated by the boy staring at him in an unsettling way. ‘Slept comfortable again, eh? While you’re up, why don’t you start running a few laps around the field? Let’s set a good example for your fellow soldiers!’ 

With a dejected, ‘Yes Sir,’ he started to jog. 

Something more effective than both words and bullets…’ thought the wary sergeant.

+++

The boy left the barracks shortly afterwards, disappearing into the alleys of the inner city and dodging the stream of marching workers. He stopped only in front of an anonymous door where he knocked in a coded pattern. A rusty peephole rasped to reveal cruel bloodshot eyes that stared at him. 

The boy swallowed. ‘Four sentries present every hour. A soldier always returns at dawn from the living quarters of the city, but his superior don’t care to put him back in line. The sergeant doesn’t sleep much, he seems… tormented. Five tanks in the shed, I can enter if I pretend to be enthusiastic about helping the mechanics. Their crackers are good.’ He hesitated, feeling stupid for the last comment—the other gave him time to think. 

So, before answering with a voice as hoarse as that of the peephole it came out of. ‘Well done. Follow that soldier, find out where he’s going.’ 

The hole spat out a handful of credits, more than usual, the boy convinced himself as he rushed to pick them up. ‘Yes, Master. Thank you.’ The only sound was of the closing metal peephole.

IV

Her company intoxicated me, Sheena seemed to me one of those exotic beauties from distant worlds described by many but who you never cross with in real life. I felt like I could quench my thirst with her perfume when I was close enough, but she had set clear barriers for us to cross in our relationship. I walked along the edge of those barriers like a restless tiger in a cage. The days seemed to flow quickly at the time.

But there was a day, when I stumbled into her on her way home, when her clothes were not immaculate as usual, a little tattered even. I never understood how she managed it in the filth of the Hive. A lock of hypnotic red hair dangled out from under her hood, which she rarely pulled down, mesmerising my imagination. For that, too, it took me a while to extort from her the truth about the assault she had suffered. Finally, all the days I saw her looking ever more tired made sense. Something clicked in my head. Her whispered words, coming from her barely moving thin lips were an attempt to appease me, but instead ignited my righteous fury even more. The apartment soon became too small, and going outside, I burst through the door.  Passers-by only needed a glance at my uniform and my face to decide they hadn’t seen anything and hurried up. 

Sheena watched me with dilated eyes, half hidden by the door to which she clung with her slender fingers. She was taller than me, one of the things that had struck me about her, but now she looked so frail, almost bent over, emaciated. I believed it was the exhausting work in the factory that had reduced her height, and not the unpleasant encounters she had on her way back home. 

‘Where?’ The question came out like a snarl. 

‘Bren, don’t…’ One look on my part, however, was enough to make her capitulate and stop trying to calm me down and minimise what happened; instead she took me to where it happened.

The human waste in the alley rose as we approached; he raised a greasy hand to greet us while he gestured widely at the scum for sale with the other hand. ‘Hail, Guardsman, can I interest you with any of my articles? For you or the beautiful lady…’ The lewd wink he gave her was the last straw. 

‘How…? How dare you talk to her like that? Even in front of me, even after all these days, you molested her with your foul, unworthy words?! How dare you, after you attacked her?!’ 

‘Wha…’ His smile cracked, along with his teeth, as the baton hit him in the face. Slave to my fury, I continued to hit him, enjoying each lash as if it were directed at the weight that weighed on my soul. He raised one arm to defend himself and reached out with the other to grab something, but before he got there, I broke them both, the snap of his bones ringing like music in my ears. When I stopped, the corpse had become indifferent to my work on it. Sheena was holding me from behind. I keenly noticed her lithe body against my back and the sobbing breath in my ear, before I could pull myself together. 

‘Now what do we do?’ I looked at my bloodied hands, astonished. She showed more readiness by wiping me with a rag which she then threw into a brazier inside the alleyway.

‘Take the credits from him. They’ll think it was a robbery,’ she suggested with pleading eyes. I nodded and did. But I didn’t pocket any of the trinkets on display, maybe that was my mistake.

V

Back home, she turned and kissed me deeply. Observing her eyes that shone as if all those emotions had reinvigorated her, a very different euphoria enveloped me. I reciprocated, squeezing her. The animal part of my brain cheered as I slipped my fingers into her jacket, caressing the soft, smooth skin. I began to undo my clothes as I searched for her hair with my other hand.

With an iron grip on my wrist, our lips parted suddenly. She said, ‘It’s better if we stop.’ 

Gasping for breath like a fish taken out of the water, I imploringly stared at her. ‘I know you want it too,’ I whispered, hoping to be conciliatory, trying to insist for once. 

‘They almost attacked me today.’ Her stony words slapped me cold. 

I retracted my hands as if she had become red-hot, not in the same way as before, curling up in mortification. ‘I … I better go.’ 

Her soft fingers clung to my calluses. ‘Please stay… I don’t feel safe.’

‘I don’t know if …’ I looked at her. She was the most beautiful creature in the universe at that moment, as she forced an uncertain smile on her full lips. ‘Of course… sorry.’ Her smile swelled, and with it, my heart.

+++

It was the first time the boy had heard his teacher laugh. That sound seemed out of place, paired with his voice. Yet despite that, he found himself sharing it in the darkness of the alley. 

‘Our Master is truly godlike! They made a rope; the noose is being tied by the victim itself. This is a glorious moment, and your loyal servant deserves to partake in tonight’s sacrament. Come in.’ The door opened for the boy, enveloping him in a womb of aphrodisiac fumes and numbing sounds.

VI

The walls of the alley are dirty, encrusted by old blood. Clearing away the filth, I can now see my reflection. I’m a merchant selling roasted hive-rat. I’m a rebellious menial I shot when I was a recruit. I’m the Sergeant. There is blood on my hands, and it moves to cover all of me. Under it, my face becomes mine once again. It hardens, cooked by the rage swelling inside me. Sheena calls me, she has beautiful red hair. I remember what I had to do and jumped once again into the alley, ready to strike the one who touched her without her consent. My fist speeds up and hits a startled face. Mine.’

I woke up with a start. I was no longer lying on the sofa, with my head resting on her legs: I was standing in front of the kitchen cabinet, my hand raised near the shelves. I had bumped into the Emperor’s figurine, the centre of a minute prayer altar I had never seen her use. I stared in astonishment at the stern face, without even thinking of straightening the idol, the superstitious part of my brain blaring that I should fall to my knees and pray for forgiveness. I instead forced my hand to withdraw, pouncing on the faucet like the claws of a bird of prey on a hive-rat. The rusty water sputtered, tubes moaning as Sheena did, still asleep. I rinsed my face, and neck, trying to wash away the memory of the dream, which stuck to me like sweat. Being polite, the dream didn’t want to leave me before greeting the coming dawn.

The sergeant didn’t say anything to me, he understood how we lived with our knees in the mud. When that spoiled minor nobleman of a Colonel discovered that I hadn’t slept in the barracks, however, well, things changed for me. I honestly expected to get a lot worse than a few days in solitary confinement. When I came out of it, I ran searching eyes on the faces of my fellow soldiers. Which one of them had been the tattling jealous bastard? I stopped when I got to Briggs’s uncharacteristically shaven face, dumbfounded. Apparently, he had lied to cover for me, saying that I had continued the patrols on my own out of a sense of duty on the matter of the unsolved mystery, and that’s why the punishment had not been so harsh. He had paid for my defence with his signature moustache since the Colonel started blaring on about how they weren’t protocol. His face now had an almost piglike look as he stared at me with a placid smile. He didn’t expect me to hug him, and I didn’t expect to enjoy so much the contact between our rough cheeks as we laughed.

In the long run, I started missing her less and less, where once it had seemed impossible to go one day without seeing her. As to how this affected subsequent events, it probably affected my presence the day they attacked us.

VII

The memories of the clash were single vivid moments, assembled all together but disjointed, like the coloured splinters that make up the windows of a cathedral. An explosion in the hangar. The pouring rain. The first shots, as we tried to get the surviving vehicles to safety. Blood pumping so hard that my ears seem about to burst. The figures in ragged cloaks popped out of the alleys firing. None of them hit me. Regis the Ratling cradling the stump of his wrist, whimpering, ‘C-C-Cadia Stands. Cadia S-St -St…’ Fear, exaltation: I was shooting, and didn’t realise I was screaming. A young boy lay on the ground gutted by lasers, his face transfigured into inhuman – joy?

Suddenly one of the madmen was on me. I wondered if I would end up in the Emperor’s Grace despite the extremes I had touched. The barrel of the nail gun hissed, drawing blood from my shoulder. They say that pain never lies, but at that moment it played a trick on my brain. For a fleeting moment, my feet were far away from the plasteel floor, placed on a sea of satin grass. My eyes basked on a pink-shaded sky, while my nose caught a whiff of outlandish aromas, and I felt like I was receiving a hug from behind. Only my ears remained in the present, acting like an anchor to bring my consciousness back to it. 

Despite the roaring battle, I could hear the attacker’s exhilarated chanting, his free hand composing some blasphemous gesture. Whatever his twisted mind was plotting, however, was swept away by the sudden hiss of a gush of glowing plasma, so hot it burnt the wet hairs on my nearest arm. My partially blinded eyes followed the streak of vaporised rain that connected the body to the sergeant’s pistol. It dissipated as quickly as my momentary fear, and I began to feel invulnerable again. Ecstatic, I had to stifle the instinct to spread my arms and advance in triumph amidst the near misses. I resumed fighting with renewed effort.

It was still raining, but the sun had dropped below the edge of the clouds, placing a last spotlight on the theatre of the battle. I collapsed to sit, the cold of the water mixed with blood rapidly cooling my body, hardening me like a red-hot blade stuck in a basin. The blood was mostly of heretics. ‘We won,’ I told myself. I also repeated it to Briggs’s corpse, the smell of burning from where his moustache was growing back impossible to wash off. The only curtain we had was the rain, held a bit raised by the hover tanks’ anti-grav engines above us, the drops intercepted by the projected field retracing their steps. I noticed in those points rainbows hitherto hidden from human knowledge. Night fell as I shed bittersweet tears.

VIII

The days following the battle were a painful bureaucratic drag. The faces of my companions were almost grey, burdened with survivors’ guilt. Not mine; I was alive. I was fucking, damn alive! I tasted the world as if it were the first time I was in it. The scratching of the company quills as we compiled the report, with Regis assisted by a scribe, had a music all its own. Frustrated snorts and groans from the others only made the melody stand out. A smoky aftertaste on the breeze tickled the hairs in my nose, as I enjoyed the company’s morning runs, exulting in the soreness after the heaviest exercises. Even the taste of the starch gruel had changed! I dipped my spoon into it, fishing each time for a different memory linked to the most common food in the existence of an Astra Militarum, but which had now become a source of discoveries. It seemed like Briggs was telling one of his horrible jokes, while the moustache of his spectral image whirled like tiny tentacles, making me grin. The comrades around looked at me sideways, oblivious to my new depth, as I ignored the sergeant who bent over whispering something to them.

+++

Her skin is so soft. Her skin is so soft. Her skin is so soft. How would it feel to cut it with the bayonet? Finally, I would really be inside her!

Have you ever had trouble deciding if you’re awake or still dreaming? Sometimes reality seems too far off to be the real one, especially in the deepest part of the night, when the darkness seeps even into your soul. Waking up from the nightmare, I find myself back in this time and place. It was not a liberation, it was rather to descend another step into the abyss. Eyes wide open in the bunk, I could not move any part of my still asleep body. Panic enveloped me like the arms of a lover. ‘Am I dying?’ I asked myself there more than in the heat of the battle. ‘No dear.’ The reply came to my mind like a message hidden between the shadows on the walls and the breathing of the soldiers sleeping around me. Whatever it was, at least it fully awoke my body. I simply ran, bolted out the door, and no more than two strides later, emptied my stomach on the ground. 

‘By the Primarchs’ Sacred Shoes Bennan, ye’r looking out of ta worst fuddle a man ever had!’ Not  a surprise the sergeant was awake at such an hour, what startled me was my sudden headache. His words made me throw a look to the barrack’s chapel, fearing how the Commissar would react to such blasphemy. I couldn’t stand even looking in that direction.

‘What?’ 

‘I said ye’r in a big hangover boy. You tried Mulligan’s bloody liquor, haven’t ya? Looks like ye head gonna explode. Go lay down and drink some water. It’s an order.’

Held in between the jaws of fear and pain, I did as I was commanded.

+++

I had an affair with two other soldiers. After years in the same battalion without even a side look, both of them yearned for my body. Those sexual interludes distracted me from the rough nights, but they did not cure them. They only made me recognise the true thirst I was longing for, who can truly heal my dreams. It was quickly becoming unbearable to wait any longer. I had to go back to Sheena. See her. Talk to her. Touch her. Not even half an hour after curfew, I slipped out. The alley’s aroma enthralled me like it never had before. The light was on at her place: it filtered through the door, slightly ajar. I pushed it open, and all emotion in me fell silent after days of turmoil, except dismay. The main room was completely turned upside down. ‘She… Sheena?’ I croaked. 

A voice answered behind me, and I turned, only to meet a sack on my head and an electrified prod in my stomach. ‘Silk clouds on the pink shaded sky…’ The pain made me pass out in the blink of an eye.

IX

When the sack on his head was torn off, it took his eyes a moment to get used to seeing again. The first thing he squinted at were black-cloaked figures, and the reflection of light on the crests of the Inquisition: those crests shone like a match, held over the open promethium canister was his fear. He swallowed, as the members of the Imperium’s secret police stared at him in silence. Did they expect him to say something first? Was his silence interpretable as guilt? If so, for what crime? Not that it made any difference to people like this, whose motto, “Innocentia Nihil Probat”, was clear: innocence proves nothing. When the chair creaked under his shaking limbs, the spell seemed to break. 

‘Sergeant Huldo Carlson, you were found far from the barracks overnight, in the 371-F housing area. This is enough to shoot you for desertion, you are aware of that?’ a stern voice informed him, from the taller of the two figures. 

The other one had a much sharper tone, ‘Explain.’ 

Nodding conspicuously, the soldier hastened to reply, ‘I was following Brennan, Private Brennan Timus.’ 

‘The other unexcused absent last evening,’ the woman between the two remarked. 

‘Yeah, erm… I think he’s found himself a pretty bonnie lass… I mean, I think he’s having an affair. But after, after the battle, eh, he was acting weird.’ 

‘Define weird.’

‘Well, ye know, ev’ryone got their own ways to cope with the horrors, ye have some drink ‘way their minds and some train till they fall dead, but Brennan… In the past few days, he seems…’ the sergeant trailed off, eyeing warily the hooded figures. ‘I told the guys to give ‘im a break, ye know, but I thought… yeah, I thought I’d follow ‘im tonight, see what he was up to. Maybe he was under some strange substance, I thought, an’ I didn’t want one of me boys going down that road. There are healthier ways to cope with a close call. Ye see,’ he added as if he felt the need to explain further. ‘When we were attacked, one of them rebels, ye know, with those strange symbols on them cloaks, almost drilled his brain with a nailgu-’ 

‘Symbols?’ The way the question was posed froze the sergeant. 

‘Y-Yeah, like a music note or something.’ 

‘Which note?’ pressed the inquisitor. 

‘Well, it wasn’t exactly a music note, I don’t know no music sir, but it looked like a… a sphere, yes! With a line connected to a sort of crescent moon. Ain’t it strange,’ he whispered. ‘The more I try to remember it, the more it becomes hazy… Ye know anything ‘bout it?’ 

‘Unfortunately, yes,’ said the man before shooting him on the spot.

X

The sack on my head was ripped off. I inhaled deeply, feeling the foreign air. Chemical, metallic smells and a sour taste. ‘It tastes like terror,’ my fervent mind suggested. Momentarily blinded like I was, I remembered hearing of similar situations. I cleared my parched throat to address the two silhouettes I glimpsed. ‘My Lord Inquisitors, I am a humble servant of the God Emp …’ I froze in bewilderment hearing the coarse laughter, like crackling glass. I looked closer.

‘Blood of the Saints…’ I just muttered when I recognised xenos from the worst tales, the full jet-black eyes of the two Dark Eldar glittering with anticipation.

Despite their xenos nature, Drukhari can be described as beautiful. Their body shape is like ours but lither than the best human dancer you’ll ever see. Every move they make combines grace and hints at inhuman precision and speed hidden under their translucent skin. But like the flower of a poisonous plant, the facade of extreme beauty hides an abyss of maliciousness. There are not enough words to describe what they were capable of doing to those at their mercy. With licentious slowness, they removed my skin and made it grow back quickly, in order to repeat the process. While on just the very surface of things. I will not bring back to memory now everything they devised to feed themselves, because that was before, I was unaware that pain was their livelihood, although I don’t think knowing it would have made much difference to the feelings they inflicted on me. On their side, they ignored the most perverse recesses of the mind, where the light of reason recoils, I was starting to like parts of those depths of suffering. I was convinced that it was due to something they intentionally had done to me, devised to accelerate my plunge into madness. 

I thought so because of the dreams.

On the rare times that I had the opportunity to sleep, discarded in my cell for an indefinable length of time, while my body was trying to recover, my mind knew no rest. It wandered in what I might define as gardens made of flesh—again, the words can’t express it. I assumed it was sculpted from my subconscious, as it observed my real flesh torn and shaped by the whims of my jailers. It was a vast place that the eye was unable to fully explore, perhaps out of pity, yet something was watching me. I felt it: the weight of the gaze had become physical in the dream realm, as if I could not be alone with myself, not even there. But worst of all were the dreams in which I fled from my prison, in which my platoon broke into wherever I was to free me, in which the door remained open and the tunnels opened out into the sunlight. When they faded, the return to unchanged reality was more painful than the blades.

I was having one of those dreams when the door of my cell opened silently, and a figure bent over me–Sheena! I didn’t even ask her how she got there, as she urged me to get up, and I reached out to her body, thinking instead to enjoy her presence before the obvious awakening. The horror that had become my life, meant one slap wouldn’t bring me back to my senses, but her kiss was much more effective. While I thought of getting lost in it, it rekindled my brain instead. ‘Sh … Sheena? Wh … WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?’

She stood still for a moment, looking at my lips as if she was having more trouble than me to break away from the kiss, then shook her head and put a hand over my mouth. ‘Don’t scream; we don’t have time. Can you walk?’ 

Of all the times in my life that I have kept silent and postponed the answers to questions, I chose that moment to do the opposite. ‘No, this is a cruel deception. You cannot be here!’

She lowered her head, glancing briefly down the hall as she breathed heavily, then brought her attention back to me. ‘There’s no way I can stop you from thinking that now, and it would be even worse if I didn’t tell you right away. Look at me carefully.’ As if she needed to tell me, my hand was still placed at the height of her breasts. She was so beautiful. Then, I saw a twitch in her eyes. Something moved as if she had a third, vertical eyelid; which retracted and her eyes presented themselves as full jet-black.

XI

‘YOU’RE ONE OF THEM!’ I felt my regrown skin almost trying to crawl away from her touch. But I couldn’t recoil further, I was too weak to shake away her grip on my shoulders. 

‘Yes, but listen to me! I was modified to be able to infiltrate you. To study you. So I lived a different life. And then I met you. I can imagine how you feel now, but things have not changed. Except where we are, we have to get out of here, now!’ She hoisted me to my feet, and I let her, too stunned by everything. I began to follow her, supported by her, in the corridor that I usually walked to go to the torture rooms. 

‘Are you… are you saying we can escape? Go back to the hive?’ I felt her stiffen, but she didn’t hold back the blow. 

‘That hive no longer exists … The Inquisition.’ That word was enough. I nodded and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, indulging in her warm grasp and praying. I prayed with all my strength that we were together for real, that this wasn’t yet another dream, and that I wasn’t going to wake up. Turns out it wasn’t, but we fell into a far worse nightmare.

When something struck her leg, she went down under our combined weight. The hood on her head fell too, a silken red cascade of hair that made me almost forget everything except her scent.

‘Ah, the Archon will not be pleased to discover you’ve become a thief, Shee’Nala-Rankis,’ the guard commented with glee holding a wicked sort of cudgel. 

‘Maybe she spent too much time with the Mon-keigh, we should help her remember our traditions,’ suggested a second one. 

‘Room number 72?’

‘Agreed.’ 

The words dripped with lust at the prospect of something I had become used to. 

‘Don’t you da…’ My jaw was almost dislocated by the kick. The world turned white for a second, while one of them grabbed Sheena by the hair, wrapping it around her neck, making her gasp for air as he dragged her away. 

‘Time to get back to your cell, scum…’ A pensive expression crossed the face of the second one, ‘…Unless you want to watch.’ He donned a most cruel smile while he seized me.

XII

They made it impossible for me not to look, my lids forced open by metal clips. They put it in a dimly lit room, to give my imagination more to work with, I assumed. A tall Eldar stood there with an assortment of blades so razor-sharp it hurt to look at them. His or her body was hidden under a large robe made of what I feared was tanned human skin. The only parts visible were the head enveloped in a tight insect-like mask and slender arms that were soon devoted to conducting a symphony of pain. Sheena’s gagged mouth couldn’t contain the screams for long. I yelled at them to stop, stop, and take me in her place; but I’ve insulted them. No effect apart from a distracted backhand to the face from the guard enjoying the show. I cried, tried to console her, and screamed until my lungs hurt, as incomprehensible, animalistic noises rolled out of my torn throat. When they had done things like that to me, it had hurt a lot less. They also took care to keep me alive. When it was all over, the torturer looked at me for a long time, swallowing my pained expression like nectar. ‘Aaaw, if I had such feelings, I would be moved.’

Even from behind the mask, I knew that voice all too well. My heart dropped free in relief, followed by doubt. With a theatrical gesture, the torturer rotated the chair with the body of a Drukhari that resembled my beloved, if not for the state in which the body was reduced. As she took off her mask and abandoned the skin robe on the ground. Sheena leaned down and murmured, ‘Surprise!’ 

Aghast, in a torrent of too many emotions, I listened to her mocking me with a vitality I’d never seen from her. ‘My little consolatory prize, did you miss me? I was there for you, you know? Watching my peers sculpt your body made me forget the anger at how so much spy work was wasted in that shithole after the Inquisitors’ purges. It will be useless to raid that world now.’ The notion struck me. ‘The people… the people missing from the hive…’ She shrugged, dismissive. ‘Oh, some of them were sent here to question them, the others… well, I had to feed myself.’ A wolfish smile stretched her face to the point where it made it hard to compare it with the one I remembered. 

‘The time you helped me do it… I was about to give you unimaginable pleasures. But it was another chance to torture you, too juicy to pass.’ A maniacal giggle. ‘You never even realised how I purposely attracted your attention the first time, did you? Ah, plaything, we have time to teach you the subtleties of acting. You should learn from Asharkis here, his performance was excellent.’ She approached the other Drukhari with long, supple strides. ‘Do you know which part I liked most?’ Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed and kissed him, playing with his tongue. While he seemed to savour it, she gave him a cruel slash across the thigh, leaving a thin line of blood with a blade. ‘When you hit me a moment ago. It almost felt like you really enjoyed doing it, dumb Halfborn! No one can have the privilege of striking a Trueborn unpunished, scum!’ She snarled, throwing him against the wall.

I felt something breaking inside me, a vacuum turning into pressure, like air being pushed by an ocean wave. The uncontrollable emotions had crumbled the foundation on which I could resist whatever was coming, and now they were flooding over me like a tsunami. Reaching something, being absorbed. The next sensation was even stranger, like something struggling to get out of me. I arched my back in spasms. Sheena observed the developments with voracity, curiosity and a hint of uncertainty. I shivered and spasmed, and then suddenly the lights in the room died.

XIII

Lying on the ground, something tapped on my face. When the drops fell into my open mouth, tasting of salt, I wondered, ‘Then she lied to me again. These devils can cry… why is she doing it?’ My body burned, itched, and did not respond, like when a limb left in a strange position falls asleep. I was vaguely aware of more liquid beside me, a hot pool spreading warm against my leg where the guard had been standing before. The smell of blood and ripped guts made my stomach react, but oddly I was not revolted. Then I started hearing them. Unnatural sighs, I felt my eardrums rebel as if they wanted to tear themselves apart to avoid listening. Sheena was moved into my view. Before she was above me, now she was suspended in front of me. Tendons in her arms and legs hung out of her flesh like the severed strings of a puppet. She was really crying! I saw rivulets glisten, falling from the wide eyes on… the claw wrapped around her face, clenching her mouth. That… That… That THING was holding her seemed something out of one of my worst nightmares. Far more alien than my captors, watching its grotesque pink appearance hurt, as if acid were slowly being poured into my eyes, and impossible to turn away from. 

Whispers that again had the effect of a razor in my ears asked Sheena, enticed, ‘What did you say about privileges, Trueborn? Every one of you owes a debt to my master, and now I’m here to collect.’ The free claw whipped around and cut Sheena’s leg to the bone with as much difficulty as a bolter round going through butter. Her muffled screams were drowned out by a chorus of hysterical giggles that seemed to come from everywhere. With a mixture of horror and excitement, I noticed that I had joined them. The horned head of the daemon turned with maddening slowness, enjoying the moment, as I was. 

‘My host, my vessel in this bountiful hunting land. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you. You have been so perfect for my purposes that I will give you a precious gift now.’ Turning again to Sheena, it smiled in a way unforgettable and whispered, ‘Shhh, the pain is only fair.’

For the second time, I watched motionless the woman I loved being tortured, her fleeing soul slowly devoured, and on my dribbling lips an idiotic smile.

About the Author

When not lost in the folds of the Webway, Enzo lives on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, Holy Terra.
He writes mostly about ttrpgs, he’s an avid scholar of both history and mythology of our world and various lore of the fictional ones.
It is said that he loves to make others laugh, crafting plots that intrigue and surprise them.
Worshipping Tzeentch has granted him some eldritch powers like being invisible when nobody looks at him, and turning money into books.

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