Short Fiction

Rebirth

Rebirth

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Matthew Tucker
Reading Time: 33 minutes

He was upright, for the first time in years it felt like. The limbs he was adorned with were not his own; the scars that sketched a tale of agony across his entire body testaments to his rebirth. Memories, some his own, some belonging to another–no, others–echoed through his pain-wracked mind. 

He was confused. What was my name? No, what is my name?

His eyes struggled to focus on the bright light as he opened eyelids which felt like they had never been used before. They felt heavy as adamantium blast doors. The light pierced his pupils, causing incandescent pain. Gradually his eyes adjusted, and could make out lumen globes focused on his secured frame. The room behind the light was dull, plain and sterile-looking. The alcoves above slowly came into focus: areas which once held statuary were now bereft of iconography, and seemed to have been so for millennia. Trying to turn his head, he felt it securely fastened to the cold, metallic slab that he lay nearly naked on top of. A loincloth covered the area between his navel and muscular thighs, damp with unguents and blood.

The sudden movements caused pain in every part of his body. Plugs and ports connected to a collection of cables and dendrites that snaked along his torso moved slightly, linked to view screens and bio monitors just out of view. He could make out blood pressure charts, heart function readings, adrenal levels, Larraman cell generation status, all the information that showed he was alive. He tried again to move his head, more localised agony sending maddening signals to his cerebral cortex. He gritted his metal teeth.

‘You are awake, then.’ The words came unbidden through the auditory implant on the side of his skull. The speaker sounded as if he spoke through a pail of water. The creature murmured a response. Inaudible. Not his tongue, either. He was unsure if he was even human still. He knew at least he was once human.

The jittering form of a medicae servitor stabbed into ports to the side of his head with mechadendrites that parted flesh from bone with the delicate ease of cutting parchment with a scalpel. Several blurts of binharic, a screech of insane static, then clarity was restored. 

The pain caused him to reach out instinctively with one of his new appendages, easily breaking the bonds holding his arm down and crushing the windpipe of the creature that caused the discomfort. The ease in which he pulped bone and sinew seemed unnatural. I am stronger, the creature thought. The gurgling sound made as the larynx of the victim was crushed under the incredible strength he possessed reminded him of battles he had no recollection of fighting. He felt warm vitae dribbling down his forearm as the lowly servitor violently convulsed and spat out oily blood, the last vestiges of neural feedback screeching through a ruined spinal cord brought instant gratification. He relished sharing agony with his latest kill: one of many more to come. The voices in his head seemed to chuckle at the level of barbarity, and it made him feel sick to the stomach. He let go of the dead servitor, which crumpled heavily to the floor, twitching spasmodically on the deck.

The man in the shadows continued to speak. The words were directed at another. The creature heard them as clearly as if they were shouted next to his slab. He, for he knew he was male at least–or whatever that definition meant–could not turn to see his target while restrained.

‘The surgery went as planned?’ It asked. The voice was rough, years of directing orders In the heat of battle giving it a coarse, gravelly tone. The accent was peculiar; his auditory implants could not discern the individual’s place of birth. It raised more questions. 

‘Yes, my Lord’, came the reply. Another soul-one of the Magos Biologis of the Dark Mechanicum. The words flooded into his mind unbidden. It made him grit his teeth as his brain in-loaded with data in less than a nanosecond. He pulled out details of the person who spoke. The information was innate, built in; immediate recall: Magos Primaris Luxor Five-Seven Gamma: known informally as Lux. Seconded to Galathon IV on date 527.993.M31. Sided with Warmaster Horus and the Dark Mechanicum 628.998.M31. Involved in the secession of Mars from Imperial Rule during the Heresy. Current location: unknown. 

Where was this information coming from? It flooded his synapses. Stratagem, Tactical Acumen, theoretical, practical, codex: all words that he found a hypnotic association with. He had no answer for that, no link to his past. He did not even know his name, but he did know one thing, and it caused his hearts to sing:

Vengeance.

‘Excellent work. Finally, success.’ The stranger was clearer now as his eyes gained their full use, but still seemed to be distorted, as if looking through a lens. He wore power armour the ruddy colour of spilt blood marred with dirty oil and grit. The warrior spoke harshly, peering at a bank of monitors, as if studying the remains of an alien creature. He glanced over at the nameless one. The warrior’s gaze seemed to peer into his soul. I know you, and you are mine, it seemed to say.

The table he was strapped to jolted, and slowly began to rotate until fully vertical, his feet held only inches from the deck plate. The clasps holding his giant form snapped open, a wheeze of pneumatics opening his chest strap as he fell forcefully to the ground. The connector umbilicus linking him to the monitors exploded from their housings, cables falling languidly to the deck plate. Landing on augmented limbs and one hand he managed to stop himself from laying sprawl across the cold steel floor. He looked up, realising one of his eyes was missing. Scars ran across his features which he explored with metal fingers. He looked at his chest. A collection of scars linked to one massive closed wound in his chest cavity. It travelled all the way up to his neck, where a ruin of flesh, recently sealed shut, was still knitting together. 

These are not mine either, he winced at the thought of his gen-hanced body being assaulted so intimately by whatever foul creatures were present in front of him.

Whispers of the past flooded his synapses. He knew dates, locations of battles he had not fought in. Warriors of ancient armour plate; marks of astartes wargear that predated him. He visualised gigantic warriors- leaders of their prospective armies, fighting one another in massed battles of ancient times. Entire armies of men like him. No, that was not the right word. Legions. He was among them. Standing alongside them, the shadows of the past. How could this be?

‘Do you know your name?’ The stranger in blood red Cataphractii plate asked in purred tones.

A name came unbidden to his cracked lips, his tongue acting without conscious thought.

‘M…m…Malleus.’ It was as if he had never said that word before. Yet, the name felt so natural to him. 

‘I am glad to have you beside us, brother. Now, we must see how you fare in battle. We have a war to win, and I will need you by my side.’

‘As you wish, lord Madrogar.’ The name was etched into his memories. He knew the creature in despotic armour the colour of fouled blood. He saw detail now on the ancient warplate that gave him the silhouette of a tank. The collection of countless scrolls and cannisters that hung from his warplate. The obliterated marks of heraldry that alluded to his liege lord could not be discerned among the quagmire that caked his wargear. The skulls on the bandolier that clinked against his shoulders: too big for base-humans. They seemed to be transhuman, and thousands of years old. One missed a jawbone, another had an eye socket missing. The most perfect, and probably the most recent, had a spider web of cracks emanating from an impact crater in the temple. Even without the physical evidence, he knew of Lord Madrogar’s past deeds as if they had been hard-wired into his mind. He knew he was an utterly lethal opponent, and to show fealty in his weakened condition was the only hand he had to play. 

‘I am at your command, I am your tool, use me to bring death to our enemies.’

He did not mean those words. He would find out the truth. He would remember his true self. He would find out why he could remember his previous life. What he deciphered was that he had died and had been resurrected. He could not remember who had killed him though. He would know why other voices permeated his mind all at once, and what foulness had beset him in the time before his reawakening. Why he had cravings for human blood, to feel the spilling of life fluid and shattering bone in his hands, the persistent stench of rot in his nostrils, and why he had only one eye, the other being an organ which allowed him to see colours that should not exist. As they walked out of the medicae facility–or at least, the warped perversion of what was one–he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a section of polished metal that wasn’t mired in the gore of ages. He ignored the patchwork of scars making up his gigantic frame, but focused on his eyes. One was oceanic blue, the other seemed to swirl in different colours. Why was this?

Once he had the answers, there would be only one more thing on his mind: revenge.

+++

I looked down over the leather textures of the book that lay on a plinth in front of me. The cover, a stitched gestalt of what appeared to be worn human flesh, gazed back at me through long-dead eyes that had been gored out. The skin of the tome reeked of sulphur, rotting meat and all manner of things unwholesome. Where it had been torn, fresh blood ran from the skin. 

Such words, such power, I thought to myself. I had just begun to explore my hidden powers: powers I was not born with. No, they had been grafted within me, courtesy of what I now knew was a gestalt gene seed. The genetic legacy I now carried was not mine by chance, nor did it originate from one paternal source. It was by design. By surviving the ordeal of rebirth it allowed me to tap into unnatural inherited psychic traits. The arcane touched me, caressing my very soul, the voices I had heard at my awakening beckoned me to this place. These gifts had belonged to another- the one I now took the name of.

I stood in what once was a chapel. A room now more akin to a slaughterhouse than place of worship. The alcoves of the room were filled with piles of rotting corpses: servants, slaves, it did not matter. All that mattered was the sacrifice. There were old, moulding pews which looked like they would fall apart at a glancing touch. Several had been shattered in the battle that raged moments before. The acrid smell of spent munitions lingered in a swirling morass of discharged firearm exhaust, misted blood and pulverised rockcrete. The plinth at the altar of the chapel held all manner of effigies. The skull of noted kills offered up to the Ruinous Powers. An eldar wraithbone, pitted and cracked, glowed dully with the last vestiges of a soul trapped within. A hideous flayed skin-form of a psyker recently captured from a tithe world they had slaughtered was used as a carpet at my armoured feet. It’s features still spoke of indescribable horror of its demise. 

The cries and screams of the dying throughout the ship were still audible. But, more than that, the voices that guided me to this hallowed place were louder still. My war band had raided this ship after tailing it through the warp for over a month. Finally, I have found my prize. The voices, that sang with rapturous praise every time I killed, seemed to scream with joy when we located this vessel’s warp signature. They roared with barely contained malice when I ended the life of the first defender–a deckhand, no more than 30 standard Terran years, his eyelids had been removed and his mouth surgically altered so he could not scream. The human fired off a solid shot round that barely scratched my armours’ paintwork. I returned the gesture in kind with a speared fist through his ribcage: it would be a waste of ammunition to expend it on such trivial foes.

Pursuing the remains of an Emperor’s Children war band, we had assaulted this vessel and its fledgling flotilla with all haste, before it could jump to the warp again. The initial salvos from my flagship and fleet had scoured away the enemy escorts and frigates. The gravitic envelope surrounding this vessel was now filled with the flash-frozen bodies of servitors and defenders vented to the void by hull-breaching detonations. Once the shields had been overwhelmed my personal retinue of murderers and traitor marines had assaulted by boarding torpedo. Hours of bloody fratricide had allowed us to eliminate the command staff on the bridge, which was run by a skeleton crew. The master of this vessel had abandoned the bridge. The warp drive had been disabled: the vessel was now ours. At the last we lay siege to what was once known as a reclusiam. My men had free reign to take what they wanted from the mangled remains of the Emperor’s Children grand cruiser, but this place was mine to venture into, alone. I breached the reinforced doors of the reclusiam with a melta charge, chucking a handful of krak and stun grenades after the heat wash dissipated and charged through the smoke.

I stood over the charred, shattered remnants of the Third Legion’s finest warriors that had died in the short-lived assault. I crushed a faceplate under my reinforced boot, blood squirting from the cracked eye pieces as the dead marine’s cranium imploded. These monsters in vivid pink were once considered kindred. That was then, this was now, and they were simply obstacles in my way.

The carnage that had taken place lasted less than a minute. The remnants of dissected body parts slick with their own foul gore evidence of lives given to the God of Excess. A cored chest plate, evacuated organs lay burnt and crisped on the deck underneath the corpse from a misfired plasma weapon striking a fellow brother in the ensued melee. A bare face, littered with multiple scars and welts self-inflicted, throat elongated with infrasonic sound cords now reduced to shredded meat, like a cadaver set to work by a pack of starving flesh-hounds. Limbs adorned with all manner of effigies to their foul Patron now lay in pools of collected filth, tossed like ragdoll pieces to the corners of the room. All lay dead on the deck. None would stand in the way of my destiny.

One body seemed to move; it seemed not all of them had died in the attack. The captain of this vessel had been bisected at the waist, yet he dragged his ruined carcass across the deck, leaving a trail of super-oxygenated blood in his wake away from his now dead legs. He crawled to his sidearm, an ancient plasma pistol blinking that it had cooled and was ready to be fired again. A pointless endeavour, he simply could not accept he was about to die. I kicked the gun away, turning over the foe with the blade of my boot. He stared up at me, trying to utter curses with a shattered vox grill built into his throat. Nevermind, I ended the warrior’s miserable existence with a swift stab from my sword through what remained of his neck seal. The blade effortlessly separated plasteel, underweave carapace, tissue and bone, burying itself in the rear neck collar. The traitor’s head lolled and rolled away, coming to a stop a few metres to the left. Blood continued to pump from the ruined stump of a neck. I pulled my blade free, twisting it with a flourish, cleaning the core from the weapon, a trait for some reason that came natural to me. Something that I had brought back with me when I began my second life.

I cancelled out all noise from the vox emitter in my helm and from outside my armour plate. Sounds of murder and fouler things bracketed my senses. I needed silence to hear…the voices.

The unbidden sounds, sometimes made of maddening verses and words, other times of singing, screaming or laughing had always been there since my rebirth. They seemed to guide me, nurturing me while I was tortured and ‘remoulded’ into the beast I have become. I remembered nothing of my reshaping, but the pain was ever-present, as the voices seemed to emulate in verse and song.

Memories of my past life were becoming more real in my mind. Battles I had no recollection in shaping. Bonds of brotherhood broken in ages past that were not caused by my hand, yet I feel every blow, every betrayal, every runnel of blood as it hit my bare flesh when my helm was knocked clear in close melee. Words with unknown meaning came unbidden to the fore: Traitor. Warmaster. Father. Crusade. Death to…false. Heresy. Malleus.

That last word that hung in recall was not of my making. Was all this result of my reconstruction by Madrogar? I knew it was not my real name, I intended to find the truth of that matter as well. However, through the day those voices once speaking in a mess of sound, now formed a percussive harmonic scream of action in the back of my skull. They must be silenced. They must be answered. They seemed to call towards the centre of the room I now found myself striding towards, almost in a trance.

Entering the once hallowed place through the battlescape antechamber, the mess I had left the previous room in paled in comparison to the utter scene of brutality that lay within the windowless chapel. Whereas the antechamber was as large as a docking bay, a roof so high it was practically invisible, the main bunker was no bigger than the internal area of an arming chamber for a squad. The air was stagnant, yet the room seemed to pulse with barely contained etheric potential. The main activity throbbed from the central dais in the room. The stand with the book of hellish complexion glowed a sickly un-light that flooded my unnatural eye. If it wasn’t for my grafted un-sight, I could not bear witness to what lay there and remain sane.

I removed my gauntlets, letting the ceramite drop heavily to the soiled deckplate. They landed with a wet thud. Running my gnarled fingers gingerly across the edges and binding of the tome in front of me. It felt as if it had been bound with human flesh. A face screamed eternal agony from the cover, never to be at rest. I grinned at the thought of the soul that had been ‘sacrificed’ to create this tome. The voices in my mind seemed to purr at the sight.

Opening the book to a random page and reading the cuneiform manuscript and insane calligraphy that encompassed almost every square millimetre of the text, I felt acidic bile rumble up in involuntary disgust at the knowledge present in that damned book. The pain it caused me was exquisite, but I needed more. There were more copies of this book, some with more complete transcripts and volumes I would need for my work. This incomplete offering would simply not suffice. The voices sang in agreement. I wordlessly ordered them to silence. They seemed to acquiesce, almost baulking at my order. I was beginning to call mastery upon them, bending them to my will.

I could feel the sensation of a million flies chewing away at the fragments of my sanity, the light-hearted chuckle of the God of excess as he showed his appreciation for my work so far. The phlegmy laughter of the Master of Pestilence. The insensate rage threatened to consume me, driving forward the urge to kill every single living being on the ship and bring further bloodshed across the galaxy. The twin piercing glares of the Lord of Change lay squarely on my soul, offering so many different futures that no one instance could truly exist without fragments of the others. The only cost for each: my eternal submission.

They each vie for my patronage, these beings of the Warp, but I would not give myself to one alone. 

I will only commit to all of you, not a single entity. Chaos undivided: That is the servitude I offer, and it will never be different.

The hot acidic breath of the Ruinous Powers enveloped my psyche, an unerring laugh pierced my budding psychic defences. They saw me as a whelp, but this whelp was stronger than they realised. The voices in my mind cowered at the gaze from the Four, for I knew now that they were the voices of the genetic legacy belonging to those sacrificed to form my gene-seed.

Like a locked door slamming open, their identities were laid open to me. I knew them. Brothers of lost legions, sons of the Fallen Primarchs. They baulked in fear to me gaining ownership of their souls. 

Slamming the book closed, the din of bolter fire and the screams of the dying and tortured have begun to multiply. I sent orders for my fellow warriors to fall back to the gunships that had landed in the hangar bays.

‘Destroy everything. Leave none alive,’ I snarled. My devil dogs need to be let off their proverbial leashes, to slay, maim and kill to wanton abandon. 

I will have it all. I will have the truth and then, Madrogar, you will answer to me.

+++

I had heard that Madragor is not happy with my lack of preparedness, in regard to his current campaign of slaughter on the surface of Galthor Prime. I couldn’t care less. His orders meant little in the grand schemes I now concocted. His detention force arrived at the entrance to my current holding: a ruined and exposed rockcrete structure, once a hab block rising hundreds of metres into the polluted sky. Millions of souls once invested their lives and time into these slums. No more–their souls were now bound to the constructs created by my hand.

The monument to their desecration lay at the footings of this block, crafted using my newly unlocked power. The book, mag-locked in a harness at my side, held many wonders, and had allowed me to fine-tune my hearing to the voices that scream from within my fractured mind. I heard individual voices when required. They guided my hand, pointing towards areas where a trap may be placed, where betrayal would likely come. Experience from a thousand battlefields and a million wars lie within my warped psyche. They have no choice, they must speak; the hold over their souls demands it.

 

However, my arcane mastery does have its limits. Each time I tried to discern a fraction of my own hidden past, an invisible blade pierced my mind, causing mild seizures and lost times of unspeakable brutality. My trusted lieutenant dared to question my past and my tactical acumen. I do not know what happened next, but I know when my senses returned my armour was fractured. My gauntlets, shattered and useless after repeated hand to hand combat, were caked in the viscera of my latest kills. My entire command retinue lay in pulped repose: a testament to the madness that threatened my very sanity. It took several minutes to gather myself, and a chastisement by that cur Madrogar to bring me back to the fore. I was ready to kill him then and there, but in my depleted state I was in no fit shape to contest his command. My new retinue, hand-picked for their ability to accept orders without question, know better than to question my past or my methods. It is only right to command fear- it has its uses.

I could hear his heavy Cataphractii plated boots thunder down the desolate corridors. More than one set: it seemed he had brought reinforcements with him. 

He smashed his way through my security team outside, and barrelled into the large dormitory I stood in. There is a several hundred-foot drop in front of me, through a hole in the wall courtesy of a Vulcan mega-bolter barrage in this hab-block’s near past. I had my back turned to him, as I manipulated space and time to create my bust of the Damned.

‘Malleus! Turn to face me, Gods damn you!’ he bellowed. His vox emitter was amplified to maximum, causing the very room to rumble and recoil from his barely-contained malice. 

I slowly turned my head to acknowledge his presence. ‘Hello, my lord,’ I said, mockingly accepting his presence. ‘Come to marvel at the wonders I have fashioned?’

He pulled me by my shoulder, turning me around forcibly. I knew what would happen next. The voices always warned me of danger ahead.

I felt his immense power fist as it connected with my breast plate, I had already reached for the black blade in its scabbard at my side, turning it in a stabbing strike at the weapon. I had taken the blade from a champion of the Eldar race, fashioning a dagger from the wraithbone sword, soul scorched as I held the weapon in my hand. It had remained blackened but had a keen edge.

I managed to sever some of the cables to his primary weapon before he made contact. Power flooded from the weapon, but enough was left to send me careening across the room. My power armour screamed warning sigils in my display. My chest shield was compromised, and one lung was punctured. It would not stop me, nor would my prone form stop Madrogar from attempting to kill me. 

He brought his second weapon to bear now that his fist was nearly useless, a massive staff with a khopesh at the end of an adamantium haft. His banner bearer threw him the blade as he uncoupled his defunct powerfist, allowing it to fall heavily to the rockcrete. I managed to duck under the scything blow and struck at his immense warplate with my dagger. It caused the paint to boil and the ceramite to sizzle as the ungodly power contained within did its job. The screams from the monument coalesced as they macabre sculpture lost cohesion. The process was incomplete, and my talents were forced to focus elsewhere. The homage to the gods he would call upon was not enough, and the collection of corpses that made up the superstructure began to disintegrate. 

I drew on my growing powers and created a shield of un-light to protect against the reverse swing of the staff. The shield shattered but deflected the blow. I got to my feet and launched at Madrogar, dagger poised to slit his exposed gorget. If he was intent on killing me, I would repay the offer in kind. 

‘Why are you doing this?’ I asked, as he kicked me across the room. I feigned ignorance to my apparent treason, clattering against the support column, rockcrete dust falling to cake my armour. I heard another crack. My greave had buckled after attempting to block his kick. He was enraged by my actions, or lack thereof.

He paused in his apparent murder-lust, breathing forcefully. ‘By pulling your forces away from the main engagement you have cost us valuable resources in re-securing our flank. You nearly cost us the entire war!’ 

‘Ah, well we won’t win that war anyways, there are greater prizes on offer here,’ I countered. This maddened him further. He clenched and unclenched his fists around the handle of his staff, causing the haft to warp slightly. 

‘You have disappointed me, commander. Now, kneel.’

‘No,’ was my single reply. I smiled.

‘I. Said. KNEEL!’ His forceful psychic bellow ringed in my mind as his substantial psychic power was focused solely on me. My limbs resisted his demand, however in my current state I could not best him in hand-to-hand combat. I let my knees buckle, and I landed on my shattered greaves and bloody hands. My head was bowed in feigned submission.

‘Gather your forces, commit to my cause, and I can forgive you this last time,’ he purred with wrath barely held back, causing his voice to tremble in the effort.

‘Yes…my…lord.’ The words were heavy with the poison of submission. Even though my powers had manifested and grown a thousandfold, I still roiled at his psychic might. No matter my increasing skill, he still overpowered me in this arena. The voices called for acquiescence and supplication.

He released his psychic grasp over me. The sudden departure of forced supplication drew a breath from my battered lungs. I slowly raised up from my haunches, blood speckled across my metal teeth. 

He turned and began to walk away but stopped a step short of the portal that he had entered from. Madrogar pointed down to the harness to my side, his armour plate rumbling with martial potential

‘That book of yours will not help you. Give up your foolish endeavours and fulfil the role you were made for.’

He did not wait for a reply. 

Rising to my feet, I realised my ambitious experiment with the bodies of the damned had disintegrated. The pile of human detritus below me buzzed with the instantaneous accumulation of flies around the human wreckage. 

‘No matter the cost, I will know the truth. Apolonis, what is our destination?’

Apolonis, my second, and captain of my command retinue–those that survived the rush of Madrogar’s fury–stepped into the room, knowing through experience to step out of the way when facing an unstoppable force. In this case, his commander’s Liege Lord.

‘I have just received the data packet from Lord Madrogar’s warship in orbit. We are to “illuminate” some group known as the Bloodied Skull. Mission details are in your tacticarum’.

The voices called out louder than before. They called for blood. They called for skulls, they called for vengeance. For some reason lost to me, the voices of the Lost seemed to react gleefully to the announcement of the next target. It is as if the hand of Fate had been dealt, and my destiny would be unveiled there. For one, they all sang in unison. The Deathless Count holds the Key!

‘Very well, we shall see what foul beings have drawn the ire of our Lord and Master.’

He will not be so for much longer, once you have the truth in your grasp, the voices chanted as one. I could swear it was as if they stood next to me, bellowing their chant into my ears.

In the distance, the growing crescendo of battle pulsed with the embers of war, blinks of battle engine detonation and the deletion of thousands of lives in mere moments. It was a glorious wonder to behold. 

Greater wonder waited for me in the void.

+++

Within the cored wreckage of the Deathless Count, I stalked the halls of the stricken ship, despatching enemy combatants along my route, the deck plate smothered with broken and shattered warriors. Body parts crushed under my boots, the walls bled such was the level of barbarity me and my men bestowed on the ship’s inhabitants. All the while the voices continued their undying melody. The voices continued chanting The Deathless Count Holds the Key. Yet, another verse had been added since the boarding: Once He bestows the Truth, the Fate will Emerge and come full Circle on Ostara.

My armour was pitted and dented after a cavalcade of bolter rounds pinged off my reinforced Mark III armour. Some rounds had penetrated my vambrace, drawing transhuman blood and shattering bone underneath. I have known pain like an old friend, and welcome the sensation now. Like an old lover come to visit, I embraced the agony, and allowed it to push me to greater acts of brutality and malice.

I bore that pain and allowed it to feed my rage. Gripping a Word Bearer by what remained of their gorget, I ran at the hidden assault squad that peppered my position. Armed with my power axe, chipped and worn since the latest assault, I carved a line through the enemy hardpoint. My pistol was converted into a bludgeon, but even that shattered upon the third foe I put down. I threw the gun like a spear at my foe in front, drawing a cascade of transhuman blood from a cracked eyepiece, while my axe sliced and separated armour, bone and sinew like wet parchment. The single-bladed axe had a hammer-like attachment on the reverse side, which I used to rupture vital organs with a series of percussive strikes. A skull gave way under my boot as I hacked a lowly ship officer in twain from shoulder to hip. He had found himself in harm’s way, en route to take a missive to his master: one who no doubt was currently in a pulped pile behind me. Another was shunted over the walkway, falling hundreds of metres to his silenced death. The remains of the squad some 30 yards away baulked as they witnessed their sergeants’ chest plate splattered with gore as his head was torn from his shoulders. They ran straight into Malleus’ command retinue, who had flanked my route, cutting them down with wanton abandon. 

Lifting the hapless traitor high off the deck, post-human blood freely funnelling from his ruined torso, I ripped off his helm and squeezed the former third Legion warriors’ throat. Blood foamed in his ruined mouth, a grimace speaking of utter contempt held for his killer until a soft crack was felt, and the warrior went limp.

Tossing the post-human wreckage in my hands aside like a child’s discarded toy, I continued my interminable advance to the prize. My warpsmith hacked into the vox grid of the ship comms system and heard the unmistakable deep growl of the leader of the Bloodied Skull warband, his vox feed linked to my own. He barked orders from the safe confines of the secondary command nexus, deep within the confines of the ship. The bridge had been annihilated by sheer firepower from the flagship when the shields fell, and the enfeebled captain had led a ragtag force in staunch defence. From what I gathered, my own forces had begun an assault of the secondary bridge, but the enemy warlord was proving a tough nut to crack. My men could take care of the rest of the ship, but his scalp would be mine. I ordered my soldiers to hold at the doorway and keep them at bay. I would join them shortly. 

Wiping the blood from my axe on the ripped skin tabard fashioned from my latest kill, I made my way towards this intrepid foe.

+++

‘Cover that doorway!’ bellowed Calaphron, Warlord of the Bloodied Skull. His enhanced vocal cords resonated as he took a shuddering breath in, willing for the new enemy to show themselves. Fingers shuddering at the grips of his umbra pattern boltgun, all the while the remains of his noise marine squads whooped and giggled at the possibility of decimating this new foe. 

Three times the enemy had been turned away from the command nexus. What was once a banner for order and commanded the Glorious vision for Mankind during the Great Crusade was now hedonist’s paradise that stung the eyes to look upon. 

The doorway that was once the primary access point for the room was obliterated. Ceramite cracked and yawned open, reinforced ferrocrete debris littered the surfaces of the ‘trophies’ to the Lord of Excess. Blood, mucus and all manner of other body fluids mixed in ruinous concoctions within macabre effigies, while those nearer the doorway showed burn damage, kinetic overpressure and the tell-tale sign of bolter fire detonations. 

A full squad was all that remained of the ships’ contingent of hostile Astartes. The rest were either incapacitated, dead or wounded beyond their abilities to recover. Most had been executed by Malleus’ boarding squads. Others were jettisoned into the void or immolated in warp fire from Malleus’ sorcerer enclaves. The serfs and slaves of this vessel would not survive to die on their own terms. 

Flesh prickled and blistered as another blast of melta fire from the darkened corridor ruptured through another breach in the wall. A gantry behind the walls had been used to make egress, and now 2 points of entry were made manifest. 

The daemonic form of an Astartes ran through the gap, only to be reduced to atoms by the sonic weapons held by the enemy. Three more of Malleus’ transhuman monsters tried to run the gauntlet, only to be met with the same fate. The fourth, more human than the rest, but still as touched by the warp was winged by the crippling blast of sonic overpressure. Turning in his jump, he tossed a bandolier of krak grenades over a broken dais in which three of Calaphron’s bodyguards stood ready to fire. The unlucky warrior was reduced to paste, but his aim had been true. The grenades cooked off, killing the three enemy combatants behind the makeshift barricade. Body parts went flying, and a fine bloody mist permeated the atmosphere in the room. A mix of thysolene and rust-tinted dust assaulted the senses, as another wave of enemies could be heard sprinting towards the entrances, eager for the kill.

One of the Noise Marines’ gorgets exploded violently with a pin-point bolter round that obliterated his throat. The foe’s head lolled back, yawning open wide before the shattered remains of his neck gave way, the head falling heavily to the deck. 

Trying to regroup and engage targets, the wave of melta and lascannon fire took further casualties, leaving only the warlord, his champion and a Noise Marine in the command room. They all pulled close combat weapons from scabbards or flesh-sacs at their sides. Their throats began to ripple and fill up with sonic potential, ready to reduce their foe to ruddy paste. 

A trio of Astartes rushed in with bolt pistols firing. Each held a chainsword at their side, moving like a dark spectre on the winds of ruin. Most bolts pinged off the rubble being used as a makeshift barricade. One took the noise marines weapon, the detonation of the rocket-powered round detonated against the sonic cannons’ housing, causing the weapon to buck upwards in his agonised hands. The weapon fired, causing the alcove several metres above them to explode inwards, as if a giant fist had punched directly into the hedonistic sculpture inside it. The rubble fell like rain, knocking one of the Astartes to the side. His misstep was enough for the warlord to open his warp- engorged throat, reducing the warrior to splattered ceramite and crimson rain.

Through the mist of blood and bone came another brute. A gigantic power axe flew in his wake, slicing through the noise marines’ head, cutting down to the sternum. The marine’s lifeless body fell to its haunches, as the new foe used the hulking corpse as a plinth to launch himself up. Pulling out a dagger as he swan-dived at his foe. A volley of bolter fire stopped his graceful arc mid-flight, bringing him low. He landed on the hapless beast below him, the dagger pushed deep into the eye socket of the one who had killed him, ending both in deathly embrace.

Calaphron, now regaining his composure,barely noticed the third warrior that came onwards pull the axe free and bring it round. The warlord, himself in dark power armour of ancient mark, barely ducked below the horizontal axe swing. The plate had once been the most vivid violet, but years of abuse and killing had marred the colours, leaving it covered in pits and marks that reduced the hue to one of red almost black to the eye. The blade kissed air molecules which sizzled from its barely contained power field and was deftly turned in both hands for a reverse swing. 

‘I know you,’ Calaphron exclaimed, a smile on his face, realisation licking his features.

Another axe swing, back step, downwards cut, deckplate gave way under the weight of the buried weapon. The warlord tried to take advantage of the stuck weapon, slicing across his bare face with his lightning claw. Barely ducking under the swift strike, the power field licked his cheek, leaving burn scars in the flesh. A brutal kick pushed Calaphron back, buckling his chest plate. The enemy did not say a word. He released his weapon from the deckplate and pushed the warlord back further, towards the centre of the room. They continued their bloody dance.

‘You are one of us, but it cannot be you. He killed you’. The words caught the foe off guard, allowing the warlord to bring his lightning claw forward in a violent thrust. The powered claws barely scraped his plate under his ribcage. A return punch sent Calaphron reeling. The monster in Mark III plate was now maddened, growling and launching another attack.

‘Who killed me!?’ WHO!?’ Malleus was harrowing, driving the smaller warlord back, sheer mass and momentum proving the deciding factor. Malleus seemed to grow in stature, bloated with warp power as he turned the axe in one hand, while locking grips with the other. Turning and shearing the arm away with the axehead, the warlord yelled out in agony, as he was pistol-whipped with his own forearm. Calaphron’s former limb hit with the force of a thunder hammer dazing him, delaying his reaction speed. Unsteadied, a reverse swing with the flat of the axe head knocked Calaphron from his feet. He was lying on his backpack, a trail of thick blood slowly healing from the stump of his upper arm. His other hand, the cracked and fractured remains of a ruined bolt pistol. He dropped the weapon, holding up his fractured gauntlet in a pleading motion.

Dropping the mangled remains of the arm, Malleus pointed the axe at his foe. The killing blow would soon follow.

‘He killed you, I was there. He ran you through with his khopesh. You died’.

‘Name him’, Malleus growled, as he reached the apex of the killing blow.

‘Madrogar,’ hoping the revelation would save his life. He was wrong.

The bloodied axe swung down, the haft held in both hands like an executioners’ blade, burying itself within the shattered and mangled remains of the warlord’s corpse. He struck several times, furiously removing all semblance of humanity from the now dead corpse. Malleus obliterated it. After the final downwards swipe he left the blade embedded in the chest cavity of his latest kill, looking up towards the centre of the room.

+++

I steadily walked across the reclusiam. The dais held a copy of His book. The item I had travelled half a galaxy to possess. 

The volume contained the incantation rights of the Neverborn. The other copies were incomplete. This was an original copy. One written by Him: The Book of Lorgar. My swirling eye danced with light, as the voices in my mind screamed their unending hymn.

Memories flooded in now- memories of what, no, who I was before all of this. A noted Dark Apostle. Seconded to the Thousand Sons shortly before the Siege. The one whose gene seed I carry within me had fled with them at the end: Madrogar was my commander, my companion, my brother.

We had warred together for years after. One questioning order had brought me low by his hand. 

The history and fate of the body I now existed in also came into stark focus. The betrayal of me by my kin. Their lack of action that led to my first death. Their souls forever intertwined, there would be no respite, no remorse.

They will all burn. They will all pay for their failures. I vowed to myself and the Gods that always listened, grabbing the hallowed relic in my left arm. I left the war axe in the lifeless husk at my feet. Ripping the now detached lightning claw from the enemy’s arm, I admired the razor-tip fingers, the potential for destruction such a weapon would hold. It reminded me of the monster in power armour that had commanded legions of my brothers before the Heresy. I felt a grim echo of a smile cross my face. Once I began to walk towards the doorway, my next kill was fresh on my mind. This latest kill meant nothing to me, just another obstacle overcome, another skull. Another step to vindication.

About the Author

Matt has been playing, reading and absorbing the lore of the Warhammer 40k universe for over 10 years, and has begun writing short stories for it over the last 2 years. He enjoys horror stories and all things grimdark. The scale of horror in this universe resonates within him, allowing him to be creative. Matt has a young family, a loving wife who supports his creativity, and a daughter who he intends to the world of 40k when she gets older.

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