Fast Fiction

Risk in Reward

Risk in Reward

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Melanie Kraljić
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Greed is a dangerous thing. Power, a motivator of great magnitude. Striving for the latter, while embracing the former, represents a balancing act with an unforgiving margin of error. 

I am – was – Lascius Cavan, now-former Baron of an agriworld herein unnamed for the sake of any would-be opportunistic madman. My endeavour began a week ago, or so I believe.

I was disgustingly well-off. Anyone of import attended my soirees. I suffered no misfortune of entertaining the rabble thanks to my somewhat adoring wife. I had four children. Any commoner would certainly claim I ‘had it all’. They would be confidently wrong. I would achieve what none of the affluent oafs drinking my wine could ever dream of: raise my status to interplanetary. But first and foremost, I’d need every inch of land this world offered.      

Lascius, you might cry, how would you accomplish this? You’re a fool! And you would sound much like my wife – except you’d be executed. There lie forces beyond our perception, dark arcana that strikes fear into the very heart of the Imperium. Chaos would guide my hand; with its help, I would see my vision complete. The initial step, as expected, was sacrifice – one to lure a chosen Chaos deity in. But why have one advantage when I could have four?

You’d remember well I only had a single – therefore indispensable – wife. Children, however, I had four. I could always make more. Therefore, in a sense, the decision had already been made for me. I would act on it the following morning. 

It wasn’t quick. It wasn’t pretty. Perhaps if they hadn’t struggled so intensely, I could have had the privilege of writing the opposite. 

Nothing happened. No tremors, no ghostly wails, no blood seeping from the walls. I knelt in the wine cellar, my youngest lying in my arms, and stared at my reflection in the drying blood. 

Bewildered, I dumped their bodies into barrels and sealed them shut. I locked myself in my study that night, scouring the passages and playing everything back in my mind. I couldn’t have made a mistake. The following nights, I’d be proven right in ways I admittedly wasn’t prepared for. 

I was woken by an intense stench – one stronger than of any decomposition. I retched as I fell to the floor, all the while my wife slept soundly. A primal need for air pushed me into the hall and down the stairs, just short of the entrance. Something indescribable – instinct, perhaps? – made me turn left, toward the dining hall. 

I was petrified. At the table’s head lounged my eldest. His clothes were tattered, and his flesh looked just barely attached. He was partaking in towers of festering food. Yet his gaze was focused on me alone. 

‘Xavier? M-my son…’ 

‘Is that what you called me? Do stay, then – have some cake, drink some wine! It’s all on me, after all.

When my body began moving, I realised how powerless I was. I ate. Drank. Laughed through the pain that rotted my insides. By the time I dragged my bloated body back to bed, nothing was left. Nothing but a sickly, pustuled face. 

The following day, I’d hear my adversaries were ailing from an undocumented illness. Unbeknownst to me, my first blessing. 

That night, I’d be stirred by a decadent, captivating scent. My trajectory was the same as the previous night, except this time, I stumbled upon my daughter, Olivia, in a dress far too extravagant for her. 

‘Father dearest, a dance?’ 

Who was I to deny her? Her radiant smile, her effortless grace? We danced till sunrise. My feet bled, and my head spun from the overbearing aroma. Yet I noticed nothing, not even the clawed lacerations or the pale pinkish tint of my skin. No one ever did. 

Apparently, the Planetary Governor had been having an affair with a greedy peasant wench. Now he’s a dirty beggar just like her. 

The third visit was especially jarring. My blood boiled. Tears burned across my face. An incredible force held me down. The torment seemed never-ending. Through my blurred vision, I swore it was my son Arthur. His expression was contorted in rage as he stabbed me repeatedly. Each thrust of the blade was accompanied by guttural screeches – ones too deep for a thirteen-year-old. 

This would be the first time I tasted agency. I pushed the savage off with a war cry. No words were ever spoken; both of us vied for survival. In the end, I won – the mark of my victory: horns atop my head. 

Some wayward workers slew most of their masters’ chattel afterwards. It’s said blood flowed like a river before they were eventually gunned down. 

I never had to wait for the final night, for just as the sun reached the top of the sky, it was replaced by a dark moon. I was already seated at a tea party before I drew my next breath. My youngest leered at me from across the small table through reptilian-like eyes. 

I would describe my surroundings, but there is nothing to describe. It was but a void of changing hues. 

‘Do you know who I am? Are you sure? Could I be nobody at all, just a fever dream spawned from guilt?’ Her voice held an underlying hiss.

‘I’m ready.’ 

‘Are you?’ 

I merely nodded in response. 

Next thing I knew, I was freefalling. I dropped to the sound of too many cracking bones. My surroundings were in significant disrepair, like a riot had ravaged them. Not a soul was present.  

Out of my window, I now see the wasteland I’d coveted. In stray, scattered shards, my hideous winged form. I know they’re out there – jaded daemons anticipating their master’s whip. I feel it. Until then, I’ll savour what shrivel of humanity I have left that’s made me write this. 

About the Author

Melanie’s boyfriend introduced her to Warhammer and its literature a few years back. The lore behind certain factions drew her in and she’s been steadily getting into the hobby ever since, mainly through reading, audio dramas and occasionally mini painting. She always had an interest in writing and has indulged in it as a hobby, so she thought she’d give combining that and Warhammer a shot.

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