The King’s Muse
An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Garrett Schultz
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The king sighed, his vox-grille flexing in and out like flesh with the motion. It was a lovely day. The Imperial city of Heritus was unprepared when the sky began to scream, when the dreadclaws descended and filled the city with hallucinogenic gas with their impact. Only delights had followed.
He was on a cliff overlooking the city, his mortal attendants scurrying about to achieve their master’s will – an easel here, water receptacles there. An ancient woman, her sight lost long ago in favour of the exaltation of touch, was laying out hundreds of small pots on a shelf near the easel. Six attendants waited patiently with six chained slaves arrayed in a circle, murmuring preparatory prayers of agony and ecstasy. The cadence of their devotions harmonised pleasingly with the screams that echoed even now from the city.
The king approached the easel. His armour no longer made noise – even the sounds of ceramite sliding against ceramite no longer scratched the air, only skin against skin. His helmet and his head were one, his eyes merging into the visor and compounding like an insect’s, and oh what a wondrous multitude of colours he could see now. A servant approached, bowing, and placed a canvas on the easel. It was a delightful cream, skinned from a slave who was born and bred for the purpose, a great honour among his servants.
Before the king could paint the background, it had to be composed. The dull blacks of Heritus’s towers were awash in colours cast on them by the gas, laced as it was with the Prince’s Gifts. Hungering magentas and sly purples hunted the city, colours given thoughts and lusts. Still, it was not quite right.
‘Count Arthuan,’ the king said into his vox-comm. ‘A phosphex bomb on the blocks three kilometers east of the Avid Knighthood’s dreadclaw, and two plasma warheads a kilometer north of the Paramount Knighthood’s current position.’
‘Yes, Your Grace,’ Arthuan replied, his voice of spoiled honey.
Brilliant colours of white-green and purple-black burst into the city with the detonations, melding with the mist to awesome effect. The king sighed again. The sight nearly brought him to tears, all the more beautiful for the extinguished souls he could see drifting from the impacts.
He turned to the canvas and took up his brush. His collection of paints was prodigious, assembled throughout the centuries from countless sources, and he did not think it arrogant to call it the best in the galaxy. Some paints were only acquired at great cost – a filthy yellow derived from the pus of a plague marine, blessed and made safe by the Prince; a gray mixed from the tears of a flect-addict, tears of joy and not of pain; an ethereal blue made of crushed soulstone, the eldar soul within still screaming with every brushstroke; and other paints of far more pernicious colours, colours for which mortal eyes would bleed to see.
Yes, it was an impressive collection, and brought pride to the king. He began to paint the city’s skyline, the pigment almost jumping from his brush with inspiration. The painting wanted to exist. It thirsted. Minor daemons of art and perfection were born at the edges of each brush stroke, dancing wildly with life only to be lapped hungrily back into oblivion by the painting.
‘Your Grace,’ a voice said from behind him. ‘I bring you your muse.’
He turned to see Sir Berrigor, one of the Anointed, with a sniveling man in once-elegant but tattered clothes at his side. Berrigor bowed mockingly to the mortal, gesturing to the king in an extravagant fashion.
‘I present Dromagian, King of the Insatiable Court, Master of the Feast of Thyestes and Child of the Emperor.’
‘This is the one that deactivated the orbital defenses?’ Dromagian asked.
‘The very same, Your Grace.’
‘Delightful. You have earned a magnificent reward, mortal. Stand there,’ Dromagian said, gesturing towards the cliffside in front of the skyline. When the man remained rooted to the spot, Berrigor shoved him and he stumbled onto the ground before quickly righting himself again.
‘Y-you mentioned a reward, m-m’lord?’ the man asked.
Dromagian forgave him for the misuse of his title. ‘I did. It will be coming shortly. Please, slightly to your left, just a bit – ah, perfect.’
Dromagian nodded to the six robed servants. Their praying took on a low, discordant rumbling that wormed into the ears, far louder than should’ve been possible. The slaves began to writhe in time with the chanting, until as one the servants slit the throats of the slaves before them.
The blood arced, sprayed and dribbled into the air, and hung there. The blood of the six slaves merged and congealed, floating upwards. Just as the shifting orb of blood rose above the heads of the servants, a long tongue formed to lap it, and a mouth – sinuous and too wide – to drink it. After the mouth came a head, its inky-black eyes filled with hunger, then a body and claws and legs all of inhuman delicacy.
Dromagian gave a short bow – it was always prudent to be polite to the avatars of the Prince – and said,
‘My lady, I welcome you, and entreat you to join this mortal as my Muse on this lovely day.’
The creature tasted the air, smelled the fear wafting off the mortal in waves. It smiled, an infinite gullet of teeth, and sauntered towards him. Dromagian could see that the man’s soul was already lost – he was awestruck, absorbed by the daemonette’s glamours. Faster than he’d expected, but it made no difference.
As the daemonette reached the mortal, it touched one claw to his bare chest, and the flesh fused where it met. The mortal let out a low groan. The daemonette licked his face and the flesh fused there, too, a blessed merging of man and daemon. As the moans became louder, then became screams, the King hummed, and he painted.
About the Author
Garrett is a life-long Warhammer lore nerd (obsessed with all things Chaos) and aspiring writer.