Here lies my humble attempt at writing a short story based on a great game of 40k I had last year. It featured the brave men of the Praetorian 215th defending a village against against wave after wave of Daemons. The background to the game itself can be found here, and there is a report, (along with some photos), and here are a few more pics.
Here goes… Hope you enjoy!
1 – Eidolan:
The wind moaned forlornly across the plateau, chasing dust through the alleyways of the village of Eidolan. Colonel Ballon snorted to himself, ‘village… right’, he muttered to himself, scanning his gaze around the three single level hovels with their mud brick walls, so typical of the backwater world of Bennett’s End. The buildings were clustered around the primitive temple that occupied the centre of the so called village, and was the tallest structure for many miles. Ballon had naturally selected the temple roof for his command post. Apparently, the rest of the ‘village’ had been created purely to house the custodians of the temple, though it was vacant and desolate when Colonel Ballon arrived with his command – some seventy-odd men of the 215th Praetorian Guard, plus supporting elements of Ratling snipers and Scions. The aerial insertion was ten days ago, and the initial flurry of activity required for defensive preparations had long given way to routine and a watchful boredom. Walls had been repaired, sandbags and field tank-traps used to patch gaps in the perimeter, and food, ammunition and power packs had been stored in one of the huts. Even the village well had been cleared of debris, purified, and tested for human consumption. There were no further tasks to complete, still no clarification from command as to the nature and duration of the deployment, and he wondered how he would keep the men focused on the operation at hand.
It wasn’t that he objected to the mission, a simple ‘seize and defend’ brief, as dictated by the Ordo Malleus Inquisitor that had appropriated the regiment. It was just that there was nothing and no one to seize or defend the temple from. The only life that they had seen since occupying the village was a few gulls and some rabbit analogues, (all of which were quickly shot by the small detachment of Ratling sharp-shooters and used to supplement the uninspiring rations that the platoon had brought with them). Ballon turned slowly. His view from the temple roof extended across the village and over the plateau, uninterrupted by tree or rock, before dropping away to the distant lowlands. With nothing to obstruct it, the wind was a constant companion in this desolate place, and the dust got into every nook and cranny. It was beginning to grate on the nerves of the men, making them jumpy and irritable. ‘At least, I hope it is just the wind’ thought Ballon to himself, and not for the first time. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he had been struck by a sense of pensiveness and worry ever since he had arrived in Eidolan, a feeling of being somehow ‘known’ by some intelligence beyond his understanding… not hostile as such, but powerful and unsettling none the less. Ballon was no mystic, nor was he given to flights of fancy, but he just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something inherently wrong with Eidolan, and he knew his men felt it too. Krase seemed particularly unsettled, and the old Astropath’s cultured brow seemed to be permanently creased with discomfort these last ten days. Ballon had grown fond of the man since arriving to take charge of the 215th, and had learned to trust the psyker’s intuition. “Headache, honoured seer?” he asked. Krase turned his blind and blindfolded face is if to regard Ballon. “Not exactly Colonel, but this place… it weighs on my mind… it’s exhausting, and the weight of it creates shadows that hide the lines of fate from my true-sight.” The old Astropath sighed. “I do not like this place… we are far from the light of the Emperor here, and I fear that we are in more danger than we realise.” Ballon was momentarily taken aback by the response from the usually calm Astropath, and noted the uneasy glances shared by the veterans of his command squad. “Easy Krase”, Ballon murmured, “the men are spooked enough as it is, I don’t need you getting jittery as well”. Krase sighed again, and replied in a low voice, “my apologies Colonel, you are right of course, but I sense danger and we must be alert… ask yourself, why are we here? Why now? And what is the role of the Honoured Dominus in all of this?”. Ballon turned to look over the parapet at the Primaris Psyker in the yard below. Dominus Ignatius cut a severe figure, robed from head to toe in fine crimson material, and leaning on his staff of office – a six foot haft of dark wood, topped with a golden Aquila with some kind of incorporated firearm nestled behind it. Wires and cables exited the rear of the hood and connected the psyker to the staff, presumably to help channel whatever powers he possessed into the weapon, while more machinery sprouted from his back, giving him a hunched and sinister appearance. “Yes, the Dominus… what do you know of him Krase?” Ballon murmured, regarding the thin hooded form below. “Very little, Colonel, only that he is Malleus, and that means that dark powers are somehow implicated in this mission…” Krase replied, his sightless gaze following that of the Colonel.
2 – Homecoming:
Dominus Ignatius closed his eyes, savouring the power that thrummed through his body as it emanated from the shrine in the temple behind him. The Nexus of Eidolan was the sole reason for his presence on this world, and that of the platoon that had been assigned to him by his Inquisitorial masters. It was his machinations had that had prompted the deployment of an Inquisitorial cleanse team to ensure that the village was empty of life before his arrival – he did not know the fate of the people that had been removed from this place, but knowing the Inquisition, he guessed that their removal had been carried out with extreme prejudice… Ignatius did not care – his only concern was that there was nothing and no-one to distract him from his task. His thoughts turned to consideration of the Nexus itself. The legends of this place were common knowledge to those who, like him, were native to the planet of Bennett’s End – such stories were passed around in the oral tradition, told and retold around fires in villages all over the steppes. Village elders spoke of how the awesome power of the Nexus was once wielded by the great hero Eidolan in order to defend the world from capricious gods and hideous monsters bent on destroying the world. As a child, Ignatius was captivated by these stories, and begged the elders to tell him all that they knew of the tales of Eidolan and the Nexus. He smiled to himself as he recalled his naivety when, at the age of eight, he set out from his village, determined to find the fabled shrine for himself and become a hero… Even as a child, he felt drawn to this dream of power as a moth is drawn to the flame, so he stole a horse from his uncle and after weeks of riding, living off the land and sleeping rough, he finally located Eidolan. During the long journey he recalled feeling as if he were guided by a siren song that he did not understand at the time – a call that led him unerringly forwards, and that had remained with him ever since. Of course, the monks who guarded the shrine were not pleased to see him at their village, and he winced at the memory of the beating he received at their hands. He was chastised and berated while one of the Brothers prepared to set out with him to guide and escort him back to his village. He didn’t care what the old fools said too him, he was too intent on the delicious waves of power that emanated from the temple at the heart of the village and coursed through his young veins. The return journey was conducted in silence and seemed to take forever to his childish eyes. Only once did his chaperone speak to him, and then only as they entered his home village – “don’t you ever come back curseling – damnation and ruin will surely fall upon all if you do”.
It was shortly after his return to the village that Ignatius began to manifest powers of his own – powers that would mark him out as a wytch. This led to his own father taking him on the long trek to the fantastic City of the Starborn, the only city of its type in the whole world, and home to the distant, almost mythical rulers of the planet. The city rose from the plains like a fist of metal, piercing the sky. This was the place where custom demanded that, as a wytch, he was to be handed over to the servants of the God-Emperor. He was tested and examined by hunched and hooded priests, and probed by horrific creatures of metal and bone, and following the tests, he was transported into the darkness beyond the sky in a miraculous flying machine he now knew to be a standard Arvus Lighter surface-to-orbit shuttle. The shuttle docked with a vast star freighter the size of a city, majestic with a gothic architecture that was so black that it could only be appreciated when the craft was backlit by the system star. Once aboard, Ignatius was processed, tested, and placed in confinement with hundreds of other psykers that had been collected on the ship’s slow circuit of the sector. It was here that he learned that those who developed psychic powers in isolation were considered a danger to themselves and to the Imperium, and that his kind were routinely rounded up and transported to Holy Terra. Opinions as to their fate varied, some claiming that they were destined to serve at the Emperor’s right hand, while others maintained that they faced a more gruesome fate. So began the long journey on the Black Ship. The journey took many months, and over time, further assessments were conducted. Ignatius was moved and moved again as he successfully completed test after test. He learned that the ship that he was on was one of thousands such craft, all slowly circuiting the Imperium. He also discovered that the rumours he had picked up among the processing holds all held a grain of truth. He was told that his own powers were strong enough to be developed further as an instrument of the imperium of Man, while those weaker than himself were to be offered as sacrifice to the corps-god Emperor. The continuous ritual sacrifice of psychically attuned humans fed the awesome psychic powers of the Holy Emperor himself, and was the only means of preserving the galaxy-spanning Imperium. All psykers were destined to serve in some capacity, it seemed.
Eventually, the black ship arrived at Terra, the centre of the entire empire. He was delivered to the adepts of the Scholastica Psykana, where his years of training and education began in earnest. The gruelling regime took a heavy toll on his young body, and although he was only thirty five standard years old, his appearance was that of a much older man. His skin was thin and pale, his hair had been turned a shocking white by the powers that he had learned to harness, and he relied on extensive bionic augmentation to preserve his sanity and to support his failing organs. Such was the price of channelling the vast power of the warp, but it was a price that Ignatius was more than happy to pay… He never lost the memory of the feeling of power that experienced at the shrine, and he craved that power above all else. He vowed that, one day, he would return to Eidolan.
The planning and scheming needed to engineer his return was incomprehensibly complex, while luck and chance also played their part. In fact, it was pure luck that he had been selected for the Ordo Malleus in the first place. Ignatius recalled the one fellow Scholastica initiate who was even more gifted than he in the arts of Daemonology… She was certainly destined for a future with the Ordo, for the Daemon Hunters only selected the very best in their field to join them. Her appointment seemed a certainty, at least until the morning that she was discovered in her cell – eyes staring at the ceiling, glassy in death, a look of terror frozen onto her face. There was no pathological reason for her demise, and it was widely assumed that it was due to some accident as a result of unsanctioned experimentation with her powers. Ignatius did not mourn her loss – she was competition, and her death had paved the way for his own entry into the powerful Inquisition. Once there, he worked tirelessly to advance through the hierarchy, earning the trust of his superiors while plotting his way to a position where he could finally exercise the autonomy he needed to return to Eidolan. And so, many years later, here he was – his mind filled with visions of the power and prestige that would be his due… if he were able to unlock the secrets of the Nexus and harness the power it contained. All he needed was time.
He had entered the temple when he first arrived at Eidolan and gazed on a column of dark and slightly reflective rock. Even the dullest psychic presence could feel the ethereal forces emanating from it, and he knew that it was affecting the Praetorians, making them jumpy and paranoid. To those with a more refined psychic awareness, it pulsed like the heart of some enormous creature, filled with a dormant, almost sentient power. Ignatius knew that proximity to the nexus was particularly uncomfortable for the platoon Astropath, and even Ignatius found it disconcerting when he was directly in its presence, but there was no denying the strength that it his own psychic powers gained from being near to the temple. Any manipulation of the warp was usually fraught with danger, particularly when the daemonic powers were involved – indeed, his own experiences had brought him close to death many times… But in this place he felt invincible, as if he could harness the warp with impunity. His studies of the last ten days had also revealed that, in a physical sense, the Nexus was a spike of some unknown material that appeared to run deep into the planet. He also discovered that it extended beyond the physical universe, so while mundane in the corporeal sense, the column also existed in the immaterium where it seemed to act as a connection to some source of power hidden within the warp. Effectively, it was acting as a bridge or conduit between real space and the realms that lay beyond. It was this conduit that carried the flow of energy from warp space into the physical world, and that gave him access to power beyond imagining. It was good to be home, he mused, as he again reached out and called to the nexus with his mind.
3 – The nexus awakens:
Mid-afternoon was approaching, the hottest part of the day on this arid world. Colonel Ballon relaxed in the scant shade of the temple minaret, listening to the murmur of soldiers taking their ease in the village below, the regular boot steps of sentries performing their rounds, and the moaning of the ever-present wind. The rest of his command squad were likewise hugging the shade on the temple roof, trying to stay cool, except for Colour-Sergeant Grey, who’s turn it was to maintain a command watch over the whole village. Krase appeared to be sleeping, though it was hard to tell with his eyes bound in the way that was normal amongst the visually blind Astropaths. If he was asleep, then whatever he was dreaming about was clearly not peaceful or pleasant judging by the twitching and jaw-clenching that was going on…
Dominus Ignatius sat in a trance-like state in the shaded courtyard below, his mind probing at the Nexus. He had come to visualise it as an umbilical cord that connected the corporeal temple with a vast cetacean intelligence that slumbered in the depths of the immaterium. A mental image such as this was useful for focusing his efforts, a standard practice within the Psykana, but attempting to commune with such a consciousness was rather like poking a mountain with a tiny stick he mused. He opened his eyes wearily and became aware of the oppressive heat all around him, the taste of dust on the wind and the smell of the Praetorian veterans assigned to protect him. The sun glinted off their polished cuirasses, hurting his eyes, and his nose wrinkled with distaste at their odour. “At least they keep their distance” he thought to himself with some satisfaction. It was true – the squad of Praetorian Grenadiers were a grizzled and battle-hardened group, but they were clearly uncomfortable in his presence. “And rightly so” thought Ignatius, contemptuous of the Guardsmen, as he once again prepared to cast his mind into the depths in an attempt to get through to the Nexus.
In moments, he felt his psychic-self floating in the void, flowing the conduit of the Nexus until he reached a point where all motion ceased and he felt himself suspended in utter darkness. As on previous occasions, he had a sensation of a vast form of deeper darkness ahead of him. On prior visits he had tried subtle techniques to probe the darkness, but this time, his impatience drove him to try something more forceful. He focused all of his efforts on visualising a lance of blinding white light that projected from his ethereal form and punched into the darkness. At first, the light was swallowed by the void, but gradually a vast form began to materialise, black on black. The scale of the creature defied all logic as a single yellow eye, the size of worlds, slowly opened to regard him and he felt his mind begin to buckle under the power of its gaze. Like a candle held up to a sun, his essence was almost completely subsumed by the vast and ancient intelligence. Words came, like the grinding of continents, reverberating through his mind – “Mortal….. Fool…..” He felt himself repelled and hurled back towards his material body like a leaf on a hurricane, the thin thread of the umbilical pulsed like a river of lightning as it flashed past his retreating consciousness. As his battered mind was ejected from the immaterium he briefly sensed a second presence – an insane image of claw, beak, galaxy-spanning wings, and a deep malevolence that the Dominus knew only too well. The awakening of the Nexus was sufficient to attract the attention of other, older powers within the Immaterium, and somewhere in the warp, Tzeentch, the arch-deceiver and changer of ways had turned his infernal gaze towards the Nexus of Eidolan…
Ballon was considering waking the old Astropath, when the old seer abruptly sat up with a sharp inhalation… “Colonel, the storm! The carrion crow brings the storm!” he gasped. Krase was visibly shaking, a sheen of sweat springing up upon his bald pate. Ballon leant across and gripped the seer’s shoulder. “Easy Krase, easy… you’re ok, it was just a bad dream” he said, not unkindly. Krase took several deep breaths and steadied himself… “No Colonel, I had a true-sighted vision… something terrible is about to happen… Throne’s sake man, get your men ready!” Ballon didn’t hesitate – Krase had proved his worth any number of times since he had been posted with the 215th and the Colonel had come to trust the old seer implicitly. “Colour-Sergeant, give the order to stand-to!” he barked, as he jumped up along with the rest of the command squad and began checking weapons. Grey bellowed out the orders and the afternoon erupted into sounds of shouting and the pounding of boots as his command ran to their preassigned stations. Krase rose shakily to his feet and joined Ballon as the last of the platoon fell into position. Within minutes, an expectant hush descended as the disciplined men of the 215th gazed out over the defences, looking for any sign of movement in the empty landscape. The silence was suddenly deafening, and it took a few moments for Ballon to realise why – “the wind… it’s stopped” he muttered.
Ignatius’ mind slammed back into his body with bruising force – he felt a shocking pain as his neural circuitry burned into his flesh as it struggled to cope with the psychic backlash, and fat sparks arced into the ground from his stave. Disoriented, he gradually became aware of shouting and running as the Guardsmen scrambled to their defensive positions. He felt himself roughly manhandled as the burly Grenadier Sergeant dragged him to his feet. “Wakey wakey, there’s a good gentleman – this is no time to be taking a nap… we’ve been ordered to stand-to!” The Dominus looked at him, trying to make sense of what was going on, struggling to understand the words that the man was saying. A sense of unease and foreboding grew, and became overwhelming as silence descended over Eidolan. For the first time in decades, Ignatius knew doubt… “Oh Throne, what have I done…” he moaned.
4- The bringers of the storm:
It started as a shimmering in the air, like a heat haze, surrounding the village in a ring about a two hundred yards from the defensive perimeter. The sky darkened as unnatural thunderhead clouds gathered above, and the air grew oppressive – leaden with the tang of ozone and the whiff of something foul and carrion-like. Ballon peered intently into the haze, looking for any sign of movement. Almost immediately he began to pick out shapes – strangely elongated limbs, bodies without heads, claws, tails, shambling and horned humanoid creatures, and a million other visions of lunacy. Shouts of “Contact!” and “Daemons!” rippled around the whole village – they were surrounded. The haze vanished with an ear-piercing shriek, leaving a ring of nightmarish creatures behind. As one, they screamed, howled, hooted and brayed as they broke into a skittering, shambling run towards the defenders. Colonel Ballon raised his voice over the din – “Steady, men of Praetoria! All squads, look to your firing arcs, mark your targets. At one hundred yards, volley FIRE!” As one, the platoon opened fire in all directions – the salvo momentarily drowning out the sound of the approaching Daemons. The whine of laser fire mingled with the chatter of Gatling guns and the crump of mortar, sounding out humanities defiance against the screeching hoard. The toll on the minions of chaos was appalling, yet still they came – laughing and capering as they leaped over the bodies of their own fallen, with some even pausing to feast on their kin. Another salvo sounded out, dropping even more of the creatures, and with that they seemed to evaporate into thin air – leaving only the ghostly echoes of their laughter behind. Cheers and shouts began to rise up from the defenders, as they slowly realised that the attacking Daemons were gone, but Ballon sensed that this was just a reprieve, and that their jubilation was premature. He bellowed for the platoon to stand ready, and to provide casualty and ammunition figures. The disciplined soldiers obeyed instantly, and before long shouted reports began to come back from the squad Sergeants. “Zero casualties Sir, ammo figures are good” summarised Colour-Sergeant Grey, as the old Colonel turned to his even older Astropath. “What did you make of that Krase?” he asked. “They were just probing us, Colonel” Krase replied, “I’ve seen it before – waves of lesser Daemons are sent forth to probe for weaknesses, count the guns of the defenders, and generally test their resolve… there will certainly be more where they came from.” Ballon looked out over the village, shouting down to a squad of snipers to move to a different rooftop and cover a blind spot, and ordering a heavy weapons squad to a better firing position.
Before long, the sky grew darker still as the thunder clouds piled up overhead. Shouts started to sound out from the more keen-eyed soldiers, and Ballon could again see the shimmering in the air some distance away. As before, a hoard of Daemons materialised and immediately started running towards the defenders. Once again, the Colonel ordered his command to open fire, and the village erupted with the sound of gunfire and the screaming of the gibbering hoard as shots found their mark. Ballon surveyed the battleground, pleased with the accuracy and disciplined fire being laid down by his command – as long as they could keep the Daemons at arm’s length they stood a chance of holding their position, at least in the short term. Ballon knew that they couldn’t hold out indefinitely of course, they had ammunition for at least a week, but there was no way of knowing how many of the creatures they faced. Also, if the Daemons could breach the defences in numbers then the odds against survival would diminish rapidly – even a well-trained Guardsman was no match for the minions of the warp if it came down to hand-to-hand fighting. No… they couldn’t hold out indefinitely Ballon mused, but they could certainly maintain this stalemate for the time being… assuming no changes of course…
At that moment, the Daemons let out a shriek of rapture, the heavens erupted with thunder and eldritch lighting forked down into the village. The electrical discharge leapt between the Praetorians like a live thing, and the stench of burned flesh and the screams of the dying filled the air. Horrified, the remaining soldiers lost their focus on the battle, and the reduced volume of fire allowed a handful of Daemons to reach the wall. At a casual glance, the creatures looked like naked women, but a closer look revealed the pointed teeth, faceted insect-like eyes and chitinous claws that betrayed their true nature. With inhuman grace they leapt the barricade to the west, scattering the reeling defenders in the process. The soldiers stood as if transfixed, and leering lasciviously, they began to butcher the men where they stood. Ballon realised that they were in danger of being overrun, when suddenly a vast, sonorous sound peeled out from the temple. It was unbelievably loud – far louder than anything he had ever heard, and it became all-consuming, overwhelming the senses until the pure tone became the only thing that existed. Men fell to their knees clutching their ears, but the effect on the Daemons was even more dramatic. Screaming in rage, they stood as if transfixed, writhing in agony. Their forms shifted and wavered, and with a final shriek, they were forced out of the material realm by the shockwave emanating from the temple. As the sound receded, the soldiers slowly rose and looked around as if in a daze. The remaining Daemons had vanished as quickly as they appeared.
5 – The storm breaks:
Again and again, throughout the afternoon, waves of Daemons attacked the beleaguered men of the 215th. Each time, the pattern was the same – a hoard of creatures would appear in a ring around the village and they would relentlessly attack before evaporating as quickly as they materialised. Sometimes they reached the defensive line, only to be repulsed by a sonorous pulse from the temple. Other times, they stood back and materialised arcane fire to hurl at the soldiers. Daemons would even appear at random within the village itself, summoned into being by dark powers to wreak whatever havoc they could among the defenders before they could be gunned down. Each assault left the men of Praetoria in a weaker position as the casualties mounted. The volume of fire available to repel the attacks was becoming dangerously low, and sections of men were constantly having to redeploy to plug gaps in the defences. Ballon knew that their fate was balanced on a knife edge. Their communication equipment would not function under the arcane storm clouds, while Krase, now revived, had tried unsuccessfully to send out a psychic distress call through the ether. They were on their own with no hope of reinforcement and no way of knowing how many more Daemons they must face… and night was almost upon them. Ballon had worked hard to maintain moral as far as possible, but the men of his command knew that their lives were likely measured in hours, if not minutes… The only real question was how dearly they could sell them. The only person who appeared to be enjoying the situation was the Dominus, Ballon mused. The Colonel was accustomed to the psychic support provided by Krase – a gentle guiding influence, the gift of foresight and precognition. While the powers manifested by the old Astropath were subtle, those of Dominus Ignatius were anything but. The psyker was savage in battle – eyes flaming, he banished screaming Daemons from realspace with a gesture and a shout, or held them immobile with bands of lightning conjured from his staff, held in place by his will alone so that the troops could concentrate their fire upon them. He was imperious as he strode the length of the barricade, fat arcs of energy flickering up and down his staff as he set about bolstering the defences and defying the warp spawn with every shout. At one point, the Dominus was struck by a firebolt hurled by one of the Daemons, but this only seemed to make the psyker stronger and more resolute. Night was falling, and Ballon hated to admit it, but they would surely have been overrun by now were it not for the Dominus…
Ignatius was consumed by rage – the din of battle was music to his ears and the power flooding through him was an overwhelming ecstasy. The Nexus had awoken within the Immaterium, flaring hot and urgent to his senses. The power was more abundant than Ignatius could have imagined – it radiated out of the temple, and it was easy to syphon off as much as he needed to bolster his own strength. He felt god-like as he manipulated reality according to his own will. Again and again, the Daemon hoard came to take what was rightfully his, and each time they came, he reached out with his will to crush them, laughing in his contempt. The fear and horror that had consumed him earlier was forgotten, lost in the thrill of the force he now wielded. Any consideration for his mission, or for the men that accompanied him was likewise subsumed… he barely registered their pitiful souls as dim motes against the raging inferno of his own essence. He existed only to destroy those who would threaten the Nexus.
Visions of empire and dominion surged up within him – he could rule the galaxy from here he realised, laughing at how easy it all now seemed. The complexities of the Imperium, the politics of the Inquisition, the trials of his training, the delusion and dogma surrounding the frail corpse-god Emperor… all things were rendered so clear and simple, and he wondered why he had ever thought them otherwise. He thought back on how casually he had extinguished the life force of a shambling, putrescent Daemon that dared to approach him, bursting its bloated and pestilent body like a ripe fruit and casting it back into the warp. He recalled absent-mindedly plucking the strings of fate of a nearby Guardsman, causing him to involuntarily step away from his squad to block the rushing progress of a chittering, insectoid monstrosity. Of course, the Guardsman died, impaled upon the creature’s claws, but his death stalled the Daemon long enough for Ignatius to bring his full attention to bear on the creature, which he proceeded to dismantle with impatient flicks of his finger, like a child pulling the legs and wings off a fly. The Dominus had laughed with delight at the lancing pain that the creature endured, before he crushed it in a burst of ichor with a thought. Beyond it, he had seen another creature with a lunatic nightmare face leering from its torso, and overgrown arms and hands which it used to grapple a pair of Guardsmen. Arcane fire dripped from fingers that ended with grotesque puckered mouths, and the flames were greedily eating into the flesh of the men. A mental twist had compelled the platoon mortar section to adjust their aim and drop a salvo of high explosives on top of the melee, and the scene had vanished in smoke and dust. The guardsmen were killed instantly, shredded in the blast, but the scorched, blackened, limbless creature took longer to expire as it rolled and screamed in chunks of its own flesh and pools of its own steaming blood. Ignatius had laughed as its struggles grew weaker, before feeling a faint sense of disappointment as the creature grew still and evaporated into the evening, along with the rest of that particular wave of Daemons. As darkness fell, Eidolan had once again became silent, apart from the cries of the wounded and the crackle of fire. Ignatius knew that a reckoning was coming, that the foot soldiers of the enemy were all but spent, and that soon he must face the true adversary. He chuckled at the prospect.
6 – The eye of the storm:
The darkness was now absolute, yet hours had passed with no further attacks. From the command post on the temple roof, Colonel Ballon could hear the demented sound made by the nightmarish creatures gathered on the plateau. They were there, just beyond the range of the torches, but they seemed content to keep their distance for now. The platoon had spent the night recovering the dead, treating the wounded, reallocating ammunition and shortening the defensive perimeter. The village outskirts had been abandoned – they simply didn’t have enough men to defend it anymore. Instead, the remains of the platoon had formed up behind a ring of sandbags and crates that now circled the temple in the centre of the village. There was nowhere else to go. “Maybe they’ve had enough of a kicking for one day”, Ballon thought out loud. “No Colonel, they wait” murmured Krase, gazing sightlessly into the darkness. Ballon sighed. “Somehow I knew you were going to say that Krase, but waiting for what…” he replied. Krase smiled, “I’m afraid that I don’t know the answer to that, but I sense that we are approaching a final reckoning… one way or another, this will soon be over”.
Ignatius sat with his back propped against a wall, lost in his own thoughts. He knew that the battle for Eidolan was approaching a climax – both in the corporeal sense, and within the immaterium, for the Dominus had come to understand the truth of the legends of Eidolan. He knew that the temple was built around the Nexus, which was itself a physical manifestation of a vast warp entity of unfathomable age and power. Sharing in the power of the Nexus had given Ignatius some insight into the creature that was tethered to the site, and he knew that this entity had been attacked within the warp many times throughout the eons, and had always prevailed. Indeed, he had sensed that the vast intelligence had been under assault even as the physical village had been attacked… Of course, the entity had triumphed – how could it not? The power of the creature was incomprehensible, and even the merest psychic overspill from this conflict had lent Ignatius the god-like power to prevail in the material world. This attack was no more than the buzzing of insects to the cosmic perspective of the entity, and the Dominus knew that any assault in the warp or in realspace was an exercise in futility. Soon it would be over, and he would be left in peace to consider how he could harness the limitless power that was on offer. Warm visions of a new Imperium of Man again rose up within him – a second Astronomican, greater than that of the Emperor himself, but centred on Eidolan instead of Terra, and with Ignatius as the god-head… Not crippled and infirm as the Emperor was, but a vital, living god, wielding the power that was now his to command. These visions soothed the Dominus, and he smiled gently as he considered the future. His thoughts were interrupted as the sense of impending destiny grew within him – the Dominus realised that the cacophony of the encircling hoard had hushed into an expectant silence. Ignatius stood and instinctively turned to the north as the ink black sky was suddenly rent by forks of lightning smashing into the ground again and again. Burning after-images danced behind his eyes, as a twelve foot tall avian monstrosity appeared, towering over the strobe-lit throng. As one, the hoard howled out in ecstasy – a Greater Daemon now stood with them, an inscrutable Lord of Change, foremost among the servants of the arch-deceiver Tzeentch. The final battle was at hand, thought Ignatius. He grinned in anticipation.
“By the Throne!” cursed Ballon, as the lightning illuminated the demented form of the Greater Daemon. He watched in horror as the lightning flashed staccato images of a monstrosity as it unfurled vast wings and raised its vulpine head to shriek its rage to the skies. The throng of Daemons surged forward, their progress even more horrific to behold by the flickering light from the skies and the wavering torch beams of the defenders. The men of Praetoria fired again and again but the reduced volume of fire did little to slow the attack, and Ballon knew that they would be overrun, that their tenacious defence was almost at an end. He looked to Krase, the old Astropath was again in a trance, no doubt making a final attempt to get a distress communique out. “Well, this is it”, he thought. He leaned over the low wall that surrounded the temple roof, and shouted down to the veterans of the Praetorian Grenadiers. “We have one more surprise for these abominations boys – stay back and prepare to reinforce the north, plasma rifles at the ready, and make sure the Dominus is with you!” He ordered his command squad to ready their own plasma guns as well, a dangerous prospect given the highly unstable nature of such weaponry, but there was no way that conventional firepower would save them now. As he thought this, Ballon glanced up in time to see the giant winged form of the Greater Daemon soar towards the temple, now illuminated by the fire-glow and torchlight from the village. Again, a deafening tone rang out from the temple, sounding like the end of worlds. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Ballon saw the Daemon halt its flight as if it had struck an invisible barrier. Light flared, as if a force field was being overloaded, and for half a heartbeat he dared to hope that the arcane defences of the temple would keep the creature at bay, but no. The Daemon merely recoiled, before landing gracefully and stepping purposefully across the invisible boundary, closely followed by the countless hoard of lesser minions. The colonel screamed out orders to bring the creature down, but stared in disbelief as heavy Gatling fire stitched a line of bullet holes into the creature’s torso without slowing it in the slightest. With a grace that defied physics, the Daemon bounded the low wall at the perimeter of the village, and unfurled its huge wingspan to land gracefully outside the temple wall. With a gesture, it unleashed a cascade of flame from an outstretched claw, and to a man, the last of the defenders in the northern edge of the village were incinerated where they stood. The creature reared up, arms spread wide, and eyes that were now level with the temple roof glinted with triumph as a wave of daemons surged over the northern wall.
7 – Revelations
“Now! Go! Go! Go!” screamed Colonel Ballon, and the veterans of the Praetorian Grenadiers sprinted around the side of the temple to confront this new threat, the Dominus in their midst. Ignatius could feel a splinter of agony cutting through his mind, as the terrible presence of a Greater Daemon exerted itself on a tortured reality. The power of the Nexus filled him, no, consumed him with a primal urge to fight/destroy/repel the abomination. Fear also flooded his mind, flowing out of the temple as he realised with growing horror that the conduit worked both ways, and that the warp entity was vulnerable to attack via realspace… via this place. The group rounded the corner to be confronted with a primordial vision of insanity – the towering birdlike form of a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch… Lord of Change, Puppet Master, Arch Deceiver… the names given to the mightiest servants of Tzeentch were many, but none could do the creature justice. Twelve or more feet high, it towered over all, despite being a hunched and gangly thing. Vaguely humanoid in appearance, it also resembled a vulture with a long jointed neck, beaked and birdlike head, and vast wings protruding from its back. It turned to lock eyes with Ignatius, eyes with the wisdom of eons flashed with amusement, as it raised a clawed hand and snapped its fingers. Time ceased…
… and Ignatius became aware of light, of grass under foot, of the caress of wind across his skin. He opened his eyes to regard a flat, featureless grassland all around him, stretching to the horizon. The only feature near or far was a single column of dark stone, dully reflecting the washed-out light of this place. The Nexus, he realised. A chuckle sounded out, and Ignatius became aware of another presence in the empty grassland. The Daemon was here too, and somehow now stood between him and the Nexus, one clawed hand resting on the top of the stone. “Get away from it! Creature, away! It’s mine!” he screamed, incoherent with rage, but the Daemon just laughed. The Dominus attempted to draw on his powers, to hurl lightning at the Daemon, to burn and torture and destroy it with his fury, but nothing happened… the creature just carried on laughing. Ignatius tried to move, to approach the monster and force it back from the Nexus with his bare hands if necessary, but his body was frozen and he couldn’t take a single step. The Daemon locked his gaze with the straining form of the Dominus. “Mortal fool… Little wizard… Did you think this prize yours?” it chuckled. “Did you think your presence here was by your own design? Your own will? Your own fate?”… The ancient creature shook its head. “You are a fool… a tool!” it proclaimed. “No!” gasped Ignatius… “This is mine, my prize, my reward for all my efforts! You cannot take this from me… it’s mine!” The Daemon regarded him with puzzled sympathy. “Yours? By what right do you claim this as yours, mortal? Ahh, wait… perhaps you are referring to the pull it has exerted on you all these years, or perhaps you are considering the twist of fate that granted you the powers that set you on your path? Or maybe you speak of the luck that got you into the position of power needed to revisit this place, or the politicking you did to remove its previous attendants?” Ignatius looked in horror… “No… Yes… that was me… my work, my destiny…” Again, the Daemon shook its head, tutting. “Poor little wizard… no, no, and a thousand no’s… All of this has been the doing of Tzeentch, my master and yours… he has shaped you, moulded you, and pulled the strings of fate to bring this to pass… Look above you little one, look to the sky if you don’t believe!” Ignatius looked, a horror growing inside him. He could see strings… thousands of strings, hair-thin, fine to the point of invisibility, rising up from him and vanishing into the sky. “No!” he gasped. “Yes” said the Daemon, drawing his gaze back to the plain. “Yes, all has been to his design little puppet-man, as it always has been… as it always will be… all will come to pass, just as planned.”
The Dominus wilted… he knew the truth of what he was being told, somehow he had always known. A curious calm came over him. “Why?” he asked. “Why the Nexus? Why me?” The Daemon chuckled again… “I know not little one – I play my part as do you! My mind is vast, my wisdom is boundless, but I cannot fathom the purpose of my master any more than an insect can fathom mine. I simply serve, just as you have served” Ignatius looked again at the Daemon, and saw the rock pulse and twist where its hand rested. The changes rippled down through the column, travelling into the ground. The Dominus knew that the warp entity that was connected to the Nexus was also being changed – destroyed or co-opted, it didn’t matter anymore. It was lost… doomed, as part of the plans and schemes of Tzeentch. A sense of inevitability filled him, and Ignatius sighed. “So what now?” he asked. The Daemon cocked its head, a quizzical look on its ancient face. “Now? Why, a gift from my Master of course!” replied the Daemon, “My master rewards good service, for he is most magnanimous… He must be pleased with you little one, for he has instructed me to offer you the greatest gift of all… He offers you a choice, fine and true!” The Dominus looked up, “A choice?” he asked, the hope rising in his voice despite his efforts to supress it. “Yes little wizard… a choice… You have reached a junction in your fate, one where you can no longer be manipulated without being aware of the fact. As such, your choice is simple – serve willingly as the Great Lord of Change decrees, embrace a destiny that brings power, wealth, influence, immortality, for these are the rewards that such service will surely bring! Or don’t… accept the ignominy of your station as you eke out your remaining time, bound by the constraints of your society, trapped in your oh-so-very mortal shell, doomed to die as all creatures are in this curious realm… powerless… pointless… inconsequential… Choose little wizard, but choose well, for you will never be presented with this choice again…”
Ignatius knew what his choice would be before the creature had finished outlining it to him. The Nexus was finished, his mission failed. Worse, he had been forming plans for the worst treachery imaginable – to supplant the Emperor himself! The Ordo Malleus had members skilled at reading the thoughts and intentions of its members, and he knew that his heretical dreams would be revealed. His punishment would certainly be a slow, lingering death at the hands of his colleagues, but even if he could escape this fate, how could he return to a life of mundanity after the power that he had felt? How could he go back to being a man after being a god? No… this choice was no choice at all… better to align with Tzeentch and find another way to true power than remain loyal to the Imperium and die. He drew a breath – “I will serve” he said, and with that he felt iron-cold claws close around his soul. The Daemon threw back its head and crowed in rapture as a voice boomed from the heavens, ancient, wise and inscrutable. It filled the air and hammered the senses, and Ignatius trembled in awe as the voice addressed him – “Ah, little one, you have chosen well. Your scheming little soul is delicious to me, your thirst for power is most droll. We have so much work to do, so many plans to make! You will leave this place and we will complete the charade on the mortal plain. The Nexus will be your prize little wizard, but it will not be yours to use – through it you will further my designs by winning the exaltation of your race. You will rise, and rise, and rise again among the mortals, but all the while you will be my instrument, just as the Nexus will be.” The Dominus felt the certainty of a great destiny wash over him, and knew a peace he had never felt before. “Thank you, Master” he managed to whisper, head bowed low. The voice now addressed the Daemon, which writhed in ecstasy – “And you, you have served me well faithful one… you will returned to me, ascendant in glory. We will find many more parts for you to play, as you continue to serve in my great works”. The Daemon could only croak in gratitude. A peel of thunder sounded, and the plane began to grow dim. Time started again…
… Ignatius was immediately overwhelmed by the screams of the Daemonic hoard, the shouting of terrified men, the smell of smoke and death that hung in the air of Eidolan, the howl and crack of weapons. He vaguely registered the bellowed order to open fire, and squinted as white-hot lances of plasma pummelled into the form of the Greater Daemon. The creature screamed as plasma streamed across its hide, and a heat like the centre of the sun washed over the watching Dominus. The Daemon locked eyes with Ignatius, even as its skin blackened and it flesh bubbled and cracked. Its eyes seemed to crease with amusement as, with a final shriek, it vanished back to the warp from where it came. As the Greater Daemon was banished, so were the lesser creatures now swarming over the walls. The clouds above began to disperse and nature once again restored order over Eidolan, and a great cheer went up from the survivors of the 215th as the sun brightened the horizon with the promise of dawn. Only Krase did not join in the celebration – instead, his noble brow was creased with concern. Ballon assumed that it was due to the strain of his efforts to raise a distress call, or maybe the psychic backlash from the destruction of the Greater Daemon and its minions, but it was not. Krase had been overwhelmed by visions as the battle reached its climax, and his frown deepened as he considered the ramifications of all that he had seen…
Ignatius sat still, calm in the presence of Lord Inquisitor Necrews. The Inquisitor’s stately office was dimly lit, and thrummed with the background noise of the Inquisitorial Frigate ‘Force of Nature’. Much had happened since the incident at Eidolan – the Inquisition task force had arrived, and the Dominus had been debriefed in situ, before overseeing a full handover to the Malleus exploratory team. Ignatius had been quizzed in much more detail since leaving the surface of Bennett’s End, and he continued to deliver his carefully crafted version of the mystical events surrounding the conflict. His ‘superiors’ were pleased, the mission was counted a resounding success, and he was to be promoted and transferred to the Inquisitorial headquarters on Holy Terra as his reward – a station almost unheard of for one so young. His attention was drawn back to the present and to the ramblings of the Lord Inquisitor. “Excellent work Dominus, excellent work!” Necrews was saying. “The strategic importance of this Nexus of yours is incalculable – a source of power like this can be modulated to boost an Astronomican relay to the point that it will reliably cover the entire sector… a guaranteed and fixed navigation point like this opens the whole area for exploration… Imagine the wealth that this will bring to the Ordo! And the military implications are enormous… You have done well, Dominus… very well indeed.” Ignatius smiled to himself, “Thank you, Lord Inquisitor, I am only glad to be of service to the Ordo, and to the Emperor” he replied, all the while thinking what a fool the Inquisitor was. The Nexus may well provide a fixed point for navigation and galactic expansion, but the Nexus was itself subject to the control of a much older order of intelligence. No doubt his true master would use it to subtly manipulate events to suit his grand designs, whatever they may be. “If there is nothing else, my Lord?” Ignatius asked. “No, nothing else Dominus, I’ll leave you to prepare for your return to Holy Terra. Good luck with your new responsibilities!” replied Necrews, jovially. Ignatius rose, bowed slightly, turned and left the office.
As Ignatius left the room, the Lord Inquisitors face hardened. Necrews stared at the office door long after the Dominus had departed, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. After some time, he lent forward and grabbed his dataslate from his desk draw. Thumbing the rune of activation, he again read through the report that had been filed by some field-assigned Astropath. Apparently, he had been attached to the unit that the Inquisition had requisitioned for the mission to Eidolan, and his report was disturbing in the extreme. With a sigh, Necrews replaced the dataslate, and turned to activate the autoscibe servitor that was recessed into the solid wooden surface of his desk. The yellowed skull of the servitor chattered, and lights blinked off and on as it prepared to record and transmit whatever message the Lord Inquisitor wished. Lord Inquisitor Necrews clenched his jaw and began to speak: “Message, priority one, privacy level Omega, addressed to the Officio Assassinorium, Culexus temple…”