Friday, 18 June 2010

The Tale of Kelraxus Half-blade



Chapter 1 of John Venegas' 'Tale of Kelraxus Half-blade'.


“All power to starboard thrusters!  Keep the ship in orbit!”  Marshal Devlan maintained his composure and spoke with authority, but even he could not keep all hints of worry from his voice.
The servitor that replied spoke in a monotone devoid of concern- “Negative, Lord Marshal.  The ship is caught in the planet’s gravity fluctuations.  Impact in three minutes.”
“Damnation.  Fight, you mindless whelp,” Devlan roared.  “Use what little intelligence you have to die with the Emperor’s name on your tongue.”
“All hail the Emperor of Man,” the servitor replied coldly before returning to its duties.
      Devlan sat back in his command-throne, pondering his next move.  Though he remained as motionless as a statue, his enhanced mind raced over the details of the situation.  The world below was covered in a multi-hued landscape and crawled with armies large enough to be seen from orbit.  The circumstances were grave indeed.  He punched in a code on the arm of the throne and began to speak.
“All hands, this is Marshal Devlan.  We have been ensnared by the foul treacheries of the Ruinous Powers and will make planetfall within three minutes.  Arm yourselves.  When we land, we fight.  We fight in the Emperor’s name.  Devlan out.”
“My Lord Marshal, astropathic distress signals have been unsuccessful.  There have been fatal levels of psychic interference, most likely emanating from the planet itself,” another servitor reported.
“Blessed is the mind untouched by the Taint.  It is only fitting for having trusted witches,” Devlan replied.  As if in response, his vox-link buzzed.
“This is Devlan.  Go ahead,” he said into his communicator.
“My Lord Marshal, this is Chaplain Bavon.  I have the Blessed with me.  Requesting permission to come aboard, sir,” came the reply.
“Permission granted, brother.”
      A massive bulkhead shifted and groaned as it lumbered open.  The interior of the massive portal was covered in sigils and laurels detailing countless triumphant moments in the history of the ancient strike cruiser, designated the Black Sword by Chapter record keepers.  Save for the symbol of the Templars above it, the exterior was only adorned by the untouched scar of an unsuccessful melta charge attack.  Devlan had left it there to remind any future boarders of the futility of their endeavors.
The two individuals that entered the bridge were every bit as imposing at the door itself.
      The first was Chaplain Bavon.  A hero of countless battles and the inspiration of many Crusaders, he was the most senior of the Black Templars aboard the Black Sword.  His skull-faced helm was already fixed in place, and his right hand flexed open and closed around the hilt of his crozius arcanum.  His left hand gripped tightly on the grip of his bolt pistol. A huge rosarius generator hung from his neck.  Though the field it created around him was largely invisible, it filled the air with a gentle humming.  As if completely oblivious to the impending doom of the venerable space ship, his body language spoke of one eager for battle.
      The second was Ramasian, the Emperor’s Champion.  If Chaplain Bavon represented the Emperor’s furious judgment, Ramasian embodied the heroic visage of the sacred vision of the Lord of Mankind.  He was nearly a head taller than Bavon, with a statuesque olive face and long black hair.  His armor, one of the legendary suits called the Armor of Faith, was as ancient as it was ornate, with the purest gold and silver trim bedecking six thousand year old ceramite.  At his side, his right hand rested on the hilt of the Black Sword, the obsidian blade of which stretched out six feet behind Ramasian.  His stoic manner seemed at odds with the severity of the crisis.
“Chaplain Bavon.  Blessed-Brother Ramasian.  The Emperor has given us an entire planet’s worth of his enemies to smite,” Marshal Devlan said.
“None of the serfs are expected to survive, Lord Marshal,” Chaplain Bavon said unsolicited.  “Casualties amongst the Initiates are expected to be light, and those amongst the Neophytes heavy.”
“As expected, Brother-Chaplain,” Devlan responded.  “The servitors are going to put us down on the planet’s main continent.”
“Impact in two minutes,” one of the servitors called out.  Red warning lights and klaxons blazed and wailed in response.
Silent as usual, Ramasian moved forward toward the bridge view-screens, watching the mad planet writhe underneath them like a predator awaiting a doomed prey.  The slightest glimpse of anticipation flickered in Ramasian’s eyes, and for a moment, Devlan did not know who was predator and who was prey.
“Something has changed in him, Bavon,” Devlan said quietly.  “Has he been granted a vision from the Emperor?” Devlan asked.
“He has indicated nothing of the sort, Lord Marshal,” the Chaplain replied.  “We must not forget that despite his ascension, he is still an Astartes- a warrior like you and I.  I believe in this moment he is simply a warrior coming to terms with his final stand.”
“You mean our final stand.”
“Most likely, Lord Marshal.  I have never once questioned your tactical brilliance nor the valor of our warriors, but even the most zealous of the faithful understand what is to come.”
“Aye, Brother.  We shall stand together here and now for the last time.  I am honored to die at the side of Brothers such as you and Blessed Ramasian,” Devlan said.
“Impact in one minute, Lord Marshal,” said one of the servitors.
“Brother Chaplain,” Ramasian called out behind himself.  “A moment?”
“Of course, Blessed Brother,” Bavon answered as Devlan returned to his command-throne and donned his helm.
“What is it?” Bavon asked.
“Is it wrong to consider this death ignoble?”
“No death in the Emperor’s service is ignoble, Brother,” the Chaplain replied.
“So teaches Father Dorn, but I cannot help but hate this place.  Crawling with vermin, catching us in a freak gravitational accident.  No one will come for our bodies.  No one will come for the ship.  We die here, with no renown or vindication.  For this most of all, I hate this place,” Ramasian said, his face and tone never once wavering.
“Hate is a tool of the righteous, Brother,” Bavon said.  “All warriors fear that their lives will go wasted and their names unremembered by the pages of history.  Do not dwell on this, for you are no mere soldier.  You are the chosen champion of the Emperor of Man.  He knows your name.  When you finally fall, you will be welcomed into the company of legends.  You will be rewarded for your valor and your might, and the galaxy will know your name.”
Ramasian turned to Bavon and peered into the Chaplain’s blue eyes.  There was no hint of doubt.  Something in Ramasian knew that the Chaplain spoke only truth.
“These abominations will taste my hatred of them, and they will fall,” Ramasian said.
“Impact in ten, nine…” a servitor began.
      A massive shockwave hit the strike cruiser as it struck and obliterated the peak of a mountain.  It slid over the natural edifice as the tremors rattled the craft from stem to stern.  Weapons and iconography sheared off in mere instants.  The crusader skipped and turned on its side before slamming nose first into the ground.  It tore a huge gouge out of the ground before snapping in two like a fruit.  Within the scored and broken hull, servitors, serfs, and Astartes alike were tossed about in horrific fashion.  Computers and view screens exploded in showers of sparks and shrapnel.  The roaring of the tumult shattered ear drums as easily as it did steel firmament.  The halves of the Black Sword finally skidded to a halt over twenty seconds and seven miles beyond the initial impact on the mountaintop.
++++++
      Three miles away, the demon lord Hado’kir’i’tkas watched intently.  He stretched out his agitated blue wings and cocked his long-beaked head.  He was a very tall, fragile looking bird-creature that seemed completely out of place on the blood soaked landscape.  It had taken a considerable amount of power to weave enchantments that could hide his presence from the servants of the God of Rage, especially the hounds.  The warmongerers ruled this area of the planet for now, and they hated Hado’kir and his kind almost as much as the servants of the Dark Prince.  Nevertheless, the Master of the Empyrean demanded that his involvement be kept discrete.
      As the human ship came to a rest and the tattered remnants of the Astartes climbed from the monolithic wreckage, Hado’kir watched the very unsubtle warriors around him, still oblivious to his presence, began stalking toward the humanoids.  They chittered and barked with barely restrained bloodlust, while brandishing their longswords and their fangs.  Such primitive and base displays meant little to Hado’kir, but it seemed these Space Marines were more than willing to accept the challenge. 
      Finally, with his limitless demonic vision, the greater demon witnessed the favored one emerge.  His soul was a ripe thing indeed.  It burned hotter and more brightly than most, though without any direct ability to manipulate the aether.  The Starchild had singled out this warrior for greatness, and the Master of Fate had foreseen this warrior become far more than a forgettable annoyance like most Astartes were.  Indeed, if this one were allowed to prosper as the Starchild saw fit, the Grand Scheme for the realm of mortals could itself be jeopardized.  Though he would never admit it to any but his master, Hado’kir could not see such things happening.  It was one mortal amongst trillions, and like all of the others, it ultimately meant little.  However, if the Starchild’s orchestrations could be set back, the cause was undoubtedly worthy.
      It had taken only a minor thought to confuse the ship’s navigator and cause them to drop out of the warp dangerously close to the planet.  Even the manipulation of the planet’s gravity wells was a simple task for once such as Hado’kir.  But now the real game was beginning.  With no ambition, greed, or sorcerous power, this Ramasian was of little use to the Lord of Change.  However, his soul harbored an anger that bordered on darkness and that had been nurtured by his fanatical brethren.  The Blood God, simplistic fool that he was, would be most pleased with his new toy, and would be none the wiser of his brother’s involvement.
++++++
“Brother-Templars!” Marshal Devlan roared.  “To me!  The Emperor wishes us to banish these horrors back to the hell from whence they came!”
      Unseen to all, Marshal Devlan winced as he advanced.  Like almost all of the Fighting Company, he was severely injured.  His rib cage was thoroughly cracked, and would take several weeks of rest to completely heal.  Worst of all, Chaplain Bavon had been crushed by a machine console in the crash.  Not that it mattered now.  An unruly horde of bipedal monsters was in full sprint towards the Black Sword, each eager to claim the lives of the noble Templars.  Devlan swore that each of them would learn the price of underestimating the Emperor’s finest.
      To Devlan’s right, a tremendous bellow erupted.  It shocked Devlan enough to cause the Marshal to leap aside, and shocked him even more so when he saw the culprit.  Ramasian thundered forward like Sigismund himself, brandishing his massive, jet black greatsword.  His example did far more to rally the confused and scattered Templars than Devlan’s orders did.  Devlan himself thumbed the activation rune on his power-axe and followed the Blessed Champion.  As the red horde approached, the Marshal emptied his bolt pistol magazine.  Each shot found it’s mark in demonic flesh, which fizzled and vaporized even as it shred from its host.  Yet the demons came on without fear or hesitation.
      It was only then that Devlan began to appreciate the gravity of the situation.  The demonkin around him were more than enough to wipe out the fighting company, and a thousand times their number were clambering down the surrounding mountains.  Massive metal juggernauts pounded forward, spewing sulfur-ridden fumes and snapping at the warriors beside them.  Rabid, horse-sized hounds with collars of brass and iron galloped through the horde at terrifying speed. 
As the horde closed, Ramasian struck.
      The first three Bloodletters fell in less than a second.  The Champion’s sword rose and fell with an almost impossible combination of speed and strength, and in a few more seconds, he had punched deep into the enemy.  He seemed to anticipate where each frenzied, demonic blow would land and would dodge or sidestep at the last moment.  The counter-attack would behead or bisect almost without fail.  Around him, the Templars plowed into the demon ranks, pushing the creatures back.  Within moments, each warrior was cut off from his fellows and fighting to his last moment.  Superhuman warriors born of genetic engineering and armed with courage and steel tore into insane minions of muscle and rage before being hacked limb from limb.  Human blood and demonic ichor bathed each warrior and mixed in a cocktail of unholy, wanton death.
      Amidst it all, Ramasian was indefatigable.  A pile of dissolving corpses lay strewn about at his feet.  One of the lumbering juggernauts charged into him like a nightmarish rhinoceros, only for the Champion to behead the iron beast with a single blow.  A Flesh Hound leapt over the massing horde, and Ramasian fell back into a roll, splitting the demon’s belly in two.  The Emperor’s Champion leapt to his feet and swung his sword in huge, sweeping arcs.  It cleaved through demon blades and bodies with little resistance and cleared out six feet of space on all sides of him.  Though battle raged around him, the Bloodletters most adjacent paused.  A single demon stepped forward, taller and more muscular than its fellows, baring an unsubtle axe.  It leveled the weapon at the Champion in challenge, and charged.
      The first blow was easily parried, but the demon slammed into Ramasian and sent them both barreling into the ground.  They rose together and traded a flurry of blows that rang out and jarred Ramasian’s muscles.  He felt his contempt of the creature boiling to the surface.  From its furthest recesses, his mind urged him to let go and unleash the Emperor’s righteous anger.  “Why not?” he wondered.  He knew this creature was beyond any need for sympathy.  It existed only to bring destruction to the Emperor’s vision.  Ramasian’s muscles tightened and he screamed louder than he thought himself capable of.  He brought down his sword on the head of the demonic herald, splitting the demon in twain.  The Bloodletters surrounding him barked to the heavens at the fall of their leader, not in mourning but as if it was simply the way of things.
      A pain struck Ramasian’s mind then, and his senses seemed to extend beyond his mortal shell.  At first he thought himself dead at last, but he realized that he was witnessing the battle at large.  The pain stabbed into him again, and he saw a light extinguished.  It was the fall of another Templar.  How he could witness this he did not know, nor did he care.  His anger fanned with each death.  “Why did such brave warriors have to die such an ignominious death,” he questioned.  Even as growing confusion washed over his mind, his body dismissively butchered any demon that wondered too near.
      A roar, the likes of which few mortal ears had ever heard, resounded over the battlefield and brought Ramasian’s mind back to his body.  The boundaries between the warp and reality shimmered and threatened to break.  The ground itself tore open before Ramasian, vomiting forth the stench of burning sulfur and boiling blood.  A massive arm, as thick around as the Champion himself, punched through the void.  It gained purchase on the cracked ground and pulled forth a gargantuan, bestial demon behind it.  The demon, almost ridiculously brawny, spread a huge pair of bat-like wings and shook off a wave of soil and blood.  Its horned head growled intelligibly and scanned the field until its eyes fell on the Emperor’s Champion.  It took a step forward, its broad-hoofed foot melting the rock it landed on.  Raising its tank-sized axe, it swung a tremendous blow at Ramasian.  The Astartes Champion brought his blade up, but he had not the strength to withstand it.  He flew back through the air and slammed into a boulder with all the force of a cannon shot.  Ramasian’s backpack unit shattered along with most of the bones in his body, and the mighty warrior fell limply to the floor.
++++++ 
      Slowly, the Bloodthirster Mal’kandrinax advanced on the vanquished Ramasian, cracking his whip in frustration at having been summoned to deal with such a pathetic creature.  It looked so pathetic on the floor, simply waiting for its skull to be added to Khorne’s tally.  The mortal’s weapon, broken in two, lay beside him.  The Bloodletters around the greater demon shivered and cawed in the presence of such a perfect avatar of their master’s power.  Mal’kandrinax stepped on one of them in his anger, watching with satisfaction as the lesser being pulped underneath his hoof.
      When he reached the Space Marine, he reached down to pluck the mortal’s skull from its frame.  Suddenly, the greater demon’s entire body froze and convulsed.  A mixed wave of emotion flooded through his mind.  He was enraged at having been stopped, but equally cowed at the knowledge that only one entity could command him so- Khorne himself.  The Blood God had spoken and found this mortal worthy of his attentions, and Mal’kandrinax felt himself compelled to reach down once again.  This time, the demon’s hand came to rest on Ramasian’s chest.  With the slightest of efforts, he could crush the little worm, but his corporeal form was completely incapable of defying the Blood God’s will.  Lightning coruscated from the demon’s arm and poured into Ramasian’s broken body.  The Champion writhed as tendrils of chaotic power took hold of him.
++++++
      For a moment, there was only pain- the kind of pain that drove the mightiest men insane and the fear of which could kill.  Ramasian knew this pain for an instant, and then found himself naked aboard the bridge of the Black Sword.  He stood alone, save for the servitors and Chaplain Bavon.  He called out to the Chaplain.
“Brother?”
“Yes, Ramasian,” the Chaplain answered beneath his skull-helm.
“What is this?  This cannot be real.  You died in the crash.  I fell to a demon lord.  What is this?”
The Chaplain did not reply.
“We must find our way out of this nightmare, Bavon.”
“No.”
“What?” Ramasian asked, genuinely stunned.
“There is no point.”
“How can you say that, Chaplain?  I don’t understand what is going on.”
“Of course you don’t, you simple minded fool!  The ‘Chosen One’!  And you can’t even see what was in front of you all this time.  I suppose such stupidity is worthy of the Emperor’s Champion.”
Ramasian felt as if struck with a thunder hammer.
“You should see your face, Ramasian,” Bavon continued.  “Like a lamb lead to slaughter.  I know it has bothered you.  You spoke to me on this very bridge about your doubts.  You wanted to be remembered.  You wanted to feel vindicated in the endless slaughter of the Emperor’s enemies.  I believe I recited some spittle-wash from the Litanies of Hate for you to ease your limited mind.  Tell me now, Champion, do those words offer any comfort to you now that your mind is imprisoned here and your body is the plaything of the gods?”
“Gods? What devilry do you speak of?!  What has come over you, Bavon?!”
In an instant, Bavon closed the distance and caught Ramasian’s face with a ceramite-covered backhand, sending the Champion sprawled to the floor.
“Cease your ignorant prattle, whelp.  I haven’t the time for it.  You see, brother, I have been granted the rarest of epiphanies.  In the many years of our service, we have slaughtered millions.  How many gallons of blood have we spilled?  How many skulls have we taken as trophies?  Why?”
Ramasian gargled a response through a mouthful of blood
“Because the Emperor demanded it.”
“Exactly.  Because he demanded it.  And what did we receive for it?  As you so succinctly put it, ‘an ignoble death’.  To go unremembered and unthanked for shedding our blood along with that of countless others in his name,” Bavon said.  “My honor burns with anguish at such an affront.”
“This is the life we chose, Bavon.  To sacrifice ourselves for the sake of all mankind,” Ramasian replied.
“And what do you have to show for it, Champion? Nothing.  Well, I have found another way.”
“I will not hear this!  I know what road you now tread, and I will not follow.  I am no heretic.  I am not a traitor!” Ramasian yelled.
“Follow?  Moron.  Have you not yet realized it?  I am nothing more than a figment of your mind, forcing you to see the truth.  I am telling you nothing that you do not already know and believe.  You are simply too blind to see past your indoctrination,” Bavon yelled back.
“No…” Ramasian whispered, aghast.
“Do not cower before your destiny, Ramasian.  There is another way.  You need not live the life of a nameless policer of the Emperor’s supposed domain.  You are a weapon, built for war and conquest.  Embrace what you were forged for!  Become what you were meant to be.”
“I cannot…I am a son of Dorn…” Ramasian said.  For the first time since he became an Astartes, the pangs of fear addled his mind.
“No.  You are a warrior.  One of superlative skill.  There is one who will truly reward you for what you have done, and what you will do.  He will make you stronger.  He will make you faster.  Your knowledge of war will be unsurpassed, He will make you invincible should you prove worthy.  You need only say his name.”
“Keep away from me!” Ramasian screamed.
“Let go of that feculent corpse of a dictator and join the ranks of the galaxy’s greatest warriors.  You already know the name of your true lord, for he speaks to the hearts of all true warriors,” Bavon said, leaning over Ramasian and peering into his eyes.
Ramasian screamed again, tortured by the betrayal of his thoughts.
“Say it!  Say his name!” the image of Bavon cried.
“K…K….Khorne!”
++++++
      Mal’kandrinax stepped back and watched as the Astartes rose from the floor.  The mortal’s bones snapped back into place and healed their fissures.  Open wounds sealed.  The mortal jerked upright as if possessed and came to rest on one knee.  For several moments, neither demon nor mortal moved.  Mal’kandrinax leaned his head in and sniffed, like a dog exploring a familiar scent.  Indeed, the Bloodthirster sensed the essence of the Blood God within this pawn and became enthralled by it.
So much so that he did not notice the hilt of Ramasian’s sword return to the warrior’s hand.
      In a flash of movement and anger, Ramasian plunged his half-blade into the protruding snout of the greater demon.  The surprised creature bucked and stumbled away, but Ramasian would not let go.  Mal’kandrinax wavered and tripped, crushing screaming Bloodletters under his massive bulk.  The former Champion stood atop the fallen demon and began to speak words of a language unknown to him in his previous life.  At first he spoke alone, but as he chanted the demons around him repeated and echoed his incantations.  Blood poured from the wound in the greater demon’s snout, but it was absorbed by the sword as if the metal were devouring it.  More blood than even the creature’s huge body could hold came forth, and the broken blade swallowed every drop of it.  The demon’s flesh withered on its shrinking frame before dissolving like that of its kin.  
      Ramasian watched as his broken sword ignited and became a blade of flame and black steel, covered in red runes of unfettered rage.  Then, it quieted itself and went as cold as the void.
“Blood…for…the Blood God.”
++++++
      A powerful blow across the cheek woke Marshal Devlan.  He had been captured and restrained by his unnatural opponents, and now found himself being dragged through the blood soaked dirt.  He struggled mightily, but another blow stopped him.   When he realized he had stopped, Devlan looked up.  Ramasian, or rather, a horrific, gore-strewn image of the Champion, stood before him. 
“Brother Ramasian?  What…is…this?”  Devlan asked, despite a broken jaw.
Ramasian circled around him before placing a heavy boot on the Marshal’s back and forcing him into the ground.
“Ramasian is dead, fallen on this very field, Marshal.  I am Kelraxus.  Take that name with you to the afterlife.”
Kelraxus plunged his blade into the Marshal’s neck and said “Tell the Emperor that I am coming for him.”

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