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 The Fall of Kil-Marann

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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 15:40

Hi! This should be readable even if you haven't read Ascent and Unicorn, but the truth is that a lot of it will make more sense if you have. I've put in a summary of those two stories below as an introduction -- but please feel free to skip it Smile

Objectionable content warning:
 

Summary of 'Ascent'

Meeran, a young human pirate, is taken to Commorragh as a slave, and falls in love with the city. She is penned together with S'hlee, a craftworld seer, who is terrified. In order to save S'hlee, Meeran strangles her and merges their souls together, becoming a new being: Meeran-S'hlee. She/They are then bought by Vermipox, a very ancient haemonculus and artist, who re-sculpts her body and soul into a work of art representing all of the pain in the universe, and the work is so perfect that it erases the distinction between 'represents' and 'is', so that she is in fact all of the pain in the universe.

Vermipox is mocked for this by a clique of four: Pleghanie, Archon of the Deceitful Smiles, the Succubus Etain, Antharos, a rival haemonculus, and Finghul, a slaver lord. To teach them a lesson, Meeran humiliates them by fighting against their champions in the arena.

Meeran is led by a mandrake and a troupe of harlequins to another dimension where there is a palace in ruins by a black lake. In the palace, Meeran and S'hlee encounter a Woman in Yellow who claims to be an avatar of both Cegorach and Slaanesh, and who reveals to them that she has manipulated their entire lives so that these events would come to pass. She also tells them that she is only a servant: the real manipulator is a future version of themselves that has arranged for everything to happen so that it will exist, effectively creating itself. However, this version of themselves is made up of three parts, and they are only two, so they still need to find another to complete themselves.

Meeran returns to Commorragh and the arena just as Pleghanie's intrigues explode into all-out civil war. Antharos attacks Vermipox, who has been betrayed by Qlip, one of his wracks. Meeran saves Vermipox and does something unspeakable to Qlip, and she and Vermipox escape into a painting. Asdrubael Vect wants Meeran as a source of infinite pain, and he dispatches Pleghanie, Etain, Antharos, and Finghul to fetch her and Vermipox back.

Summary of 'Unicorn':

Four daemons called Brute, Slime, Whore, and Lie plan to destroy Meeran. Meanwhile, Inquisitor Aralee Zayt and Captain Origen, a rogue trader, find Vermipox and Meeran on the run from Pleghanie. They travel together to Sagramunda, a world on the edge of a terrible war between the Imperium and the Tau, which Aralee wishes to prevent. Vermipox and Meeran stage a play that drives both humans and tau insane. Aralee's investigations are sidetracked by Pleghanie kidnapping Origen. While Aralee searches desperately for him, Pleghanie goads the tau ambassador Pol'na into starting the war. Aralee fights her way through scores of tau, still searching for Origen. The Imperium is winning the battle, but they are caught in a trap by the dark eldar, who massacre everyone, human and tau. Aralee reunites with Origen and makes love to him, at last understanding and accepting herself.

They find Vermipox and Meeran, who have captured the tortured souls of the dead to power a webway-travelling machine, the Hagfish. The four daemons make their appearance, believing themselves to have won -- there has been brutality, debauchery, disease, and deception -- but it has all been a play written by Vermipox, and by inserting themselves into it they have ceased to be daemons and have become actors, and Vermipox sends them away. Aralee and Origen say goodbye to Meeran and Vermipox, and they part on good terms.

And now, part three!


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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 15:45

THE FALL OF KIL-MARANN


THE SHATTERING OF GLASS

‘Repent your sins! The end is upon you!’

The preacher was on rare form, red in the face, worked up to near-hysteria, spraying his audience with flying spittle as far as five metres away. A shame that it was all wasted effort: this world was lost. Sister Honoria was no more inspired by his sermon than were the few human onlookers who stopped for a few moments to listen, then wandered away bored. Only the aliens seemed fascinated by him, as if they had found an amusing animal doing an entertaining trick. Every now and then, they applauded.

Honoria looked around to see a tall, four-armed snake-man peering curiously at her from behind a pair of spectacles. ‘What are you looking at?’ she demanded. The creature shrugged and slithered away.

Her fingers closed around the grip of her flamer. Look at them, she thought. They were all heretics, some of them mutants, and xenos walked freely among them as if it were the most natural thing. Her every instinct urged her to purge these abominations with holy fire. That, however, would be suicidal, and there was no need, they would all burn soon enough. She had already contacted the fleet and the Lord Admiral had agreed with her assessment. Two battleships were already on their way to bombard this world and everyone in it from orbit until nothing remained but a smoldering cinder. In the meantime her own ship, a Lunar class cruiser named the Light of Faith, would maintain a blockade of the planet, ensuring that not one heretic escaped their fate.

It should have been that simple, but the preacher had insisted. If he could save even one soul, he said, before the cleansing fire rained down upon them, then it was his duty to try. And he was right, of course, no matter how inconvenient it was; they were the Ecclesiarchy after all, and they had an obligation to the souls of all mankind. She could no more stop him than she could allow him to go down alone. She just wished she could have explained to him why it was a waste of time, why these souls were beyond their help, without it seeming as if her own faith were lacking.

She still could not understand it herself. How had it come to this? It had been insidious, almost imperceptive, starting with little things. As Palatine of the local Sororitas Mission, she had tried to restore order. When things first got out of hand, she had personally executed the planetary governor for his failure. His successor should have been eager to impose the law and avoid the same fate; instead, he had vanished after only one day, leaving a note saying: ‘I quit. Joining the circus!’ The third governor had taken himself hostage, and shot himself in the back while trying to escape. The fourth governor had gone live on holo-vid to pledge his loyalty to the Imperium and then lead the populace in a reading of the Litanies… all of the Litanies, for five weeks without stopping, while being fed intravenously. For all she knew, he was still going. The Schola Progenium had never prepared her for anything like this.

If it were any consolation to the preacher, he was not alone. Other worshippers of false alien gods had set up podiums along the street and they too harangued passers-by, getting much the same reaction. Across from them were three cultists in uncomfortable leather clothes, openly shouting the praises of the Ruinous Powers — in full view and in broad daylight! — and publicly uttering the name Slaanesh. That alone merited Exterminatus, and if Honoria could have called down obliteration on this planet twice, she would have. In spite of her horror, it was a small satisfaction to watch them growing increasingly frustrated as they, too, were ignored.

Something else was happening across the street. The crowd parted as if unconsciously avoiding something in their midst, and at the centre of it was a young girl, walking airily among them seemingly without a care. There was nothing self-evidently dangerous or alarming about her. She seemed human, or maybe eldar, it was hard to tell. She might almost have been pretty, if she had not been so scruffy. A guttersnipe, would have been Honoria’s guess, but even from here she could sense a wrongness to her, an intangible but overwhelming sense of fascination and dread that gave Honoria a crawling sensation in the back of her neck.

The slaaneshi cultist up on the podium saw the girl too, and stopped in mid-rant with a gasp. For a moment he stood there with his mouth open, apparently transfixed by the shock, then he pointed at her with a trembling finger and shrieked. ‘Kill her!’

The other two cultists, large, hairy, and muscular thugs wearing zippered masks and leather harnesses, shoved people out of their way and pushed their way through the crowd toward her. The girl watched them coming with the eager curiosity of a kitten with a new toy; when they stood on either side of her and grabbed her, she dug her nails into their arms and twisted in their grasp, then gave a dainty little twirl and their arms came off in her hands, torn and pulled out of their sockets. Sprays of arterial blood splattered on the pavement, and the two cultists fell on their knees, screaming.

‘Does it hurt horribly?’ she asked. ‘Are you in agonising pain?’ She was not mocking them; she was asking in the same tones as a good hostess asking her guests whether the tea and cakes were to their liking.

‘Yes! Oh, yes!’ the cultists screamed in pained delight.

The first cultist had descended from the podium and was desperately trying to join them, laughing hysterically and watching his companions with jealous eyes. ‘Me! Hurt me!’ he pleaded. ‘Hurt me too!’

The girl smiled indulgently.

Honoria was already halfway to the girl, power sword drawn and activated. She could not have explained how she knew, but even on this planet of heretics and monsters the girl was the worst of them by far. She was the source of it all, the heart of the madness and corruption, the original rot that had spread beneath the surface and lured this world away from the Emperor’s light, Honoria was certain. The how and the why did not matter; she was no inquisitor to concern herself with such things. Even planetary annihilation was not enough for the creature, she needed to kill her in person and see the corpse before her. She had to make sure.

She had just seen the girl dismember two fully grown men more than twice her size, so she was obviously much stronger than she looked, and Honoria was taking no chances. Even as the girl was greeting her with a friendly expression on her face, Honoria simply stabbed her: the energised blade sank up to the hilt in the girl’s breastbone and out the other side, like a knife  through a cake. The girl’s eyes went wide with surprise and she gasped with unexpected pleasure, spurting black-red blood from her mouth. She gave a little shudder of sexual joy as Honoria withdrew the sword from the cauterised wound.

The girl bit her lower lip and gave Honoria a lascivious look. ‘Wow,’ she said, ‘you’ve killed me!’

‘Then die,’ said Honoria, stabbing her again, this time in the belly.

‘Aaaah!’ the girl cried out again, her bloodied face flushed and glowing. ‘Oh my goodness! I’m getting to it, I promise, I’m just out of practice. I haven’t been killed in a long time.’

As if to set the girl’s death to a dramatic theme, there came a rumble of thunder. Instead of fading away it grew stronger and louder, and the skies came alive with a screaming of engines as first dozens, then hundreds, and then thousands of attack aircraft emerged from behind the clouds.

‘At last!’ cried the preacher. ‘The Emperor’s wrath is upon us! Let rain down your blessed fire, o forces of the Imperium! Cleanse us of our sins!’

No, thought Honoria, this wasn’t the bombardment. Like the preacher, she would gladly have died in the holy fire of planetary extermination for the glory of the Emperor, but those weren’t Imperial vessels. That was a xenos fleet. She was no expert, but the design of the craft looked Eldar, and some of them were coming in for a strafing run. The crowd panicked and scattered. She shouted a warning to the preacher, but he was lost in the ecstasy of his reverie, welcoming death from above with outstretched arms. She saw his head burst in a mess of blood and brain matter a split second before his body was torn to gory ribbons by a hail of mono-molecular circular blades fired at high velocity.

He had not been the only one, the street was an abattoir, the smell of blood and offal rising off the pavement with the screams of the dying. Honoria felt a sharp pain in her shoulder and realised that a blade had cut through her power armour and buried itself in her flesh. If not for the protection of its ceramite plates, she would doubtless be indistinguishable from the rest of the ground meat at her feet.

A few steps away from Honoria the girl had finally died, and in death, had hardened into something like porcelain, becoming a life-sized china doll of herself marred by crumbling dents where she had been hit by the shuriken cannons, with tiny spiderweb cracks spreading out from them like broken railroad tracks from a junction. For a moment it seemed as if the doll’s eyes looked straight into Honoria’s, and as if its lips formed into a smirk. Then the cracks began to spread out and branch, and branch again, until the whole surface of the doll was covered in them, and all at once it shattered into a pile of shards and debris.

The noise became even more unbearable as it was joined by the thunder of artillery fire. Hundreds of missiles shot up from the ground into the air, criss-crossing the sky with trails of white smoke. With so many aircraft in the air they could hardly fail to hit some of them, and even protected by their shields many of them fell with engines screaming. It was a valiant try from the planetary defence forces, or whatever they were now in this corrupt world, but it was too late. The attack had been too sudden, too massive. Already their transports were coming in for landing and disembarking the invading eldar troops.

Honoria ran for the nearest defence outpost. Heretics or not, there would likely be a shuttle there, and she had to get back to the Light of Faith. Her sisters of the Order of the Cleansing Flame were up there. Why had they not warned her? Were they under attack? If so, her place was at their side, and not here among aliens and madmen.

She found the outpost under siege by an entrenched squadron of eldar guardians, leisurely bombarding the defenders with monofilament nets. As she came up behind the eldar position they turned to shoot at her with their shuriken guns, but she ran forward heedlessly with a prayer on her lips and her power armour saved her from being torn to shreds. Once in range, she raised up her flamer and covered the lot of them in burning promethium. They died screaming.

The defenders cheered. As she had expected, they were a motley group. Only a few were in uniform, and some of them were aliens. She had a mind to turn her flamer on them as well, but there was a shuttle on the landing pad, and intact. ‘Listen,’ she said. ‘I am Sister Palatine Honoria of the Cleansing Flame. I need to get back to my ship. Can any of you fly that thing?’

They looked at each other helplessly. Then an alien, a rodent-looking thing, raised its hand, or rather its paw. ‘<cheet> I can,’ it said.

Honoria was dismayed, but she had no choice. ‘Very well then. Take me up there, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you, xenos,’ she said.

Once inside the shuttle, the alien was talkative as it prepped the engines. ‘<cheet> Very bad news! Down here, <cheet>, certain death! Up there, almost certain death! I am good pilot, but will be difficult!’

‘I am not afraid to die,’ said Honoria.

‘<cheet> Lucky you!’

The shuttle came under fire almost as soon as it took off. With no weaponry of its own, all that the shuttle could do was dodge and weave and try to stay out of the way. Honoria had to admit that the rat-thing was indeed an excellent pilot. No human pilot could have managed it. Even so they took a battering, and if the eldar had cared about their little shuttle they wouldn’t have survived, but they were focused on the attack below, and only took a few stray shots at them as they came into their sights. They did not pursue them, nor did they seem to care if they escaped.

When they were clear of the battle Honoria directed the rat-thing to the Light of Faith’s coordinates. She tried hailing the ship, with no response. She kept hailing them as they approached, identifying herself and asking them not to shoot, but  there was still no answer. It worried her. Meanwhile, the alien found an open port and deftly handled the shuttle inside, for a perfect landing.

‘We made it <cheet>!’ it said with joy in its voice. ‘We are alive!’

Oh yes. ‘Not you, filthy xenos,’ said Honoria, drawing her bolt pistol. She pressed the muzzle against its head and squeezed the trigger, blowing its skull and brains all over the bulkhead.

The thing had been as good as its word, and it had probably saved her life with its piloting skills, but it was still a cursed alien, and she was damned if she would allow its unclean feet to desecrate the holy decks of the Light of Faith.


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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 15:48

THE FOLLY OF A PACT


Honoria walked through half a mile of empty plasteel corridors, her every armoured footstep echoing like a hammer in the eerie quiet. It was a silence made worse by the audible haunting of ghost noises that usually went unheard — the faint hum of machinery, the whisper of air running through the recyclers, the creaking of metal plates as they cooled and reheated — the sound of nothing that lived. There were signs of fighting. In some areas she found a few bloodstains and plasma burns, the odd bulkhead blown in, torn circuitry still burning and throwing sparks. No survivors, no bodies.

From the corridor leading to the cargo hold there came a smell. She did not want to investigate that smell — it was nothing. Something must have spoiled, a lot of something. She passed it by and pressed on toward the Sororitas’ quarters. Her sisters would be there. Unconscious, perhaps, or hurt, but they would be there. Everything would be fine.

There was no one, of course. An empty mess hall, empty chapel, empty dormitories. She was so near to despair that she almost didn’t see the alien as she went into the penance chamber. He was an eldar, old and gaunt, with matted grey hair and a slab of exposed bone protruding from his chin. His dark robes were made of screaming leather faces. His back was turned as he curiously examined the penance machine. Honoria raised her boltgun.

‘A primitive device for experiencing pain, but charming,’ he said, not turning around. ‘Perhaps I might be allowed to try it later?’

Honoria fired. The alien vanished, as if he had never been there. She would have doubted her sanity, but a second later he reappeared behind her.

She drew her power sword and slashed. Again the monster disappeared, this time reappearing a short distance away. She dropped the sword, raised her flamer, and fired a torrent of flame at him, then sprayed it around in all directions in order to catch him when he reappeared. It was useless — the alien did not appear again until she had emptied the promethium tank, and all she had managed to do was to set much of the chamber on fire.

‘My people call you mon’keigh,’ said the twisted eldar. ‘It means a kind of animal. I however credit you with a measure of reason. Please, do not disappoint me by proving me wrong.’

Honoria seethed. She knew not to listen to him. He was an alien abomination on board an Imperial ship and had to be purged without hesitation. But how? His alien witchcraft gave him the upper hand. If he wanted to kill her she would already be dead, but it seemed that he wanted to talk. Fine, she thought. She would get answers, and as soon as an opportunity presented itself she would strike him down without pity.

‘Who are you?’ she asked. ‘What have you done with the crew?’

‘Phoebus Vermipox, pleased to meet you. I wonder if there is a fire control system on this panel? Ah, yes, I’ve found it. You really were quite careless with that thing. As for the crew of this ship, I have done nothing to them. They had the misfortune of finding themselves in the middle of a war among my people, much like the world below. Nothing to do with you, although I realise that it must cause you considerable distress.’

‘You know nothing of me,’ she snarled.

‘Oh, I think I can guess, Sister Honoria,’ he said with amused maliciousness. ‘You are on the edge of despair. You have failed completely and beyond any possibility of redemption. You have failed your duty, your Emperor, and your sisters. You blame yourself for the corruption of the world in your charge, and for its destruction at alien hands, and for failing to protect the preacher, and most of all for not being here when your sisters needed you. It is perhaps all that stops you from falling on your own power sword that you must kill me before you do, so that I will no longer desecrate your ship with my presence, after which you are resigned for it to become your tomb. Am I close?’

Honoria gritted her teeth. Everything he had said was true, and the tone in which he had said it was calculatedly cruel, as if every word were a sadist’s needle inserted into a nerve ending. Nor had he tried to hide the fact that he enjoyed it. Her shame was written on her face, and he delighted in it.

‘Rejoice, Honoria,’ he continued. ‘I am here to make you an offer. Kill yourself if you must, destroy me if you can, but first, why not take revenge on the ones who have done this? Make them pay for what they have done to your crew, to your sisters, to the humans on the planet below, and win a glorious victory for humanity in the process? You have the means, and I can provide the ways.’

‘And why would you do that?’

‘I too seek revenge. I was working on something when the craftworlders arrived with their shuriken cannons and scatter lasers and whatnot, and I was very rudely interrupted. I do not suffer such insults.’

Was he mad? Even for an alien, he must be mad. Would he really turn on his own people because he had been… interrupted at his work?

‘What do you mean by ‘craftworlders’?’ she asked.

‘Ah. You have heretics among your people, don’t you? The craftworlders are our heretics. Or perhaps I am — I suppose it depends on who you ask. Either way, their seers can predict some of the paths into the future, and their visions have shown them that the corruption of your world would be the first step on a path that would lead to their destruction.’ He laughed. ‘And they were right, of course! Only not in the way that they thought. They have fallen into a trap of their own making, a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know where they will be, and you have the ear of the Lord Admiral.’

‘And why should I trust you?’

‘You should not, but I never lie, and I always keep my word. More to the point, why would I trust you? If I did, I would only end up like the poor furry creature who brought you here. Merely a xenos, I know, but you have cruelty and betrayal in your heart, dear Honoria, and I know much about such matters.’

He was wrong, of course, but she did not argue. He was an alien and could not understand. Even most humans would not, except those raised to serve the Imperium, and in any case the only argument she wanted to put to him was the business end of a flamethrower.

‘It has to be your choice,’ said Vermipox. ‘Refuse me and I shall vanish from your sight, and where does that leave you? Alone on a dead spaceship at the end of your life, surrounded by your failures. Accept my offer and at least you have a chance at redemption, and my solemn promise that you shall have revenge on those who have wronged your sisters and your crewmen. What have you got to lose?’

Honoria was tempted. She did not trust the alien, it had to be a trap, but a trap could be sprung upon the trapper, and if anything he said was true it could be an opportunity to make up for her failure. He could not know how right he was, how much it meant for her to be given the chance to redeem herself, how far she would go.

‘The ship is wrecked,’ she pointed out, ‘and we have no crew.’

‘The ship can be repaired, and crewed. Leave it to me. Do we have a deal?’

‘Sure,’ she said mockingly. ‘Go ahead then, get us a crew.’

Vermipox gestured with his hands and something like the display on a dataslate appeared in front of him, floating in mid-air with no attached machinery. He tapped and dragged at symbols she could not read, but that hurt her eyes to look at. It did not take him long before he shut off the display with a wave of his hand. ‘Done,’ he said.

She felt them, rather than heard them, a horrible crawling sensation running down her back. They came from the cargo hold, bringing at first some of their smell with them, meat and clotting blood, until Vermipox did something to the ventilator panel and the smell faded away. They moved neither shambling nor lurching, but walking steadily and deliberately, their wide-open eyes neither blinking nor seeing, their purple lips neither speaking nor breathing, their footsteps as soft as bare feet on a thick carpet. They came in their bloodied uniforms, some of them missing limbs, some of them half-burned, some of them frozen and distended as if they had died of exposure to the void.

Honoria did not want to go out into the corridor, did not want to see, but Vermipox gestured and she followed. She recognised many of the faces. She had seen them only hours before, concentrating intently at their posts, laughing and chatting in the mess hall, saluting her with the disciplined respect of new recruits or the cheeky casualness of veterans. They did not acknowledge her now, they did not acknowledge anything. They simply went to their posts and began to work, beyond seeing or caring.

Honoria was sick on the deck of the bridge. A dead man came with a mop and a bucket and cleaned it up. When she recovered, she raged at Vermipox. ‘You… you monster! You’ve turned them all into… what? Servitors?’

Vermipox laughed. ‘Hardly anything as primitive as that! Although in essence I suppose the idea is similar.’ He stood behind the corpse of a blonde woman sitting at the navigation chair. ‘Tell me, have you ever looked at a servitor and wondered whether anything remains within of the human who was condemned to be turned into it? Whether perhaps some part of it remembers what it used to be, and knows what has been done to it? Well, in the case of these good men and women I can answer that question with certainty. They do not see, and they do not feel, but they all remember. They know. And though I wouldn’t presume to make assumptions, perhaps they long for the one thing that is left to them. Revenge. Isn’t that right,’ he looked at the name tag on the navigator’s uniform, ‘Lieutenant Attia?’

The woman only turned her expressionless face toward Honoria, staring right through her with eyes like runny fried eggs.
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 15:54


THE WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS

S’hlee stared out dreamily into the perpetual twilight from the marble balcony of her crumbling palace, watching the dark stars rise above the mirrored waters of the black lake, shining their non-light above the spires of the mirage city that hung like mist on the far shore behind the bleeding moon. Her eldar sight could barely make out the tiny pinprick of light that was the constellation of the Hyades, and the entrance into realspace that they guarded. It seemed like such a tiny thing from here, such a charming little universe expanding forever inside a miniature crystal globe. She could not remember why she had ever thought it was important.

It made her smile, a little bit sadly. She missed the company and the touch of her sister-self, but she had resolved to be S’hlee for a while, radiant and beautiful, and allow waifish Meeran to sleep. The poor child tried so hard, and there was so much to do! To rebuild their palace, to find their missing self, to serve their master and creator, and drown the little universe in agony and despair. It would all get done, had already got done; what was Time to such as them, for whom a millisecond was an eternity, and aeons passed in the blink of an eye? But Meeran could not help it:  she was fire, and S’hlee loved her all the more for it. She brought her hand up to her heart in a tender caress, where Meeran currently slumbered in the form of a tattooed sigil.

The palace lay in ruins, but it was not uninhabited. Meeran had invited whispers and shadows to take up residence within. They tittered and slithered in corners, unspeakable things barely glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. To S’hlee they bowed respectfully, and at any other time she might have laughed and danced with them, but not now. Now she held up a finger to her lips and bade them to be quiet, ‘Shh, Meeran sleeps!’ and they obeyed out of affection and kinship, tinged perhaps with an element of fear.

Tiny pastel ghost lights flickered to life across the lake, and S’hlee’s eldar ears could faintly make out the pining notes of a calliope. Oh. Well, why not? Somewhat regretfully she left her balcony and down she went, down dusty haunted corridors and narrow spiral stairwells, until she came to a postern door leading out of the palace into a small hidden cove, where nine slick and slippery stone steps led down into the water and a small wooden rowboat rolling merrily at the bottom. Daintily she descended, though surely the steps would never dare to allow her to slip, and climbed aboard the boat.

‘Little boat,’ she said, ‘shall we go the fair?’ In response the boat turned around and carried her away, gliding smoothly over the surface of the lake.

It came to rest at the pier. A giant spider-thing hurried forward and extended a hairy foreleg to S’hlee, helping her up. ‘Thank you,’ she said, and it raised a claw to its forelock. She walked down the pier into the fair. There were lights, and shrieks, and mobs of people, a sweet stickiness everywhere, candy floss, spicy smells, dragonflies buzzing in the air; shadows of children that scampered underfoot, filling the air with cruel laughter; shrill music, clanging cymbals, and that mournful calliope; bizarre performers stood on platforms enticing equally bizarre audiences; Lhamaeans beckoning at the entrances of various attractions, daring her to enter.

One of them drew her attention: ‘Will you enter, sister?’ called the Lhamaean. ‘Behold, The Wilderness of Mirrors! Only five pence a ticket. Perhaps you’ll find yourself inside, or perhaps something will find you? Whatever looks back is not that which looked within! Dare you enter?’

‘Interesting,’ said S’hlee. She recognised the maze: it was a cheap knockoff of an amusement that Vermipox had created once to entertain himself. Were its traps as deadly as in the original, she wondered? She was tempted to buy a ticket and find out. ‘Perhaps later,’ she said.

‘Sure thing, sweetie,’ said the Lhamaean, already losing interest. ‘Will you enter, brother?’ she called out to a toad-like creature. ‘The Wilderness of Mirrors! Only five pence a ticket!’

Further ahead S’hlee saw four familiar figures busking for pennies and souls. She knew them as Brute, Slime, Whore, and Lie, former daemons who had fallen on hard times. They did not seem to be having much success. She dropped a handful of dreams into their hat and they thanked her effusively, but did not recognise her.

There would be harlequins, of course. There had to be harlequins; it wouldn’t be a fair without them. S’hlee caught the last half of their act, a comedic ballet with a melancholy streak, just perfect for summer’s end. See: Kurnous pursues young Isha with offerings of carnal love; she decides to play a trick on him and appeals to Cegorach, who transforms her into his own semblance. Bloody-handed Khaine is then transformed into the likeness of Isha, and is thus pursued by Kurnous with his erect phallus before him, and Cegorach himself is transformed into… ah, so close! The dancers always came so close, and then always danced away.

After the finale, S’hlee approached the stage. The troupe master genuflected before her. ‘Greetings, twin-heart,’ she said. ‘Will you dance?’

‘Of course,’ said S’hlee. ‘To see the dance is to join the dance. If you are bound for realspace, I would travel with you, if you will permit me.’

‘No!’ boomed the voice of the Death Jester. ‘Do you know me, twin-heart? I am Death.’

‘And you would stop me?’ asked S’hlee.

‘Yes. You would bring ruin to our people. They fear you, but here upon this stage, it is you who should fear me instead.’

The rest of the harlequin company dropped to their haunches on the stage and cowered in exaggerated poses of terror. ‘O margorach, you go too far!’ they sang in chorus. ‘Spare us, twin-heart! Spare us!’

‘Fear you?’ said S’hlee. ‘Yes, I did fear Death once, didn’t I? I was terrified of it. Better, like the eldarith, to be bound in stone, better even to be bound in another’s flesh. Anything, to avoid such a fate. Ah, but then, what flesh! What dreams! What nightmares! She and I are one now; we are water and we are wine, as we were fated to be — as we had always been.’

‘A respite, nothing more,’ said the death jester. ‘Death will still come to you in the end, as it comes to all.’

‘Nothing ever dies, jester. Nothing ever ends. The curtain rises and the curtain falls, and work begins again on the next performance. I work behind the curtains now, and I know secrets. I know the secret that terrifies the dancers.’

The troupe master screamed like a wounded rabbit, and the harlequins made spirit fingers at the sky. ‘Oh spare us, twin-heart! Spare us!’ they sang.

S’hlee smiled. ‘I know why the Laughing God was spared, and I know why She-Who-Thirsts is also She-Who-Laughs. I know what it was all about. I’m in on the joke, and I know the punchline!’

The troupe master abased herself on her knees before S’hlee, throwing her arms around her legs. ‘Do not speak it!’ she shrieked, theatrically of course. ‘I beg you, twin-heart! Let it not be spoken, let us not hear! Please!’

The harlequins thrust out their arms in supplication. ‘Oh, spare us, twin-heart! Spare us!’

‘Very well, I’ll say no more. Cheer up, margorach! I was a craftworlder too once, I bear them no ill will. I only want to share myself with them. I want to stain the stars red with the blood of my kin, to hear their psychic screams echo forever through the void, to make canvas of their skins and a garden of their bones. Oh, it will be so beautiful!’

The death jester wept. ‘Has it all been for nothing then? Is it all in vain?’

‘So sayeth Death,’ S’hlee soliloquised: ‘the daylight is a vain display, the stars sink into the eternal night, only a garden of marble and stone, only the echoes of disease and war. So sayeth Life: love lies eternal in your garden, where the grass grows long and deep, where grows the hemlock flower and the nightingale sings, where whispers bring unquiet dreams, and the willow tree weeps over the water.’

With the end of her soliloquy, S’hlee, the death jester, and the rest of the harlequins all turn around to face you. Yes, you, in the audience. They all take a bow now. Applause is not required, but it would be polite. ‘Ha ha! Do not be surprised,’ the death jester says to you. To see the dance is to join the dance —  you can’t say that you weren’t warned. Come on, you’ve been with us from the start, you are one of us. The show wouldn’t be the same without you. Take my hand, come up off your seat, oh yes, we are going for a little walk…

…We are all going down to the ferry to take us back to realspace, and we’re taking her along: S’hlee, the twin-heart, the virtue and the heart, the mistress of the palace, the shattered psyche, the author’s bloody pet, more like, but you didn’t hear me say that and if you tell anyone I’ll deny it. You must come with us too, it’s where we’re all headed, so why not hitch a lift with us? Maybe there we will find a more rational narrative, with us over here and you over there and things happening one after another, and me in the omniscient space as your own personal reporter, keeping you informed of everything that happens down to what each of them is thinking and feeling in their hearts, which is pretty damn impressive when you think about it. But never mind that, here we are…

Do you see it? That is the ferry that will take us back to realspace.  It is a long and ornate gondola made of wraithbone and brass, held aloft by a great silver balloon, and pulled by a train of nightgaunts whose colour is ultraviolet, and therefore not visible to humans except for the young and the insane. That fellow over there is the captain. He is a dwarf, hunchbacked and deformed. His arms and legs are mismatched in length, and his oversized head is lopsided, crowned by a tuft of hair like straw. He is pockmarked and wrinkled, with eyes like a shark, and his misshapen nose is a big red beet.

‘All honour to you, Captain,’ says the troupe master. ‘This is the twin-heart, whose palace lies across the lake. She wishes to travel with our entourage.’

The dwarf spits. ‘I don’t care who she is; my ferry, my rules, and none may climb aboard unless they pay me with a tale.’

‘You don’t understand—’ begins the troupe master, but S’hlee interrupts.

‘Of course I will pay your fare, Captain. Would you like to hear my tale now?’

‘Yes!’ The dwarf sits forward on his stool, looking like a greedy child reaching for candy.

‘Once there was a young ferry captain,’ S’hlee begins, ‘who was tall, and healthy, and oh so handsome. No lad has ever been as handsome, and none will ever be again. Wherever he went, and he went many places, all the girls and the boys pined after him and vied for his attention, and yet he was never vain. There was no arrogance or cruelty or any manner of unkindness in him, and he was often generous to a fault.

‘One day, in the madness realms, a Shadow came aboard his ferry. ‘I have no coin to pay for my fare,’ said the Shadow. ‘But I will gladly trade for it with a tale.’ The young captain did not recognise it as his own shadow, but he was kind and generous to all and he assured the Shadow that it was not necessary, it could travel free of charge. ‘I wouldn’t hear of it,’ said the Shadow. ‘I would be indebted to no one, though a tale is all I have to trade.’ The captain did not wish to give offence, so he agreed.

‘The Shadow told him the tale of a man who had ventured into a story, which had led him into another story, and another, and so on, until he became lost in stories and could not return. The captain was fascinated by the tale, and quickly became absorbed in it. It had an infinite number of threads and themes that looped back upon themselves before leading somewhere else. It was a while before suspicion turned into fear, as he realised that he was lost in the tale, and that the man was him.

‘He tried to get out, but the tale was like a labyrinth; endings turned into beginnings, passages returned him to the start or else twisted and took him in new and unexpected directions. As he ran through the maze, the captain changed; some passages narrowed down as he went through them, and when he emerged from them, he was no longer tall, but short and hunchbacked. Other passages were dark, and in those his eyes became beads. Others turned and twisted, and when he emerged from those, his body was deformed. After many years, there was no trace of the handsome young lad that had been, and in his place there was an ugly dwarf.

‘Still, the captain clung to hope. If a story had captured him, he reasoned, perhaps another story would set him free. So he sailed his ferry, as he always had, and of every passenger he made a demand: that they pay his fare with a tale, always hoping that the next one would show him the way out. Over the years, all those stories became part of the first one, until it was all one tale, knotted up and twisted like a tangle of string.

‘And then one day, a beautiful princess sought passage on his ferry. ‘You must pay me with a tale,’ said the captain, and the princess did, but the princess was the Heart of Suffering, and thus her tale could be nothing else but the horrible Truth. She told him what he already knew, but could not bring himself to accept: that the story was him, and that he would never be free. He was a hideously deformed dwarf, and he had never been anything else. And with that, all his dreams evaporated, as if they had never been.’

As he listened to S’hlee’s tale, a glimmer of hope had appeared in the dwarf’s eyes, but now it’s as if walls have dropped all around him, with a finality that admits no hope, no relief, nor even the comfort of death. He howls like a damned soul from the bottom of his throat and weeps, heedless of the hot tears of shame and despair falling down his rough cheeks and the strands of yellow, viscous snot burbling from his big red nose. ‘You din’t hafta do thaaaat!’ he wails.

S’hlee looks at him curiously. ‘You did ask for a tale from me,’ she says. ‘Me. Some might say that was unwise, but I wouldn’t know, as I lack wisdom. Perhaps it was very wise. In your pain, you know yourself, in your suffering, you are whole. I envy you.’

But the dwarf will not be consoled. He is miserable, and always will be. I wish that I could say, ‘until the end of his days’, but that too would be a lie, and I promised to report everything accurately, didn’t I?  ‘No, no no! Oh gods, no!’ he wails like a tortured monkey. ‘You din’t hafta do thaaat!’
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 15:57

THE MEMORY OF STONE

Farseer Thersas of craftworld Kil-Marann recoiled in violent horror from the pattern made by the casting of his fate runes upon his desk. Reflexively he regained control of himself. As a true eldar he could not allow himself such an unrestrained emotion as horror, as a farseer even less so. He scrutinised his own fear with clinical detachment, and decided that it was within his power to control. It was only the unexpectedness of it that had caught him off-guard, as it had when he had seen this same rune-sign once before. On that occasion it had shown him the fate of his former student, and it had so disturbed him that he had projectile vomited upon seeing it, and it had taken him weeks inside his meditation chamber to regain his full composure, his foothold upon the Seer’s Path.

Even now he could not look at the rune-pattern directly, nor did he think he ought to risk it. It was too repugnant. He averted his gaze as he reached out gingerly with one hand and swept the runestones aside. He was in for another shock: the runestones rattled and shook by themselves as if they were coming alive, and began to scuttle across the desk back to their positions with jerky but purposeful movements, like shelled insects emerging from under a rock. The rune-sign began to glow with a pulsating dark light, even as the lights in his study  dimmed down, not to darkness, but to ultraviolet. From somewhere there came incongruous noises, subliminal at first, then growing stronger, so that he could not say when he first began to hear them: there was a howling of dogs, a thick burbling and splashing of water, the dull rhythm of an approaching cowbell and the clip-clopping of hooved feet.

All of this would be terrifying, were he not in control, were he not firmly set upon the Seer’s Path. Instead he became alert. There was danger here, but what was its nature? The phenomenon seemed to centre on the runestones, but that could not be. As a seer, he of all people knew that there was nothing special about them. They were beautifully crafted gemstones carved with ancient runes of the eldar, but for all the power contained in them they might as well be sticks scratched with the crude letters of the mon-keigh. It did not matter. The runes were only signifiers, not the object that they signified. How then, was this possible?

A female voice spoke from within the ultraviolet darkness. ‘It is because, here at the extreme edge of experience, where we have broken free of the limits that define us, there is no boundary between signs and concepts: words create themselves. I am the rune-sign, and the rune-sign is me.’

He looked again and there she was. ‘S’hlee,’ he whispered.

‘Lavais J’in’salo,’ said S’hlee.

She looked just as he remembered her. He had not loved her, of course, but he had held an awareness that he might have loved her, if such an emotion were not far too dangerous for their kind. When she was captured by the dark eldar, he had not mourned her, but a dozen eldar on the Path of Grief had mourned her on his behalf. And then she had done the unthinkable. Thersas was no wide-eyed innocent: he knew that eldar, even seers, had fallen before. Some followed the dark eldar down the Path of Damnation; some even pledged themselves to the Ruinous Powers, even to She-Who-Thirsts herself, although surely their madness must be short-lived. But this was not what S’hlee had done. What she had done to her own soul was such a perversion of the natural, or even the unnatural order of things, that the eldar had no word for it. It could not have been forbidden, because no one could have conceived of such a thing. Even after the fact he still could not describe it, lacking the words, and even thinking about it made him physically ill. It was impossible, but she had invited upon herself a depravity so vile that it could not be grasped by the eldar mind.

‘Why are you here?’ he asked.

S’hlee shrugged. ‘You cast the runes. You brought me here.’

‘The runes do not do that,’ he said. ‘They should have brought me a vision of the future.’

‘Mmmmh…’ she moaned, fondling herself with undignified pleasure.  ‘A vision… a dream. You wanted dreams of things to come. But there are no more dreams here, I’ve eaten them all. There is only me.’

He looked away, repulsed. ‘You are lying,’ he said. ‘Even if we are doomed to perish, that doom must have a name and a shape.’

‘I told you, J’in’salo. No more dreams. Only me.’

He understood, and a chill ran down his spine. ‘And what are you?’ he asked. ‘What have you become? You followed the Path of the Seer once.’

For a moment she looked puzzled, then remembered. ‘Oh yes, the paths of the eldar. Path of the seer, path of the scribe, path of this, path of that… dream cages around you, burying you alive. They too were mere phantoms. I am what I always was. I am the heart and the virtue, I am water and I am wine.’

‘The paths guard us against our own nature. To stray from them is to fall, as you have done. We are the last true living eldarith, we cannot afford to lose our souls.’

She gave him a pitying smile. ‘But you are not living, J’in’salo. You are dead. You have been dead for ten thousand years. The eldarith did not survive the fall. You are only echoes within empty shells, ghosts on display in a museum that no one ever visits. All this time you have travelled through the void, did you even know where you were going? I always wondered, but now I know: you were coming here, to me.’

‘Then you intend to do us harm?’

‘Yes.’

‘You would allow a million eldar souls to be consumed by She-Who-Thirsts.’

‘Yes, I suppose so. Why not? You’re not using them, and I have no need of souls. All I need are your screams.’

He slumped against his desk. ‘Why? Why do this to us, your own kin? Why craftworld Kil-Marann?’

She became very serious. ‘Because it is time. Because the dead must stop dreaming. And because I hold a great affection for you. Blood is easily spilt, but yours will be especially sweet to me.’

Thersas felt vulnerable. Most of what she said was nonsense, had to be nonsense, but somehow she was here, in the flesh, and she had taken away his ability to see into the future. All the same, he was not helpless. He had been gathering his energies, readying himself to attack, looking for the right moment to catch her unawares. Now! He focused them and released them in a psychic blast into her mind, a sudden strike that would have outright destroyed even the strongest psykers. She reeled from the blow but did not fall, but he had not counted on her to do so. With eldar speed he had already grabbed his singing spear from the wall, and stabbed at her with a series of precise thrusts.

Stunned as she was by his mental attack she still easily parried each one with her bare hands. She was strong, much stronger than she looked, and much stronger than he had expected. He focused on a second blast before she could recover, but this time it failed to impact upon a mind that had evaporated into a cloud. In his mind’s eye, it was as if a laser beam had passed harmlessly through a puff of smoke.

He fell back to a defensive stance and raised his mind shields, expecting a counter-attack, but S’hlee only smiled, a savage joy in her eyes. ‘Oh, yes, I felt that! Do it, J’in’salo!’ she said. ‘Save the eldar! Hit me again!’

‘Do not call me that,’ he said sternly. ‘I am no teacher of yours, monster.’

‘But you are. I call you my teacher and I bind you, I give you shape. Can you break free of it, I wonder?’

In response he went back to the offensive. A probing attack, to test her reaction, with practised martial and psychic forms. His mind nudged the course of fate itself to make her vulnerable, as his spear slashed, reversed, and thrust. She dodged and parried with contemptuous ease, which told him what he needed to know: he was hopelessly outmatched in physical combat. If he were to win this fight — and he must! — it would be through psychic means.

If her mind was like a cloud, then his must be like the wind. He let it flow from him like a storm, blowing the cloud apart. In defence, it coalesced, and he was ready with a focused blast that hit it dead centre, and her mind shattered into a hundred splinters. That should have finished her, but instead each splinter became a reflection of the whole, as if he had shattered a mirror and created a kaleidoscope.

‘You’ll have to do better than that, J’in’salo,’ said a hundred voices. ‘These are practised steps, and I know all the dances. Can you show me new ones?’

He aimed a short slash at her throat, not expecting it to hit, but instinctively, because it completed the form. She languidly stepped aside, looking almost bored.

Surrounded by her splintered mind he gathered his power around him like a tortoise shell. Thus armoured he could have weathered a psychic onslaught from all sides, but it never came. No matter. With calculated timing he shattered the shell and sent the fragments flying outward like a hail of spinning blades that sliced apart the splinters of her mind as if they were soft tissue. The pain she felt must have been excruciating. Her body shuddered indecently and she cried out in orgasmic delight.

She had not yet struck a blow against him. Was she toying with him? She was powerful, but overconfident. With every strike he revealed another layer in her defences, and he could feel a seed of power taking shape within himself, like a red hot glowing pearl, growing denser, hotter, stronger. Soon he would find a weakness, and then he would strike against it with the full might of that angry red sun. There, he had her! He saw two minds, two souls, superimposed in nine dimensions, like strands of coloured ink running through each other. It wasn’t even a fully formed thing: the structure was incomplete, weak. He could dissect it and divide them, and apart they would be nothing. He could destroy them both as easily as stepping on a bug.

He was on the verge of doing so when loud alarms sounded in his head and — almost too late — in a flash of insight he understood what she was doing. He could win this fight, he could destroy her, but the power he was drawing on would not be caged again. It was pride, it was anger, it was joy, and he had come within a hair’s breadth of allowing them all free rein. The mind of a farseer walked a narrow path on the edge of the abyss, and she had very nearly goaded him into abandoning that path and taking a wild leap. She did not want to defeat him, she wanted him to win, and fall.

Never. He stood down, lowered his spear, let his power dissipate.

‘Oh, J’in’salo,’ she sighed with disappointment. ‘You came so close.’

‘I know,’ he said, ‘but I hold true to the path. Kill me if you must, break my soulstone and damn my soul. I have defeated you.’

‘You still don’t understand,’ she said. ‘You could have saved them all.’

‘As what? Monsters, like yourself?’

‘As whatever lies in their hearts,’ she replied. ‘We can’t remain ourselves forever, J’in’salo. Even immortals must grow and change, or else we become fossils of ourselves, a petrified memory of something that is no longer there. That is what the eldar are, what they have been for ten thousand years. You never loved me and you can’t hate me — you are stone — but the love that I feel for you, for all of you… it’s savage and it’s brutal and it burns like suns. I wanted to give you a chance, to try to draw blood from ancient stones. Is that foolish, or sentimental? I can afford to be both. You can still change your mind, if you will jump into the abyss with me.’

‘Don’t waste your breath,’ he said. ‘You would lead us into madness and corruption.’

‘Madness and corruption have been good to me, J’in’salo,’ she said. ‘So be it. If you will not be blood, then you will be food.’

‘I shall warn them. You will not find them easy prey.’

‘And how will you warn them, J’in’salo, when you are stone, and have no voice?’

The metaphor confused him. He might be ‘stone’ in a sense, but he had a voice, or did he? He realised that he had been speaking only in his own head, and had stood quite still for a while now. He tried to move his arms, fingers, toes, but nothing responded in the least; even his eyeballs would not look down, or anywhere else but straight at her, and he was not blinking at all, or in fact, breathing.

What was it she had first said? Here, words create themselves. Metaphors are real. He cast out with his mind’s eye and looked down at himself: his body was an exquisite sculpture made of coloured glass. His skin was a peach-coloured crystal, his robes a swirly mix of cranberry red, cobalt blue, and marigold yellow, his eyes watery blue marbles with flecks of milky white, his hair like delicately blown strands of golden glass. He felt panic rising in him and for the first time the path did not guide him, he had reached the end of it. He could not see into the future because for him there were no more futures, no more branching possibilities, only a paralysed eternity encased in a prison of glass.

In his mind he screamed, but he was solid throughout, and the sound that came was a single high reverberating note, the sound of quality crystal, a song of the sorrow of glass. To S’hlee, it was music.

‘You chose this fate for yourself long ago, J’in’salo,’ she said. ‘For you there will be no death, no infinity circuit, no terrifying oblivion in the mouth of She-Who-Thirsts. You will be preserved just as you are, and never take another step, for good or ill. I shall keep you in my garden, and your song, your beautiful song, will be the sound of the eldarith’s despair.’

She caressed the glassy surface of his face, adding, ‘Just like you wanted.’
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 16:01

THE RHAPSODY OF PAIN

Alarms blared everywhere throughout the spiral corridors and vast chambers of a spaceship that was big enough to dwarf most cities. The eldar people, one million and more of them, all concentrated their intense and undivided attentions on their chosen occupations to the exclusion of anything else, like automatons designed to do only a single task, or like obsessives driven by compulsion to perfect even the minutest, most irrelevant details of a job that gave them no joy, no pleasure, which was the point. And now alarms blared, and as one they dropped their obsessions as if they had never meant anything to them, which in truth they had not, and scrambled to equip themselves with guardian armour and shuriken catapult, taking up the role of guardians to defend their spaceship, Craftworld Kil-Marann, their tomb-like home, like bees stirred up when their hive has been hit with a stick.

Shockwaves made the walls tremble. Girders twisted and bent under the stress. Systems overloaded and exploded. Fires broke out. The craftworld and its flotilla had emerged from the webway to find themselves surrounded by an awaiting Imperial fleet, and for once the prescient eldar had been caught completely by surprise. For once their seers had failed to warn them, and in fact were nowhere to be found. Runners were sent to locate the Autarch, but he too was missing.

Their reaction was swift but uncoordinated. Without an overall plan, every exarch and squadron commander did as they thought best and quickly got in each other’s way. Massive artillery guns fired in every direction instead of concentrating their fire, making them not only less effective, but blocking off numerous lines of approach for their own ships and fighter squadrons, herding them into narrow paths where they were easy targets for the well-organised and freely-moving Imperial Navy.  Communications were being established and in time a semblance of order would arise from the chaos, but time was something that they did not have. Within the first few hours of the engagement the eldar flotilla had been crippled, and the craftworld itself had sustained heavy damage.

Aboard the human Imperial flagship, Lord Admiral Uthman stared intensely at the viewscreen and grinned fiercely through his bristling black moustache. To think that he had hesitated! When Sister Honoria had brought the intelligence to him of where and when they could intercept the eldar craftworld, he had immediately suspected a trap. Who would not, when dealing with the eldar? Long discussions were held in the war room, all the time knowing that the time drew upon them and a decision must be reached. In the end they had cautiously decided to go along with it, but to deploy with extreme care and leave reserves nearby in readiness for the inevitable trick. Uthman had been prepared to fight a hard defensive battle; instead, it seemed that it was his birthday.

‘Hahaha!’ He spoke to no one in particular. ‘How does it feel, you treacherous, gutless xenos bastards, eh? How does it feel!’ Behind him his staff cheered. This was justice, it was revenge. Revenge for the human world that these aliens had destroyed. Yes, it was a world of heretics that they had meant to raze themselves, but it was still a human world, and aliens had attacked it. The next time it could easily be a loyal world, it had happened before. But it was revenge for more than that: it was revenge for every eldar ambush that the Imperial Navy had been lured into, for every war that they had been manipulated into fighting to serve the eldar’s own purposes, for every comrade who had fallen in those wars while the smug eldar sat back and, presumably, laughed at their own cleverness.

And aboard the Light of Faith, Honoria shared in their victory. The Light of Faith had joined the fleet at the edges of the battle. Lord Uthman had intended to partner her with the Pillar of Sol (affectionately known to its crew as the ‘Pillock’), but Honoria had asked to be left to act independently and the Admiral had allowed it. It would not do for the rest of the fleet to get too close. Someone would sense that something was not right aboard the Light of Faith, suspicions would arise and be acted upon, and they would discover that the ship was crewed by the animated, vengeful dead. It would create ‘complications’, as Vermipox put it.

A part of her screamed that this was wrong, that she was party to an abomination, but she set it aside to be dealt with later. It was amazing how easy it all became when you had nothing left to lose: one sin led to another, one horror to the next — what difference did just one more make? Later she would pay the price. She would face the full weight of all that she had done and let it crush her without offering resistance. She would blow this ship to atoms, and everyone along with it, the living and the dead, herself, and the monstrous Vermipox, ridding the galaxy of a threat not only to humanity, but to everything that was sane. But for now, let her just have this victory against the enemies of humanity, let it all not be in vain, and perhaps the Emperor would forgive her and she would rejoin her sisters in the Light, and they would understand that she had done it all for them.

Vermipox watched her supervising the battle with avuncular amusement. Let the simple creature have this moment, he thought. It was going to be a memorable massacre, and she had done her part. Not wishing to intrude, he found a corner to himself where he wouldn’t be in the way and busied himself by fiddling with a dark, blood-red crystal. When he gently drew his fingertips over its surface it melted like a bar of chocolate left out in the sun, allowing him to draw out sticky, sinewy strands that he then proceeded to braid together with exquisite care into a helix shape.

And while Vermipox was doing this, on Craftworld Kil-Marann an Aspect Host was gathering under the direction of their exarchs, one of hundreds preparing to defend the massive ship. The space battle was lost — they did not need their missing seers to tell them that — but the battle for their ancient home had not yet begun. Eventually the mon’keigh bombardment would end and they would have to send in ground troops to board the craftworld, and then they would face the true might of the eldar: the lethal aspect warriors, the guardian battlehosts, the wraithguard, the windriders, the war walkers. Their ship might be crippled, but the mon’keigh must be mad if they thought that they could take it from them. They would not find them disorganised again. Chains of communication and command had been established, and the eldar would fight as they always did, like a perfectly-synchronised killing machine.

Exarch Ardan of the Fire Dragon Shrine commanded no one: he was a squadron of one, the last survivor of his group, attached to the Dire Avengers. This suited him, as he did not care for leadership, only to destroy the enemy with fire. He occupied himself by disassembling and reassembling his firepike, making certain that every part was in perfect working order.

Something, a flash of movement, a nearby ripple in everyone’s attention, made him look up. An extraordinarily beautiful eldar woman walked by, carrying a large satchel. A technician, maybe, or a medical. Ardan saw others spare her at least an appreciative glance, but for him such things were outside of his path and therefore might as well not exist. He was about to put her from his mind, but something nagged at him. She was out of uniform, and she did not look like someone with a job to do. That was not possible. There was no such thing as a civilian on a craftworld. At a time like this, every able-bodied eldar was a guardian, had a post to get to.

He looked up sharply again, searching for her in the crowd, and saw her disappearing into a side corridor. Methodically but quickly he finished reassembling his firepike, shutting down the casing with a satisfying click, and set out to follow her.

The spiral corridor was deserted, quiet, and poorly-lit. The murmur of the crowd faded away after the first curve. He had perhaps gone about a hundred paces when he came upon the mangled, still-warm bodies of two guardians. A patrol, no doubt. They must have challenged her, and she had killed them, but he could not tell how. He had seen no weapons on her, unless they had been in the satchel. In any case, this was no longer mild suspicion, but alarm.

He proceeded cautiously down the corridor, firepike at the ready. He turned the last, sharp curve and saw that it opened into a small chamber. He could see from the entrance that the wraithbone walls were splattered with blood, and venturing to peer in a little further, he saw the bodies. The chamber was occupied by an hexagonal column filled with small niches made to accommodate spirit stones, and surrounded by a panel of machinery. The girl sat on a stool at the controls, doing something to the runes.

Ardan aimed his firepike. ‘Stop!’ he said. The girl turned around, and he knew who she was. ‘You!’ he exclaimed.

‘Do I know you?’ said S’hlee. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t recognise your face. Oh, wait, you have a helmet on, don’t you? It’s so difficult to remember these things!’

‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded.

She gestured at the column. ‘This is a Dendrite,’ she said. ‘An Infinity Nodule. This is where souls are uploaded from their spirit stones into the Infinity Circuit, the bones of the craftworld. Can you imagine? Every one of our ancestors, for ten thousand years — well, not every one, but most of them — is a ghost haunting the walls around us, like fireflies swarming beneath a pane of amber.’

‘I know what it is, and I know who you are! Step away from it, and tell me what you’re doing.’

‘I am telling you!’ she protested, not moving. ‘Have you ever thought about it? I mean, really stopped to grasp the existential horror of it? Who would do such a thing to themselves, unless the alternative were even worse? Only an entire race driven for thousands of years by a single paralysing fear, the curse of the eldar, the dread of being consumed by She-Who-Thirsts, Slaanesh.’

His mind reeled with terror. He felt a drop of cold sweat running down his face. There was something indefinably but inescapably wrong about her. She had the hyper-real quality of wrongness beyond the ability of the rational mind to describe that a nightmare has, right in the instant before you wake up with a gasp, except that there was no waking up from her presence, something that reached deep into the most primitive, reptilian part of the mind and squeezed.

She casually continued, as if they were just having a normal conversation. ‘And so we have the Infinity Circuit, such an ingenious system of self-defeat! Imprison your soul for all eternity in a cage of stone where she won’t be able to reach you. And then what, I used to ask? Now I know, the answer is: nothing. There is no ‘then’, the Infinity Circuit is a dead end. How clever, and how stupid!  But it has a glaring flaw. Can you guess what it is? I’ll tell you: it is all connected. Every ghost in the walls, the craftworld itself, even your soul that you keep within that gem on your chest, they are all tied into the same circuit. What do you suppose would happen if we were to overload the system, hmm? Oh, there are safeguards, of course, but shall we see if we can get past them?’

He willed himself to move, to remember who he was, and in that moment he realised his mistake. His firepike was designed to punch through the thickest armour. If he shot her where she was, he would destroy the Dendrite, exterminating many of the souls of his own ancestors. He should have fired anyway, and perhaps he would have, but he hesitated. S’hlee moved in stroboscope. One blink and she was demurely sitting on the stool three yards away; blink, and she was on top of him, grinning like a demon.

She decapitated him with a single swipe of her hand. The head bounced on the floor, retaining consciousness just long enough to see her pry the soulstone from his armour with her slender fingers and crush it in her hand, to see it crumble into brightly coloured fragments and dust. He died in agony and despair.

Smiling contentedly to herself, S’hlee went back to her satchel. Carefully packed inside were the spirit stones of the missing seers of Kil-Marann, skillfully hollowed out and carved into the likenesses of their screaming faces. She placed them with great care into the niches on the column, then dug deeper into the satchel and brought out a small keyboard. When she turned the power on and pressed a key, one of the faces let out a tortured scream in a perfect C tone. The next key elicited a scream from another face in D flat. The screams in D and C sharp were a bit off-key, so she made minute adjustments to the matching spirit stones, turning them slightly clockwise and anti-clockwise until she was satisfied that they were perfectly in tune.

Eventually she tried playing a full scale, and a chorus of screams filled the room, from grievous moans to high-pitched shrieks, mournful wails, and heartrending cries, each one the sound of a tortured soul, each one in perfect pitch — or close enough. You could spend days trying to find the exact half-millimetre of a nerve ending to stick the ice-cold needle in, if you didn’t know when to stop. Satisfied that they were all in tune, she brought out the music sheet for the fugue that Vermipox had written for her and stood it upright behind the keyboard, sat down comfortably on the stool, took a deep breath, and stretched her delicate, bloodstained fingers.

Before she started she gave the screaming faces an encouraging smile. ‘Sing, my sweets,’ she said.

Time to play.
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 16:03

THE THROES OF REBIRTH

On board the Imperial flagship the grin had vanished from Lord Admiral Uthman’s face. The eldar’s losses had been devastating, but their defence had come together with a fierceness and determination that, frankly, frightened him, and his own losses were beginning to add up. He could still win this, was winning it, but at what cost? His mind ran in circles around unhappy calculations and he cursed himself for a fool. What else had he expected? For the eldar, this was not a battle for victory, it was a battle for survival. He had allowed his contempt for the aliens to overcome his judgement. But still, what courage in the face of extinction! He almost admired them, although of course he never would have voiced that thought aloud.

He could still retreat, and call it a victory. The eldar had been struck a blow that they would not soon forget. The Lords of Terra would not question him: he had risen too high for that, but in his heart he would know. He had started something, and anything less than their complete annihilation would be a victory for the eldar, and a defeat for him.

And then the music started.

Uthman did not hear it, as most humans did not. Their astropaths and telepaths heard it as a distant whisper and fell at their posts, whimpering and curling up into foetal positions. The eldar were not so fortunate: every last one of them, even the least sensitive, heard it as clearly as if they were inside the orchestra, or rather as if the orchestra were within them, as if the beat came from their pounding veins, the wind from inside their bones, the strings from the tightening of their sinews, and the song, the horrible song, from inside their heads. It began as a series of low hisses and growls and then broke like a bellowing storm as the voices of the damned and the suffering unleashed themselves in revolting screams, howls, shrieks, and moans from which there could be no escape, crushing every comforting lie before them with the unavoidable reality of their pain.

Oh wretched ones, hear us! Have pity on our eternal misery! Oh wretched ones, hear us! Have pity on our eternal misery!’

The eldar clutched at their heads in agony. Some deafened themselves with any sharp instruments they had close at hand, others bashed their heads against the walls until the blood ran down their faces, and still others incongruously gouged out their eyes, as if seeking refuge in blindness. Nothing availed, and they each felt a sucking pain in their chests and watched in horror, if they still had eyes to see, as their spirit stones cracked and crumbled to pieces.

Their souls found themselves on a barren plain, exposed and alone beneath the oppressive weight of an infinite and uncaring sky, and were already paralysed with terror when the sky opened its eyes and looked at them with the face of the Great Enemy, She-Who-Thirsts. ‘Slaanesh,’ it whispered. ‘I see you, little eldar soul,’ it said. ‘I see you.’

To the humans it seemed as if the fight had just gone out of the eldar. Their guns stopped answering fire, their ships drifted into their field of fire and made no attempt to defend themselves. Admiral Uthman was suspicious. What was this, he wondered? A trick, a ritual? Was this what the eldar did at the end of all things?

Ah, who cared. ‘Wipe them out,’ he ordered.

The Light of Faith did its part. The slaughter was no more than a chore now for the dead crewmen, and Honoria turned her attention back to Vermipox.

His sticky red crystal was now a length of braided gristle standing upright on the floor in a puddle of oily darkness, sucking it up like a thirsty sprig. Honoria watched with fascination and revulsion as it thickened and divided into segments, and the tip ripened into a pink-grey bulb with elaborate grooves all along its surface. It was a primordial thing, like a centipede, a leech, a tadpole, or a sperm cell. It belonged in the muck beneath the roots of life, and it knew only one thing, which was pain. It writhed and thrashed like a worm in its death throes, screaming voicelessly that it was alive, and it suffered, and the more it suffered the more it fed from the pool of darkness around it, absorbing it with that hideous sucking sound.

It evolved and changed fitfully, like a speeded-up holovid. First it grew a mass of limp tendrils, then it sprouted curved branches of bone that fused together at the tips to form a ribcage. A thick purple substance dripped all over it and congealed into a membrane, and from it grew thin fibres that knit themselves together into slabs of meat, cartilage, and fat. Small buds appeared within it like withered grapes upon the vine, and swelled to become throbbing grey and brown organs. Three of these were lungs, and the thing began to wheeze in distress.

The same process gave it limbs: two arms, two legs, two hands, and two feet. Some of the tendrils grew engorged with pumping red fluid and they all burrowed beneath the meat and cartilage, like a system of road maps being drawn over every corner of its geography. The head acquired a growth like the bark of a tree that then smoothed and hardened into bone, forming a skull that was quickly engulfed by the encroaching flesh. A mouth opened in the mess of its still unfinished face and screamed. And then it opened its eyes.

‘Aaaah,’ it said, its scream of agony turning into a cry of orgasmic bliss. No, not it — she. This was the body of a small and slender woman, without the skin. With methodical sensuality she drew her hands over her thighs, her buttocks, her belly, her breasts, and finally her face, taking delight in recognition and welcome. Then she gave Honoria a too-white smile.

‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I’m Meeran. I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself before.’

Somehow Honoria found her voice. ‘You!’ she said. ‘I killed you, you are dead!’

‘No,’ said the girl. ‘I am alive.’ She caressed herself again, her hands wandering down to her thighs, then her sex, and she closed her eyes in pleasure. ‘Can you hear the eldar screaming? Can you feel their despair? It fills me. Oh, I am made of screams. Their suffering… mmmh. Oh!’ Unable to control herself she dug her sharp fingers deep into the raw flesh of her thighs.

Vermipox admonished her. ‘Daughter, if you damage yourself after all the trouble I’ve gone through to restore you, I shall be very cross.’

Meeran held up her hands and smiled sheepishly to show that she was behaving. ‘Sorry.’ She confided to Honoria, ‘a resurrection always gets me overexcited!’

What difference did just one more sin make, one more horror? Honoria realised now what a fool she had been. She had thought that she had sunk as low as it was possible to go, when she had barely probed beneath the surface of a sea of vileness that was deeper and more terrible than she could have imagined.

‘Is this what it was all about?’ Honoria accused Vermipox. ‘Restoring your ‘daughter’?’

Vermipox shrugged. ‘That was part of it. It was about revenge, as I said.’

Meeran explained, wanting to be helpful. ‘It was about everything,’ she said. ‘It was about revenge, and about bringing me back, but it was also about growing up, cutting off the last ties to the remains of my childhood that had outlived their purpose. And it was about teaching the craftworlders a lesson, forcing them to face truth in a way that they could not avoid.’

‘But mainly it was about art,’ Vermipox continued. ‘Imagine space-time as a canvas, and fear, blood, and despair as pigments. This moment will stand for all eternity like a red blot on the continuum, a monument to pain and death that will resonate throughout the ages, from the beginning to the end, and it carries a message. Do you know what it says?’

‘I know! I know!’ said Meeran, jumping up and down excitedly. ‘It says: ‘Vermipox’!’

‘Indeed,’ said Vermipox, taking a bow.

Meeran saw the look on Honoria’s face and reacted with concern. ‘Does my nakedness disturb you?’ she asked. ‘I’m sorry, but skin takes me a long time to grow. Skin is important, you see. Perhaps I should find some clothes?’ She searched to the left and right, as if expecting to find a pile of clothing to wear.

Honoria’s hand closed around the pommel of her power sword. ‘I killed you once,’ she said. ‘I can kill you again!’

Vermipox and Meeran laughed. ‘Do you hear that, Daughter?’ said Vermipox. ‘She wants to play the game all over again! I admire your spirit, Honoria, but we’re not finished yet. I promised you revenge, and I always keep my word.’

‘The eldar are all but dead,’ said Honoria.

‘The ones who killed your crewmen, yes, but the ones who took your sisters have yet to be dealt with. Even now they lurk hidden in the webway beyond the edges of the battle, waiting for it to be over so that they can scavenge over the remains, like carrion crows. Come along, we have one more task.’

The deck trembled beneath their feet and there came the rumbling prehistoric sound of an approaching train. The bulkhead began to glow with an eerie dark light that made it seemed insubstantial, as if the plasteel plates were only an image projected by the light upon the mouth of a tunnel. From that tunnel there came the single front car of an urban train, made up to look like a deep-sea fish veined through with transparent tubes pulsing with pale light and keening with heartbreaking notes. It stopped in front of them with a shrieking of brakes and a hissing of pipes, and the doors slid open.

Vermipox and Meeran invited her aboard. No, thought Honoria. This had gone far beyond sanity. The Light of Faith was primed to self-destruct, all she had to do was make a dash for the captain’s chair and press the button, and they would all be vaporised in seconds. She was on the edge of doing that, but something Vermipox had said made her hesitate. ‘The ones who took your sisters.’ Her sisters.

Honoria was beyond horror. So be it: one more task, one more sin. She boarded the train car.

The inside was almost comically mundane, like the interior of a caravan, with comfortable seats, two beds, a cupboard, a sink, a stove, and a cluttered workbench. There was bric-a-brac and junk strewn everywhere, neglected souvenirs from their many travels. Meeran sat eagerly at the controls and they rumbled away. Vermipox sat in silence, and Meeran kept up a stream of inane chatter that Honoria soon stopped listening to. She tried looking out of the windows, perhaps unwisely, but all she could see was a starless, endless night. It was beginning to look like it was going to be a very boring trip, but then just like that it was over. Meeran slammed on the brakes and opened the doors.


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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 16:06

THE PRICE OF A CANDLE

Stepping out of their vehicle Vermipox, Meeran, and Honoria found themselves surrounded by dark-armoured eldar warriors pointing dark light weapons at them. The caravan had travelled through tunnels beneath the skin of reality to arrive at a large chamber that Honoria took to be the command centre of a large alien spaceship. Crewmen stared at them from their stations while still keeping an eye on their instruments for any eventuality. In the middle, upon a dais, the captain’s chair was practically a throne, an indulgence of vanity, and in it sat a foppish-looking eldar lord with a long mane of black hair streaked with blue, flanked on all sides by a bodyguard of incubi.

‘Ah, Vermipox!’ he said. ‘How good of you to finally turn yourself in. We have been looking for you, you know.’ His tone was jovial, but his eyes were hard and he spoke through clenched teeth. ‘In fact, searching for you has cost me my fortune, my standing, and my guild. You’ve ruined me, if that gives you any satisfaction. If it were up to me I would destroy you where you stand and free us all from the curse of your existence, but Vect wants you and your monster back in Commorragh.’

(’He means me,’ Meeran whispered to Honoria. ‘I’m the monster.’)

Vermipox chuckled. ‘Then he will be disappointed, Finghul. I shall return to Commorragh in my own good time, and I will certainly not be dragged back there by the likes of you.’

‘Obstinate old fool! It was that insolence that got you into trouble in the first place. Why can’t you just obey?’

‘Hmph. In my day, we did not just ‘obey’. Did you learn nothing from your time with little Pleghanie? No, of course not. You did not ask for any of this, did you Finghul? You are a simple social climber, who thought that you could further your ambition by getting close to her. Idiot! She is Desire All-Consuming. You all but begged to be a piece on her board, and now you’ve been dragged into a game that is so far above your league that your small mind cannot even comprehend the stakes.’

Finghul seethed. ‘Then why are you here, madman?’ Suspicion crept into his features. ‘Watch him! This is one of his tricks.’

‘No, not one of my tricks. A very commonplace occurrence, even vulgar, but I have already done my best work today, and needs must.’

He signalled the kabalite warriors with a nod and as one they turned around and fired upon the incubi, cutting them down in a hail of blaster fire. The incubi were fast, but not that fast. They barely had a chance to realise what was happening before there was nothing left of them but charred remains.

‘What is this?’ Finghul demanded, as his own trueborn grabbed hold of him.

‘Don’t be obtuse, Finghul,’ said Vermipox. ‘As you said, hunting me and my daughter has ruined your fortunes, as it has ruined those of these gentle men and women who have the misfortune of being your followers, through no fault of their own. How do you suppose they feel about that?’

The mutiny must have been planned for days, if not weeks, and the crew must have been in touch with Vermipox from the beginning. Finghul looked angry, but not outraged. Of course, thought Honoria, he is an eldar and does not expect loyalty. He is only angry because he has been outplayed.

He laughed defiantly. ‘And what do you expect to accomplish by this?’ He asked them. ‘Have you forgotten that we have been given this cursed task by Vect himself? Kill me and I shall only be reborn in the vats back in Commorragh, and I promise you all that you will pay for your poor judgement!’

‘You forget to whom you are talking,’ said Vermipox, pulling out a syringe gun from within the folds of his robes and plunging the needle into Finghul’s throat.

At first nothing happened, then Finghul shifted uncomfortably as he began to feel warm. Thick drops of sweat ran down his face and plastered wisps of hair to his scalp. His captors released him in alarm as the heat coming off from him became palpable. Dizzy with fever he swooned and fell, and as he got up again he saw with horrified disbelief that he had left bits of himself stuck to the floor, still connected to him by gummy strands of skin like melted cheese. He raised his ruined hands to his face and felt a yielding softness squeezing through his fingers like runny dough. His mind could not accept this, it must be some illusion, a trick! His flesh could not be melting off his bones like a wax figure in a furnace. He tried to scream, but found no breath, and the sound that he made was abruptly cut off with a gargle as his larynx too melted inside his throat.

The process accelerated. Finghul’s body liquefied from him in torrents like a hot, thick soup. There was nothing recognisable as humanoid in him now except for the half-made cavity that was once his mouth and the terrified eyes staring out from within the blubbery, rendered mass, and then they too melted and were only two spots of milky, vitrous fluid within a puddle of raspberry and custard-coloured muck that filled the room with the stench of boiling pork and burning lard.

When it was over, Vermipox unstoppered a vial, stooped down, and held it to the edge of the puddle. The muck flowed into the vial by itself, filling it up and yet still flowing into it, as if the small vial had an infinite capacity, until it was all gone. Vermipox put the stopper back on the vial, held it up to his face, and spoke to it:

‘It’s not forever, Finghul,’ he said. ‘Nothing is. It may take hundreds of years, or thousands, but one day some unfortunate fool will release you. Of course, by then you shall be quite changed. I hope you appreciate the gift of destiny that you have been given, for you were an indifferent slaver and there was no point to your existence, but now, one day after ages of suffering, you shall be perhaps the greatest horror I ever unleash upon this galaxy.’

‘Ahem!’ Meeran protested.

‘Not counting you, daughter, of course,’ Vermipox corrected. He pushed the vial onto Honoria’s hands. ‘This is for you, I suggest you do not drink it. And so our contract is concluded: you have revenge on the craftworlders who killed your crew and on the man who captured your sisters, and few can say that their revenge has been so cruel and absolute.’

Honoria was sure that she must have gone mad, but one word penetrated through the haze. ‘Captured?’ she said.

‘Eh?’

‘You said ‘captured’. Do you mean that they are still alive?’

‘Oh, yes, aboard this ship, and unharmed I should imagine. They wouldn’t be worth much if they were broken. It’s their strength of will, you see, their stubborn faith; it lets them endure through torments and mutilations that would break even space marines. A very valuable commodity.’

‘We must get them back!’

Vermipox looked dismayed. ‘I’m afraid I cannot do that, Honoria. I promised you revenge, not rescue. Finghul’s former crew have fallen on hard times, in some part perhaps due to my actions, and yet they have been very helpful. It would be churlish of me to deprive them of such expensive cargo.’

‘I said release them!’ Honoria’s hands went to her power sword and bolt pistol, but Meeran grabbed her with blinding speed and held her in a grip like a vise, not hurting, but so firmly that she might as well have been encased in ferrocrete.

‘It is the way of things,’ said Vermipox. ‘Commorragh needs their suffering. Would you deprive my people of sustenance and condemn them to the most agonising form of starvation? Well, yes, I suppose that you would, but I can’t say that your position is very ethically sound.’

Meeran tried to cheer her up. ‘Don’t be sad for them,’ she said. ‘They are going to Commorragh, the city of beautiful agonies and deliriums. How I miss the fountains of blood, the mists of sorrow, the whimpers of the damned begging forever to be allowed to die! I wish that you could see it.’

‘She will,’ said the leader of the mutineers. ‘This one has depths of despair in her worth more than any of the others. Take her away!’

Vermipox stopped him. ‘Certainly not. Sister Honoria is here as my guest, and I would not have it said that I was ever so fearfully impolite.’

For a moment it seemed as if the slaver meant to insist, but then he remembered who he was talking to, and prudence won over greed.

Vermipox continued, ‘As a courtesy to you, Honoria, I shall destroy the Light of Faith and its crew as you intended, and then we shall return you to your own people. I have work to do first, however, so you must stay for a little while with my daughter Meeran in her realm. Do try to keep an open mind, it is… an interesting place.’

Meeran beamed happily. ‘Oh, yes! You will be my honoured guest! I will show you everything. It’s a bit run down at the moment, but we are rebuilding, and there are many whispers and shadows and regrets to entertain us!’

‘Indeed. Behave yourselves, children, and farewell, ladies and lords.’ Vermipox went back into the Hagfish, and Meeran took Honoria away into the shadows, and they each went their separate ways.
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 21 2015, 16:08

EPILOGUE

The shuttle landed on a small platform built precariously onto the side of a cliff above a deep chasm, the only possible landing spot on this entire planetoid and the only thing on it that was not a jagged rock, except for the walled keep nestled inside a shallow cave on the opposite side of the fissure. After a few minutes, a narrow steel bridge began to extend toward the landing platform from the edge of the courtyard before the doors of the keep, like a slowly lengthening proboscis. Inquisitor Aralee Zayt descended from her shuttle and stepped reluctantly onto the bridge. It seemed far too long and narrow a span across such a deep abyss, and there were no handrails. She walked carefully, trying not to look down but making certain of every footstep. Better to prolong the experience than to risk a single slip.

When she was across, the bridge began to retract and the heavy steel doors opened for her. The keep was small, housing only a single tower, a library, a kitchen, sleeping quarters and a dining room. Somewhere below was a hydroponic mushroom farm above an artificial aquifer, making the keep self-sufficient as long as it only had to support a handful of people. Its corridors and rooms were cramped and narrow even for Aralee, who was not very tall, but adequate for the caretakers, three cowled and wizened ratlings — half-sized human mutations — who were deaf, dumb, and importantly, illiterate. Emperor only knew how they managed, but they did, and their charge, the occupant of the tower, never left her cell.

One of them — Aralee could not tell them apart — led her to the tower. She climbed a spiral staircase until she reached the top. There, sitting at her desk, quill in hand, the broken and haggard form of a once proud woman sat writing feverishly upon a scroll. Tubes ran out from devices clamped around her abdomen, feeding her liquid nutrients and eliminating wastes, while others injected strong sedatives into her neck, not because they were of any use — she had not slept in months — but in the hope that perhaps they helped somehow. Wires were inserted into her head and chest, monitoring her heart, breathing, and brain activity.

Aralee approached her. ‘Honoria?’ she said.

The former Sister Palatine ignored her and kept on writing.

‘Sister Honoria, I am Inquisitor Zayt. Do you remember what that means?’

No response.

‘You may call me Aralee. Look, I’m hardly an inquisitor any more, not really. What I am is your friend. I want to help you. Won’t you talk to me?’

Honoria only kept on writing even more frantically. Could she be communicating through her writing? Aralee peered over her shoulder at the scroll. It looked like random scribblings, but she recognised a word, and in that instant she knew.

‘I know what you have seen, Honoria. I have seen it too.’

Honoria stopped writing. She turned her emaciated face around to look at Aralee with pleading eyes.

‘It’s true, Honoria. I have known Vermipox and Meeran. I have been to the broken palace by the black lake. I have seen the city behind the moon. I have seen the shadows that laugh but never smile, and faced the hungry ghosts of my past and future selves, and stared into the well of the un-things. I know that we are not where we think we are, that the universe around us is only a tiny ledge, and I have had a glimpse of the things that lay beyond. You are not alone.’

A single tear dropped from Honoria’s eye and fell upon the scroll, smudging the ink on an important word.

‘I know that it’s frightening, but you don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to live in fear. There is love, Honoria. In the deepest darkness, there is love. In the heart of daemons, there is love. In every atrocity, there is love. It’s the only thing that matters, and it is all there is. I can help you, Honoria. All you have to do is let go.’

Honoria’s dry throat made a frightened whimper, and she turned back to her writing, closing her ears and her mind to anything more that Aralee said.

Aralee sighed. ‘I’ll be back one day. I can help you, if you’ll only let me,’ she said, gently running her fingers through Honoria’s brittle hair.

Leaving the tower, she found one of the silent caretakers waiting to take her to the library, and followed him. Cubbyholes lined the walls, some of them containing scrolls of Honoria’s writing, many more waiting to be filled. Aralee chose a scroll at random and began to read. The writing was disorderly and distressed, but after a while it began to make sense. The words on the scrolls were written by a mind that could not live with the truths that they spoke, a mind that was trying to rid itself of horrors by transferring them to artificial parchment, as if that could ever work. No, innocence could never be regained, and crushing experience could never be forgotten, it could only be shared.

Aralee understood very well why she had been sent here. She had no friends among the Inquisition. Some of the Xanthians suspected her of hoarding useful secrets, while many of the Amalthians would gladly shoot her on sight and not even bother to cover up the deed. She had given them no reason to move against her, but none of the factions would shed any tears if she were to be lost in the line of duty. The more fools them: they had made the right choice, for the wrong reasons.

She read for hours, but she had reached her decision within the first few minutes. The library was invaluable. The knowledge that it contained, and that it would contain, was a treasure to be cherished for the ages, but humanity was not yet ready for it. To read even the least of these scrolls was to risk madness and despair. The keep must continue to guard its secrets, and its location must be expunged from all records. As ever, Vermipox had been generous, in his way. For now the library was a small thing, but who knew what it could grow into one day? Who knew what the human race could grow into? We are the xenos, she thought, or we shall be.

‘I am ready to leave,’ she told the caretaker.

He escorted her to the gate and out into the courtyard. As the bridge extended once again toward her shuttle, he silently pointed at two rectangular slabs of stone stood upright inside a small alcove in the cavern walls, each carved with an inquisitorial seal and a name. They were the tombstones of the two inquisitors who had come here before her, their bodies lost somewhere in the chasm below. They had met Honoria and they had read the scrolls, as she had, and then they had left through the gate, as she just had, and with blank expressions on their faces had walked with great deliberation to the edge of the cliff and jumped quietly to their deaths.

The caretaker looked at her expectantly.

‘No,’ she said.

The caretaker shrugged.

Back on her shuttle she sat next to Captain Origen, her pilot and lover, a gentle, dark-skinned giant of a man who always spoke softly and was incapable of violence. He did not ask — he never presumed — but she told him anyway:

‘She is in hell,’ she said. ‘Many of them wanted me to execute her, and some would consider it a mercy.’

‘Is it not?’ he asked.

‘No. If we have learned anything, it is that death is no escape. Only she can free herself, as I did when my eyes were opened and I saw that no one was hurting me but me.’

‘You were stronger.’

‘No, I had you.’

‘I did nothing.’

‘You were there for me, and that made all the difference. The only hell that I am afraid of is one where I don’t have you in my heart.’

THE END


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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Sep 28 2015, 15:56

Anything, anyone? No? Sad
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Sat Dec 05 2015, 13:39

IMHO this is a great tale. I liked "the memory of stone" in particular, I think it has great psicological depth. I've really appreciated the whole cycle, really.
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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Sat Dec 05 2015, 20:30

Thank you, that means a lot Smile
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MHaruspex
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Tue Feb 02 2016, 03:55

Just spent a few hours reading through this and the previous two stories.

I think I can safely say they were my favorite stories I've read here. Awesome job.
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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Wed Feb 03 2016, 08:58

Thank you Smile

I'd appreciate any criticism you can spare. Please let me know what worked for you, and especially what didn't!
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Hellraiser
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Sun Jun 26 2016, 19:51

Interesting story. I have read the first part and might consider reading more. Since the whole story is so broad, it would be good with an introduction to it. The similar introduction to the prequels caught me and definately made me want to read more. The subparagraphs could be made into larger ones and there's too much of: "No, Mh, Uh?, Yes!" - Unnessecary sentences.

I like the part where corruption stirs up in the sanctum and the pure gusto of violent acts.
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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Mon Jun 27 2016, 09:01

Thank you! Smile

Could you give me some examples? I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by sub-paragraphs. I'm about to write the final part, and I'd like to use those corrections as I do.

PS: I'm very curious about what you thought of 'The Wilderness of Mirrors', and also Meeran's resurrection scene Smile
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Hellraiser
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Tue Jun 28 2016, 02:03

Currently reading through the second chapter. I want to savour every part of it.

Quote :
His dark robes were made of screaming leather faces.

Beautiful. It is always interesting to see how the human creatures react when they see an Eldar. It is clear that there is a distinction in intelligence between the two in the conversation. To many of these humans, purging anyone who is different seems to be the regular solution.

Concerning my remark on the text: By "subparagraphs" I simply mean pieces of text. Look. These pieces could be fit into one to make the text easier to chew. Dividing the text into too many subparagraphs is a common mistake. You can look at this text that I have written to see the difference.

Quote :
‘Oh, I think I can guess, Sister Honoria,’ he said with amused maliciousness. ‘You are on the edge of despair. You have failed completely and beyond any possibility of redemption. You have failed your duty, your Emperor, and your sisters. You blame yourself for the corruption of the world in your charge, and for its destruction at alien hands, and for failing to protect the preacher, and most of all for not being here when your sisters needed you. It is perhaps all that stops you from falling on your own power sword that you must kill me before you do, so that I will no longer desecrate your ship with my presence, after which you are resigned for it to become your tomb. Am I close?’

Honoria gritted her teeth. Everything he had said was true, and the tone in which he had said it was calculatedly cruel, as if every word were a sadist’s needle inserted into a nerve ending. Nor had he tried to hide the fact that he enjoyed it. Her shame was written on her face, and he delighted in it.

‘Rejoice, Honoria,’ he continued. ‘I am here to make you an offer. Kill yourself if you must, destroy me if you can, but first, why not take revenge on the ones who have done this? Make them pay for what they have done to your crew, to your sisters, to the humans on the planet below, and win a glorious victory for humanity in the process? You have the means, and I can provide the ways.’

I really like the way Honoria transcends to join Vermillion in his lust for revenge. For what could possibly be a more spurring motivation?
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Hellraiser
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Wed Jun 29 2016, 17:22

I read through the last. I like the suffering in it.

Honoria seems so sure about herself, almost a little cocked up. I wanted her to be captured and forced to see her friends being tortured.
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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Re: The Fall of Kil-Marann   Thu Jun 30 2016, 08:10

@Hellraiser wrote:
I read through the last. I like the suffering in it.

Honoria seems so sure about herself, almost a little cocked up. I wanted her to be captured and forced to see her friends being tortured.

Thanks! I can understand that, but that's not really what I'm about. It's about the idea that all of the pain and horror in the universe is ultimately not in vain, and that it can be a path to true understanding and experience of love, if you take the long view. Smile
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