I had been tooling around with another story in-between writing 'Incubi'. As I worked on it I realized that the opening sequence, though interesting, was not going to be worth it as a book-end. Indeed, I ended up writing an entire character out of the story and introducing a new one because I thought the interplay was more interesting and worthwhile.
It may be a while yet before this story ever sees the light of day. That all said, the opening bit was a functional enough stand-alone piece that I figured, heck, why not toss it out there for the halibut? So, you have 'Escape' a story about inevitability and The Dark Kin.
Hope you enjoy.
He had been playing with his son when the news reached him.
“The prisoner is ready to speak, but he says it must be to you.”
“Did they finally break him?”
“…the prisoner has decided to speak of his own free will.”
He had kissed his son good night, tucked him into bed, and then headed back to his chambers to dress himself properly. The vast halls of the fortress were near empty at this hour save for the clockwork like precision patrols of the Amerius Dragoons, the sharp snaps of their gleaming calf high black boots ringing out in a sharp and reassuring tempo of his power. He returned the salutes he received, occasionally pausing to speak to a given man, to inquire about his family or a recent mission. He took it as a matter of focused pride to know the names and faces of every man serving him in the fortress, it was part security benefit and part morale control. He knew these men, and they him, they would not break.
Speaking of things that did not break…
Governor Lord Militant Ambrose Hathryn, the Third of His Name, Liberator of Amerius IV, High Lord of the Dragoon Isles walked carefully into the room. His steel-toed boots rang out sharply against the rough stone floor despite his slow movements. Entering the room with him came his six personal guard, their bright red jackets and sterling white trousers gleaming in the dimness of the cell. Each held an ancient and mastercrafted lasrifle, the gilt golden etchings upon each weapon outlining the histories of his family in service to The God Emperor. It was his hope and expectation that, before his death, he would see a seventh rifle added to the honor guard, a good omen for his son when he took over the position, lucky number seven.
He wore his heavy red greatcoat over his shoulders only, his white gloved hands holding the edges of the coat fastidiously as he frowned and eyed the filthy warren cell. The lone occupant sat contentedly in the corner of the dingy room, wearing his chains with quiet contentment, a small smile on his face. He had been put through almost twenty hours of straight torture by the most skilled pain technicians in Ambrose’s service with small smiles and amused giggles, and had reportedly even fallen asleep once during the middle of a session. Thus it was, when he finally did declare that it was time for him to speak, but that he would only speak to the Lord Militant himself, it had roused enough of Ambrose’s curiosity to bring him down to the deep cells beneath his Imperial fortress.
“I am Governor Lord Militant Ambrose Hathryn,” he intoned gravely as a servitor skull hummed up alongside him, its vox and image recorders buzzing to life. “I understand you have something to say to me?”
The man in front of him was a bedraggled creature. His long white hair was now a matted mess, knotted with snarls and stains. He had once had a long flowing and elegant beard that was now also filthy, encrusted with grime and bodily fluids, and singed from some of the tortures he had endured. His wiry frame was still surprisingly muscular considering his apparent age, but that could simply be due to juvanat treatments. His left eye was a bright and creamy brown color, but the right one was missing, a garish hole torn across his face. He smiled.
“Do you have family, Governor?”
“I do.” Ambrose’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“Kill them.” The words were spoken with quiet and honest intensity as the man’s one good eye stared up with burning focus at Ambrose. “Kill them all, kill them now, it’s their only chance. Order one of your men to do it, do it right now, I beg of you.”
“You broke him.” Ambrose frowned as he looked at Lord Medicae Cyril Aquatine, the Master of Tortures was a slim man with a hawkish nose and coal black eyes. He smoothed his hands across his immaculate white uniform and frowned sharply at the suggestion, sniffing the air with disdain.
“He is not broken my lord, if the man is mad it was a condition he suffered prior to ever coming into my care. If you read the reports-“
“I have read the reports,” Ambrose held up a hand to forestall Cyril’s outrage as he looked back down at the prisoner. “Who are you, what are you doing here, how did you breach the security of the palace?”
“I am here to kill all of you,” the prisoner slumped in his chains. “I didn’t listen either, when my time came. I was too proud. Too proud…” He looked up again, his eyes wet with tears. According to the reports he had not cried at any point during his tortures, nor had he even cried out in pain. “You should kill your family, I don’t know if you have enough time left, but if you run…”
“If you make that recommendation to me again I’m going to hand you back to Lord Cyril and forget you ever existed.” The Master of Tortures rarely smiled, but an eager glint appeared in his dark eyes, he was not a man use to failure and the chance to have more time to work over the strange prisoner would undoubtedly please him. “What is your name?”
“Slave. Menial. Worm. Mon’keigh. They call me all of these things, and other words that I cannot pronounce. I asked them once to translate one, curious, I was still curious then.” The old man slumped in his chains, laughing to himself. “They told me it meant ‘food’.” He began to laugh, then the laughter changed to sobs, and then he looked up again, his eyes oddly calm, his face composed. “I was once called Lord Axlebridge, Lord Governor of Ynith-Tor and Master of Enduring Forbearance.”
Ambrose paused as he considered those words. They didn’t make sense, not if he knew his history. The Enduring Forbearance had been the supposedly impregnable fortress of Ynith-Tor, nestled upon a nearby planetary system near a major trade route, it had been a continent wide bastion designed in the days of the Great Crusade itself by Rogal Dorn to serve the Imperial Army in its defense of the sector. But that was not what made the story unbelievable. Nor was it that the Fortress had indeed fallen, to unknown means, in the space of one night. It had been there, fully populated, and then all astropathic and radio contact had been lost, and on the morning it was found that not one human still walked its empty halls. The entire site had been declared corrupt and off limits to all Imperial citizens ever since.
What made it impossible was that this had all happened five hundred years ago.
“You are not Lord Axlebridge,” Ambrose stated with calm certainty. Though, even as he spoke these words he felt a hint of uncertainty in him. He had seen paintings and picts of the ‘Last of the Enduring Lords’ and this old and battered man in front of him had the right color eye, a similar shape to his nose and cheeks, and even spoke the Ynithian dialect which, though not uncommon, was unusual to still find in anything but the few hill communities founded by those Ynithians who had been off-world at the time. All of the population left on planet had been declared tainted by the Inquisition and had faced terminal sanction.
“I doubted him too, when he came to me. I don’t even remember what world he had once ruled, so very long ago. Beaten, battered, a broken man, yet with an odd strength to him, a mad strength. But they have ways…ways…no one escapes the City you see, not even through age. They can…keep you.” He shook his head slowly. “They keep you so long…”
“Who keeps you?” He glanced at one of his aides, motioning for the man to go and summon Telek, the Primaris Psyker, fearing that perhaps this was a matter of Chaos taint.
“I didn’t believe him when he told me to kill my family, I don’t even remember what I said.” The old man who looked like Lord Axlebridge gazed up at Ambrose, an odd look of peace coming over his features. “All I remember are his screams when it happened, but..right at the end, I think…I think he was happy…because, you see, they finally let him go. You can’t escape, but at some point they have taken everything they can from you. More then you ever realized you had, and they take it all…and then…they’re bored” He began to cry, sobs of happiness and fear wracking him in equal measure. “It’s horrible, but it’s only one last time, one last…and then…you get to go. Go…you get to…be…free?” His face darkened a look of panic starting to flush across his face, saliva began to froth from his lips as his body began to quake.
“By the Emperor’s Mercy!” Ambrose stepped back quickly as his honor guard fell in around him, leveling their weapons.
The man screamed, his screams seeming to erupt out with a force of unbelievable intensity. Ambrose felt his teeth grind on edge, and his eyes water. The scream seemed to fill the room with its intensity, and then seemed to fill it again as more noise could be heard, a deeper noise, a noise that seemed to reach into his insides and right through him, twisting as they went.
Ambrose screamed as well, staggering back, blood flecking his lips as his gums bled and his vision blurred.
Over it all the old man kept screaming, and Ambrose could see his body shifting and contorting. It was as though space and reality itself were warping around him, his flesh bubbled, bloody pustules forming and shifting about beneath his skin as his body arched and writhed. For one moment Ambrose caught the old man’s gaze, and for that moment it seemed time itself stopped.
The old man seemed to manage a smile with the shattered remains of his face.
He mouthed a word.
And then his body was torn asunder, his ribcage erupting outwards as black and blue energy writhed through the room. A bubble of strange force seemed to expand outward from the ruin. Ambrose looked into that weirdly distorted bubble, seeing beyond it a place, a dark place lit by distant lightning storms and strange garishly lit towers of jagged black metal. The outer surface of the bubble rippled as a shape slowly emerged from within.
Its face was gleaming polished white bone, a grinning and leering deathmask with soulless shadows for eyes. It wore gothic black armor, gleaming with sharpened spikes, a blue overcoat billowed in the strange gusting winds filling the room, revealing that across its chest it wore a brace of trophies, skulls hanging from jagged-edged hooks. In its hands it held a massive sword, wickedly hooked at the end. Behind it came another, and another, the armored skull figures stepping out of the bubble’s rippling surface like swimmers emerging from a pool.
Corporal Vanes was the first to react, his white gloved hand falling to the gilded hilt of his dueling sabre. He was accredited as the finest blade in the 3rd Hussars, and had won many honors on the battlefield. In the time it took him to half draw his blade one of the figures sprang across the room and decapitated him. It took Ambrose a moment to realize that the skull faced killer had also cleaved the servo skull in twain during its initial rush.
In the time it took for the spinning, blood spewing, head to topple to the floor the rest of the skull figures had struck, and the entirety of his personal guard had been cut apart, their bodies still tumbling to the ground in bloody spatters as the bubble popped and hissed again.
The skull faced swordsmen turned to the bubble, clashing their blades against their breastplates, as another figure appeared. It wore armor even more archaic and loathsome seeming. Leering and screaming faces wrought in priceless metals decorated the armor. A midnight blue cape rested elegantly across its shoulders. It too wore a mask, or so it seemed, for across the front of its black and gilt gold helmet was a mask made of flesh, seemingly sewn together from half a dozen sources, it was a screaming and tormented face of a man in agony. Behind the fleshy trophy Ambrose could see pale, ghostly white lips, and dark eyes, eyes like those of a predator animal, devoid of any compassion or feeling, eyes that just bespoke hunger.
More figures appeared from the portal then, rushing forward into the hallways. Dressed in sleek battle armor of blue with golden highlights, they moved like a stream out through the door, soundless, efficient, and moving with a preternatural speed and grace that made Ambrose think of them like water flowing outwards to fill his fortress. One of the skull faced swordsmen was suddenly in front of him then, hauling him to his feet as it casually tore away his weapons, and bound his hands in a strange set of black manacles that warped and fitted themselves to his wrists, biting painfully into his flesh. He could see Cyril, Master of Tortures, weeping in terror as one of the warriors did something to his hand with a small hooked blade. Around him those surviving members of his noble retinue were also being captured, bound, and dragged forward. The imposing figure in the flesh mask lifted a hand encased in a clawed battle-glove, sparks of energy crackling around the razored finger blades as it motioned him to approach.
It spoke in a tongue unknown to him, the language had a haunting and melodic quality, but seemed slithery and venomous at the same time, like the language of a serpent. A gaunt figure stepped up next to the flesh masked leader. It took Ambrose a moment to realize that this was another human being, only one clad in naught but slim clothing to reveal the massive signs of torture lacing his body.
“My master wishes to know of your name.”
“I…I am Lord Ambrose, Governor Milit-“
The flesh masked figure laughed. Behind him still more warriors poured through the bubble and out into the palace. Some wearing almost no armor at all, flashes of scintillating nude skin and jagged, alien blades raced past him, while others came through leading strange hordes of monstrous beasts, or shambling scar covered figures gripping rusting and jagged blades in scabrous hands. The flesh mask figure spoke, ghostly white lips hissing from behind its mask as it reached out, bladed fingers closing, almost gently, on Ambrose’s chin as it tilted his head delicately from one side to the other.
“My master informs you that now you only need to know three things. He is your master. Your name is; Slave. And…”
Blue arcs of power flared up from the glove and Ambrose felt a pain he could not even begin to describe. He felt his legs give out from under him as the pain coursed through his body in seemingly unending waves, each, unimaginably, somehow more painful than the one before it.
“There is no escape.”