+ inload: War on Terra I; short story+

+ War on Terra I +

+ A short piece of colour text for my Officia Monstrosa project. +


I am bound not by fetters, but simply by the knowledge that the figure opposite me, injured as he appears, is capable of killing me. We are squatting in a trench dug – maddeningly – into a soaring buttress over three thousand feet in the air, which itself is deep within a distant wing of the Palace. I am not sure why I am alive. The Iron Warriors, when they marched into the local square, were unopposed.

The Palace is so vast, and the horrors of the invasion so widespread, that it is possible this area was forgotten or overlooked. I tell myself this to bring sense and comfort to my heart. The alternative is that the Emperor, and his generals and his mighty armies – that have spanned the galaxy, yoked worlds by the thousands and driven out all enemies, have decided that this place is simply not worth defending – an area of little strategic worth.

With little else to do, I have plenty of time to think in the trench.

My thoughts churn and curdle in the unhealthy atmosphere. There is another possibility. Perhaps they cannot defend us. The Warmaster's title is said to be more than mere pomposity. Indeed, it is said to be a tautology – that Horus defines warfare. Never mind this down-at-heel district of his Palace; in the face of his perfect creation, can the Emperor even protect himself?

The Iron Warriors entered the square uncontested, but not unmet. Over fifty thousand souls – scribes, servants, charwomen and the like – had gathered to watch the grimy procession. It was a peculiar parade. The tanks had whispered in, some form of sound-muffling technology masking the advance of even the largest. The Space Marines had followed, marching in perfect lockstep, as silent as cats. Even the heavy artillery gun carriages had been silenced by padding – discarded clothing? – to muffle the noise of the great metal wheels on the cobbles. There were no cheers. Somehow the creeping way the soldiers arrived was worse than a crashing, crowing triumph. 

Worse than the stomach-knotting thought of being conquered was the uncertainty. Even then, we were uncertain whether these troops marched for the Emperor, or for the Warmaster. The kernel of hope made the fear colder in contrast. I do not know what happened to the crowd. Someone, perhaps overwhelmed at the curious quiet, panicked, tried to fill it. The crowd bucked as though vomiting, pushed, cried out, fled. I do not know how or whether – the Iron Warriors reacted. Suddenly there was pressure and sweat, and the stink of urine. I was trampled.

When I awoke, it was to the reverberation of an Astartes' voice, reciting what seemed like a catechism or meditation. I am sure he knew I had awoken. I am told that their senses are finer than the rest of us. If he did not detect the change in my breathing, he might have heard my heartbeat race. 

'Saramanth, I was there.' Unconfessional, the words had the air of a legal statement, given with little emotion. 'Dheneb, I was there.' The statements were accompanied by the sound of a whetting knife being drawn slowly, repetitively. The scraping was so quiet that my ears, quite unconsciously, began to pick up the myriad other sounds of the trench. The crackle of a smokeless, lightless chem-block fire. Occasional trickles of dust as distant ordnance fired off, setting the hurriedly-dug trench walls trembling. Dead soil settling.

'Tallarn, I was there.' I do not think the litany of planets was for my benefit, though I had heard of scant few he mentioned. Distant worlds, unheralded, unmarked. Certainly none of interest to me. 'Compliance – hm. I was there.' This last campaign was punctuated differently by the Legionary. I could not be sure whether the warrior had coughed, hesitated, or given a mirthless laugh. He paused, and I tensed, and then he continued sharpening his blade, and I relaxed.

Perhaps that is the wrong word.

My name is Kingdom Anatol Charas, and I am a captive.


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