+ inload: Variance Hammer contest +

+ Meanwhile, in other news +

+ I entered a writing/model contest on a blog called Variance Hammer a few weeks back; and was slightly startled (and very flattered) to find out yesterday that I won. You can read about it – and see the other awesome entries here: [+noosphericexloadlink embedded+] +

+ The contest was themed around the 'unsung heroes of the Horus Heresy – my entry was Zaricus Cjarn: 



+ Centurion Cjarn: Aquila +

'Dheneb. The inhabitants might not call it that, but it is. It's an old one.' Zaricus Cjarn sat in the cold chamber alongside a scattered few of his Mustermates, listening to the gritty voice of the Palatarch of the Chain. He couldn't remember the speaker's name; or rather – like anything of little importance to him – he had determined not to remember it. The Kheledakos demanded discipline; and sometimes that required wilful ignorance. The lodge could always rely on its brethren to be circumspect.

The Palatarch continued. 'It's the last star in the zodiackal chart for the region.' Cjarn had remembered that. The fanciful shapes the Ancients had drawn between the stars might serve little practical use, but they were somehow iconic, unforgettable. They spoke to something deep within Cjarn, within the Iron Warriors as a whole: a need to draw patterns, forms connections.

Priding themselves on pragmatism, on the Imperial Truth, the Iron Warriors refused to confront or discuss this urge, even as they conquered the stars, even as they justified their irrationality to themselves. The Signs had demonstrable propaganda purposes, they reasoned. The Remembrancers shape their work into lions, and sea-goats, and weighing scales in turn as, one after another, the constellations came into the Emperor's realm. Humanity will respond. 

Even so, the primarch Perturabo would not have deigned to recognise this inefficient structure; but for the increase in recruitment for the Imperial Army – and the concomitant support for his Legion – that such  symbolism attracted. This star, then, was particularly special. This star marked the final point in the constellation Aquila.

+++

Ah, to the Legions, there is no speed too fast; no achievement too rich. They are too eager, too capable,  too fast for human frailty to concern them; certainly not to delay them. They are harriers loosed; darting out to find new lands, and bring them, forcibly if necessary, onto the stuttering, swelling maps of mankind. The Reserves become the IVth, become – briefly, quietly – corpse grinders, then spill over Olympia, and then...

And then... they make pause, for a little while. They are reforged; beaten into shape. They become the  Iron Warriors.

+++

The promethium-rich caverns of Dheneb Primary are a net of tunnel fighting; the Astartes of the Footsore 242nd Grand Company clashing with the combat rigs of the defenders, bottling them into boltholes and bringing down the fury of the Legion on them. Fury is not enough on its own. Reactive piledrivers give the combat rigs a punch that shatters ceramite; and debased STC trans-rifles give particles of heavy metal sufficient stopping power to reduce even armoured Space Marines to cooling corpses.

Cjarn is at the forefront, Comitas in hand. Cjarn fights well with the axe. The blade is flat-edged and a dull carbon-black at the apex of an unusually long handle. With the nudge of a runekey, it glows a subtle violet, just at the edge of sight – eye-watering and uncomfortable, like staring at an open fire from just too close.

The knob of the eagle-chased generator on the poll robs the bit of weight – but when your blade is hefted overhand by the swollen musculature and poise of an Astartes, and aided by the crackling, matter- disruptive technology of Old Mars, the difference is rendered moot.

In any case, the poll acts as a counterweight – which allows Cjarn the speed to de-power Comitas, add his other hand to the grip and heave. Ten foot tall and braced against the tunnel walls by secondary limbs, the combat rig nevertheless staggers forward, the axe embedded within the outer carapace like a fishing hook. The Iron Warrior releases his off-hand and reaches for a grenade, blindly.

His hand scrabbles at an empty belt. He turns his head to look.

+++

Deneb Al Okab Australis. The south star in the tail of the eagle. In truth, it was nowhere near the other
stars. As soon as craft left Terra, the lie was put to the constellations through simple astronomical
parallax; the still, glittering stars proving nebulous and reluctant to accede to humanity's dreams.

Reluctant. But dreams are sometimes irresistible.

+++

The distraction allows the combat rig pilot to rally; to whirl a primary limb down and across Comitas,
crushing Cjarn's hand and flinging him into the side of the tunnel wall. The rockface explodes with a
cloud of rubble and dust, and his armour begins to chime insistently, warningly.

He is bleeding. He is injured. He is furious.

Disarmed and scrambling backwards, Auto-gyros destabilised, he can't find his feet. His armour is dead weight; blank. It is coming back online too slowly. Cjarn skids over on the detritus as he tries to stand, the mass of his armour slowing him. Tearing off his helmet, Cjarn looks up at the looming combat rig, its primary arms raised to smash him. Comitas is lodged in its flank; yearningly out of reach.

His injured hand is bleeding angrily; the musculature clamping and spasming around shards of his gauntlet. He can feel the cold stone dust settling, turning the wet blood white. Scrambling backwards, his hand clamps around a cylinder. He doesn't look this time. Whatever the object is, it feels metallic in his dust-and-blood-caked grip. It feels solid. It will serve as a weapon.

+++

Cjarn is found, eventually. He is at the centre of a junction, breathing heavily amidst bodies. Blood – in great crimson loops – decorates the walls. Stimms and pain-suppressants render him near-insensible, his eyes wheeling and breath sawing in and out. The Apothecary pauses, before advancing warily towards him, palms up. Cjarn would not be the first Iron Warrior to suffer from combat psychosis.

In any event, the Legion recognises and rewards success. The events of Dheneb make Cjarn a  Palatarch, stepping into his dead sergeant's shoes. After Kolosos, the eye falls on him again, marking him as a brevet officer. And then... the Warmaster calls.

+++

Later, he can't remember how he had come to find the other axe – or rather, it is irrelevant.

He fights well with both, now. Comitas remains reliable; versatile. The other axe... is not. It is slightly too fast; the heavy head drawing on the shoulder. Where it strikes, it bites deep – too deeply, unless arrested. It requires more concentration to wield. Cjarn has had to adjust his expectations of what an axe can do; adapt his style. Now he can catch it by the throat reliably, collaring it. For all its shortcomings, it is a wonderful weapon.

A single piece of some curious metal, engraved and sculpted into a fanciful shape, the blade is otherwise plain. Unlike Comitas, it is unpowered; its technology begins and ends with being weighted, sharpened metal. To assist his grip, Cjarn has bound the whole handle with plaited leather. He did it personally, sceptical of the epimiletis-armourers' ability to match his requests.

+++

The Crusaders return to Terra, abandoning the cold constellations once more. Not in the winding manner in which the routes were found; not in a contracting halo, but in a spear-tip aimed at humanity's cradle. The maps of the Imperium are ignored. Lines and nodes collapse, like a chemical structure buckling; promising and hinting at possible new forms.

Too fast! too much!

+++

'Give me my armour! Give me my armour!' The phrase, which had started as a demand, had become a froth-laden bellow. The bondsmen, their backs to the cell, wince slightly as the marine begins to slam his fists against the dirty armourglass again. Over and over, he repeats his attacks, his hands little more than clubs of blood.

They try to ignore the battering, which continues frenziedly, without rhythm. His words – his mantra – become an atavistic howl, then a wordless shriek. One of the bondsmen nervously peeks over his shoulder. The naked Astartes' eyes are bulging in rage, unfocussed and pink with broken blood vessels. The armourglass is smeared with blood, with spit, with acid burns.

'Should we stum him again?' one of the bondsmen whispers. The other opens his mouth to speak, just as the door to the dimly-lit chamber begins to open. The great wheel in the centre turns, ponderously at first, then more freely. The bondsmen unlimber their rifles and bring them to their shoulder, trying to ignore the garbled, spitting demands of their charge.

'Pax.' The Iron Warrior's command is given as he steps into the room, and the bondsmen relax their aim and step back. As the caged Astartes sees the new arrival, the hammering slows, then renews. 'Give me my armour!' The last word trails off as the Astartes screws his eyes shut in rage and begins battering his  head against the glass, his hands open and trembling. 'I'll kill you! I'll kill you all!'

The new arrival steps forward, and raises a hand to place it against the armourglass, quizzically. He holds it there. It doesn’t so much as tremble under the other's barrage of blows.

'Is it meet to treat with us so, because a stranger is dead?'

The bondsmen look uncertainly at one another. Were the visitor's words a question? Again, the second bondsman opens his mouth to speak, and again stops short. The two Astartes lock gazes. They pause for a moment, their faces preternaturally alike; their individual birth-seed overcome and subsumed beneath the bleak dominance of the Emperor's genetic manipulation. Their faces, like so many of the legion, are scarred and imperfect reflections of Perturabo's; their features hard, as though chipped from a great flint. Their expressions are similarly bitter and bilious. Hard lines cluster around the free Iron Warrior's pinched, thin-lipped mouth. In its fury, the other's face has become a patchwork of strained white-yellow and red-purple, the skin pulled taut by muscle and clusters of tendons. Their faces are inches apart. His nose and brow are pressed against the glass, straining, desperate. His eye wheels, searching.

All of a sudden, as though a switch had been flicked, the caged Space Marine stops. His hands drop, smearing wetly down the glass. His breathing slows, though ragged puffs of condensation beneath his nostrils belie the suddenly-chilly exterior. He seems to relax a little, though his face remains pressed firmly against the glass, the flesh distorted, any nobility made grotesque under the pressure. The silence is as eerie as the rage.

He wets his lips, slowly. Then, his eye fixed on the visitor, and in a voice no louder than a whisper, he
speaks.

'Give me my armour.'

The new arrival appears to reach a decision. His face remained dour, but the bondsmen detects a hint
of amusement as he turns to address them.

'Give him his armour. Tell the centurion a very particular duty awaits.'

+++

The Primarch. Orders from the Primarch! Direct from his mouth; special orders, a special duty – and on
Terra! The hubbub, while low, is audible. The officers and specialists, variously seated or standing around the tiered chamber, try to anticipate Perturabo's purpose here; to find patterns or meaning in the choices of personnel summoned to the lodge chamber.

Cjarn, alone of those gathered, remains truly impassive. The others wear their masks: whether literally, in the shapes of their formal helms, or emotionally, their faces carefully – and wisely – blank as their mercurial Primarch steps in.

Words are spoken.

Comitas is belted at his waist. The other axe is in front of him. Cjarn's armoured thumb toys with a loose strand of the braided, bloodstained leather. The movement is not born of distraction. Cjarn's impassiveness is not a lack of care, or empathy. Nor is it a desire to reject this terrible duty – for the truth is that it is not merely onerous, not merely dangerous.

It is a duty monstrous in its implications: to cage and preserve a Primarch.

Neither for anger; nor cold revenge, but for the simple act of trapping an immortal in an eternal cage of iron, and allowing isolation to break the unbreakable.

Cjarn's humours remain in balance for one simple reason: because it is no longer just Cjarn that influences them.

+++





1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! Well, that's a true award-winning mini, I'm not surprised, it's well deserved :)

    ReplyDelete

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